Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Non-Catholics say the darndest things

At dinner on Christmas night, four friends and I were eating with the five other members of my immediate family. The friends are Catholic, my family Protestant. I started chatting with my friends about where we'd all gone to Mass that day. "Did you go to St. Peter Chanel for Midnight Mass?" "I went to Ss. Peter and Paul; there was a great TLM this morning." "St. Therese has one on New Years' day."

My older brother interrupted: "Are the Masses named for whoever says them?"

When we'd recovered from our surprise and hilarity we explained that those were the names of the churches. But if my brother had been right I would certainly have attended the Mass offered by Saints Peter and Paul!

Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm back!

The four of us had a really, really wonderful time up in Sacramento (of all places). We mainly hung out at an FSSP church, and we also admired Sacramento's cathedral, toured California's capitol, went out to eat, shared one room for three nights, and drove home in one car without injuring each other (much). It was great fun; I'm lucky to have friends who enjoy that kind of thing!

Too tired to elaborate. :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

From cupcakeenvy.com. Boy, do I wish I could chomp into one of those. :) There are some ridiculously good-looking cakes and cupcakes out there on the internet. Why can't I have any friends who make stuff like this? And then give it away? To me? :)

I might not post for a while-- but hey, eight posts today! A record for me. Of course it was mostly done by ripping off other people's stuff. :) I'll be busy all day tomorrow and then the day after some friends and I are leaving bright and early for a four-day road trip to Sacramento. We'll be at an FSSP parish called St. Stephen the First Martyr on the feast of St. Stephen, December 26, and they're going to have a Solemn High Mass at 7 pm for the occasion, which we're all excited about seeing. Our plan for the long drive up there (if they haven't closed the Grapevine) is to listen to a series of lectures by Fr. Brian Mullady and arrive smarter than when we left. Now I'm going to take a break from present-wrapping to go for a walk and look at Christmas lights before they're all turned off. May you all have a blessed Christmas season!

G.K. Chesterton on believing in Santa Claus

"What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it.

It happened in this way. As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good-— far from it. And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me; what we believed was that a certain man did give us those toys for nothing.

And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea. Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic good will."

When Christ was in His cradle

When I said Mass at Christmas
And candles were aglow,
I saw a white old woman,
Two thousand years ago:
My very great grandmother,
Who spun me flesh and bone,
Who felt my fingers aching
In the atoms of her own,
In whom my eyes were shining,
However far away,
When Christ was in His cradle
And it was Christmas Day!

That's a poem by Fr. Leonard Feeney. The older I get the more past centuries seem to collapse like a telescope until I feel very close to the people who walked the earth when Christ did, and this seems to express it. I used to envy them in a way; now I know that what they experienced was not for them alone. Mary's awe and joy when she first saw His face-- that was for the whole human race.

O little town of Bethlehem

Perhaps nearly every Christian has some kind of thought or image that is especially potent to draw his heart and mind to God.

Mine is Christmas: that late one night, in an inhospitable, sinful world that was in desperate need of salvation, God was born as a baby.

Which is why this is probably my favorite Christmas carol.

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wond'ring love
Oh morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently
The wond'rous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in

Oh holy child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
Oh come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Employee appreciation gifts that do more harm than good

The post below reminds me of a teacher who had to make her children create little signs for her and then turn them into the school office, to receive them back as a teacher appreciation gift. That's right-- she had to go to the trouble of making her own gift happen.

But that's not as bad the nurse I know who received an employee appreciation gift of makeup. Expired makeup.

I'd rather get nothing; wouldn't you?

Christmas gift from my boss

I'm totally fine with someone telling me "Merry Christmas", "Happy Holidays", "Blessed Winter Solstice" or whatever they wish, if the good wishes come accompanied with a nice present. :) But there are apparently those who are easily offended (though I expect they're far, far fewer than the ACLU makes us think.) So what's a boss to do? He's got about twenty techs and grad students and postdocs in his lab, from many different countries and religious backgrounds, and he wants to do something nice for all of them at this time of year by giving each a good bottle of wine. What to write on the thoughtful post-it note attached to each gift?

