Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You Learn Something New Every Day

At least I do.

A priest friend of mine, Fr. Robert Zwilling of the Diocese of Belleville, sends out a weekly e-mail that explains a little bit about this or that theological topic, liturgical season, etc.

This week's message explained why there are traditionally three Masses (with three different sets of readings) celebrated at Christmas.

Father Robert, with some help from the Angelic Doctor, explained:

There are actually three Masses: at midnight, dawn, and during the day. They were mystically connected with aboriginal, Judaic, and Christian dispensations, or to the triple "birth" of Christ: in Eternity, in Time, and in the Soul. St. Thomas Aquinas goes into more details:

“On Christmas Day, however, several masses are said on account of Christ's threefold nativity. Of these the first is His eternal birth, which is hidden in our regard. and therefore one mass is sung in the night, in the "Introit" of which we say: "The Lord said unto Me: Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee." The second is His nativity in time, and the spiritual birth, whereby Christ rises "as the day-star in our [Vulg.: 'your'] hearts" (2 Peter 1:19), and on this account the mass is sung at dawn, and in the "Introit" we say: "The light will shine on us today." The third is Christ's temporal and bodily birth, according as He went forth from the virginal womb, becoming visible to us through being clothed with flesh: and on that account the third mass is sung in broad daylight, in the "Introit" of which we say: "A child is born to us." Nevertheless, on the other hand, it can be said that His eternal generation, of itself, is in the full light, and on this account in the gospel of the third mass mention is made of His eternal birth. But regarding His birth in the body, He was literally born during the night, as a sign that He came to the darknesses of our infirmity; hence also in the midnight mass we say the gospel of Christ's nativity in the flesh.”  -Summa Theologica III:83:2

Now I know. And so do you.

Good Publicity

A couple of my co-workers, Corrina Gura and Matt Yonke, are featured in a story in today's RedEye that looks at opinions on abortion among young adults. Corrina is also on the cover (see right).

Considering The Gomer Pyle Axiom of High and Low Expectations, we can't help but be pleased with the story.

As we noted on our website today, it makes perfectly clear that 37 years after Roe v. Wade, abortion is still headline news, and pro-lifers will never be cowed into silence.

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part VII

After today, our office will be closed until January 4.

Thus, I won't be working until January 4.

Thus, I won't have a lunch break until January 4.

Thus, I won't be blogging until January 4.

So, I'll have to include not only today's installment of the Chesterton Advent Calendar (explanation here) but also those for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well.

23 December

Fortunately, however, being happy is not so important as having a jolly time. Philosophers are happy; saints have a jolly time. The important thing in life is not to keep a steady system of pleasure and composure (which can be done quite well by hardening one's heart or thickening one's head), but to keep alive in oneself the immortal power of astonishment and laughter, and a kind of young reverence. This is why religion always insists on special days like Christmas, while philosophy always tends to despise them. Religion is interested not in whether a man is happy, but whether he is still alive, whether he can still react in a normal way to new things, whether he blinks in a blinding light or laughs when he is tickled. That is the best of Christmas, that it is a startling and disturbing happiness; it is an uncomfortable comfort. The Christmas customs destroy the human habits. And while customs are generally unselfish, habits are nearly always selfish. The object of the religious festival is, as I have said, to find out if a happy man is still alive. A man can smile when he is dead. Composure, resignation, and the most exquisite goo dmanners are, so to speak, the strong points of corpses. There is only one way in which you can test his real vitality, and that is by a special festival. Explode cracker in his ear, and see if he jumps. Prick him with holly, and see if he feels it. If not, he is dead, or, as he would put it, is "living the higher life." —Illustrated London News, 1908

24 December

Almighty God to all mankind on Christmas Day said He:
"I rent you from the old red hills and, rending made you free.
There was charter, there was challenge; in a blast of breath I gave;
You can be all things other; you cannot be a slave.
You shall be tired and tolerant of fancies as they fade,
But if men doubt the Charter, ye shall call on the Crusade –
Trumpet and torch and catapult, cannon and bow and blade,
Because it was My challenge to all the things I made." —A Christmas Song for Three Guilds

25 December

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down —A Christmas Carol

Season's greetings! Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part VI

Explanation here.

