Tuesday, May 31, 2005

MH - Thought for the Day

As we come to the end of Mary's month:

Why do you fly from the drowned shores of Galilee,
From the sands and the lavender water?
Why do you leave the ordinary world, Virgin of Nazareth,
The yellow fishing boats, the farms,
The winesmelling yards and low cellars
Or the oilpress, and the women by the well?
Why do you fly those markets, Those suburban gardens,
The trumpets of the jealous lilies,
Leaving them all, lovely among the lemon trees?

You have trusted no town

With the news behind your eyes.
You have drowned Gabriel's word in thoughts like seas
And turned toward the stone mountain
To the treeless places.
Virgin of God, why are your clothes like sails?

The day Our Lady, full of Christ,

Entered the dooryard of her relative
Did not her steps, light steps, lay on the paving leaves like gold?
Did not her eyes as grey as doves
Alight like the peace of a new world upon that house, upon
miraculous Elizabeth?

Her salutation

Sings in the stone valley like a Charterhouse bell:
And the unborn saint John
Wakes in his mother's body,
Bounds with the echoes of discovery.

Sing in your cell, small anchorite!

How did you see her in the eyeless dark?
What secret syllable
Woke your young faith to the mad truth
That an unborn baby could be washed in the Spirit of God?
Oh burning joy!

What seas of life were planted by that voice!

With what new sense
Did your wise heart receive her Sacrament,
And know her cloistered Christ?

You need no eloquence, wild bairn,

Exulting in your hermitage.
Your ecstasy is your apostolate,
For whom to kick is contemplata tradere.
Your joy is the vocation of Mother Church's hidden children -
Those who by vow lie buried in the cloister or the hermitage;
The speechless Trappist, or the grey, granite Carthusian,
The quiet Carmelite, the barefoot Clare,
Planted in the night of contemplation,
Sealed in the dark and waiting to be born.

Night is our diocese and silence is our ministry

Poverty our charity and helplessness our tongue-tied sermon.
Beyond the scope of sight or sound we dwell upon the air
Seeking the world's gain in an unthinkable experience.
We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners
With hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand:
Waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror,
Planted like sentinels upon the world's frontier.

But in the days, rare days, when our Theotokos

Flying the prosperous world
Appears upon our mountain with her clothes like sails,
Then, like the wise, wild baby,
The unborn John who could not see a thing
We wake and know the Virgin Presence
Receive her Christ into our night
With stabs of an intelligence as white as lightning.

Cooled in the flame of God's dark fire

Washed in His gladness like a vesture of new flame
We burn like eagles in His invincible awareness
And bound and bounce with happiness,
Leap in the womb, our cloud, our faith, our element,
Our contemplation, our anticipated heaven
Till Mother Church sings like an Evangelist.

Thomas Merton, The Quickening of St. John the Baptist

MH - Books, Books, Books

Well, Clayton has tagged me with the latest meme - I've been watching it spread through the blogosphere and I've enjoyed reading the various responses, but I never thought it would make it all the way to me! I'll be only too glad to take a crack at it.

  1. Total number of books I own: Well, between the two of us we've probably got about 800 right now.
  2. The last book I bought: Let's see, that would have been a trip to a second-hand store, so that would be Henry and Clara and Two Moons, both by Thomas Mallon; Doing Well and Doing Good by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Down With the Old Canoe by Steven Biel, and Jesus by Malcom Muggeridge.
  3. The last book I read: Wheat That Springeth Green by J.F. Powers.
  4. Five books that mean a lot to me (OK, six):
    Libra by Don DeLillo and The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster - as a writer, those books did more to shape the style of my fiction writing than any other.
    Father Elijah, by Michael O'Brien - changed the way I saw myself and my life.
    The Vicar of Christ, by Walter Murphy - played with grand, epic themes that stayed with me.
    A Night to Remember, by Walter Lord - as a young boy, started me on my lifelong fascination with the Titanic.
    You Gotta Play Hurt, by Dan Jenkins - maybe it's not his greatest book, but it has the single funniest thing I've ever read in my life - I literally fell off the couch laughing at it.
  5. Tag five people: Badda-Blogger, Linda, Sharon, Dan, and Rich.

Have fun!

MH - Corpus Christi at the Big A

I'd meant to post about this yesterday, but we had an unexpected (and very pleasant) dinner invitation from Hadleyblogger Kristine and her husband Jim, and you know what they say about best laid plans and all. But we couldn't pass up the opportunity to actually sit outside in the sun and grill - and let me tell you, with rain 21 of the 31 days in May here in Minneapolis, it's been a long time coming!

Anyway, it was a grand Corpus Christi on Sunday at St. Agnes. As I've mentioned, two of our finest were ordained at the Cathedrial on Saturday (check out the fine coverage over at Veritatis Splendor), and they both said their first High Masses on Sunday. We attended the 10:00 orchestral Mass (Mass in G by Schubert), celebrated by Fr. Randal Kasel. We got there about 20 minutes to 10, and the church was already filling up; by 10 it was packed. We were scheduled to have the Corpus Christi procession outside following the Mass, but because of the uncertain weather the decision was made to hold it indoors (Veritatis was lucky; by afternoon it was clear that the sunshine was going to win out). It was quite a sight; six priests and three deacons, splendid in their glittering gold vestments, all the altar boys, and an honor guard from the Knights of Columbus.

I wonder how Fr. Kasel felt; did it sink in when he turned to the congregation and said "Dominus Vobiscum" and we responded "Et cum spiritu tuo"? As he led us in prayer, did it hit him, as it hit me, that he was our spiritual leader, that he now was Father Kasel? I don't know Father; Judie and I sat behind his parents at Mass once, when he was serving as deacon, and they were very proud of him. Rightly so, and we're very proud of him as well. And we're also very proud of Fr. John Gallas, our other new priest, who celebrated the 1:00 p.m. Mass. We're proud of the nine or ten other young men from St. Agnes who are now at various stages of their formation at the Seminary (and of all the other outstanding young men there, who will make fine priests). And we're very grateful to God for being blessed with such fine young men and women, for our families, and for the priests who have given so much in service of the parish.

Although the procession couldn't be held outdoors, it was still rousing. The Blessed Sacrament was processed through the church, under a canopy, accompanied by the bells and smells and candles. The boys and girls who celebrated First Communion a couple of weeks ago led the way in their suits and dresses (if we'd been outside, the girls would have been scattering rose petals before the Sacrament). We sang the hymns with gusto ("Holy, Holy, Holy," "Crown Him With Many Crowns," "Now Thank We All Our God," "Holy God We Praise Thy Name," and "Tantum Ergo"), to the booming accompaniment of the mighty pipe organ - being that we usually attend the 10:00 Latin Mass, we don't get to sing hymns very often. The morning concluded with Benediction, and then a reception downstairs for Fr. Kasel. It was quite a day.

Next week we start the summer music schedule, with the Schola doing Gregorian chant until September, when the orchestra and chorale return. After the richness of the orchestral Masses, the simple purity of the chant is kinda nice, and wonderfully complimentary.

But it was another big day at the Big A, and I'm once again reminded of how grateful I am that we're so fortunate to have such a parish in our area. If you're ever in the neighborhood, let us know; we'd be happy to have you over as our guests!

Monday, May 30, 2005

MH - Beyond the Box Office

Have you seen the movie Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey's flim bio of singer Bobby Darin? Probably not; not very many people did. We caught it last night at one of the budget theaters.

It says something about the state of Hollywood that this movie wasn't a big success; it obviously skews to the wrong demographic. The theater we were in last night was reasonably full for a Sunday night, and we were probably two of the youngest people there. It wasn't a perfect movie, certainly, but it shows how adult audiences are being consistently squeezed out of the theater viewing audience.

Spacey's credentials as an actor are well-known; with two Academy Awards on his mantle, as well as many successful performances, we all know the man can act. In Beyond the Sea he adds the hats of director and writer, with mixed results.

Spacey's directing style was, I thought, creative. At 45, he's already older than Darin was at the time of his death, and quite a few critics had knocked Spacey for trying to portray the younger man. He attacked the age issue head-on, framing the story in the context of Darin playing himself in a movie about his own life, even having one character accuse him of being "too old" to play the role. In so doing, Spacey provides a plausible explanation for his character always being the same age throughout the film, and saves us from those painful flashback scenes where an actor is obviously made up to look twenty years younger than he actually is.

Spacey/Darin is accompanied on much of his retrospective journey by William Ullrich, who plays Darin the child but also has some knowledge of what happens to Darin the adult. Their conversations are one of the highlights of the movie, with the two of them occasionally discussing the best way to tell the story.

