Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Where There's a Will

By Judith

How many times have you heard someone say that whenever adversity arises, how you handle it is all in the attitude.

One of Our Word's friends, for example, has this situation in her work place. A key person is getting ready to retire and his attitude has gone downhill. "Not my problem" or "I don't care, I'm not going to be around" is the response when something difficult comes up. Now apparently this person has felt ill-used for some time and there is a great deal to be discussed on how employees are treated. However, having a job and receiving a paycheck implies a certain responsibility to perform the duties of the job regardless of the situation.

Now let's look at how attitude can make a difference. If one chooses to focus on how bad the situation is and wants to play the victim card then that person not only makes himself miserable, but brings everyone else down. If the person decides that he only has a short time left and is going to make the best of it, then he has the opportunity to not only make himself feel better, he can be of service to others and offer up his sacrifice at the same time.

Where does attitude come from in the first place? We all know people with sunny dispositions and those who continually see the world through morose-colored glasses. Is this just nature, or do people largely decide how they will react to situations? Our outward attitude is influenced by our will, and how our will is formed can make all the difference. Have we conformed our will to God's or have we decided to forge it in our own image? Are we going it alone, subject to being tossed by the gale, or are we sailing in the boat with the One who can calm the wind?

There are countless situations in our lives that can be made better by setting our will by God's compass. This doesn't mean that we have to live our lives as doormats or be Pollyannas. It means that even though we may have to put up with things that we don't like, we can still make them an opportunity for grace.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Report from the Chesterton Conference

By Judith

So this is what people used to do before television. Listen to interesting people talk on interesting subjects.

To be sure, some speakers present better than others. Whether one has a gift for public speaking or not, it's absolutely essential that the talk is well researched and well written. After that, presentation is a matter of practice. A few of the presenters needed more research and writing skill. Even a volunteer presentation at a free conference deserves the best one can do.

An example of a truly gifted speaker is Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society and author of a number of books and articles on Chesterton. His speech opened the proceedings on Thursday night. He knows his subject inside and out and his presentations contain intelligence, warmth and a biting wit. His talk "Abandon all hopelessness Ye who enter here," provided an overview of Chesterton and Dickens (it was the 100th anniversary of the publication of Chesterton's book on Dickens). As Mr. Ahlquist stated, "Dickens preserved the past; Chesteron preserved Dickens; we're preserving Chesterton."

He went on to explain that pessimism (which is really despair) isn't the opposite of optimisim (which is really presumption). Their opposites are sorrow and joy, both of which can lead to hope.

On Friday Fr. Stanley Jaki spoke on Dickens and Darwin: The Two Who Never Met. I wish I could say that I got a lot out of this talk, but the truth is that between Fr. Jaki's accent and his drifting away from the microphone, I picked up very little. For an interesting account of Fr. Jaki's small seminar on Intelligent Design, check out Ray's post at Stella Borealis.

"Trials and Triumphs of a Chesterton Bibliographer" sounds as though it could have been a dull, academic presentation of a listing of Chesterton's miles of published works. In reality, it was one of the best sessions. Geir Hasnes has been working on pulling together the ultimate list of Chesterton's writings. And what a task it is. Mr. Hasnes' talk was delightfully entertaining, explaining why it was important to do the job, how it was being accomplished and what was left to do.

Christopher Check, Executive Vice President of the Rockford Institute, presented "Chesterton Unplugged," a talk about Chesterton's skepticism about unchecked progress and how technology might not always be our friend. And of course, this was well before computers, television, iPods and cell phones. (Mr. Check suggested we all gather at the river and throw them in.) I agree that technology can be used for ill as well as good and there are great temptations to overuse it instead of following other pursuits such as praying, spending time with family and friends, playing a musical instrument or reading. However, I can't help but think that the ever-populist Chesterton would have been intrigued by the bloggisphere and the opportunity for opinions and ideas to be explored beyond the constrains of the main-stream-media.

The final talk on Friday night was by Joseph Pearce, author of a number of biographies of Catholic writers and editor of the St. Austin Review. He spoke on Chesterton and C. S. Lewis. Mr. Pearce is also a speaker who has had much experience in giving talks and knows how to blend humor and seriousness to bring his subject alive. Of course, having the topic of Chesterton and Lewis helps.