22 December

Religion has had to provide that longest and strangest telescope - the telescope through which we could see the star upon which we dwelt. For the mind and eyes of the average man this world is as lost as Eden and as sunken as Atlantis. —The Defendant

Monday, December 21, 2009

Who Knew

...that John and Yoko recognized that the Neo-Malthusians' fear-mongering blather about overpopulation was exactly that?

"Oh, I don't care."


[HT: Creative Minority Report]

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part V

Explanation here.

21 December

Christ commanded us to have love for all men, but even if we had equal love for all men, to speak of having the same love for all men is merely bewildering nonsense. If we love a man at all, the impression he produces on us must be vitally different to the impression produced by another man whom we love. To speak of having the same kind of regard for both is about as sensible as asking a man whether he prefers chrysanthemums or billiards. Christ did not love humanity; He never said He loved humanity: He loved men. Neither He nor anyone else can love humanity; it is like loving a gigantic centipede. —Twelve Types

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part IV

Explanation here.

18 December

When, in "[A] Christmas Carol," Scrooge refers to the surplus population, the Spirit tells him, very justly, not to speak till he knows what the surplus is and where it is. The implication is severe but sound. When a group of superciliously benevolent economists look down into the abyss for the surplus population, assuredly there is only one answer that should be given to them; and that is to say, "If there is a surplus, you are a surplus." And if anyone were ever cut off, they would be. —Charles Dickens

19 December

The writer writes these words before Christmas; some readers will read them after Christmas: an awful thought. For I always dimly and dumbly think of life after Christmas as of life after death. I hasten to add that I believe that both will occur. I also add that, as becomes any healthy man, I fear death, but do not fear Christmas—no, not even if it result in death. But I do unconsciously count them both as the end of something and all days beyond them as comparatively vague and visionary. Whenever the year is ending I feel that the world is ending, and I desire to make a good end. I think the best end ever made by mortal man—better than Nelson shot through his stars or Douglas hurling the heart of Bruce—was the death of Faber, who confessed and received all the sacraments of his Church, and on being told he had an hour to live, said: "Then I can hear the last number of 'Pickwick,'" and died hearing it. —Illustrated London News, 11 January, 1913

20 December

Meanwhile, it remains true that I shall eat a great deal of turkey this Christmas; and it is not in the least true (as the vegetarians say) that I shall do it because I do not realise what I am doing, or because I do what I know is wrong, or that I do it with shame or doubt or a fundamental unrest of conscience. In one sense I know quite well what I am doing; in another sense I know quite well that I know not what I do. Scrooge and the Cratchits and I are, as I have said, all in one boat; the turkey and I are, to say the most of it, ships that pass in the night, and greet each other in passing. I wish him well; but it is really practically impossible to discover whether I treat him well. I can avoid, and I do avoid with horror, all special and artificial tormenting of him, sticking pins in him for fun or sticking knives in him for scientific investigation. But whether by feeding him slowly and killing him quickly for the needs of my brethren, I have improved in his own solemn eyes his own strange and separate destiny, whether I have made him in the sight of God a slave or a martyr, or one whom the gods love and who die young—that is far more removed from my possibilities of knowledge than the most abstruse intricacies of mysticism or theology. A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels. In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished. —All Things Considered

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part III

Explanation here.

17 December

Damn it, I sometimes think the only English thing left in England is cherry brandy. —The Quick One

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part II

Explanation here.

16 December

Comfort, especially this vision of Christmas comfort, is the reverse of a gross or material thing. It is far more poetical, properly speaking, than the Garden of Epicurus. It is far more artistic than the Palace of Art. It is more artistic because it is based upon a contrast, a contrast between the fire and wine within the house and the winter and the roaring rains without. It is far more poetical, because there is in it a note of defence, almost of war; a note of being besieged by the snow and hail; of making merry in the belly of a fort. —Charles Dickens

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This Is *So* Not Surprising

The Bullwinkle Approach continues to yield astonishingly predictable results.