One of the most controversial aspects of the film was Spacey's decision to sing Darin's songs himself; I've heard that the Darin family was originally skeptical about this but relented after hearing Spacey's renditions. For the most part this works; Spacey, a gifted mimic, chooses to copy Darin's style rather than imitate it as an impressionist might. He doesn't quite sound like Darin, nor does he quite look like him, but the overall effect works. His vocal and physical gestures, along with the big band arrangements, all work to allow the viewer to believe that Spacey, if not actually Darin, is supposed to be Darin. Suspension of disbelief is what the movies are all about, after all; the least effective movies are the ones where that suspension fails. It helps as well that Spacey's a pretty good singer on his own.

This is anything but a traditional biopic; with its big production numbers and dancing montages, it never lets you forget you're watching a movie. It's far from a frothy gloss, however. Darin, living in the shadow of death for his entire life (thanks to a childhood bout with rheumatic fever), is obsessed with moving forward, with outdoing Sinatra, with having it all - singing at the Copa, making hit records (and winning Grammys), starring in movies (and being nominated for an Oscar), and snagging for himself a movie-star wife in Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). He knows he's destined for an early death, and lives his life like a fish that has to stay moving in order to stay living.

The movie features fine supporting performances by John Goodman, Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn, but it's Spacey's portrayl that's going to carry the film, for good or ill. Because of his decision to portray Darin as looking back on the story of his life from a fixed point, we don't experience the passage of time through Darin's aging; the changes, such as they are, are conveyed in other ways, through styles in clothes and music, through newspaper headlines. Darin's career faded in the 60s; partly, according to Spacey, because Darin made a commitment to spending more time with his family in an attempt to save his marriage. It was also true, however, that the times were changing, and Darin's brand of pop music was being pushed out by groups like the Beatles and the Stones. Darin became a passionate crusader against the Vietnam War; his attempt to become "relevant" by growing a mustache, getting rid of his hairpiece, wearing hip clothes, and singing protest songs, is one of the poignant moments of the story. It is only when Dee reminds him that "the audience hears what they see" that he realizes what he must do: he has to go back to the old Darin, clean-shaven, dressed in tuxedo and wearing his toupee; in order for them to accept "Simple Song of Freedom," he's also going to have to give them "Mack the Knife" and "Splish Splach."

And herein lies perhaps the most intriguing part of the movie. Bobby Darin learned that artistic freedom has a price; the entertainer has a certain obligation to give his fans what they want. Clint Eastwood learned that lesson a long time ago, giving his fans another Dirty Harry-style movie every so often in order to finance a Bird or White Hunter, Black Heart, with the result that now he can make pretty much anything he wants. Mel Gibson uses the box-office clout from Lethal Weapon sequels to produce Braveheart and Passion of the Christ.

Kevin Spacey, on the other hand, hasn't had a box-office smash in some time (remember The Life of David Gale, The Shipping News, or K-PAX?). He hasn't really had a big success since American Beauty. While some of his recent movies might be called art-house or small pictures, the fact is that a lot of them just weren't very good. Instead of being entertaining, they've concentrated on trying to present some kind of a message. This was evident even in Beyond the Sea; you got the distinct impression that Spacey was trying to say something by emphasizing the "We don't want a war" lyric from "Simple Song of Freedom," a moment that wasn't lost on the audience watching the movie in the theater. Spacey makes no secret of his liberal politics, and some of his movies could be considered message pictures; the audience has sent him a message in return, that they weren't interested. As for a popular movie from Spacey? Well, let's just say it's been a while. It's ironic that Spacey, who seems to capture the essence of this dilemma in Bobby Darin's career, fails to recognize it in his own.

I like Kevin Spacey as an actor; I have the feeling I might like him if I were his next-door neighbor. I don't like his politics though, and to the extent that he presses them on me, I don't like that either. By all accounts, Beyond the Sea was a labor of love for Spacey, a movie that he'd been wanting to do for years. It was a movie that deserved better than it got; perhaps Kevin Spacey just hasn't yet learned the lesson that Bobby Darin learned, that sometimes in order to do what you really want, you have to give the audience something in return first.

MH - ABC Comes in Last at the 500

It probably doesn't surprise you that much of my misspent youth occurred in front of the TV, watching sports. You name it, I watched it. Of course, times change, and I don't watch that much anymore, but one of the events I still make sure to catch is the Indianapolis 500. It's not what it used to be, but for some reason I got into Indy when I was just a kid, and the love of the race has stayed with me ever since. The race was this last weekend, and thanks to the publicity from Danica Patrick it shaped up as one of the biggest races in years; needless to say, after returning from church I was glued to the tube. Unfortunately, this year's ABC telecast served to highlight just how far coverage of the race, if not the race itself, has fallen.

Those of you much younger than I am might be surprised to learn that the race wasn't always shown on live TV - in fact, for many years the only way to hear the Indy 500 live was on the radio. You wouldn't think that auto racing would work on the radio, but it did. It became a shared experience for fathers and sons, listening to the race (on one of the largest radio networks assembled) while changing the oil in the family car, working in the yard, or taking a drive through the country, all the while dad teaching son about cars and life. A modest rite of passage. The race was always kind of exotic when heard on the radio, the imagination filling in the blanks as the announcers described the scene - the thousands of balloons, the colorful grandstands, the marching bands, the flash of the cars as they screamed down the main staightaway. ABC would show highlights that night, but it was never the same - especially if you already knew who won the race. In the late 80s ABC started showing the race live, and eventually that became the way to follow the 500. At least here in Minneapolis, you're hard-pressed to find a decent signal to catch the radio broadcast. But the race is carried on XM satellite radio, and this year's broadcast was as good an ad as you're ever going to have for subscribing to XM.

I knew trouble was brewing when I read earlier in the month that ABC, going for a younger demographic, had replaced the famed (at least in racing circles ) Paul Page as announcer with Todd Harris (described by ABC as one of the "most respected young talents"). Page, the "Voice of the 500," had been doing the race since 1976, first on radio and then making the move to ABC's live broadcast. Harris, known previously as a sideline reporter for college football, would be doing his first 500. Replacing Paul Page would be like taking Keith Jackson off of college football, or (leaping to the past) removing Walter Cronkite from coverage of the moon landings. Of course Page's main fault (like that of Bob Jenkins, another excellent race announcer who was replaced on ABC) was that he was getting old. At 59, he's 20 years older than Harris. Never mind the experience; never mind that the announcers are barely seen on the broadcast. ABC wanted that younger demographic, and their rechristening of Indianapolis as "Speed City" (complete with "edgy" graphics and music) showed they were determined to get it, come hell or high water.

Now, I'm sure Todd Harris is a fine young man, and if he lived next-door we'd probably get along famously. But let's face it - his coverage of the race was a disaster. Instead of Page's smooth, expert delivery, we had Harris, who like almost every announcer you find on, say, ESPN SportsCenter, is in the habit of talking very loud and very fast, with the result that it sounds like he's trying to fit 12 words through a mouth that can only handle 8 at a time - they just don't all fit. And as for the shouting, thanks to this great new technological advance - it's called a microphone - you don't really have to do it to be heard.

And then there was his coverage of Danica Patrick. Now, I'll admit I was rooting for her as well, but I wasn't announcing the race. Harris was, and his objectivity was sorely lacking at times. For one thing, he constantly referred to her as "Danica," as if the two were old friends. When Patrick took the lead for a lap during a round of pit stops, Harris treated this as one of the major accomplishments of western civilization. It's true that Patrick became the first woman to ever lead a lap at the 500, but I suspect she would have been the first one to downplay this achievement - after all, she might say, if you're planning on winning the race you'd better be in the lead at one time or another.

When, late in the race Wheldon passed Patrick just before a caution flag froze everyone's position, Harris was obviously in agony watching the replay - if only the flag had come out a couple of seconds sooner, Patrick would have stayed in the lead. His disappointment was obvious. Patrick still led with seven laps to go, and to hear Harris describe it this would be a moment that we'd all remember for the rest of our lives - one of those "where were you" moments right up there with the JFK assassination, the moon landing, and the O.J. trial. I'd pretty much tuned him out by the time he started comparing her with Amelia Erhardt and Sally Ride, for fear he'd be mentioning Marie Curie and Mother Teresa next.

Unfortunately, when Harris wasn't on the air, we were being assulted with commercials, every third of which seemed to be for Cialis. Whereas dad used to teach his son about cars, now (if families watch the race at all) dad has to spend his time answering the question, "Dad, what's erectile dysfunction?" For heaven's sake, can't we limit impotence drug ads to late in the night? I know they've become big advertisers on sports ("Barry Bonds is up to start the next inning, and if you can't get it up here's a message from Viagra.") but it shows there truly is no shame any more. And then there were the endless promos for ABC's new reality dancing show. Boxers have always been known for dancing around the ring, but if I have to watch Evander Holyfield trying his hand at ballroom dancing one more time, I think I'll scream. Either that, or bite someone's ear off. It must have been a great disappointment for ABC that they had to keep interrupting their promos to show the race.