On Saturday morning Adam Schwartz, professor of history at Christendom College, spoke on Chesterton and Malcolm Muggeridge. He spent a good deal of time going over ground with Chesterton that his audience probably already knew and too little time on Muggeridge. Muggeridge was, like Chesterton, a convert to Catholicism. Probably the overriding reason for Catholicism to appeal to Muggeridge was that it was the only religious institution in the world that was solidly, uncompromisingly pro-life. He believed that the sanctity of life was more important than the quality of life; that we cannot pass judgment on what a life is worth, whether in the womb or for the sick and old. His was an all-or-nothing view: either every life is worth living or no life is worth living. And here we also get into Catholic thought on pain and suffering and what a pleasing - and useful - sacrifice the offering of these can be.

We were not able to attend the smaller group discussions in the afternoon, so I'd be interested in hearing how they went.

I think that the conference was what I was expecting. And not. A lot of sitting and listening. A lot of time wandering around the booths of the booksellers. Running into a few people we know. Trying to take in so much information that my brain hurts.

So, give it a try next year. It will be June 14 - 16, 2007. The theme: "The Man Who Was Thursday Through Saturday."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Chesterton Conference

By Judith

Today begins the 25th annual Chesterton Conference, convening at the Brady Educational Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas. The theme of this year's meeting is "The Best of All Impossible Worlds." 2006 also marks the 100th anniversary of Chesterton's book Charles Dickens, so some of the presenters will be aiming their talks in this direction.

This is the first year that we've attended, so I'm not sure what to expect. To be quite honest, outside of some of the writers for Gilbert magazine, the only speaker I'm familiar with is Joseph Pearce, author of many biographies of Catholic writers and co- editor of the St Austin Review. His talk this year is on C. S. Lewis.

Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, promises that there will be many opportunities to purchase books, so, although the conference is free, you still need to bring plenty of money, or a little plastic card, if you'd like to defer the pain.

We're looking forward to this year's conference, having missed last year's because we were in the midst of moving. This year, we're almost all settled in, so we can afford to take some time for some fun. We'll report back next week.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Peace of Christ

By Judith

The other day while I was combing my hair, looking in the mirror, I saw the cross I wear on a chain around my neck. For a moment I flashed back (sans drugs, honest) to a time when I wore the peace symbol in the same way. You know, the circle girding a straight line with two shorter lines projecting off at a slight angle. And it struck me that the peace symbol was only a step on the road to peace, the peace that passeth all understanding, and it was the cross that was the true peace symbol.

The peace symbol actually began life as a protest symbol for the nuclear disarmament movement. (The lines are semaphore signals for N and D.) For a while the designer, Gerald Holtom, had considered using the cross in the design, but the priests he asked were reluctant to endorse the cross as part of a nuclear protest. He then moved the crossbar down and bent it in the middle and put it in the circle that became the standard of the protest, and quickly found its way into being the symbol of the whole peace movement.

If you’d like to revisit your own “hippie” days, you can visit this website for more info on the history of the movement. But let me copy a snippet of Mr. Holtom’s own explanation of the design:

“I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an
individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards
in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the
drawing into a line and put a circle round it.”

Isn’t despair precisely the emotion we can overcome by looking to the One who outstretched his palms to be crucified? This despair is what overtakes those who seek the answers to the world’s problems in the world and in themselves. It’s so easy to give way to despair, to throw our arms downward, when, in lifting them up, lifting up our hearts to our Lord Jesus Christ we can find the means not only to cope, but to hope.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

American Popular Song 101

By Judith

She could have sung all night, and we’d have begged for more. For over 30 years Joan Morris and William Bolcom (married for almost that long) have been wowing audiences with their performances of American popular songs from before the turn of the 20th century to contemporary pieces by Mr. Bolcom. And wow us they did with their recital at the McKnight Theater in Saint Paul on Saturday night (6/10/06). The appearance was part of the week-long Saint Paul Summer Song Festival.