[HT: Mark Shea]


A Chesterton Advent Calendar

Yesterday I mentioned two friends of mine, the late Frank and Ann Petta, whom I knew through the Chicago Area G. K. Chesterton Society.

Every year in the mailing advertising the group's annual Christmas Party, Frank would always send along "A Chesterton Advent Calendar", a sheet containing excerpts from Chesterton's writings — one for each of the ten days leading up to Christmas, and for Christmas Day itself. Some of the quotations are directly related to Christmas; others not so much.

Why, you may ask, didn't he include a Chesterton quotation for each day of Advent?

Beats me. That's just the kind of sui generis fellow Frank was.

For the next few days, I'll be including these quotations herein, with references whenever possible.

15 December

Here am I, Father Christmas; well you know it,
Though critics say it fades, my Christmas Tree,
Yet was it Dickens who became my poet
And who the Dickens may the critics be? —The Turkey and the Turk

Monday, December 14, 2009

Catherine Doherty, Servant of God

Today is the 24th anniversary of the death of Catherine Doherty.

Her Wikipedia entry begins:

Servant of God Catherine Doherty (August 15, 1896–December 14, 1985) was a social activist and foundress of the Madonna House Apostolate. A pioneer of social justice and a renowned national speaker, Catherine was also a prolific writer of hundreds of articles, best-selling author of dozens of books, and a dedicated wife and mother. Her cause for canonization as a saint is under consideration by the Catholic Church.

An amazing life story, hers.

Born in Russia, she and her family were nearly killed during the Russian Revolution. A website dedicated to her cause for canonization explains its impact on her:

The Revolution marked Catherine for life. She saw it as the tragic consequence of a Christian society’s failure to incarnate its faith. All her life she cried out against the hypocrisy of those who professed to follow Christ, while failing to serve him in others.

After fleeing Russia, Catherine went first to England, and then to Canada. In the early 1930s, she founded Friendship House in Toronto, the major goals of which were service to the poor and working for interracial justice.

As the movement spread, new Friendship Houses opened in Canada (in Ottawa and Hamilton), and others in the US: in New York (Harlem), Chicago, Washington DC, Portland, OR, and Shreveport, LA.

A couple friends of ours, the late Frank and Ann Petta — whom I met through the Chicago Area G.K. Chesterton Society — lived at the Chicago Friendship House during its early years, and knew Catherine personally. They often talked about how logical of a step it was for them to go from being active in the struggle for interracial justice and the civil rights movement to being involved in the pro-life movement.

Although I never had the privilege of meeting Catherine Doherty myself, I suppose having friends who personally knew her is the next best thing.

We owe her a debt of gratitude for all that she did to spread the love of Jesus Christ to others.

  • A list of Catherine Doherty's writings and talks is available here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Without Stain"

In honor of today's solemnity, it never hurts to remind ourselves what Holy Mother Church teaches (and what she does not teach) about the Immaculate Conception:

It’s important to understand what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is and what it is not. Some people think the term refers to Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb without the intervention of a human father; but that is the Virgin Birth. Others think the Immaculate Conception means Mary was conceived "by the power of the Holy Spirit," in the way Jesus was, but that, too, is incorrect. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived without original sin or its stain—that’s what "immaculate" means: without stain.

It's interesting to note that the Church places greater importance on this day, when she commemorates the conception of Mary in the womb of St. Anne, than on the day she commemorates Mary's birth — celebrated, appropriately enough, nine months from today, on September 8.

In honor of the celebration of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception, I've included below what is, in my opinion, the most cogent paragraph ever written on Marian devotion.

It's from The Everlasting Man, my favorite work of G. K. Chesterton.