White elephant gift exchange

(How did it come to be called that, anyway?)

Well, our lab Christmas party included such an exchange and I came away with a tiny LED light that plugs into a USB port. That may seem like just the sort of unitasker this site warns against, but I like it. It's perfect for laptopping with the lights off, because I can't see the keyboard very well in such conditions. And when do I ever use my laptop with the lights off? Why, when I want to enjoy the Christmas lights on my balcony! Here's my new toy in action:

So these gift exchanges can turn out well. But at Rachel's party the specific instructions were, "Bring something that nobody would ever want, ever." And I noticed that one of the packages was huge, very tall and wide.

I have this problem at restaurants sometimes where I order the weirdest thing on the menu just because I'm curious. It nearly always turns out to be bad. Well, my turn to open a present came, and I was curious. I wanted to know what was in the huge package, and I was afraid it might not get chosen (there were more presents than players.) So I picked it. And it was...

A broken fan!

How am I even going to fit that thing in my car? I wondered.

So watch yourself at those white elephant gift exchanges. Few know the horror that innocent-sounding game can produce.

Tacky sweaters

My friend Rachel's aforementioned gathering had a tacky sweater theme, which I was so excited about. I knew where I could borrow a really good one, a holdover from fifteen years ago when ridiculous stuff like this was all the rage for Christmas. Behold!

The fuzzy beards, the hat tassels, the riot of color. I was so certain I'd win recognition as the tackiest person at the party. But then... then this chick showed up:

And I at once conceded defeat. She even made the sweater herself! Look at the random presents glue-gunned to the sweatshirt! The sequins! The fuzzy trim! The bells on her cuffs! And even when she turned around:

I bow to the master.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Severed heads-- desserts don't GET more Catholic than this

My fascinating friend Rachel invited me to a party last weekend, and on the treats table I beheld some Rice Krispies creations which I naively took for Santa Claus heads:

What else could they be, right? Well, then I discovered that Rachel had guarded against any such jolly interpretation with this sign:

"Severed Head Treats." It seems the man she's dating mailed her some of these homemade delectables, and she was so entranced she recreated them for her party. I'd say he's had a macabre influence on her, but it might just as easily be the other way around.

Anyway, I thought the treats were hilarious and I popped a bunch of them in my mouth and delighted the in pools of cherry-flavored blood left behind:

But I was vexed by the question of how I was going to manage to post them on my blog. Obviously they had to be posted, but since they were so explicitly labeled as not Santa heads nor anything having to do with the beautiful Christmas season, what excuse could I make to claim them as Catholic?

And then it came to me in a flash of inspiration which I credit to all the Scripture readings we have at Mass just before Christmas about St. John the Baptist: these are obviously his head!

My sporting friend at once manufactured for me a silver platter:

And there he sits, eerie, mouthless, silently accusing, and oh, so delicious.

I also obtained a picture of Salome and her mother Herodias, grimly triumphant over the (apparently shrunken) head of the prophet who dared to cross them.

(That's actually Rachel on the right and her sister Hannah, and I love that when I asked them to pose with the head they at once wiped their smiles off-- they have an innate sense of the dramatic that makes for excellent pictures, as I've often noticed on Rachel's blog before now.)

If you're not familiar with the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, the version from Mark is below. It's an interesting vignette from the New Testament. He's the archetype of speaking the truth to power no matter the personal cost-- invoke him to pray for our bishops!

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you." And he promised her with an oath, "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?"