The McKnight Theater, with slightly more than 300 seats, is the perfect setting for performances such as these; the acoustics allow the artists to sing without amplification and the intimate surroundings let the audience be drawn in to the action. Seated about halfway back, we were able to understand every lyric and appreciate each gesture and facial expression.

The program began with songs from the early 1900s including “torch songs” by Ralph Rainger, “My Castle on the Nile” by J. Rosamond Johnson and “On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away” by Paul Dresser (Theodore Dreiser’s brother). Mr. Bolcom would introduce each song and perhaps share an anecdote about the composer before Miss Morris would beautifully interpret it with her rich, mellow mezzo-soprano and gifted acting ability.

Moving on in the century, the couple regaled us with “Hit the Road”, made famous by their friend Eubie Blake and “Say So!” with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and P. G. Wodehouse! And also writing with Wodehouse was Jerome Kern with “Cleopatterer.” Irving Berlin was represented by the lovely “Always” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” (You could almost see Fred Astaire moving across the stage.)

Richard Rodgers partnered with Lorenz Hart before Oscar Hammerstein, and I think, produced better songs. Now, Oklahoma happens to be one of my all-time favorite musicals, but I enjoy the sophistication, the wittiness and near-perfect word manipulation of Hart: “Beans could get no keener reception in a beanery; bless our Mountain Greenery Home.” “Glad to Be Unhappy” from 1936 was the Rodgers and Hart song Miss Morris sang this evening and gave it just the right blend of sadness and irony.

Cole Porter, another with a great gift for lyric, penned a song called “The Tale of the Oyster” and a cautionary tale it is. Miss Morris squirmed and wriggled and grimaced and managed to keep her dignity through it all.

At the beginning of the second half Mr. Bolcom played a solo piece of his own composition, “Graceful Ghost.” He is such a perfect accompanist – supportive and contributory, but not overpowering – that you forget what a talented pianist he is. Later in the program Miss Morris sang three of his Cabaret songs.

There was plenty of humor in the program, too, as with Yip Harburg’s “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,” made famous by one Groucho Marx. The last of three encores was saving the best for last – a wicked rendition of Kurt Weill meets Julie Andrews with Miss Morris imitating Lotte Lenya singing “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. There was even a bit of Pirate Jenny in there with a vision of “the black freighter” appearing over the top of the Alps.

If you’ve ever wondered what people did before television, radio, and – heaven forbid – before blogging, this concert answered the question. Mr. Bolcom and Miss Morris invited us into their parlor and entertained us with a delightful evening of story and song. After having lived and worked together for so many years, the two are as natural on stage as if they were in the home of friends. And judging by the reception they received, they were, indeed, among friends.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Our Last Word on the Subject

By Judith

Since others have been talkin' like they know, we'd like to say that a very reliable source (no, of course we can't reveal it) has told Our Word that the coadjuter will be Bishop Aquila. There, that's done. Now, no matter who and no matter when, we're done with this story except to say our prayers are with Archbishop Flynn and the new coadjuter. God bless you both.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Wish I'd Written That...

By Mitchell

"This age makes me so sick that sometimes I am almost impelled to stop at a corner and start calling down curses from Heaven."

- George Orwell, letter to Brenda Salkeld, 1934
(with a big HT to Terry Teachout)

Don't Make Me Laugh

By Mitchell

Spellbinding reporting this morning by Star Tribune writer Pamela Miller, who has suddenly discovered, two weeks into the game, that Archbishop Flynn "has asked the Vatican for a coadjutor archbishop with rights of succession." This news flash from "knowledgeable Catholic Church officials," which I would take to mean archdiocesean officials who are desperately trying to spin the story their way. For example:

Flynn, who became archbishop in 1995, has been praised for his personality and leadership. He has been outspoken on some social justice issues and has taken the middle ground on others, and his successor is likely to embrace the same style, observers say.

In other words, forget about a conservative.

Names of possible successors are not the result of leaks from those with real knowledge, [St. Thomas Prof. Robert] Kennedy and archdiocese officials said, but merely speculation or wishful thinking.

