Old School, simply put

31 07 2009

This week’s post on the Church

30 07 2009


From Leon J. Podles’ blog, and I reproduce it here in its entirety:

A Jew decides to go to Rome to see what the center of the Church was like. He investigated the papal court. He realized that:

“Not only did they indulge in normal lust but without the last restraint of remorse or shame even in sodomy and to such an extent that the influence of whores and minions was of no little importance in currying favor. Various other attributes he found them to possess besides lechery. They were gluttons, swillers guzzlers in general and devoted to their bellies like brute beasts. Investigating further he saw they were all avaricious and greedy for money.”

People have asked me how I can remain a Catholic after I discovered what was going on in the clergy. Well, the Jew, after seeing the corruption of the papal court tells a Christian:

“For all I can judge it seems to me your Shepherd and consequently everyone else with him do their utmost, exercise every care, wit and art at their disposal to ruin the Christian faith entirely and ban it altogether from the world, instead of striving to be its foundation and mainstay. Yet when I notice that their aim is not fulfilled, but that your religion continually grows and becomes more bright and clear, it seems to be very evident that the Holy Spirit is its foundation and support, so it must be the truest and holiest of all faiths.”

So the Jew becomes a Catholic.

A lawyer who represented abuse victims and saw the depths of corruption in the Church nonetheless became a Catholic. Like Boccaccio’s Jew, he decided that God most be at work in a Church that survives the determined eforts of the clergy to poison it.

Today, I don’t necessarily believe clergymen are any worse morally, but they certainly are theologically (in the past, clergy at least respected the Faith enough not to meddle with it or change it. They would ignore it, but at least they left it alone). But the Church is still here.


An additional series of thoughts occured to me after I read this article, which I saw on the Conservative Blog for Peace. It is about the passing of the novelist Frank McCourt, famous for his novel, Angela’s Ashes, among others. I thought this part particularly poignant:

Peter Quinn, the novelist and a practicing Catholic, wrote in an email that his friend was neither “contemptuous of believers in general nor Catholics in particular. On a trip we took together in 1998, he went to Mass with me on the Sunday morning that we landed. He respected the fact that I had reached my own peace with the Catholic Church. ‘It’s a good thing,’ he once told me, ‘that you’re raising your kids in the Catholic faith. At least they’ll have a map to follow or throw away. In either case, they’ll know where they are.’ ”

One of the great ironies of my life is that my father is probably the most “racist” person I know against Mexicans. Even though his tejano Spanish is flawless, and he is “proud of who he is”, he isn’t from Mexico but was born and raised in Texas, and can break out in a litany of what’s wrong with the “paisas” newly arrived from across the border. I never felt this to be bigotry, but complete honesty about people he has to “share an identity with”. I don’t see the deceased Mr. McCourt’s attitude worthy of righteous indignation. Indeed, I have never seen the point of the Catholic League’s harping on anti-Catholicism as the last acceptable prejudice. It seems to be a lot of talk coming from a culture of entitlement: we have rights simply because we are a “minority”. Catholics used to be threatening to our enemies; now we just whine about injustices towards us like spurned, unpopular school girls. But I digress. There is a difference between outright bigotry and an honest critique, and it seems that Mr. McCourt’s attitude was the latter. Those informed about Catholic history and culture will not be surprised that the Church, while it had some influence and power, did not do too well in winning the hearts and minds of the faithful. Why else do you think we are in this situation?

As much as we should seek to cover our fathers’ nakedness, one can only go so far in doing so before it becomes farcical. On a very human level, the only real way to respect our own belief is to respect others’ honest disbelief. I speak not of a bigoted, ideological opposition to the Truth, but rather a disagreement that cannot assent and is honest about it, be it out of weakness or immovable prejudice. Only this I think would do justice to the fact that Faith is a gift given by God, not a battering ram for our own pet projects.

Thug (after)life!