Given that we're in the midst of Advent, it's also rather timely:

If the world wanted what is called a non-controversial aspect of Christianity, it would probably select Christmas. Yet it is obviously bound up with what is supposed to be a controversial aspect (I could never at any stage of my opinions imagine why); the respect paid to the Blessed Virgin. When I was a boy a more Puritan generation objected to a statue upon my parish church representing the Virgin and Child. After much controversy, they compromised by taking away the Child. One would think that this was even more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the mother was counted less dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the practical difficulty is also a parable. You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all round that of a newborn child. You cannot suspend the new-born child in mid-air; indeed you cannot really have a statue of a newborn child at all. Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a newborn child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother; you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows as it is followed in history. We must either leave Christ out of Christmas, or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tortured Arguments for Torture

Several months ago, I posted a comment on an entry on Subvet's blog in which he asked the question, "What is torture and why is it not justified?"

I had intended to post what I had written here as well, but a few days later, Anthony was born, and then it must have slipped my mind until I noticed recently that I still had a draft for a post with the title "torture".

Anyway, I began by saying:

The short answer is that torture is wrong because it's intrinsically immoral.

(I realized afterward this sounded a bit tautological. Instead of saying "wrong", I should have said "not justified". *)

The next commenter, one Abnpoppa, began with this:

Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn if it is immoral.

Well then!

Gee, I can't see how that way of thinking could lead to any problems.

He then said:

I'll water board your mother until the oceans run dry if it will save one American or one soldiers life.


Now, because Comic Book Guy destroyed Professor Frink's prototype for a sarcasm detector, it's never made its way onto the market. But at times like this, one could really come in handy.

I'm assuming Abnpoppa is engaging in hyperbole — not the part about the oceans running dry, which is obviously is hyperbole, but about waterboarding my mother — and that if push came to shove, he wouldn't actually waterboard my mother if he believed that by doing so it might save one American or one soldier's life.

On the other hand, maybe not. Maybe he really would have no qualms about waterboarding my mother.

(As an aside: note that Abnpoppa implicitly admits that waterboarding is, in fact, a form of torture — a point that many defenders of waterboarding are, to say the least, reluctant to acknowledge. **)

But let's just assume it is hyperbole.

Well, in that case, if Doing Whatever It Takes to save the lives of the good guys is the justification for torturing terrorists in order to extract information, why stop at torturing only terrorists themselves?

If the first attempts don't get them to tell us what we need to know, why *not* bring in their mothers — or wives, or daughters — and make the terrorists watch while we torture them too?

After all, if the debate about torture is not a debate about morality but rather a debate about utility, then why impose limits on ourselves? If, by torturing terrorists' relatives, we could conceivably have more success extracting information from them than by merely torturing the terrorists themselves, why not do it?

But of course, the debate about torture must be a debate about morality. And that's why hearing a defense of torture that begins with, "I don't give a damn if it is immoral" ought to raise a red flag.

* I'm aware that some Catholic thinkers have attempted to argue that torture is morally permissible under certain circumstances. I can't say I've done an exhaustive study of such arguments, but what I have read I have found lacking, not to mention troubling, especially in light of the fact that in Veritatis Splendor 80, Pope John Paul II writes that "physical and mental torture" are among the acts that are "intrinsically evil".

That doesn't leave much wiggle room for torture apologists, does it?

** On this topic, a couple items are worth a look: "This Is What Waterboarding Looks Like", an account of waterboarding as it was used by the Khmer Rouge, and "Believe Me, It's Torture", Christopher Hitchens' account of being waterboarded.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Campion, the Seditious Jesuit"

Today is the feast of one of my favorite saints, the great English Jesuit Edmund Campion, who was hanged, drawn, and quartered on this day in 1581 because he audaciously refused to renounce the Catholic faith—an act of defiance that, in Elizabethan England, not infrequently proved hazardous to one's life.

Apropos of this, I can't help but call to mind a quip by Oscar Wilde (whose death — and, far more importantly, deathbed conversion to Catholicism — 109 years ago) was commemorated yesterday.

The Catholic Church, Wilde remarked, is "for saints and sinners alone — for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do."