In other words, forget everything you've read in blogs.

Auxiliary Bishop Richard Pates, one name often mentioned, is unlikely to be Rome's choice because it usually looks for a successor outside a province, which in this case includes Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Kennedy said.

In other words, forget about Aquila.

And, for those of you out there in the blogosphere who think the Archbishop is a controversial figure, you can forget about that, too. Nary a word of anything but praise:

On Thursday, scholars and clerics praised Flynn. "He is so appreciated by so many people for his warmth, friendliness and care," said St. Paul Seminary Prof. Katarina Schuth, citing as an example his daily delivery of the Eucharist to Sister Ann Ganley, his special assistant, who died Monday.

Bishop Peter Rogness of the St. Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America called Flynn "a fine ecumenical partner who has served the community well as an advocate for those on the margins -- the poor, immigrants."

Flynn's 2002 role in leading a committee of U.S. bishops that drafted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in Dallas was pivotal in helping the church face the sex-abuse scandal, [former America editor Thomas] Reese said. While his leadership hasn't gone far enough for some victims' advocates, "he did a very good job of helping the church begin to clean up a real mess at an extremely delicate time in its history," Reese said.

I'm surprised they had the courage to rule out a woman being the next bishop. Although, come to think of it, they didn't actually say that, did they?

Now, I've got some real problems with this story. Oddly enough, I don't challenge the positive comments about the Archbishop. As I've tirelessly said in the past, there are a lot of good things going on in the Archdiocese - reform at the Seminary, increase in Eucharistic Adoration, good priests, and so on. Much of the credit for that goes to the Archbishop.

And yet, you simply can't deny that Archbishop Flynn's been a lightning rod for controversy. There are a whole lot of groups and a whole lot of people out there who have a whole lot of bad things to say about his leadership in the Archdiocese. This article skips completely over this. It reads, in fact, more like a eulogy than a news story. It gives an incomplete and inaccurate portrait of the true state of affairs here. Not a word about VIRTUS, not a breath on SJA, nary a whisper regarding the Rainbod Sash, not even a nod toward all those priests who opposed his support of the Marriage Amendment. Archbishop Flynn has become one of the best-known bishops in the United States, for good or ill, because of these controversies. And the Star Tribune, as parochial as ever, fails to deliver. For them, it's all kind hearts and coronets around here.

I've often said that you can't ignore the good just because of the bad; now I offer the flip side, which is that the good does not negate the bad. If the Star Tribune was interested in the whole story they would have recognized that. If the Star Tribune wanted to give their readers a portrait of an archdiocese in turmoil, if not transition, they would have looked deeper into the story.

I don't know how Pamela Miller did her research for this article; I wonder if she consulted the blogosphere? (If you're a blogger who was contacted by Miller, I'd like to know about it.) I wonder if she talked with any "Catholic experts" besides Thomas Reese or Prof. Kennedy, the chair of Catholic Studies at St. Thomas? Did she talk with anyone who had even a hint of anything remotely critical to say about the Archbishop? I wonder, in fact, if Miller has anything beyond a dim conception of how the rest of the nation (that is to say, those who take an active interest in these kinds of things) views this archdiocese?

There's always a danger of thinking that events are more important than they are. In using that line in the previous paragraph - the one about "how the rest of the nation" views the archdiocese, I do so with apprehension. After all, most of the nation gives not a whit about what goes on here. For that matter, I'd imagine most of the people within this very archdiocese have little idea about the tensions under the surface.

But if this is a danger, then so too is the danger of disregarding any external importance to a story. The fact of the matter is this: if you read national publications, if you consult national experts, if you make even a cursory Google search, you'll find that there is indeed a great deal of interest in what goes on around here. Great newspapers, if there are any left, recognize that. They have a way of making the big story more intimate, while at the same time realizing the hidden importance of the small story. The Star Tribune does neither, and hasn't in my lifetime. Mind you, I'm not ruling out the possibility that this story could turn out to be completely and entirely accurate, and that Miller knows more about this than the rest of us put together - but it does seem awfully one-sided, don't you think? And I'm not trying to cast aspersions on Pamela Miller the writer - I don't know her myself, and she could be a quite delightful person. I cite her less as an individual and more as a representative of the MSM in general.