29 07 2009


from Time Magazine, July 2nd, 2008

Judith Escalona visits the General Cemetery in southern Caracas at least once a month. At the tomb of Ismaelito, she pours the dead man a drink and lights him cigarette after cigarette. Ismaelito was no relative, however. He is the king of the santos malandros — the holy thugs. The purpose of Escalona’s tribute, including the prayers she offers to Ismaelito, is protection. Almost 50 people die from criminal violence in any given week in Caracas. Escalona’s store has been burgled several times, but she is grateful that no one has been killed — and she hopes Ismaelito will keep it that way.
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27 07 2009


Saturn is the supreme intellect among the angels by whose rays souls in addition to the angels are illumined and inflamed and are raised continually with all their might to the intellectual life. Whenever souls are converted to this life, they are said to be under Saturn’s rule in that they live by the understanding. Consequently, in this life they are said to be regenerated by their own will because they choose to be reformed for the better. Again, they are said to grow young again daily (that is, if days can be numbered then) and to blossom more and more. Hence the words of the Apostle Paul, “The inward man is renewed day by day.” Finally, fruits are said to be supplied men in abundance, produced unbidden and in a perpetual spring, and this is because there- not by way of their senses and laborious discipline but by way of inner light- men enjoy to the highest degree the tranquility of life and pleasure, along with the wonderful spectacles of truth itself.

-Marsilio Ficino

San Ramon Nonato

27 07 2009


From the site of E. Bryant Holman (R.I.P.):

While still a young man, he joined the Orden de la Merced, which was an order which raised money to go to North Africa and pay the ransom for Christians who were being held there. While on one such mission, he was found, by the Muslim authorities, to be preaching and attempting to gain converts to Christianity. The local ruler warned him that he must stop, or else he would be punished. A zealous preacher, he continued, and was arrested. In order to literally shut him up, his lips were perforated and a padlock was installed, which was later removed when they put him on a ship back to Spain.

For this last reason, he has become a very popular saint in Mexico, where people appeal to him by way of a spell designed to shut up gossips. In this, one acquires and image of the saint, along with a red votive candle. One prays the prayer to him which one finds on the back of his prayer card or his votive candles, and then one asks him to shut up a particular gossip or group of gossips, and then one takes chewing gum and uses it to press a coin over his mouth. One lights the candle and sets it next to the image on one’s altar (this is what curanderas do) or else one sets it in some place where it will not be disturbed.

Of course, he is also invoked for a safe childbirth:

Oh excelso patrono, San Ramón, modelo de caridad para con los pobres y necesitados, aquí me tenéis postrado humildemente ante vuestros pies para implorar vuestro auxilio en mis necesidades. Así como era vuestra mayor dicha ayudar a los pobres y necesitados en la tierra, socorredme, os suplico, oh glorioso San Ramón, en esta mi aflicción. A vos, oh glorioso protector acudo para que bendigáis al hijo que llevo en mi seno. Protegedme a mí y al hijo de mis entrañas ahora y durante el parto que se aproxima. Os prometo educarlo según las leyes y mandamientos de Dios. Escuchad mis oraciones, amante protector mío, San Ramón, y hacedme madre feliz de este hijo que espero dar a luz por medio de vuestra poderosa intercesión. Así sea.

Hey, hate to break it to you, but…

27 07 2009

No. 1: Ryan from Athanasius Contra Mundum states the obvious: the Song of Songs isn’t about sex! That’s right, people, deal with it:

The reason is that human love as we know it exists only in this world, and as good as it is, is unfulfilling and lame in comparison to divine love. There is no sex in heaven, there is no marriage in heaven. Those things while good in themselves are also mundane when considered in that light, which is why the mystics viewed the human love as a mere beginning, and someone unable to break out of it as someone who could not advance in the spiritual life. West on the other hand would have you believe they are everything. The principle fallacy of such an approach is that marriage exists in the order of nature, primarily for the procreation and education of children, and secondly as a remedy for concupiscence. The husband has spiritual headship of the family because it is ordered to the family (not his) benefit, essentially the husband rules the family to get it to heaven. In heaven however, people do not rule in the order of nature, but in the order of grace, thus women may rule and have authority in heaven. Our Lady is queen of heaven, and rules over every man, except for her divine Son to Whom her will is always united. In heaven husbands and wives have no common life, because life in heaven exists by the order of grace. The two effects to which marriage is ordered no longer exist. A holy woman of a husband who barely makes it into purgatory will rule, while the husband will be at a lower order. Amidst such a reality, one has a difficult time finding the lofty conception of sex and marriage which West (and it would appear) the late Holy Father find.

