Dirge for deaths of Latin, God, and mystery

Before I do one more thing in this late-starting Tuesday morning, a word from Mr. Hickey of Leo Catholic HS:

In my lifetime, I witnessed the euthanizing of Latin and the Death of God by academics and churchmen.  Latin was deemed irrelevant, the vernacular ascended to Parnassus and the Vatican dome.  That is too bad.  The mystery of learning has gone the way of sacred liturgy -no mystery and no beauty.  Education means punching one’s ticket for entry to something else.

Such a mournful mouthfull. Congratulations, Hickey.

Prayer meeting question never asked . . .

. . . but dangerously close to being asked:

In a “theology” gathering of 25 or so members of a nearby parish, we were instructed to do some heavy meditating for eight minutes, each of us at a round table for six or eight. I put my head in hands and went to it. Think of nothing but a word you decide on, hang with it for the whole time, avoiding any thoughts or images or whatever, we were advised.

Centering prayer it’s called, but I spotted it pronto for good old Transcendental Meditation of the ’70s, brought to us by the Maharishi Something, who had a spread in Iowa. I took a course in it for a story, which ran with a memorable head shot of me with my eyes closed. An action shot, you know, of a man meditating.

Tonight I went to it and managed a semi-doze that suited me nicely, until the lady in charge, a liturgy associate type, instrumentally gifted and a leader of song, rang a bell, GONG! to tell us to come out of it.

It was at that point that I was inspired by the spirit of my misspent late middle age to lift up my head, turn to the lady bell-ringer, and ask, “For whom does that bell toll?”

God saved me from such a brutal faux pas, sending a good spirit who (gasp!) provided me with a 1950s-style INHIBITION that saved the evening. Wow.

Scripture for dummies

Title page of The Holy Bible, King James versi...
It's got poetry.

Deacon Tom preached from Isaiah 58 this noon, at the mid-day ashes service:

Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.


Thus New American Bible.

I followed along with my King James Version:

5Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?

6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

7Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

NAB pedestrianizes it, to reach a new, I say lower, common denominator.

It gives up on the rhetorical questioning after verse 5, for one thing, and that lessens the impact.

Some phrases have the same effect:

5Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul?


Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance . . . ?


to loose the bands of wickedness


releasing those bound unjustly

A third:

that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?


not turning your back on your own

Not good trade-offs, undue emphasis on the literal, the everyday.

Stuck with the holy sacrifice

Have decided I’d make a terrible Protestant.  It’s that I can’t stand sermons and I don’t sing.  As for the latter, look, I’m the guy who, discovered by the St. Catherine of Siena choirmaster in the ‘40s to be the sour note that was ruining his rehearsal, was told to stop singing.  Our #1 son has perfect pitch, the Beye School music teacher told us many years ago, but I don’t.  Fellow Jesuit Tom Walsh in the early days of our training, hearing me sing something, played the note (singular) back on the piano. 

So I’m no Caruso.  As for sermons, well I am a recovering preacher — doing quite well, thank you, not a word for 40 years — and so make a bad audience in the best of liturgical seasons.  What’s more, I write and edit, and so find myself re-saying what I hear, bridling at neologism, redundancy, and inept metaphor, and believe me, it’s distracting.  It doesn’t help that I have a conviction, born largely of my newspaper days, that your mother has to be checked out when she says she loves you, that even out and out editorializing has to be argument-based.  “Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur,” (also here) as I reminded my favorite political opponent, John Kearney, the other day.

Now having heard more than a few Protestant sermons in my years, I might be brought back to the listener’s role.  They are generally better prepared than Catholics, in long and short run, and I have found myself sitting still for sermons in their churches.  Same might go for Jesuit preachers.  As my Loyola-Wilmette rector Mike English used to say, “Our mediocre sermons are better than their mediocre sermons,” referring to the nearby Holy Cross at Notre Dame for Boys.

Either way, I am of course committed to my Roman Catholicism, emphasis on Roman, the world-class religious organization that with all its faults I still love if not (always) cherish and obey.  And if mediocre preaching is one of the faults, another of its habits makes up for that, namely its Holy Sacrifice.  That’s the mass as understood in my youth, not as currently, a meal, with deemphasis of the grand and the mystical in favor of the homey and familiar.  Who needs it?  We get homey and familiar all the time, don’t we? 

That mass, celebrated “thoughout the world,” as the old Morning Offering has it, is quite the dramatic thing, when you get down to it.  There I am in a back pew, anonymous as I can make myself, part of a worldwide event.  Not bad for a pewsitter.