The unfortunate thing about all this is that the race was one of the more exciting in recent years. Patrick did steal the show, of course, and would have been the center of any telecast (although it would have been easier to take if you had confidence that the announcer knew what he was talking about). Dan Wheldon was a worthy champion - as most winners do, he figured out a way to avoid trouble, to stay on the lead lap, and to lurk in the background until late in the race. Aside from Harris, the ABC coverage was pretty good - former driver Scott Goodyear added some real insight into the action (including an excellent explanation of why a car stalls when it's trying to leave the pits), and the pit reporters and camera work were dependable as always. The weak link was Harris, and since Harris was the lead announcer, it was a weak telecast. Maybe the drug companies can come up next with a medication that cures announcing dysfunction. And maybe next year we'll have XM, and a decent broadcast to go along with ABC's live pictures.

MH - Ironic, Isn't It?

I noticed that ESPN and ESPN Classic have been offering a mini-marathon of classic Muhammad Ali fights this weekend. Judie suspects that it's a hype for the upcoming movie "Cinderella Man," and she's probably right.

Still, despite all the hard work over the years to turn Ali's image into that of a big teddy bear, am I the only one who finds it strange that ESPN is honoring this former draft-dodger on Memorial Day weekend? Whether you agreed with the war or not, the timing is, to say the least, strange.

Friday, May 27, 2005

MH – The Stem-Cell Bill Hall of Shame

Fr. Rob hits it on the head. Here’s the list of Catholics who voted for the House bill expanding federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, with a specific list of the Republicans (as Fr. Rob says, the “pro-life” party) included in that group.
All of the arguments for permitting ESCR boil down to "let us do evil so that good may come of it." And the temptation to do so is powerful. The good of eliminating all these diseases is so desirable, and the beings whom these experiments would obliterate are literally invisible. But the moral law is quite clear: The end cannot justify the means. It is bad enough that our national conscience has become so vitiated that a majority of our Representatives could fall for the temptation, but it is especially painful that a large number of Catholic congressmen would do so. They ought to know better. In fact, they have no excuse for not knowing better, as our bishops and the Holy See have repeatedly condemned ESCR. Those who voted for this bill have the blood of innocents on their hands.

MH - They Were Right After All!

“Federal health officials are examining rare reports of blindness among some men using the impotence drugs Viagra and Cialis, a disclosure that comes at a time when the drug industry can ill afford negative publicity about another class of blockbuster medicines.” Not proven yet. Via CNN.

Of course I'm sorry if anyone might have gone blind from taking these drugs, and I don’t mean to laugh at them. But I’m not the only one who sees the wickedly ironic joke buried in the whole premise, am I?

MH - Thanks for Nothing

Victor Davis Hanson at NRO with an excellent commentary on the anti-Americans who live the all-too-American lifestyle.
It is not that we Americans are mad at what you say. It is just that you have all become so hypocritical, then predictable, and now boring — you are all so boring.
Read why he says this here.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

MH - Investigators Blame Stupidity in Area Death

From The Onion. Crude and LOL funny.

"Although reckless driving and minor driver impairment were cited as additional factors, police investigators ruled pure, unadulterated stupidity as the primary cause in the death of an unlicensed motorist involved in a single-car accident Sunday."

Wish I'd Written That...

By Mitchell

Titus, nervous under his stare, and to account for staying at the window so long, felt for the draft again, frowned, and kept his eye hunting among the trees.

The thought of being the cause of such elaborate dissimulation in so simple a soul made Didymus want to smile—or cry, he did not know which … and could do neither. Titus persisted. How long would it be, Didymus wondered faintly, before Titus ungrievingly gave the canary up for lost in the snowy arms of God? The snowflakes whirled at the window, for a moment for all their bright blue beauty as though struck still by lightning, and Didymus closed his eyes, only to find them there also, but darkly falling.

J.F. Powers, Lions, Harts, Leaping Does


J.F. Powers published only two novels during his lifetime, Morte d’Urban and Wheat That Springeth Green, and three volumes of short stories. Powers is largely unknown today, but in his heyday (Morte d’Urban won the National Book Award in 1963, the tail end of the glory days of Catholic literature) he was mentioned in the same company as Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. If he is less well-known today than he should be, blame it on a publisher who didn’t keep the book in print, and an author who took deliberation to new heights (Wheat That Springeth Green took over twenty years to complete).

His stories for the most part dealt with Midwestern Catholic priests in the era prior to and just after the Second Vatican Council: change is in the air, and nobody is quite ready to understand what comes next. His writing is suffused with a ironic wit that is both gentle and probing, familiar and satirical, concocted to produce smiles of satisfaction and recognition (for me, partly from recognizing the landmarks that this fellow Minnesotan targets) – while at the same time underscoring fundamental truths that are every bit as familiar as the foibles of his priests, and on occasion delving into deeper, more serious issues of man’s relationship to God as reflected in his relationships with his fellow man. Don’t be intimidated by that last part, though; his books are rich in eccentric characters and absurd situations (witness the parody of the Northwestern Bank Weather Ball jingle I mentioned last week). Powers is an acquired taste, but a taste worth the sampling.

Part of the pleasure, and the pain, of reading Powers comes from realizing how things have changed for the Catholic Church over the past forty years. When awash in nostalgia, we think of the past as having been a golden era, lacking in the failings and problems that mark our own time. That, of course, is not true – there were plenty of problems back then, as Powers’ contemporaneous writing illustrates.

But if there were problems (or “challenges,” as we would put it today), there were also simple joys that are, today, greatly diminished if not gone altogether. You had a liturgy that might have been routine and somewhat incomprehensible, but it also provided comfort and the possibility of spirituality. There was a glimpse of a society that understood concepts such as respect, restraint, and obligation; a culture that still held certain common reference points and understandings. There were issues that were problems back then (how to make celibacy an exciting concept) that still exist today.

And there is the pain, as well, of seeing the Church wrenched this way and that by change, change both from within and without the Church, change that priests and laity alike are powerless to understand. There is with it a temptation to thank God that, as bad as things may seem now, they were in ways even worse in the late 60s, a time of hideous innovations and almost total abandonment of tradition. Traditionalists may today feel themselves part of a movement fighting against destruction of what the Church stands for, but in those dark days there wasn’t even a movement to join. Thanks to JPII, B16 and many others, we have at least a reason to hope that things are getting better, that we are coming closer to a truly authentic understanding of Vatican II, that we on the way back but at the same time are moving forward.

For that reason, reading Powers is not always easy. It’s worthwhile, though, to make the effort to find him. I was fortunate to pick up his two novels and a book of stories at a remainder bookstore that was going out of business. His stories may be rooted in a particular time and place, but and it’s true that they aren’t “relevant” in the way many might think of it, but the characters that populate them and the issues they face are, and always will be, timeless.

After I’ve finished reading a book, I often like to go online and find out more about the author and how others have interpreted what I’ve read. Here are a couple that give particular insight to Powers and his writing: this column by John Derbyshire and this one by Ronald Weber of Notre Dame.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

MH - The More Things Change...

Here's our latest historical tidbit from the archives of TV Guide. This one is from the Christmas 1958 issue - Sunday, December 21 to be precise. At 5:00 p.m. CBS featured a news program called "Small World" (probably the precursor to "Face the Nation"), hosted by Edward R. Murrow. Ed's guests were Sen. James Eastland (D - MI), political cartoonist Herblock, and political scientist Prof. Denis W. Brogan.

"One of the topics discussed is the controversial proposal to change the senate rules governing fillibusters."

Hmm. To paraphrase Our Lord, "the poor (politicians) you will always have with you". . .

MH - The Man Without a Party

Chris at Veritas has had it with the Republicans (wonder if he’d seen that story about Barton yet?). I asked myself that question a few years ago – why am I a Republican, why am I even involved in politics? (unfortunately, I asked the question while I was in the middle of running for office, which wasn’t the best timing on my part) and came up with the same answer.

As Chris mentioned, there’s a growing difference between being a conservative and a Republican. It’s correct to point out that I generally vote Republican when I vote (in Minneapolis, it’s a challenge to vote for a Democrat, especially when the opposition party here is the Greens), but that happens when the Republican and conservative positions align.

Even here though, you have to be careful. Many’s the Republican who finds a new “maturity” after they’re elected, and with that maturity comes a sudden moderation. (“Things are different once you actually get into office” being a typical explanation.)

Hadleyblogger Gary, like me a former Republican (Gary believes there exists two political choices – his, and the wrong one) is fond of saying that the Republicans and Democrats are often two sides of the same coin – they both believe in big government and want to spend your money, just on different things. (I like to think I’ve had a positive influence on his life in that regard.)

