Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's a Boy!

Anthony Jacob Jansen was born at our house at 3:45am today. Making his debut into the world 6 days past his due date, and weighing 9 pounds [!], he is by far the biggest baby Jocelyn has birthed.

He is named for St. Anthony of Padua, whose intercession we seem to call upon daily to help us find lost things around the house, and St. James the Greater, who is my Confirmation patron.

His three sisters and brother are thrilled to have another boy in the family, as are his parents, of course. The biggest question that remains at this point is what we will call most often him: Anthony, Tony, or A.J. -- or perhaps Jacob, which his eldest sister Teresa has already taken to calling him.

Time will tell. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Concert This Sunday

Given the fact that our baby has yet to make his/her debut among the ranks of the born, I don't think it will be in the cards for us to attend the Ecclesia Men's Chorus concert this Sunday at St. Josaphat Parish.


I know two of the fellows in this ensemble — Paul Wierzbowski and Karl Schudt — and they're both excellent singers.

And the director, Tim Woods, is no slouch himself. Ten years ago, whilst a student at Loyola, I had the privilege of being part of a small ensemble under his direction that we formed to sing (actually chant, mostly) for a special Mass, and I was utterly impressed with his musical acumen.

Needless to say, if you're in the Chicago area, do thou go! You'll love it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Morning-After Pill: Not All It's Cracked Up to Be

When I first heard about the federal court decision last month ordering the FDA to make the morning-after pill available to 17-year olds — a decision gushingly lauded by ACOG, natch — I couldn't help but call to mind this post on the Life Training Institute blog last year.

Therein, Rich Poupard (aka Serge) writes about a web seminar (at one time accessible here) in which Dr. James Trussell made some astonishingly candid admissions about the failure of emergency contraception to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy.

Trussell's page on Princeton's website notes that he is "a senior fellow at the Guttmacher Institute and a member of the board of directors of the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, The Guttmacher Institute, the Society of Family Planning, and a member of the National Medical Committee of Planned Parenthood Federation of America". It further notes that Trussell "has actively promoted making emergency contraception more widely available as an important step in helping women reduce their risk of unintended pregnancy..."

Poupard notes that Trussell acknowledged, among other things, the following:

1. Trussell previously hoped (published in 1992) that EC would reduce unintended pregnancies and abortion by half.

2. 15 years later 11 studies have consistently showed no decrease of pregnancy rates from use of ECs.

3. Trussell also stated that a future decrease in pregnancy rates from EC use is highly unlikely - an astounding admission. ...

4. Due to difficulties in estimating the expected pregnancy rates, the published efficacy in the package insert of EC is almost certainly too high.

He then trenchantly notes:

This is amazing stuff. Since there was extensive news coverage of the effort to get Plan B to OTC status, why the silence in the wake of information that Plan B will not effect pregnancy or abortion rates? Imagine the outcry if a heart medication was thought to reduce heart attacks by 95% - and was made over-the-counter in order to increase its availability to reduce heart disease. A year later evidence comes out that no study had ever found that it had any effect on heart attack rates, and that the only thing that could be said about it is that it is "probably better than nothing". There would be a great outcry, congressional hearings, and accusations that the evil pharmaceutical companies were gouging unsuspecting patients. However, so far there has not been a peep among those concerned about "women's health" that they could be promoting an expensive medication that may not be effective.

Instead, we get this:

On Wednesday, Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the agency's apparent change of heart.

"We commend the FDA for taking swift action to ensure that its decisions on Plan B are based solely on the drug's safety and efficacy," said Northup, whose group had brought the lawsuit against the FDA. "It is a key step for the agency as it seeks to restore confidence in its ability to safeguard public health and leave politics at the lab door."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oh, the Hubris!

Sean Dailey wrote yesterday about what he called — quite rightly, in all possibility — "the most clueless sentence of the last decade", which appeared in an article in the current issue of Newsweek, titled "Sexual Masters of the Universe":

The article, by a fellow named Andrew Romano, is about Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Masters & Johnson of Sexual Revolution fame, using a new biography of the pair, Masters of Sex by Thomas Maier, as a springboard.

Anyway, early in the article, Romano drops this bomb, "As the story of Masters and Johnson makes clear, rescuing sex from the ancient mists of myth, mystery and religiosity left America a happier and healthier place."

Oh, the hubris!