(And by the way, that crack from Kennedy about speculation being "wishful thinking" - it's curious, isn't it, that this story first broke on the blogosphere. One would suppose that Kennedy and his ilk would have dismissed that speculation as "wishful thinking" on the part of disgruntled orthodox Catholics. Until it was to their advantage to acknowledge the story, that is. But that "wishful thinking" turned out to be accurate, didn't it?)

But let's not be too harsh on the Strib. After all, it only took them two weeks to catch up with this story. For this lummox of the MSM, that's not too bad.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

No News is No News

By Judith

As of 4 pm. cdt, there was nothing on the Vatican's Information Services site about anything happening in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul/Minneapolis. Here is today's Other Pontifical Acts.

We've been accused of being cynical before, but perhaps we should all just take a wait-and-see attitude. Others more in the know may be chomping at the bit, but here at Our Word, ignorance is indeed bliss and I think I'll go back to helping M edit Chapters 10 & 11 of Graveyard of the Elephants. The sooner he gets it done, the sooner you can all read for yourselves what a terrific writer he is. (No prejudice from this devoted wife.)

However, if anything comes up, we'll be back.

UPDATE: You want rumors? You got 'em. Check the combox at Adoro's post for the latest speculation.

Latest Archdiocese News

By Mitchell

Clayton at The Weight of Glory says it's official although not yet announced, and that today will be a day of great rejoicing here in the Twin Cities. I haven't heard anything definite yet myself, but a couple of names keep popping up. I think it may well be one of those names, but perhaps not the name that a lot of people are thinking of. Ray at Stella Borealis has a good roundup of the latest.

On the other hand, what do I know - I'm just a working stiff getting ready to head to the office! I have a late evening at work, but either Judie or I will be back with any news if and when it develops.

Changing of the Guard

By Mitchell

Terry at Abbey-Roads reports on the last Mass at St. Agnes by Fr. Altier (H/T: Ray), and also an update on the health of Msgr. Schuler, who sadly seems to be ready to depart St. Agnes as well, for an assisted living facility. Fr. Welzbacher's final Mass at St. Agnes will be next Sunday.

From yesterday's bulletin, a link to Fr. Altier's letter to the parish. (Warning: evil .pdf format.)

What Happens When Bloggers Get Together

By Mitchell

Well, it's not quite like the matter - anti-matter collisions in Star Trek. As a matter of fact, it winds up being a pretty good time! Faithmouse reports on the most recent meeting of the Stella Borealis Northland Catholic Roundtable group last Saturday night. I'll only add that the conversation was devastatingly fascinating, surpassed only by the gracious hospitality of the hosts. For those of you who missed it (and you know who you are), I can only say, "Wait until next time..."

Monday, June 5, 2006

The Day After Pentecost

By Mitchell

An opportunity to link to a story just because I liked it and wanted to share it, and the message it conveys. From Fr. Z's blog, which (for whatever my opinion is worth) is one of the best around.

Another Day in the Archdiocese

By Mitchell

My apologies for the light blogging last week. I spent the week trying to catch up on my self-imposed deadline for editing the final draft of Graveyard of the Elephants. (And my apologies also for not having updated the Hadleyfiction site as promised; I hope to have something up this week, but we have a lot on our plate here in the Hadley household so I'll make no guarantees.)

Now, one of the reasons why I'm so far behind in my editing schedule is that every time I plan to scale back blogging for a week or two so I can work on the book, something comes up here in the archdiocese that thrusts me into the middle of breaking stories. I was lucky to get away with time to edit four chapters last week; this week I may not be so fortunate.

Take, for example, this story - the Rainbow Sash's annual dalliance with the Eucharist at the Cathedral. It was hardly a surprise; many of us here in the archdiocese view Pentecost with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. Actually, it wasn't as bad this year as it has been in some years past. AdoroTeDevote has her usual excellent commentary.