No. 2: A friend of mine once told me that you know you are really in the soup when you find that the only purpose of your life may be to serve as a cautionary tale to others. Well, this is one of those moments in my life:

Once again, via the Conservative Blog for Peace, this quote from an Orthodox blogger:

That said, as an Eastern Catholic I reject the idea that Trent is truly ecumenical, and hold instead that its decrees espouse Latin (mainly Scholastic) theological theories, which no one outside the Latin Church is required to accept…

[Comment:] Clearly the concept of “cafeteria” Catholicism is not limited to the Latin Rite. I am slowly coming to the view that many of these people are neither Catholic nor Orthodox. They are Protestants dressed in Byzantine vestments. “I will believe whatever I want to believe.”

I don’t want to bore people with that story again, but I am entirely in agreement. I have to say, at least when it concerns Catholics, such talk is more a demonstration of personal boredom than anything, tinged a bit perhaps with intellectual sloth. They see the state of contemporary American Christianity, and particularly the childish gags of Catholic AmChurch, get discouraged, and start to look for real “ancient piety” elsewhere, all the while bringing their modern sensibilities with them. Carl Jung painted a pretty accurate picture of these people when he wrote:

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. They will practice Indian yoga and all its exercises, observe a strict regimen of diet, learn theosophy by heart, or mechanically repeat mystic texts from the literature of the whole world- all because they cannot get on with themselves… the soul has gradually been turned into a Nazareth from which nothing good can come. Therefore, let us fetch it from the four corners of the earth- the more far fetched and bizarre, the better!

Of course, Jung was speaking against the notion of absolute human depravity, and I cannot agree with him in that regard, but I think he is right to criticize the wanderlust that certain “spiritual seekers” have when they approach the traditions and attitudes that are right in front of them. The problem is not the “church you’re in”. The problem is you.

The Gendering of Catholic Folk Magic

26 07 2009


To say that I have always been an odd duck is a bit of an understatement. Perhaps some can attribute it to the fact that growing up, I was a bit of a “mama’s boy”. [Mexican families have a horrible double standard where the boys (sometimes literally) get away with murder, while girls are watched as if any minute they were going off to become street walkers if not properly guarded.] Thus, a boy with a religious disposition was deemed to be a bit of an oddity, though a necessary oddity. Who else was going to fill the ranks of the clergy? Besides, I have a devout grandfather and some devout great-uncles, and men on that side of the family are for the most part church-going. But religion, as in the vast majority of Catholic cultures, was primarily a female affair; the religious secrets of the family were passed down mother to daughter, and mother to son, but the son for the most part preserved them as a vague memory of home and hearth, as a place of safety away from the violence and poverty that often were the burdens of daily life.
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Another Church music post

24 07 2009

I encountered this passage from that extremely reliable and solid source of information on the Internet, Wikipedia (really, you would be surprised the stuff I have found on there, and if it’s enough to amaze me…) while “researching” something last week (is looking something up on Wikipedia, “research”?):

In the spring of 1902, in the Vatican, Moreschi made the first of his phonograph recordings for the Gramophone & Typewriter Company of London. He made additional recordings in 1904: there are seventeen tracks in all. Between these two sessions, several most fateful events occurred: in 1903 the aged Mustafà finally retired, and a few months later Pope Leo XIII, a strong supporter of Sistine tradition, died. His successor was Pope Pius X, an equally powerful advocate of Cecilianism. One of the new pontiff’s first official acts was the promulgation of the motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini (“Amidst the Cares”), which appeared, appropriately enough, on St Cecilia’s Day, 22 November, 1903. This was the final nail in the coffin of all that Mustafà, Moreschi and their colleagues stood for, since one of its decrees stated: “Whenever . . . it is desirable to employ the high voices of sopranos and contraltos, these parts must be taken by boys, according to the most ancient usage of the Church.” Perosi, a fanatical opponent of the castrati, had triumphed and Moreschi and his few remaining colleagues were to be pensioned off and replaced by boys. A singing pupil of Moreschi’s, Domenico Mancini, was such a good imitator of his master’s voice that Perosi took him for a castrato (for all that castration had been banned in Italy in 1870), and would have nothing to do with him. Ironically, Mancini became a professional double-bass player.