"The head of John the Baptist," she answered. At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: "I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Candy Cane Coffee Cake Counts as Catholic 'Cause it's Christmassy

My mom usually whips out three or four of these beauties each December. You roll out dough into a rectangle, cut the edges into strips, pile the middle with bits of dried apricot and candied cherries, and braid the strips of dough over the filling. Then bend it around into a candy cane shape, bake it, ice it and decorate with cherries and mint leaves. These things are always eaten in short order (mostly by me... I'm not sure my roommate even got any before I polished off the one my mom sent me home with.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dispositions for Faith, by Cardinal Newman

The Fourth Sunday of Advent falls on December 21 this year, which is the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle in the old calendar, and the Gospel reading at Mass is about St. John the Baptist. These things also coincided in 1856, and that inspired Father John Henry Newman (not a cardinal yet) to write a sermon entitled "Dispositions for Faith".

Yes, this post is about a sermon! I've been waiting for months to blog it on this day. But if you're leaving now, be sure to return later. Coming up in the next few days, this blog will feature:

1) A more Catholic-y dessert than any I've posted so far! With the possible exception of the St. Nicholas cookies. But this dessert is definitely more... memorable.
2) And another Catholic dessert, not as explicitly religious but still delicious.
3) A story of how a friend of mine used in-your-face Catholicism to save herself from peril! (Potential peril, anyway.)
4) A report of my doings last night-- I met a girl wearing the most obnoxious Christmas sweater I'd ever seen. You'll be shown the amazing pictorial proof!
5) A Christmas poem. Don't whine, it's only eight short lines.

Okay, Cardinal Newman! So I liked his sermon a great deal when I first read it, because it tackled a problem that had been rattling in the back of my mind for years. I'll try to state the problem.

Some have faith in God and some don't. Of the latter, some are happy not to believe in God, but others of those who don't have faith actually wish they did. I knew a woman, a co-worker, who rejected religion as repugnant to reason, yet she still insisted that she wished she could believe it. She saw the comfort that Catholicism gave to her dying grandmother, and she saw the fear suffered by her atheist grandfather when it was his turn to die.

Of course Christians have always taught that Christianity is fully compatible with reason; it might be suprarational but it's never irrational . However, it's true that no one is brought into the Church by reason alone. Faith is required, and you can't flip a switch and give yourself faith. It comes only as a gift of God: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Moreover, faith is necessary for salvation: "Without faith it is impossible to please God."

And God wants everyone to be saved: "It is not His will that any should perish but that all should come to salvation."

But evidently God doesn't grant the gift of faith to all. He didn't grant it to my atheist co-worker, nor to many others. So in what sense is salvation really available to all, if you need faith to get it and only God can give faith and He doesn't give faith to everyone?

There seems to be a paradox here. Strict Calvinists settle it and greatly simplify Christian theology by denying that salvation is available to all. They teach that Christ died only for some ("limited atonement", the third of the Five Points) and that some people were essentially created for Hell because they were not predestined by God for Heaven.

That view is repugnant to me, but of course my feelings don't prove it wrong. More to the point, the Bible speaks very clearly throughout of the free choice we have to accept God or reject Him, to please Him or not. By God's grace anyone can be reconciled to Him and rejoice in Him forever; this is not unattainable for anybody and God greatly desires it: "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'... Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." The limited atonement idea is wrong wrong wrong, and the Council of Trent agreed and anathematized that view.

But that means we're left with the paradox. And it's not just some esoteric fine point of theology to me, because I know there are plenty of people to whom having a relationship with God sounds as strange as having a relationship with the Tooth Fairy, and that's very sad. How is it that some believe and some do not?

Well, Cardinal Newman's take on that is in his sermon; now if you wish, go read it. :)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let them eat Catholic desserts!

Adrienne has given me the Marie Antoinette award-- thank you! I now feel even more imperious than usual and I also have an urge to go on a spending spree. :)

I'm supposed to pass on the award to other amazing and deserving women (I don't mean to exclude you men, but really, would you want this one?) So, Eanah, Megan, and Mary Rose, consider yourselves awarded!