Nonetheless, it’s true that Republicans do tend to offer the more conservative candidates, and to that end I’ll probably wind up voting for them more often (although I find myself questioning even the traditional definition of conservative, about which I’ve written before and will be returning to in upcoming days). What’s more likely to happen is that I’ll continue my drift away from politics, toward one of the more fulfilling aspects of my life – the one that began when I realized you don’t change the world by passing laws, but by converting hearts. (Jim Cork says much the same thing here, and says it beautifully.) You still have to do the one, but you can never forget the other.

MH - Human Sacrifice, Anyone?

This argument (from last night’s stem cell debate in the House) is truly frightening. Ramesh Ponnuru summarizes the view of Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) thustly:

His view is that we allow adults to decide to risk their lives for the greater good--as in the case of members of the armed forces. He argues that if the embryos were capable of voluntarily deciding to sacrifice themselves for the good of science, some of them would; and since parents have custody of their children, they can make this choice for them.

Really. That's his argument. He doesn't deny that the embryos are living human beings--he explicitly says that he believes that they are.

If there are any parents out there who want to sacrifice their children for science, they've got a green light from one committee chairman.
When you give up your own life for others – well, greater love hath no man – but as I recall, there are several terms used for forcing someone to give up their life: murder, act of war, manslaughter (voluntary or involuntary), execution, and human sacrifice. Which one is this, Rep. Barton?

Following that logic, why not murder babies who are born with gross birth defects of one kind or another - after all, a lot of them wouldn’t really want to live like that, would they? Explain to me why this isn’t any different than what Peter Singer advocates? Ah, what a slippery slope. I hope the Republicans in Texas remember this when Rep. Barton comes up for re-election next year.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

MH - Create Them to Kill Them

Additional public funding for embryonic stem cell research continues to gain momentum, passing the House today despite Bush's veto threat. Do they know what the stakes are in this issue? Here's a link from The Curt Jester to Cardinal Keeler's comments. Excerpt:
Such killing in the name of "prgress" crosses a fundamental moral line. Government has no business forcing taxpayers to subsidize the destruction of innocent human life. President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission conceded that human embryos "deserve respect as a form of human life." How does it show respect to treat human lives as mere crops for harvesting?

This has gone largely unnoticed over the last couple of days due to the extensive coverage of the judicial fillibuster "deal," but K-Lo at NRO isn't going to let it die (here she points out the seldom-publicized benefits of umbilical-cord research). Or should I say, she's doing her best to make sure those embryos don't die. We should do the same. The Republicans are starting to weaken on this issue (big surprise there, huh?) - don't let them. Keep the pressure up, and make them morally accountable for what they decide. If not today, then next year at the polls...

Monday, May 23, 2005

MH - The Picture and the Cross

Do you recall the famous story The Picture of Dorian Gray? Maybe you had to read it for some lit class in school. At any rate, this is the famous story by Oscar Wilde (himself a Catholic convert, although you won’t hear that in many lit classes) of the man who lived a life of debauchery yet remained eternally young, while a painting of him grows “aged and corrupt.” Of course, as is usually the case in stories like this, it all catches up with him in the end.

For some reason the story crossed my mind the other day, and at the time it occurred to me it might make a nice Lenten reflection next year – how Christ, in His Passion, takes on the punishment for our sins, and how His battered body, hanging from the Cross, might well be our own Dorian Gray portrait. One can only imagine what any of us might look like were we to receive the just punishment that our sins have deserved. And yet every time we step into the confessional, our sins are wiped clean, and we start again with a blank slate (with some leftovers to be cleaned up in Purgatory).

The thought then came to me that this might make a perfectly good meditation for Corpus Christi as well. After all, you need only take one look at the Cross above the altar, with His bloody corpse on it, to be reminded of the price He paid for our sins. It’s one reason why the Church has always insisted on the corpus on the Cross: so that we recall how this Man, who was more than a Man, voluntarily chose to receive the scourges that should have fallen on us; and how His Blood flew freely, the blood that should have been ours, but which He shed so that sins might be forgiven. When we approach the altar for Communion, we should, indeed, do it in remembrance of Him.

Therefore, whereas Dorian Gray had a picture up in the attic absorbing all the self-inflicted blows of his life, we have the Cross of Christ. There are differences, of course: Dorian Gray’s picture hid the truth of his life, while that Body on the Cross is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Dorian Gray may have wanted to deny the reality of his picture, but we are called not to deny but to unite with the Cross. Unlike the picture, the Cross doesn’t protect us from all suffering – it does something even greater, which is to give meaning to suffering. And while the picture couldn’t protect Dorian Gray from final judgment, the Cross is our means of salvation – without it, we have no hope.

So take a moment this Sunday to reflect on the meaning of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. The Cross is our own picture – not of Dorian Gray, but of us, of what we are and might have been but for the sacrifice of Christ, who gave up His Body and shed His Blood for us. Give thanks that because of this sacrifice, we will (pray God) never see the truth of our own portraits, but will only see Our Savior welcoming us into His paradise.

MH - You Might Be a "Faith Community" If...

I always suspected as much, but thanks to the Curt Jester (again!), I don’t have to check it out for myself. As Rush Limbaugh always said, words mean things, both the words you use and the words you don’t use.

MH - Vocational School

The Curt Jester has a nice roundup of encouraging trends in priestly vocations. The stories regarding St. Paul-Minneapolis were originally listed on Amy Welborn’s blog, but I’m linking to Jeff because of the additional stories. We are most blessed at St. Agnes to have two of our seminarians being ordained on Saturday and saying their first solemn High Masses on Corpus Christi Sunday; and God willing, we’ll be having another seminarian being ordained next year.

In conjunction with this, The Weight of Glory has this story on the new rector of the St. Paul Seminary. We join in hoping that this means more great things for the Church!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

MH - The Passion and Death of Terri Schiavo

That's the topic at tomorrow's (Monday, May 23) meeting of the Minnesota St. Thomas More Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith. The speaker will be Brother Paul O'Donnell, a spiritual advisor to the Schiavo family (you may recall having seen him during TV coverage).

The meeting is at 7:30 tomorrow night at St. Agnes. Directions can be found here. We'll be there; I'm the tall guy with glasses, and Judie is the woman with the long-suffering expression on her face. Seriously, this is a very important topic, and Brother Paul's talk will be of great interest to everyone. We hope to see you there!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

MH – That’s What I’ve Been Saying – Only He Says It Better

Meant to post this on Friday, but didn't get a chance - it's Archbishop Chaput speaking yesterday at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. Read it all here. Thanks, K-Lo at NRO.
Today’s national discussion about religion and politics is sometimes so very strange. If God is the center of our lives, then of course that fact will influence our behavior, including our political decisions. That’s natural and healthy. What’s unnatural and unhealthy is the kind of public square where religious faith is seen as unwelcome and dangerous. But that seems to be exactly what some people want: a public square stripped of God and stripped of religious faith.

MH - School Daze

Hadleyblogger Mike calls our attention to Thursday's Strib and Lileks' regular column:

What's up with the people who want to have school go year-round? "Our kids won't be able to compete on the world market," they whine.

Waitaminnit -- Thomas Edison had summer vacation! Henry Ford had summer vacation! Bill Gates had summer vacation! George Patton had summer vacation! Clearly, America managed to raise its kids to be world leaders, inventors, and innovators while still allowing them that vast canyon of time between June and

Yes. Yes, indeed. During a summer vacation, young Edison caught fireflies, and wondered if their luminescent properties could be reproduced in a laboratory condition. Henry Ford watched his friends roll down the hill in a crude cart with wheels, and wondered whether such a conveyance could be mass-produced. Yes, such a thing might well be done, provided I bust the unions. Patton, no doubt, played war games until dark. George, we gotta go in! Your mom's callin'! No! We're going to Moscow! We can go to Moscow tomorrow, George. C'mon. And I'm sure Bill Gates spent his summer doing housework at his parents' request, fuming: "OK. Fine. I have to do chores, I'm going to do chores. But someday I'm going to find a way to make the world curse windows as much as I do."

Hilarious, as Mike says, and dead on! What good does it do to make kids spend more time in public school if they aren't learning anything in the time they are there? Frankly, I've had the thought cross my mind more than once that our kids would be better off spending less time in public schools, and more time learning on their own - from primary sources (not the edited, p.c. versions they get in public school). When I was in public school (and I hated school, by the way, although I'd love to go back now if I had the time and money), I learned a heck of a lot more about American history by watching Alistair Cooke's magnificant series America. (I'm not a big fan of public schools, in case you hadn't noticed.)