Of course, I looked up, “Cecilianism”, and just what I thought, it is the movement in Church music to restore “primitive chant”, polyphony, and all that jazz. It is what contemporary church do-gooders resort to when they cringe at a Mozart Mass or sappy Irish tunes being sung at Benediction. I was trained in it; a few times a week in seminary (everyday during Holy Week), we were marched off and run through the in’s and out’s of the Liber Usualis. It’s all of that “qui cantat, bis orat” stuff that I never really bought into.

I, being the cyncial person that I am, always fault this stuff for the agonizing experience in church music that I have to be marched through Sunday after Sunday. Of course, the good anti-modernist Pope probably had no idea that he was setting us up for Marty Haugen, but the whole movement to strip Catholic worship of buxom sopranos belting out Latin prayers began with the more unsavory tendencies of Jansenism in the eighteenth century. If you had mentioned to anyone but the Jansenists a few centuries ago that there would be a solemn High Mass with nothing but chant, a bit of polyphony, and no instruments, they would have thought you mad or a filthy Calvinist (if they knew what a Calvinist really was, they just knew it was bad). Indeed the Te Deum of Charpentier, the giggling girls singing Couperin’s Tenebrae Lessons, and the grainy but ethereal sounds of a motet by Zipoli would have been more the norm in a place that could afford to have music at all. Even the California missions were renowned for their orchestras made up of Indian neophytes.

So I wonder, how bad would it have been if we stayed with the tradition of sacred music being “concert pieces” and most people keeping their mouths shut? I for one always like to imagine how Handel’s Carmelite Vespers (the video is of one of my favorite pieces from that service) would have been like, performed in 1707, when the composer was only in his early twenties. Even though a Lutheran, did the Virgin smile more on his piece of music than the guitar ensembles that have descended like the plague on Catholic churches today? I am not going to answer that question, but you can probably guess what I am thinking. Snob or no snob, bad music is just bad music.

The Dionysian element

23 07 2009

above: a penitente crucifixion in New Mexico in the 1930’s

The Dionysian element has to do with emotions and affects which have found no suitable religious outlets in the predominantly Apollonian cult and ethos of Christianity. The medieval carnivals and jeux de paume in the Church were abolished relatively early; consequently the carnival became secularized and with it divine intoxication vanished from the sacred precincts… intoxication, that most direct form of possession, turned away from the gods and enveloped the human world with its exuberance and pathos. The pagan religions met this danger by giving drunken ecstasy a place within their cult. Heraclitus doubtless saw what was at the back of it when he said, “But Hades is that same Dionysios in whose honour they go mad and keep the feast of the vat.” For this very reason orgies were granted religious license, so as to exorcise the danger that threatened from Hades. Our solution, however, has served to throw the gates of hell wide open.

– Carl Jung, Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy

When I read this, I thought, not quite, at least on the periphery of the Catholic world. The phenomenon of tarantismo, now extinct, went on for long enough in southern Italy to be filmed, as I have linked to before. There is also the question of the Jansenist convulsionaries of Saint Medard, who gave the Hindu sadhus a run for their money in their day. But less exotically, there seems to have always been a “Dinoysian” element to Catholicism that modern Catholics of all stripes now seem to detest. From the bloody Spanish crucifix to the eyeballs of St. Lucy on a platter, from the mock battles between angels and demons in my mother’s village in Mexico to an ox crapping on the floor of a church in Italy, the riotous religious sub-consciousness is an endangered species in the Catholic world. When Vatican II came, it was the first to go. One wonders if there are any teeth to Jung’s dire prophecy.

Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire

22 07 2009