This business about the Rainbow Sash has been one of the most frequently cited examples nationwide of the problems that exist here in the archdiocese. Which is why this story is so intriguing. I heard these rumors at least a week ago; at our Catholic blogger meeting on Saturday night (more about that later), virtually everyone in the room had heard the rumors. None of us had really said anything about them, because really that's all it is, a rumor. Notice how even in discussing the rumor I don't say what it is? I'm hearing a lot of things from a lot of different sources, but nothing definite. Therefore, I'll defer to this public source, one I'd generally considered a credible one.

I tend to be cautious in my reporting. I think of it as being responsible, and that's not meant as a slam at anyone who is less cautious than I am. Most often, it's because they've got much more reliable information than I do, and are therefore in a better position than I am to write about it. But for those of us who've held back on this, should it turn out to be true, I'm sure we'll be kicking ourselves for not having felt more comfortable in going with it. There was this post, for example, that convinced me early on that the rumors might be credible. And did that post have anything to do with this even more cryptic one?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Over the last week I've become more convinced that something is up around here, but it's something I'm not yet privy to, except for what I read elsewhere. For virtually my entire life, patience has been a trait with which I have not been blessed. Here is merely an opportunity for me to refine my habits.

But stay tuned, folks. If you've been introduced to this site because of our coverage of previous events in the archdiocese, you might want to stick around; I suspect there might be more to report. (Because even if there isn't, that will be a story in itself.)

UPDATE: Gerald at The Cafeteria is Closed has an excellent roundup of coverage - from the WaPost at that! - of the Rainbow Sash at the Cathedral.

The Heart of Forgiveness

By Mitchell

I have a feeling we're headed for more controversial posts, so in the meantime here's a nice thought to consider from Friday's Mass - an interesting homily by Fr. DeBruycker (yes, the Fr. DeBruycker who's pastor at SJA; he also celebrates the Friday morning Mass at St. Olaf), who debunks the Gospel of Judas, even as he presents Peter to us as the model for Christian forgiveness. (As an aside, Fr. DeBruycker even used the Roman Canon on Friday. On a weekday Mass! Better not let this get back to the board at SJA!)

But let's get back to the homily, and the question of Judas. One wonders what he actually picked up as a disciple of Christ. One of the arguments of the Gospel of Judas is that Judas was actually the only one of the disciples who “got it,” who understood that Christ had to die for the redemption of sins. He’s not Jesus’ betrayer; he’s the one who helps Christ fulfill His mission. As Fr. DeBrucyker says, the Church doesn’t accept that. It’s not even a new idea – as he points out, not only are the Gnostic gospels old hat, but this is basically the idea of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

There’s ample evidence that most of the disciples, Peter included, don’t get it. They constantly misunderstand His words, or fail to read the deeper meaning. They turn a blind eye to the real message Jesus is giving them, or simply equate His words with more mundane earthly meaning. Judas, according to this “Gospel,” is different – he’s the one who gets it.

And yet he doesn’t get the idea of forgiveness, of the healing power of Christ’s mercy and compassion. He suffers remorse, as does Peter, but his reaction is entirely different. Whereas Peter follows his remorse with a return to Christ (and how frightening that must have been for Peter, the man handpicked by Jesus, to face the One Whom he had denied – not once, but three times) and an acceptance of His forgiveness, Judas follows his remorse with total despair, and hangs himself.

Judas could have been remembered as one of the greatest disciples – as one who betrayed Jesus to death, and yet repented fully and came back to the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. But he didn’t, and today we remember him for quite different reasons. Ultimately, he didn’t get it after all.

Peter did. He understood, as Benedict XVI says, that God is Love, and in that love is understanding and forgiveness for the repentant sinner. Peter got it, and it prepared him for the message that Jesus gives him three times in Friday's Gospel: Feed my sheep, lead my lambs, feed my sheep. His distress is not that Jesus asks him this three times; it is that through his own acts he has given Jesus reason to ask three times; and it helps form Peter’s determination to carry out Christ’s mission, to impart His love and forgiveness to others. Peter got it, and for that reason the Church holds him up as its greatest saint.

On the first Friday, contemplating the Sorrowful Mysteries and meditating on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it was a comforting message to keep in mind.

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