Speaking of which, there was an article in today's Strib suggesting that watching TV might actually make us smarter. Writer Noel Holston outlines the premise as follows:
Building on the "Hill Street" foundation, [author Steven] Johnson continues, the creators of more recent series such as "ER,"The West Wing,"24" and "The Sopranos" purposely withhold information from scenes, forcing viewers to figure out initially confusing plot developments by patiently assessing the context. We're having to pay closer attention, Johnson argues, and in the process we get a more rigorous cognitive workout than we once did. In his view, even a "reality" show such as "Survivor," in which viewers second-guess the contestants, tones up flabby synapses.

Holston doesn't entirely buy that premise and neither do I - rather than TV leading the audience to new heights, he suggests that it's TV that's finally catching up with the public. I think there's a little bit of truth in both ideas, myself (although I'm far from agreeing with the idea that TV's better today than it was in the 50s and 60s, or even the 90s for that matter). But if you're going to argue that kids are better off watching TV than going to school - well, depending on the show and the school, I might be willing to listen . . .

Thursday, May 19, 2005

MH – Wish I’d Written That…

Approaching Inglenook’s period shopping mall – cobblestones, gas lights, board signs – Family Grocer & Fruiterer, Apothecary, Ironmonger, and so on – Joe noticed that the weather ball, from which the mall took its name, Ball Mall, and for which a color code too often appeared in Hub’s Column (Hub being Brad’s nom de plume) in the Inglenook Universe –
When weather ball’s red as fire,
Temperature’s going higher;
When weather ball’s white as snow,
Down temperature will go;
When weather ball’s royal blue,
Forecast says no change is due;
When weather ball blinks in agitation,
Watch out, folks, for precipitation –
was grey, not working.

J.F. Powers, Wheat That Springeth Green

You really have to be a native Minnesotan from a few years back to appreciate how funny that ditty is.

MH - Home Grown

Two more blogs with Minnesota roots – The Seventh Age and The Weight of Glory. Sorry I’m late coming to the party, guys!

Clayton at The Weight of Glory includes an insightful exchange of emails with a writer from one of our local papers who thinks the Church needs to “re-evaluate our views on human sexuality.” (This writer also took part in the Sash demonstration on Sunday.) Clayton’s post indicates, liberals are often quick to call for “dialogue” when it comes to demanding changes in Church teachings, but they don’t seem quite as interested when it means actually entering into a serious discussion of the points they raise. Clayton is absolutely on the mark, though: we have to be willing to engage in discussions like this, even if it turns out the other side doesn’t want to debate. And in order to be willing, we also have to be ready, which means we have to know what we’re talking about. One of the great things about the internet is its ability to educate – not only through the massive amount of source material out there, but also from the blogosphere, where we can gather (electronically, at least) to exchange ideas, thoughts, and information; where we can challenge, reinforce, and enlighten; where we can, in some small way, participate in the ministry of the Church.

The writers at The Seventh Age also provide analysis of the situation here in St. Paul/Minneapolis. (Although I have to take exception with your description of the Strib; I think cats deserve better than that!) There’s a discussion on the Jonah Goldberg’s question “What is a Conservative?” which started over at NRO, and an excellent post regarding the labels “liberal and conservative,” which I wish I’d seen when I was writing my own post on the same subject (both of us referring to the Ignatius essay by Fr. James Schall. Having been in politics one way or another for a majority of my life (though not now, thankfully), I admit I’m still fascinated by the interaction between faith and politics, and the inability of so many (both liberal and conservative) to understand the idea that your faith has to inform every aspect of your life, including your political life – it isn’t like a switch that you can turn on and off at your convenience. Jesus constantly tells us that His ways are not the ways of the world, and it reminds us that the terms “liberal and conservative” frequently are just that. It’s like trying to translate a French opera into Russian for an English-speaking audience. You have to know the right language, and when it comes to the hereafter, the language of the here-and-now often doesn’t cut it.

I’m looking forward to adding these two blogs to our links at the right.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

MH – So What?

No sanctions for St. Stephen’s Church, one of the churches ignoring Archbishop Flynn’s admonition to deny the Eucharist to Sash wearers. Just catching up on posting this, via Veritatis Splendor from the Strib.

No comment. Wouldn’t be charitable.

MH – Coca-Cola, Anyone?

Maybe it’s not Corporate America after all. I guess we should just call it, what, Corporate Nation? (Think Rollerball.) Read all about PepsiCo head giving U.S. the middle finger. Thanks to K-Lo for the link, The New Criterion for the post, and a major tip to PowerLine for digging this up (see story here and update here).

I don’t know what’s worse – the idea that she knew what she was doing and really did give the U.S. the bird, or the thought that she was just going through some clever-cutesy routine she’d been taught in a motivational speaking class.

MH – Alfred Hitchcock, Call Your Office

Swooping birds attack Houston residents. Via CNN.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

MH - We're Syndicated!

Just a reminder . . .

We've added content syndication to Our Word!

MH - What Benedict Is Really Like

Thanks to Roman Catholic Blog, via Wheat & Weeds (sounds like the breeding of a racehorse, doesn't it?), here's another great story (courtesy The American Spectator) that tells you more about the character of our new Holy Father than all the wailings of Charles Curran, Andy Greeley, et al. The ancedote is marvelous; the conclusion from John Haas hits the mark (and gives us our own marching orders):
The election of Benedict XVI has raised the stakes in the culture wars significantly. His positions on radical feminism, relativism, liturgical innovation, rampant secularism are well known. Rather than cowering before the "gay" movement he referred on Good Friday of the "filth" that had made its way even into the priesthood and has not only opposed same sex "marriage" but has insisted such individuals should not serve as teachers or youth leaders. It is impossible to know how the struggle will play itself out during his pontificate, but it is clear that he will wage the battle with Christ-like firmness imbued with kindness and gentleness. Those characteristics may disarm his opponents more than any fire-breathing condemnations. They are the weapons of Christ Himself.

MH - Gays Against Gay Marriage

Via Political Capital, this intriguing story from the Boston Globe profiling supporters and opponents of gay marriage in Massachusetts. Of particular interest is the quote Jarrett pulls from one Brian Brandt, "a gay male opponent of gay marriage":
"Before I am a gay male, for lack of a better term, I'm an American," he said. And endorsing gay marriage, he believes, leads to a slippery slope and weakens a great institution.

''We do have the right to marry," he said. ''We just have to marry someone of the opposite gender."

It's really refreshing, no matter what their political pursuasion, to find someone who doesn't use their own personal preference as "best evidence" when it comes to interpreting the law.

Monday, May 16, 2005

MH - A Friend In Need

A story making its way through the Catholic blogosphere is the continuing struggle for survival of the publishing house TAN. Here's more info from Relapsed Catholic - as Kathy says, "this is a way to build your library and help out a struggling business." These people have backed up their faith and their witness with their money, and they deserve our support.

MH - Details From the Conclave

From Annunciations, a link to this story giving some insight into the doings at the Conclave. I love history - as I've mentioned, I was a papal history buff long before I converted, and I snapped up books written after the last Conclave (even Andrew Greeley's, and I ought to get some kind of award for seeing through him even before I converted), so I had to post this - I'm a sucker for this kind of story, even though it leaves you wanting more.

It's a great reassurance, though, to see that even these powerful men are humbled in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and of events far larger and greater than themselves.

MH - "I just wish they would have come to mass for Jesus, not for themselves."

So said Kathleen Kerkenhoff of St. Paul, as quoted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this morning.

She’s referring to the Rainbow Sash wearers who showed up at the St. Paul Cathedral yesterday, and were denied Communion. It's become a national story, but living here in Minneapolis we get a local angle on it. According to the Strib, more than 150 sash-wearers “were sent away from communion empty-handed.” Sash leaders reported that at least two parishes, St. Stephen's and St. Joan of Arc, did give communion to sash wearers, which will surprise absolutely none of us here in Minnesota.

I want to come back to Ms. Kerkenhoff’s quote though, which I think hits it on the head. These sash wearers, if they were interested in receiving Jesus and not simply in making a political statement, could easily have left the sash at home (or in the pew, for that matter), received the sacrament, and returned to the pew. Whether they were properly disposed to receive or not is beside the point for what we’re talking about – if they had “come to mass for Jesus,” there’s nothing that could have prevented that. Priests aren’t mind readers.

Of course, this is something each of us should consider, applying it to our own lives. You can ask the usual questions - are we in the proper frame of mind when we attend Mass? Have we made a good confession? Are we aware of serious sin? – but ask yourself at the same time why you’re at Mass in the first place. Is it a social function where you get together with friends afterwards for brunch or coffee? Is it because you like the homily or the music? Is it because you like others to see you in church, you like the message it sends to them about how good you are? Has it simply become routine, after all these years?

One thing to remember – it’s a theme that runs through many discussions of liturgical reform – is that the focus of the Mass is not on us, not on the priest, but on Christ Himself; Christ crucified, Christ risen. Our thoughts, our prayers, our worship – all of it should be directed toward Him. As John the Baptist reminds us, “I must decrease, and He must increase.”