May the Catholic desserts be with you


I wish I could blog the taste right to your mouth. These cookies are buttery and spicy and salty and sweet and I ate twelve of them this morning for breakfast before I got a grip and mailed the remainder off to friends who weren't with us for dinner last night. I also brought some to the lab Christmas party. I'd made a double recipe. :) Gingersnap dough is excellent too, which is why I deliberately keep some unbaked whenever I make these.

Want to make them yourself?

Cream these four ingredients in a blender until fluffy: 
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg

Mix these dry ingredients together and then blend them with the butter/molasses mixture:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Form the dough into small balls. (Maybe 3/4 inch in diameter. Or however big you like.) Roll each ball in granulated sugar. Place balls 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet (they spread out when they bake). Bake at 375 for about nine minutes.

Added tips-- the recipe says to bake for 12 minutes but maybe my cookies are smaller, 'cause about nine minutes is more like it. They should look slightly underdone when they come out of the oven, because they finish setting as they cool down. If you wait to take the cookies out until they look completely done-- they'll be overdone. You could always bake three or four cookies first to see how they come out...

This makes a few dozen cookies. I usually double it (make sure your mixer bowl can handle that.)

To use colored sugar, do the following:

Roll dough in small balls
Dip each ball halfway in white granulated sugar
Dip the other half in colored sugar
Bake with the colored side up.

I've learned that if the bottom of the cookie isn't coated in sugar, or if it's coated in large-crystal colored sugar, it gets a little overdone which alters the taste. It's got to be coated in fine granulated sugar.

After I'd made most of the batch it occurred to me to try two colors. I dipped each ball halfway in white sugar, then just touched it lightly in the first color of sugar, so there was a circle of color on top. Then I dipped the rest into the second color, which stuck only where the first color hadn't already stuck. I think they came out rather well! And if I can, I will so buy blue sprinkles for the Fourth of July. :)

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Catholic desserts walks into mine

Bakerella specializes in these very Christmas-y red velvet cake balls (you can find her recipe here.) This picture is from her site because I forgot to get any of my own with the cake balls bitten open!

I added Christmas sprinkles to my own effort.

And then the red tablecloth and mini tree with birds, both courtesy of my mom, looked so cute I had to get a shot of the truffles with them.

I enjoyed the truffles, but they're a lot of work compared to cookies and don't taste any better than cookies. They do, however, look more impressive.

If I ever made these again I'd make the cake from scratch. There's a certain artificial play-doh sort of undertone in some cake mixes and the one I used seemed to have it. Just a slight thing... didn't stop the truffles from getting eaten.

Would you like Catholic desserts with that?

An ordinary (by which I mean so delicious I polished off the rest of it single-mouthedly after the guests had gone home) tray of cream puffs becomes a Catholic dessert with the addition of cheap plastic decorations in red and green!

By the way, any dessert that evokes Christmas (which is just about anything sweet served in the month of December) is hereby appropriated as part of Catholic tradition and thus fitting for my voracious blog category.

It is HIGH time for more Catholic desserts!

Not long ago I took it into my head to fast from chocolate for a while, and I let my friends know what I was doing. One night they came over for dinner, bringing big snickerdoodles and butterscotch ice cream with them. It was a delicious dessert, and very thoughtful of my friends to come up with something I could eat. So good it totally took the merit away from fasting. Anyway, if you're one of those people who gives up chocolate for Lent, here's an idea for you. :)

This reminds me of when I was about thirteen and went to a pizza place with two friends, Jovanna and Suzanne. It was Lent but that meant nothing to Jovanna and me; we were Protestants. Suzanne, however, was Catholic and she was fasting from chocolate, her favorite food. So we ordered a pizza, and lo and behold, it came with exactly two free pieces of chocolate ravioli. White chocolate covering milk chocolate. It was delicious. Jovanna and I showed no mercy, but sat on either side of Suzanne and consumed our dessert with exclamations of delight. Looking back on that day, I just know Suzanne was quietly praying, "Oh Lord, please teach Rachel a lesson and make her Catholic too!"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

St. Stephen the First Martyr Parish in Sacramento, CA

St. Stephen's is an FSSP church with (I'm told) an awesome schola and a ridiculous number of altar boys. This is a long shot but are any blog readers members there? If so, brace yourself for the invasion of me and three friends right after Christmas; we're taking a road trip to Sacramento and we will most certainly show up there, especially for the evening Mass on December 26, his feast day!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Man of the worldly mind! Do you believe in me or not?"