Contrast that last sentence with this excerpt from an article that appeared in an article in First Things last year:

When I’ve taken retreats to Catholic monasteries, I’ve been aware of how surprisingly, and even frighteningly, erotic they seem. The Trappists of Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, worship in an exquisitely beautiful place: high white walls, cold stone floors, a slit in the side of the main sanctuary like a split in the universe through which the reserved sacrament is always visible. The great stone altar is big enough to sacrifice Isaac on. Candles flicker on the bronze face of Our Lady during Compline, and dozens of men chant the Salve Regina before the abbot dismisses with a flick of his wrist and a sprinkling of holy water. Pure desire for God could be wrung from the place like a wet towel. And one can begin to see how sex with another person could be given up for desire for God or made better by mutual longing for God.

There are treasures here with which we can become reacquainted to combat pornography, if we dare. And we may not: Moderns flinch when St. Bernard of Clairveaux seeks to progress up Jesus’ body, kissing his way up to his lips; when Bernini sculpts St. Theresa in the posture of orgasm; when ancient Christians stripped and spit and had their faces hissed at in exorcism before submerging, nude, to be born again.

One commenter, the sui generis Blog Nerd, noted:

Eros, demasked, has once again fled. And now we are left with a religion slowly divested of its blood and guts.

It is no coincidence that the sensual opulence of our Churches started to disappear at the same time as the sexual revolution gathered its strength. The advent of casual contraceptive sex dissipated us. And we lost that longing ache for union in proper order.

When the uninitiated glimpse the erotics of religious ardor in traditional Catholicism they mistake it for "repressed sexuality" -- they couldn't be more wrong if they tried.

Quite so.

I remember hearing Scott Hahn give a talk a few years ago on the Church's teachings about sex. He pointed out that it's not enough to speak of sex as "good"; after all, that puts it at merely the same level as Campbell's soup. Neither is it enough to speak of sex as "great", for that puts it at merely the same level as Frosted Flakes.

Nay, so much more than "good" or "great", sex is holy, because by it and it alone, husband and wife express complete and total self-sacrificing, self-donating mutual love in a way that uniquely allows human beings to reflect the inner life of God.

If one believes sex to be anything less, he gets it hopelessly wrong.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Maureen Wittmann Has a Brilliant Idear

If you're getting short on pens and pencils don't go out to the store to buy new ones. Just do what I do -- put your hand in between the cushions of your sofa and you'll be sure to find anywhere from 5 to 10 pens and pencils. You'll save a ton of money doing this.

And how.

I don't think I've bought a pen since at least 1996, my freshman year at Loyola, when I started finding and keeping left-behind pens at Cudahy Library, which were there in spades (as they surely are in most any other library).

Then, when I started teaching, I was forever finding pens on the floor at the end of the day, which I gladly made my own.

Now, I find, free pens seem to be everywhere.

Friday, April 17, 2009

According to This, Jocelyn and I Shouldn't Be Very Happy

Especially as we continue to await the birth of our — gasp! — fifth child in the last 6+ years.

By "this", I mean the results of A New Study conducted by People Who Allegedly Know What They're Talking About who have declared:

Kids Curb Marital Satisfaction

Funny. We're actually pretty "satisfied" with our marriage right now.

Imagine that.

Mark Shea comments thusly:

For our culture terminal narcissism, this is a big deal, since it conceives of marriage, like everything else, as a tool for self-fulfillment and instant gratification. That's why it bothers to undertake studies like this.

Of course, there is another way of seeing it: kids force adolescent narcissists to grow up and realize it's not all about Me. Those who submit to this process of "growing up" discover newer and deeper forms of satisfaction than the pleasure of being a newlywed. Part of that whole "lose your life and you will find it" paradox that is soooooo out of step with our consumer culture.

I'm going out on a limb and guessing that maybe, just maybe, decades of increasingly ubiquitous contraception — and the anti-child ethos from whence contraception cometh — might just have some impact on couples' attitudes toward having children.

You know, the same anti-child ethos that gives us condom ads like these, which apparently won an award at Cannes in 2006:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Religion Devoid of Holidays Is No Religion At All

I'm told that Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said:

I heard of one man who was an atheist for a year and then he gave it up because there were no holidays.

During Easter Week, these words are especially poignant.

I've always been struck by a certain sadness when I hear of particular Protestants who go to great lengths to argue against celebrating holidays like Christmas and Easter.

The implication of Sheen's quip is that authentic religion must necessarily include the celebration of holidays.

And, as usual, he's right.