Hand it to John Reinan, the Strib writer who included this quote, as well as Ms. Kerkenhoff. It’s not often that one can ask an eternal question, one that applies to all times, to all circumstances, to all people, regardless of circumstances. Give it some thought before you go to Mass next Sunday, as I will, and be honest with your answer.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

MH - Wish I'd Written That...

Of all the advice that Horace Sinclair received from his fellow Owossoeans – those self-interested widows; the young matrons aside from Mrs. Feller; the men his own age (usually “cardiac” patients full of frightened optimism about the new regime Dr. Hume had them on) – the piece he most disliked was the injunction against “living so much in the past.” It always assumed that the past, while perhaps not a bad place, was too easy a spot for anyone to live in; that abiding there was an “escape” that didn’t challenge the mind, which left it as vulnerable as all those septuagenarian hearts. Whereas Horace knew that living in the past demanded much more effort than living in the here and now. As it receded ever further, the past required more and more work for a man to keep up with it, ever greater imaginative stamina to keep chasing it down the tracks. The present asked no more than that he get aboard and take a window seat. Living there showed nothing like a proper regard for life or time; it made them both disposable, like the magazines that had stolen their names. The past was the present treasured and enhanced, an object needing the same care as the late Mrs. Sinclair’s silver tea service, the one she had received from her sister in Boston, in 1900, as a wedding present. Horace continued to apply the pink polish to it every Saturday, even though he had never been able to stand the smell through all the decades of his marriage.

Thomas Mallon, Dewey Defeats Truman

MH - Just How Far Can the Company Come Into Your Life?

I saw a story on Fox News this evening regarding an increasing trend for companies to fire employees who smoke, even if they're smoking on their own time, in their own home. Reason given - it's the employer's business, since they're paying a portion of the employee's health care benefits, and costs can expect to be higher for the employer as a result of health-related medical issues unique (or more prevalent) to smokers. Here's the link to a story about this, courtesy of The Smoking Gun (no pun intended).

I can understand making employees pick up a surcharge for the cost of their premiums if they smoke; I've worked for companies that have such a policy. But to prohibit their employees from engaging in a legal, if damaging, act?

Now, let me pose this question: how many of these companies pay benefits for homosexual couples? Even though one could argue that homosexuals run a greater risk of contracting AIDS, and thus cost the company money? Can you see anyone getting away with that? Or paying for abortions under their health plan, despite evidence of links between abortion and breast cancer - and certainly breast cancer treatment would run the insurance company a few bucks. As this reporter points out:
Drinking too much alcohol can lead to health problems. Should employers test workers for alcohol byproducts or simply follow them to see if they drive to bars or liquor stores after work? Insufficient exercise increases the risk of heart attack and other problems. Should businesses check up on employees to make sure they all exercise at least one hour three times a week? Could a corporation force all workers to stay after work to exercise if it will lower insurance costs? Some insurers charge a premium for policyholders who participate in sports such as skydiving. Should employers pre-approve the sports wage earners participate in? Sexual promiscuity can lead to many diseases. Should employers look into employees' sex lives?

I'd be amused to find out that tobacco companies had decided to fire any employee who used a product manufactured by a company that has such a policy against smokers, on the grounds that purchase of that product was indirectly detrimental to the economic well-being of the tobacco company. Could that be the start of the corporate wars we hear so much about in movies like Rollerball?

Fr. Rob, you were talking about the obligations businesses have to their employees. As a man known to enjoy a good cigar now and then, I'd value your opinion on this...

MH - It All Depends On How You Define It

As a follow-up to that previous post, I’d like to offer an excerpt and comment on Jonah Goldberg’s question “What Is a Conservative?” It seems a good time to raise this question, what with there being so many factions out there these days. It’s a good column; I don’t agree with everything, but I think he’s right about many things, and provides ideas that can be adapted into understanding deeper truths.

For example, in this paragraph he seems to echo the comments of Fr. Schall:
Conservatism in its most naked form is amoral. It all depends on what you’re conserving. A true revolutionary in a truly decent and humane society is almost aurely going to be a fool, an ass, a tyrant, or, most likely, all three. A conservative in a truly evil regime is even more likely to be the same. Hence, it seems to me, that no person can call himself a Christian if he isn’t in at least some tiny way a conservative because to be a Christian is to conserve some part of the lessons or teachings of that revolutionary from 2,000 years ago.

IMHO, he’s exactly right here. Certainly many of us would react querulously to the idea that we live in “a truly decent and humane society.” That’s why people like JPII were true radicals in the countercultural messages they preached. He adds, “And it seems to me patently obvious that religion and conservatism aren’t necessarily partners. Put it this way, Jesus was no conservative — and there endeth the lesson.”

He also makes a salient point in this paragraph:
It also needs to be said that you don’t really have to be a free-marketer or capitalist to be a conservative. There are vast swaths of life that one may wish to conserve that are constantly being uprooted, paved over, or dismantled by the market. As a practical matter, there are serious problems with trying to protect things from market forces. Protecting horse-and-buggy society from the automobile may be a conservative instinct, but in order to translate your instinct into practice you may have to do some pretty un-conservative (and tyrannical) things. But, in principle, if conservatism implies a resistance to change than it seems to me opposing the profound changes free enterprise imposes on society is a conservative impulse.

As I pointed out last week, subsidiarity and solidism are not liberal practices, in the way we’ve come to define them. The entire school of economic thought we’ve been discussing emphasizes smaller economic units, more local control, and less government intervention. Where we might run into a problem with the modern conservative ideal is in the suggestion that restrictions (whether governmental or moral) need to be attached to free enterprise in order to keep it from overrunning our humanity. I think Jonah exaggerates (in order to make the point) with his comment about horse-and-buggy society, but he raises an excellent question: for example, if the government were to put some kind of restriction on Wal-Mart in order to keep it from running mom-and-pop stores out of business (assuming that could be proven; I’m also exaggerating to make the point), would we view that as an un-conservative action, again using an accepted definition of the word conservative? He’s probably right, which means at some point you’d have to decide if doing the un-conservative is doing the right thing. If you answer “yes,” and if you think of yourself as a doctrinaire conservative, you’re likely to have a short-circuit somewhere along the line. (Which is why I defer to Fr. Schall’s disagreement with the use of the term as an all-encompassing ideology.)

Here’s what Jonah comes up with as a definition of conservatism: Comfort with contradiction. And I think that’s pretty good, as long as we’re discussing a certain kind of comfort in certain areas. There are some contradictions I can’t feel comfortable about: a Republican party that embraced a pro-abortion presidential candidate, for example. And this leads us directly into the link between Christianity and conservatism, which we’ll revisit at the end of this discussion. Jonah’s link is this: “[B]eing a Christian involves some level of conservatism. It is a devotion to a set of principles set forth in the past and carried forward to today and, hopefully, tomorrow.” But if this is the link between religion and politics, how does that link function in the routine interaction between the two?
Christianity, as I understand it, holds that the perfect world is the next one, not this one. We can do what we can where we can here, but we’re never going to change the fact that we’re fallen, imperfect creatures. There’s also the whole render-unto-Caesar bit. And, of course, the Judeo-Christian tradition assumes we are born in sin, not born perfect before bourgeoisie culture corrupts us into drones for the capitalist state.

In other words, while Christianity may be a complete philosophy of life, it is only at best a partial philosophy of government. When it attempts to be otherwise, it has leapt the rails into an enormous vat of category error. This is one reason why I did not like it when President Bush said his favorite political philosopher was Jesus Christ. I don’t mind at all a president who has a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s just that I don’t think Jesus is going to have useful advice about how to fix Social

Just so - sort of. It’s been one of my main gripes with bishops’ conferences that try to interject themselves into all kinds of political issues (such as raising taxes). Jonah's right in that I doubt you can find explicit instructions in the Bible that says "Thou shalt introduce personal savings plans in thy Social Security reform." Perhaps what Bush should have said (and, for all I know, maybe this is what he was trying to say) is that Jesus is his philosopher, his councilor, in all aspects of life. Maybe Jesus doesn’t make political decisions, but He makes us what we are (if we let Him), and what we are is what we will be, even if we’re politicians. In a way, this goes back to my early essay on All the King’s Men, which I contended was not about political men, but about men in politics, which is something entirely different.

You can’t deny that there’s a moral element to all decisions, including Social Security. To simply abolish it, for example, when people who’ve given to it Therefore, while Christ may not have the exact answer as to how to fix Social Security, it would be short-sighted to suggest that a conscience informed by Christ’s teachings would take a unique set of factors into consideration when deciding what policy to pursue. Christianity may be a partial philosophy of government, or it may be no philosophy of government at all; if you assume that your philosophy of life influences your philosophy of government, it would be impossible to say that your philosophy of government is only partially influenced by Christianity, in the same way that it would be impossible to say that glass of water has only been partially influenced by the packet of Kool-Aid you just poured into it.