What helps

THIS HELPS . . . . A line from the Gospel that rang true for me was “I believe, Lord. Help thou my unbelief.” Another, from St. Paul, says we will see things clear in heaven but now only “through a glass darkly.” Not to worry, you who think you are of little faith.

ASSESSMENT . . . . Here’s an aptly stated judgment, rendered at the end of a Power Line dissection of Obama’s claim for Banking Committee membership as part of his newly discovered toughness toward Iran:

Barack Obama has proved himself an extraordinarily cynical politician. He doesn’t believe in much, but he certainly believes in his own power to make voters believe whatever he says, even when what he says today contradicts what he said yesterday, and even when it constitutes a bald fiction, such as his claim that the Senate Banking Committee is “[his] committee.”

Some day it may begin to dawn on attentive observers that Obama represents a type that flourishes on many college campuses. The technical term that applies to Obama is b.s. artist. Obama is an overaged example of the phenomenon, but his skills in the art have brought him great success and he’s not giving it up now.

Some day.

REACTION . . . . I told an Oak Parker about recent armed robberies in the village, including one in the block next to hers, and she said, “People are really getting desperate,” identifying instantly with the guy holding people up. She also wants to fight terrorism by going after the root causes?

ANTIDOTE . . . . Here’s a possible antidote to this people-getting-desperate approach: Shooting Back: The Right and Duty of Self Defense, by Charl van Wyk. He was a missionary in S. Africa in 1993 when terrorists attacked his church during worship. He shot back and saved lives, though not all, and it’s called a massacre. In his book he makes

a biblical, Christian case for individuals arming themselves with guns, and does so more persuasively than perhaps any other author because he found himself in a church attacked by terrorists.

“Grenades were exploding in flashes of light. Pews shattered under the blasts, sending splinters flying through the air,” he recalls of the July 25, 1993, St. James Church Massacre. “An automatic assault rifle was being fired and was fast ripping the pews — and whoever, whatever was in its trajectory — to pieces. We were being attacked!”

But van Wyk was not defenseless that day. Had he been unarmed like the other congregants, the slaughter would have been much worse.

“Instinctively, I knelt down behind the bench in front of me and pulled out my .38 special snub-nosed revolver, which I always carried with me,” he writes in “Shooting Back,” a book being published for the first time in America next month by WND Books. “I would have felt undressed without it. Many people could not understand why I would carry a firearm into a church service, but I argued that this was a particularly dangerous time in South Africa.”

During that Sunday evening service, the terrorists, wielding AK-47s and grenades, killed 11 and wounded 58. But the fact that one man – van Wyk – fired back, wounding one of the attackers and driving the others away.

SITTING, KNEELING . . . . Reading in May ’08 New Oxford Review of Donna L. Kruger’s complaint about half sitting, half kneeling worshipers — “Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament must surely be offended” — instead of sitting straight up if you have to if elderly and/or with “sore or weak knees,” I was offended mightily, being one of the last mentioned, though also elderly, I guess.

Then imagine my delight in reading the July-August issue with two excellent letters, one from a 71-year-old arthritic male from West Palm Beach, Florida, “with a knee wrecked in a skiing accident fifty years ago,” who does the half and half, partly out of concern for the worshiper kneeling behind him, presumably with strong, healthy knees, for whom it would be “awkward” otherwise. As for offending the Lord, “Who knew?” he asks.

The other letter, from a Very Reverend in Vladivostok, notes perceptively that Americans are getting “bigger year by year” and “half and half may be the only way some of us will be able to kneel” in the churches he visits in Eastern Poland, where kneelers are squeezed in for space considerations.



These animal activists can get active whenever they want, as far as I’m concerned.

This guy has my vote too:


GOOD BOOK . . . . Only at page 548 of Prince of Darkness, Robert Novak’s memoir, did I encounter the second name that I did not recognize. The individual had been identified a few pages earlier, but it hadn’t stuck. That’s how good a book this is: it keeps you attentive and it makes identities clear along the way — two signs of clean copy.

QUOTE . . . . And our wise(guy) quote of the day about newspapers:

If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read:  “President Can’t Swim.”  ~Lyndon B. Johnson

Latin for everyone

No exceptions, apparently:

The traditional Latin Mass – effectively banned by Rome for 40 years – is to be reintroduced into every Roman Catholic parish in England and Wales, the senior Vatican cardinal in charge of Latin liturgy said at a press conference in London today.

And sems will have to teach future priests how to do it, said the senior Vatican cardinal in charge of Latin liturgy, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, in London.  Not just England and Wales either:

[A]sked . . . if the pope wanted to see “many ordinary parishes” making provision for the Tridentine Mass, Cardinal Castrillon, a Colombian, said: “All the parishes. Not many, all the parishes, because this is a gift of God.”