We all know, of course, that the "Chreasters" who attend Mass twice a year are not the ideal practicioners of the Faith. (Then again, can any of us legitimately lay claim to embodying the characteristics of an ideal disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ?)

Still, the fact that our churches are filled with such as these on the two most important days of the year is itself a testimony to the burning need of the human heart to regularly visit a sacred place and recall particularly significant sacred events in a communal setting.

God certainly knew what He was doing when He made His people a liturgical people.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


When it comes to evangelization, I'm a big believer in meeting people where they're at.

That's why I think this* is an absolutely brilliant ad campaign:

Now, for the important question: Is it working?


Officials in the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre acknowledge the piece is a bit "edgy," but they say they needed to grab Catholics' attention to get them back into the confessional booth - especially during Holy Week...

The newly released "Soul Wow" video was a hit, church officials said, and along with a companion print and radio campaign has helped boost the number of people who went to confession during Holy Week this year. The two dioceses sponsored the campaign jointly.

"Confessions were very, very heavy," said the Rev. Kieran Harrington of the Diocese of Brooklyn. "We feel it was very successful."

Like Brooklyn, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, home to 1 1/2 million Catholics, does not keep precise statistics on the number of people attending confession. But officials also said anecdotal evidence indicated a sharp uptick this year. [emphasis added]

* See the ShamWow ad that this ad spoofs here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Christ Is Risen!

Indeed He is Risen!

And yea, our faith is true:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised.

For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.

Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor. 15: 13-20)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Ecce Homo"

As we prepare over the next few days to commemorate the events that comprise the pivot on which everything else turns, I've included herein a reflection on Our Lord Jesus Christ's final hours from G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man — the book that helped to make a Christian out of a young atheist named C. S. Lewis.

As we enter into the Triduum, this excerpt from a chapter titled "The Strangest Story in the World" reminds us of the significance of the events we prepare to recall:

When Jesus was brought before the judgement-seat of Pontius Pilate, he did not vanish. It was the crisis and the goal; it was the hour and the power of darkness. It was the supremely supernatural act, of all his miraculous life, that he did not vanish.

Every attempt to amplify that story has diminished it. The task has been attempted by many men of real genius and eloquence as well as by only too many vulgar sentimentalists and self-conscious rhetoricians. The tale has been retold with patronising pathos by elegant sceptics and with fluent enthusiasm by boisterous best-sellers. It will not be retold here. The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of mill-stones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them. Criticism is only words about words; and of what use are words about such words as these? What is the use of word-painting about the dark garden filled suddenly with torchlight and furious faces? 'Are you come out with swords and staves as against a robber? All day I sat in your temple teaching, and you took me not.' Can anything be added to the massive and gathered restraint of that irony; like a great wave lifted to the sky and refusing to fall? 'Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but weep for yourselves and for your children.'

As the High Priest asked what further need he had of witnesses, we might well ask what further need we have of words. Peter in a panic repudiated him: 'and immediately the cock crew; and Jesus looked upon Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.' Has anyone any further remarks to offer? Just before the murder he prayed for all the murderous race of men, saying, 'They know not what they do'; is there anything to say to that, except that we know as little what we say? Is there any need to repeat and spin out the story of how the tragedy trailed up the Via Dolorosa and how they threw him in haphazard with two thieves in one of the ordinary batches of execution; and how in all that horror and howling wilderness of desertion one voice spoke in homage, a startling voice from the very last place where it was looked for, the gibbet of the criminal; and he said to that nameless ruffian, 'This night shalt thou be with me in Paradise'? Is there anything to put after that but a full stop? Or is anyone prepared to answer adequately that farewell gesture to all flesh which created for his Mother a new Son?

It is more within my powers, and here more immediately to my purpose, to point out that in that scene were symbolically gathered all the human forces that have been vaguely sketched in this story. As kings and philosophers and the popular element had been symbolically present at his birth, so they were more practically concerned in his death; and with that we come face to face with the essential fact to be realised. All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask: 'What is truth?' So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.