My parents' church has a big ol' Christmas concert/play each year, and this year they did Dickens' Christmas Carol. Now if you've read it you know that Dickens somehow managed to write a whole book about Christmas and Scrooge's conversion and yet didn't say a thing about God. (I know, "God bless us, every one!" but Tiny Tim was using a figure of speech.) But this was not a problem for my parents' church. They just tweaked it, writing the Gospel in as it suited them. :)

I think you can't really take a play that's vague on religion, and graft in some explicit lines, and have it sound right. There needs to be a sense of God throughout the whole play so that the explicit lines when they come fit like the last piece of a puzzle that reveals the whole picture. Instead they seemed out of place. Or maybe the problem was that the new lines used modern American Evangelical language and that's not how Victorians of any denomination would have put things. Can't help that; who can write like Dickens any more?

I'm only being nitpicky; it was a great concert and play and I loved seeing everyone (many of whom I knew) in Victorian costume. Particularly this person, accessorizing with chains:

It's my dad! He played Marley's ghost, and as soon as I heard he'd been cast I thought, "Oh, this is going to be good!" He's perfect with the dramatic wails and the deep spooky voice and the scary look. You should have heard him reading to us when we were kids. But I assure you that when he's not in character he's a very nice dad. :)

Monday, December 15, 2008


Hooray! It has arrived: the DVD that the FSSP made to help train priests to say the traditional Latin Mass! I'm only up to the Gloria and already I've learned a bunch of little details I didn't know before, which are satisfyingly meaningful now that I do know them. For example: at Low Mass when the priest turns to descend the steps to begin the prayers at the foot of the altar, he's supposed to step slightly to one side so as to avoid having his back completely to the altar. I'll bring pencil and paper to the TLM next Sunday and note down any small mistakes the priest makes and present him with my score at the end of Mass; I'm sure he'll find it helpful!

(I'm kidding about that last part.)

Obi-wan Kenobi and Father Brown

Last week I watched The Detective, a 1954 movie based on G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories and starring Alec Guinness as the priest who's an amateur detective on the side.

I've seen Sir Alec in only three other movies (that I recall), and those, naturally, were the three original Star Wars movies, in which he played Obi-wan Kenobi.

Has anyone else seen both of those movies? I was happily surprised to find a similarity between the two roles.

Father Brown is a short, vague-looking, clumsy priest whom everyone takes at first for an innocent, sheltered type. Naturally he always proves to be tough-minded, brave, and very knowledgeable in the ways of the world, having learned much from the apparently endless supply of criminals who make confessions to him.

Well, remember how Obi-wan showed up in Episode 4? "He's sort of a crazy old hermit," says Luke, and then when we meet him he seems to be a kindly, simple fellow who takes the time to speak soothingly to R2D2. But of course he's actually way ahead of everybody and he ends up taking out the shield generator and saving the day.

There's a little bit of Father Brown in Obi-wan. Remember how Obi-wan sees Princess Leia's message begging for help, and then he looks at Luke with a sort of smile and says, "You must learn the ways of the Force if you're to come with me to Alderaan." That's a line that could have been delivered forcefully, but Guinness gives it a sort of gentle humor, a bold humility, like Father Brown saying to the latest criminal he's caught, "I am a priest, Monsieur Flambeau, and I am ready to hear your confession." Both characters are so completely secure in themselves that they don't mind appearing silly to others.