Can political philosophy exist divorced, in part or in whole, from your philosophy of life? Are they separate circles that intersect in a particular area, or is one circle – the philosophy of politics – a subset wholly contained within that larger circle, the philosophy of life?

Christ may not tell us how to vote on every single issue; He tells us how to live, which is bigger. A well-informed life, which is to say a well-informed conscience, will lead us to the decisions He wants us to make. He wants us to think for ourselves and to conform those thoughts to His will; and to the extent that we pour Him into ourselves, we will take on His color and He will be present in our decisions. So to that extent, He is a political philosopher, since political philosophy is that smaller circle within the larger circle that we as Christians have totally pledged to Christ.

In the end, Jonah comes full circle (if I can belabor that image), so we wind up exactly we were in Fr. Schall’s discussion. Is Christianity conservative, or does it simply have certain characteristics that it shares with conservatism? Here’s Jonah:
Any ideology or outlook that tries to explain what government should do at all times and in all circumstances is un-conservative. Any ideology that sees itself as the answer to any question is un-conservative. Any ideology that promises that if it were fully realized there would be no more problems, no more trade-offs, no more elites, and no more inequality of one kind or another is un-conservative.

This is right, which is why Christianity can be seen as un-conservative for all the similarities there are between the two.

Christianity is, as Jonah writes, “a complete philosophy of life,” but as Christians we also know that not everyone accepts the message; indeed, we are acutely aware that we will be hated and reviled by many for our beliefs. And then there’s original sin, of course, which pretty much guarantees the existence of some kind of conflict. For that reason, we know it ain’t gonna happen, not in this world. And I don’t think Christians try to pretend that we can create heaven on earth. Plus, of course, there’s that pesky “free will” thing I keep talking about, which Communists, for example, would never accept.

Jonah concludes his column with a quote I find hard to refute: “Conservatism isn’t inherently pessimistic, it is merely pessimistic about the possibility of changing the permanent things and downright melancholy about those who try.” But as Christians, we’re called to rise above it all: “Be not afraid,” as JPII said. To be realistic about the difficulties facing us is not the same thing as being pessimistic. And to be pessimistic is human, part of our fallen nature; but our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made Heaven and earth. I figure anyone Who can accomplish all that, especially in a week, is deserving of our confidence.

MH - What's In a Label?

Gracias to Lane at A View from the Core, who brought to our attention this excellent article from the always interesting Fr. James Schall, “On Being Neither Liberal Nor Conservative.” Borrowing Lane’s excerpt:

The division of the world into "liberal" and "conservative" on every topic from politics to our taste in cuisine, clothes, or automobiles is one of the really restricting developments that has ever happened to us. If we are not what is considered popularly a "liberal," then we must, by some convoluted logic, be a "conservative," or vice versa. No third or fourth option is available as is usually the case in the real world. It has to be, we are told, either this way or that.

Such a view makes things very simple, I suppose. But it also reduces our minds to utter fuzziness. We are required to define everything as either liberal or conservative even when the two allowable terms of definition are not adequate to explain the reality that they are intended to describe.

This is precisely the point I’ve tried to make in my Distributist series – that labels can be wholly inadequate. For the most part, I fall into the category considered “conservative,” but I strongly reject the idea that to be a conservative one must totally embrace capitalism and the free market, come what may. To enforce the economic bottom line at the cost of degrading the humanity of the worker or the consumer is, to me, too high a price to pay. This doesn’t mean I’m anti-capitalist; like Bishop Wilhelm Emmanual von Ketteler, I believe we have to live with and work with the system we have. But we have to do precisely that - work within the system to restore the dignity of the worker, to make corporations more accountable , to keep them from becoming societal preditors.

Now, some people would accuse me of being a socialist, or at least a liberal, for saying such things. Of course, the very definition of Distributism puts the lie to socialism, but you get my point. There are those who think being a conservative or a liberal, a Republican or a Democrat, requires a consistent, if not singular, school of thought. To stray from that agenda somehow endangers your credentials. Conceivably, were I still active in politics, I could be drummed out of the conservative movement for my opinions on Corporate America. I certainly wouldn’t get much from them in the way of campaign contributions.

To me the only consistency I must pursue (I prefer to think of it as a holistic approach) is that of the Gospel as taught by Our Lord and handed down by the Church. Every decision I make must be informed by that teaching and naturally flows from the combination of “Faith and Reason” that JPII talked about. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for disagreement within the Church in some areas. It does mean, as B16 has stressed, that there is such a thing as real truth, and that truth cannot contradict itself.

While I find much in conservatism that is compatible with this teaching, I don’t think you can make that a blanket statement. That’s why, to use the buzzwords that are so popular today, I can’t see myself fully as either neocon or paleocon. I’ll accept Fr. Schall’s description as a pretty good way of how I look at myself – as should we all:

If we are what is classically called "orthodox," we are neither liberal or conservative as these terms are used today. We are wildly radical and revolutionary. No one is radical as we are over against a culture that has embodied these practices into its very soul. This is what Pope Ratzinger meant by observing that it is the world, not he, that has changed. When Benedict XVI is called a "conservative" or an "arch-conservative," he is in fact nothing of the sort. He is much more "radical" than the wildest theory on the left or the right, however it be designated.

Again, read it all here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

MH - Another Fan .. .

...of What's My Line? comes out of the closet!

Our number are legion...

MH - Another New Link

I wish I'd seen this site when I was writing my Distributism series. The ChesterBelloc Mandate, an existing blog that's now back up and running. I'm adding it to our favorites list; if you had any interest in the series we ran here, and want to find out more about it (like, what was that Hadley guy really talking about?) go no further. Click on it now!

MH - The Unfriendly Skies?

Fr. Rob Johansen on another reason why Corporate America is capitalism's worst enemy:

United Airlines Abandons Pension Plan.

With friends like these . . .

Monday, May 9, 2005

MH - Just Who Is This Guy, Anyway?

Speaking of conscience as we were just a moment ago, most of you are probably familiar with Andrew Sullivan. He pops up in most serious discussions, not only in the blogosphere but in the MSM as well. Sullivan considers himself a Catholic but he differs strongly from the Church's teaching on homosexual behavior. Sullivan is, or at one time was, generally thought to be a political conservative, but as he allows this issue to color more and more of his thought, he becomes less and less convincing in his arguments. This is compounded by the fact that Sullivan is often a brilliant thinker and writer, which lends his arguments a weight that they don't always merit.

For a good background on Sullivan and where he comes from (philosophically speaking), read this very good post, "The Vicar of Heterodoxy," at the very fine blog Musings of a Pertinacious Papist, which I'll be adding to the blog list shortly. Philip is a fine writer, but even if he wasn't, I'd be adding his blog because of the title alone! ;)

UPDATE: Chris at Veritas has Sullivan's latest "unhinged" screed.

MH - The Inconvenient Conscience

The title of an excellent article by George Cardinal Pell in the May issue of First Things. It really should be required reading for people like Mario "our religion teaches you have to follow your conscience" Cuomo. Excerpts:
But while some see conscience as God's invitation to embrace His law as free subjects, others see it as a radical call to personal freedom. Indeed, for many people today, the word "conscience' suggests not law at all, but the freedom to judge by our own personal resources and the right to act as we each think best - a rejection, in other words, of the need for morality and creed; a claim that I should be allowed to live as I choose.

Of course, this view is often dressed up with the claim that conscience is a special faculty that speaks to us, rather like an oracle, and it may even be elevated to the status of a doctrine: the "primacy of conscience." But however it is presented, it stands in contrast to the view that sonscience is instead simply the mind thinking practically and morally. We think well when we understand moral pirnciples and apply them in clear and reasonable ways; we think badly when we ignore or reinvent moral principles, or apply them in ambiguous and unreasonable ways. "Good conscience," in this way of understanding, means a good grasp and a good application of moral truth - for it is the truth that remains primary, the truth that is grasped and applied by the practical mind.

But why, Cardinal Pell wonders, do people feel compelled to "oppose conscience to objective truth?" Partly because of a "distorted attitude towards the virtue of tolerance," or as many have come to see it, "never judging." Ironic how those who most talk about tolerance are often the least tolerant when it comes to opposing viewpoints. In effect, Cardinal Pell says, "the only things we must be tolerant of are people's sexual choices, or perhaps their choices about such life issues as abortion or euthanasia."