There too were the priests of that pure and original truth that was behind all the mythologies like the sky behind the clouds. It was the most important truth in the world; and even that could not save the world. Perhaps there is something overpowering in pure personal theism; like seeing the sun and moon and sky come together to form one staring face. Perhaps the truth is too tremendous when not broken by some intermediaries divine or human; perhaps it is merely too pure and far away. Anyhow it could not save the world; it could not even conquer the world. There were philosophers who held it in its highest and noblest form; but they not only could not convert the world, but they never tried. You could no more fight the jungle of popular mythology with a private opinion than you could clear away a forest with a pocket-knife. The Jewish priests had guarded it jealously in the good and the bad sense. They had kept it as a gigantic secret. As savage heroes might have kept the sun in a box, they kept the Everlasting in the tabernacle. They were proud that they alone could look upon the blinding sun of a single deity; and they did not know that they had themselves gone blind. Since that day their representatives have been like blind men in broad daylight, striking to right and left with their staffs, and cursing the darkness. But there has been that in their monumental monotheism that it has at least remained like a monument, the last thing of its kind, and in a sense motionless in the more restless world which it cannot satisfy. For it is certain that for some reason it cannot satisfy. Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, since the rumour that God had left his heavens to set it right.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tenebrae Factae Sunt

If you live anywhere near Chicago and have not heretofore attended the Tenebrae service at St. John Cantius Parish, I envy you.

I say that because you have the chance to experience this amazingly beautiful service — surely Holy Mother Church's most sublime non-Mass liturgy — for the first time tomorrow (Spy Wednesday) night at 7:30. [Get directions to SJC here.)

The office of Tenebrae:
...contains 14 psalms, 9 readings, and one canticle, the Benedictus (Song of Zechariah). Lighting is gradually reduced throughout the service. Initially 15 candles are lit and are placed on a special stand known as a hearse, which are extinguished one by one after each psalm. The last candle is hidden beneath the altar, ending the service in total darkness. In some places the use of a strepitus (Latin for "great noise") is included as part of the service. The great noise is usually generated by slamming a book closed, banging a hymnal or breviary against the pew, or stomping on the floor, symbolizing the earthquake that followed Christ's death. This custom seems to have originated as a simple signal to depart in silence. Following the great noise a single candle, which had been hidden from view is returned to the top of the hearse. It is felt that the single candle signifies the return of Christ to the world with the Resurrection.

At the conclusion of the SJC Tenebrae service, when the church is in total darkness but before the strepitus, the choir sings Allegri's hauntingly beautiful Miserere — the hearing of which is, for me personally, the high point of Lent.

The Knights Templar and the Shroud

Not only were they not heretics, but the Knights Templar also hid the Shroud of Turin for over 100 years.

Homestar Opens a Doughnut Stand!

Who ever knew there was a country called Homemáde?

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Lakefront on "Lockdown"

Reason #614237809079814236 to oppose Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Olympics:

Plans for the proposed 2016 Olympic Village and lakefront sports venues would force cyclists, runners and walkers to divert from long stretches of the paths east of Lake Shore Drive during virtually all of July and August 2016. ...

Chicago 2016 bid officials conceded that closings—which they called "redirection"—for security reasons would dramatically alter recreational use during the weeks encompassing not only the Olympics (July 22-Aug. 7) and the Paralympics (Aug. 17-29), but a "lockdown" period beforehand.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Episcopal Church Drifts Further Into Outer Space

This reminds me of this.

And, on a not entirely unrelated matter:

Do thou make thy voice heard in support of the conscience rights of health care providers before 9 April, the deadline for submitting comments to HHS.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Let the Pothole Vaulting Begin!

So the IOC begins its six-day visit to our fair corrupt city today, and John Kass recounts his readers' best suggestions for "authentic Chicago-style Olympic event ideas to honor the IOC evaluators":

Many of you sent variations of "Sprints to the Federal Building," "Pothole Vaulting" and "Hired Truck Demolition Derby." Most popular was "Olympic (Wrought Iron) Fencing," the gold going to the mayor's brother Cook County Commissioner Johnny Daley, who sold insurance to the politically connected fence contractors.

What other events?

"Synchronized Scheming" (Jeff S.); "Parking Dibs Derby" (Jerry P.), and an adaptation of a street game I played as a wee lad on South Peoria Street:

"Fed Rover, Fed Rover, Let the Feds Come Over" (Ryan L.) in which politicians and their cronies hold hands and federal prosecutors run toward them, to break the weakest link.

"Mayor Daley's X Games" (Roger W.) in which contestants carve giant X's into airport runways under cover of darkness because some politician said he was afraid of terrorists with tiny planes. "Strong Arm Wrestling" (Bob E.), the only event in which average taxpaying chumbolones have an advantage, after having "built up those forearms from carrying around all those quarters to feed the parking meters."

Read the whole thing.