He also said:

his commission . . .  was in the process of writing to seminaries not only to equip seminarians to celebrate Mass in Latin but to understand the theology, the philosophy and the language of such Masses.

It would take as few as “three or four people who were not necessarily drawn from the same parish” to request it, at which point the priest would be required to do it.


Later, from Reader M: 

Re the work of seminaries to teach the Latin Mass:
If it was true, as Father Rick Simon said at Catholic Citizens Forum last week, that in the years after Vatican II seminaries concentrated on teaching priests-to-be how to help Catholics in confession side-step the precepts of Humanae Vitae — they shouldn’t have problems teaching seminarians the Latin Mass. It’s less subjective — less work for the right side of the brain.

Rev. Wright prophetic?

What’s prophetic and what isn’t in a preacher is nicely covered in this comment on “The role of the American pastor,” posted at The Political Inquirer, in which the writer says Rev. Wright’s comments were “prophetic.”  Not so, says the commenter, blogger at TotalTransformationTest.  Wright’s

primary audience is not the American public, but his predominantly black congregation. Don’t forget that prophets usually are disliked by their own people because they condemn their actions.

What part of blaming the white man for everything from inventing AIDS to commit genocide on black folks to the idea of the government peddling drugs in black communities makes the men and women in his congregation uncomfortable with their own moral failures? Quite frankly, it is exactly the opposite.

It is as if an Old Testament prophet had told the Hebrews to blame the evil in their own hearts on the surrounding nations and not on their own individual inability to remain loyal to God. Rev. Wright certainly doesn’t deserve the application of the term “prophetic” to anything he does. Unless the only requirement for such an appellation is simple demagoguery.

Quite a good point.  When you massage audience sensibilities, as I say below, you are not quite prophetic.

Pfleger, Wright tell people what they want to hear

It’s been a banner few months for preaching, something that’s not much discussed by daily newspapers but regularly performed for and imposed on worshipers.

What a teaching moment for homiletics professors it has been.  The word is academic for preaching and close to “homily,” which is a Scripture-based sermon of generally shorter length.

This is as opposed to stem-winders for which Fr. Michael Pfleger of Chicago’s St. Sabina — now on leave — has become more famous than ever, not to mention his big brother in the ministry, Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United.  These are neither short nor Scripture-based, except in sound-bite snippets tossed off in entertaining fashion.

But that’s a fine point.  The essence of Pfleger’s and Wright’s better known preaching has been less Scripture-slicing-and-dicing and more bringing of coals to Newcastle.  Preaching against white racism to black people?  Really?  Bold fellows!

The preacher is supposed to do more than massage preconceptions.  When these two reverend gentlemen preach against marital infidelity or cheating in business transactions or telling lies, do their people rise up in joy and holy pandemonium?

Not hardly, to use a popular double negative.  Do they ever preach this way?  Probably not.  Few do.  Do they preach against black racism, except as a throwaway line, saving fervor for condemning whites?  Probably not.

Anyhow, the stuff we read about that makes the news is basically preaching to provide a feel-good experience for people who now and again entertain bitterness in their Christian hearts. 

For a few short hours on Sunday, they can hear their bitterness confirmed by the messenger from God.  It’s a sort of purgative, from which they emerge more convinced than ever that white folks just don’t get it.

Oprah vs. Rev. Wright in Newsweek

This blogger was wondering where he’d seen this item before:

[Oprah] Winfrey was a member of Trinity United from 1984 to 1986, and she continued to attend off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped. A major reason—but by no means the only reason—was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Even the published source looked familiar:

Oprah’s decision to distance herself came as a surprise to Wright, who told Christianity Today in 2002 that when he would “run into her socially … she would say, ‘Here’s my pastor!’ “

Then it clicked.  This piece on one my favorite blogs that ran in all its glory on March 17, seven short weeks ago, is where I read:

“She has broken with the [traditional faith],” [Rev. Wright] says. “She now has this sort of ‘God is everywhere, God is in me, I don’t need to go to church, I don’t need to be a part of a body of believers, I can meditate, I can do positive thinking’ spirituality. It’s a strange gospel. It has nothing to do with the church Jesus Christ founded.”

From Christianity Today of 4/1/02.  Yes. The item drew 585 “views,” or hits, since then, for roughly a dozen a day, by far the second-highest draw of my 1,385 posts.  (Highest is this, about Rev. Donald McGuire, the convicted molester, as retreat-giver, with 615 hits.)

Good catch, Newsweek!