Why is this such a big deal? Why incorporate such dissent as a matter of "conscience"? "[I]t seems clear that most dissenters do not fear guilt if they obey the Church. What they fear is precisely the frustration of their unsatisfied desires."
There are many motivations for believing in a conscience against the Church. For example, people often project their personal dilemmas onto external bodies. So someone reared a Catholic might say, "I have a problem with the Church," when his real problem is a contradiction within himself. In truth, most real-life dilemmas are not between the inner person and external authority but between competing desires and reasons that the person has trouble reconciling. As a way of sidestepping the terrible tension a moral dilemma can create, people may identify one side of the dilemma with their own conscience and the other with an external power such as the Church.

As Cardinal Pell notes dryly, "It hardly needs saying that this may not be the most accurate way to represent our situation."

There's a lot more to this meaty article. Buy the dang magazine, already!

Saturday, May 7, 2005

MH - More on Corporate America and Conservatism

I’m always delighted to find bloggers who agree with me . . . wait a minute, let me start over again.

I’m always delighted to find bloggers who touch on areas of interest to me. As I mentioned yesterday, this is such a great way to be introduced to new ways of thinking and new sources of information.

Case in point is the blog Caelum et Terra, which I discovered courtesy of Veritas. In it, Maclin Horton links to Stephen Bainbridge’s “The Conservative Case Against Wal-Mart.” Professor Bainbridge’s post is excellent (here he quotes law professor Stephen Presser and adds some thoughts of his own):

Note carefully this line: the "policy of encouraging incorporation by persons of modest means 'facilitated the growth of a viable urban democracy by allowing a wide participation in businesses that could most advantageously be organized as corporations.'" By trampling small businesses underfoot, through its mix of volume pricing and subsidies, Wal-Mart and its ilk undermine the possibility of "wide participation in businesses." Prospective entrepreneurs are thus pushed out of fields like retail.

Of course, maybe Wal-Mart makes up for that by buying products from small entrepreneurs in places like China. But do we really want to encourage our nation’s most likely future superpower rival to further build up its economy with massive trade deficits?
This hits right on the points I’ve been trying to make in my series on Distributism, as does the commentary by Maclin:
I spend a lot of time railing about the enormous blind spot which American conservatism has about big business. And for that matter the left is pretty blind, too, in a different way. Pardon me for stating the obvious--to me this is about like observing that water is wet--but big business is no friend of conservative values (to say nothing of specifically Catholic values) either in principle or in practice.
Now, by coincidence, this was not the first time I’d seen Professor Bainbridge’s blog. It’s amazing what you can stumble into when you’re looking for something else – I was following a link from Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO regarding that debate over David Oderberg’s column suggesting W. has a greater appreciation of some traditional moral values than JPII. This led to my first look at the Prof’s blog, which in turn led to a link to an article he’d written: Corporate Decisionmaking and the Moral Rights of Employees: Participatory Management and Natural Law. Not surprisingly, this deals with questions of employee participation in corporate governance and whether or not it justifies government intervention.

This is like Christmas morning if you’re interested in this topic, and I think most of us should be, considering the impact our workplaces have on our lives. Some people have scoffed at my "crusade" against Corporate America - "you're making too much of it." My first thought was, “Vindication! I’m not crazy! There is an issue here!” That’s not to say that everyone writing about this agrees with everything I say, or vice versa. It does mean that I’m not the only one who thinks there are important Catholic moral issues on the line, that they strongly translate to the effects Corporate America has on our culture, and that they are not (or should not) be incompatible with conservative political thought.

Going back to Caelum et Terra, I next find this post by Maclin, which touches on one of my original posts, “The Indignity of Work”:
Throughout the document [he refers to a software agreement document], the words "resource" and "resources" are used in place of the words "person" and "persons" (or "people")--even in contexts where the reference is not to resources that might include persons but specifically and only to persons. E.g. "a resource must log in to the server."
Remember my contention – we started to go downhill when personnel departments were renamed “human resources.” When a person becomes a resource, we subtly begin to dehumanize that person, and pretty soon they wind up being little more than a statistic. It appears Maclin has the same concerns.

Finally, linking back to some of the questions implicit in the Wal-Mart debate, there was this article at NRO, written by Meghan Cox Gurdon. Amidst this mostly wry look at her very first trip to Target, she shares some of her apprehensions about buying products made in China:
I have to say; it's an odd sensation to fall consciously into the grip of one's greediest impulses, to feel them tapped by cunning manufacturers in what is, after all, a largely hostile power. Walking the floor of this popular store, I feel like an Indian, trading Manhattan for a handful of shiny beads; I feel like Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, accepting enchanted Turkish Delight from the White Witch. I am aware enough to be worried about the consequences, but gluttonous enough to gobble what I'm offered. And, like I say, I do need sunglasses.


Like a Seventies-era mother, hesitating over an open vial of tranquilizers, I wonder: Is this really a good idea? What is a thrifty, patriotic consumer to do? Should I avoid buying Chinese products so as to help reduce the U.S.-China trade deficit and reduce the chance that eventually they will shoot at us with weaponry purchased with our own dollars? Or is it preferable to buy Chinese products, trust in the benefits of competition, and hope that the brutality of communism is like every other problem, and will improve if you rub enough money into it? Should the modern American woman have an opinion on the yuan, the jiao, and the tiniest of fens?
She talks to a family friend who’s also a government official knowledgeable about such things, who reassures her that she shouldn’t feel guilty about this:
"The People's Liberation Army is largely out of the consumer export business," he says. "So China's military machine is not benefiting from your purchase of sneakers and napkin rings from Target to the degree you might think. The machine is benefiting from the overall development of China's economy, but at the same time, China's interests in employing that machine in ways that counter U.S. interests are increasing at a more rapid rate than the military is expanding."

I don't know about you, but I find that a relief. He goes on: "The vast majority of goods produced for sale here are done so with foreign direct investment, so China's trade with the United States is truly benefiting the growing middle class in China and the investor class in the U.S. Those $10.99 sneakers are contributing to someone's freedom and your husband's retirement fund," he says: "Shop to your heart's content!" I imagine saying this to my husband.

Yet I am still uneasy. "But — what about American producers?"

"It is better to buy American if you can," says the S.G.O., his voice taking on a hint of the old cod liver oil, "But frankly it would be best to save your money. The deficit, as you know, is partly a function of our low savings rate and domestic economic strength. You could keep wearing your old sneakers, bank the $10.99, thus increasing the funds available to invest in this country and... reduce our deficit with China! Ta-da!"
As I say, this is mostly played for laughs, but the way she continues to come back to it, the way her conscience keeps on considering it, makes me think she’s trying to make a more serious point here. How many times have we run into the same situation – the end justifies the means, the economic impact of what we do outweighs any moral qualms we might have. Or, more crudely, the almighty dollar trumps everything! If it’s good for the economy, it must be good for us! Who cares whether or not it’s good for society?

It reminds me of a disturbing conversation I once had with a fellow Catholic over the policies followed by the company he worked for. Although this company contributed to groups that supported abortion and provided homosexual partnership benefits, he insisted that the good the company did outweighed any bad it might be responsible for. “We do a lot for the community,” he said. “Plus our products are family-friendly.”

Swell, I thought. Your company is family-friendly, yet your corporate management contributes to groups that want to murder members of your core constituency before they have a chance to be born, and encourages movements that want to break up the family altogether. I didn’t say that, of course. What I wanted to ask him was if he’d been to confession lately, but I didn’t ask that either. As I said, he was a fellow Catholic. I didn’t say he was a friend.

My point is that what his company really found family-friendly was that they could make a lot of money off of families. The fact that their corporate-giving philosophy would, if carried to the ultimate, eliminate those consumers never entered his mind.

But beyond that, there’s a larger point, the idea that you can buy your way into Heaven. Catholics have been hit by that charge many times by our Protestant brethren, not always without merit. In this case, we’re talking about some vague idea of equilibrium, that there’s a mystical scale somewhere that weighs the good and bad we do, that somehow each act carries equal weight, and that at the end of the day if the good outweighs the bad we’ve somehow been justified in our actions. I admit none of us is perfect, but it’s not so easy to ignore those “bad” things (if, in our dictatorship of relativism, there’s really any such thing as “bad”). As Shakespeare pointed out, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” The Sacrament of Confession is designed to forgive us our sins; it does not remove the consequences of those sins from our lives and the lives of others.

Regardless of the good we do, we will be called to account some day for the evil we do. Hopefully, we can come up with a better explanation than, “Yes, but did you see our bottom line?”

Friday, May 6, 2005

MH - Those Rainbow Warriors

I've been busy having a wisdom tooth removed (I know, you didn't think I had that much wisdom to begin with), so I'm going to defer to fellow Minnesotan Veritatis Splendor's coverage of Archbishop Flynn's decision to deny communion to Rainbow Sash wearers.

Read here, here and here.

Also, Amy has a post on it here, with interesting comments - amazing how many angles there are to this story. Almost as many as the hole where my tooth used to be . . .

UPDATE: More perspective on this from Roman Catholic Blog and Some Have Hats.
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