Also, they're both members of a religious organization and get to wear cool habits. :)

When Sir Alec was filming The Detective on location in France, there was an incident that contributed to his later conversion to Catholicism. Here it is in his own words from his autobiography:

By the time dusk fell I was bored, and dressed in my priestly black, I climbed the gritty winding road to the village.... I hadn't gone far when I heard scampering footsteps and a piping voice calling, "Mon père!" My hand was seized by a boy of seven or eight, who clutched it tightly, swung it, and kept up a non-stop prattle. He was full of excitement, hops, skips and jumps, but never let go of me. I didn't dare speak in case my excruciating French should scare him. Although I was a total stranger he obviously took me for a priest and so to be trusted. Suddenly with a "Bonsoir, mon père," and hurried sideways sort of bow, he disappeared through a hole in a hedge. He had had a happy, reassuring walk home, and I was left with an odd calm sense of elation. Continuing my walk I reflected that a Church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable, could not be as scheming and creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.

If anyone wants to read some Father Brown, the very first story is The Blue Cross, which introduces the master thief Flambeau. And I like the confrontation between Father Brown and Flambeau at the end of The Flying Stars.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Many businesses timidly say "Happy Holidays"

But check it out-- here's one that says "Merry Christmas" and underlines Christ!

It's Gaudete Sunday!

May the third Sunday of Advent be for you a time of rejoicing in the Lord who is now nigh and close at hand! And may your priest wear the rose vestments.

Update: I missed my church's 8 am Mass, where, I'm told, Fr. Fernando did indeed wear rose, and informed the congregation, "This is an act of humility for me." I think it was very good of him to do it for our sakes. :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Old maids and Catherinettes

When I was a teenager I would eagerly await the bouquet toss at weddings, but since then it's been awkward. I'm up there on display, and for the sake of the festivities and the bride I want to play my part and be happy and try to catch the thing, but for the sake of my pride I don't want to appear too eager, and the whole time I'm hoping no one's pitying me for still being single. If I had perfect humility I wouldn't mind the custom at all. But obviously I don't.

All that is merely a prelude to this. The Shrine of the Holy Whapping has shown me that if a bouquet toss is the worst thing I must undergo as a single woman, I should count my blessings. I might have been a Catherinette:

Catherinettes was a traditional French label for girls of twenty-five years old who were still unmarried by the Feast of Saint Catherine (25th November). A special celebration was offered to them on this day, while everyone wished them a fast end to their singlehood.... Unmarried women, after they turned twenty-five, would attend a ball on St Catherine's Day in a hat made specially for the occasion; to wear such a hat was referred to as "capping St. Catherine" (coiffer sainte Catherine).

The horror! The horror!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Guess who said this

Here's a little quote, just for fun. It might sound old but it's from 2001. Can anyone guess what brave or megalomaniac personage uttered these words? (No fair Googling!)

That girls should not be in universities flows from the nature of universities and from the nature of girls: true universities are for ideas, ideas are not for true girls, so true universities are not for true girls.

Update: thanks for the guesses! The Cellarer came close-- the quote is from a letter by the SSPX bishop Richard Williamson, who in other letters has opined that women really shouldn't wear pants and that the Sound of Music is by no means clean family entertainment: "all the elements of pornography are there, just waiting to break out."

I find stuff like this amusing, but at the same time I can't be too gleeful. This world seems to be short on men who will fearlessly teach what they believe to be the truth, no matter how they're ridiculed or ostracized for it. So it's a shame to see that courage so misdirected in Bishop Williamson's case. If indeed it is courage and not just extreme self-absorption that doesn't care what others think.

(I hasten to add, for anyone who doesn't know, that Bishop Williamson does not speak for the Catholic Church; in fact he's been excommunicated for decades. I need to pray for him...)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

They're blogging about me in Latin now.

That must mean I have vaulted to the ranks of the big-time bloggers. Check it out! (I'm pretty sure someone had to make up the word "photographias".)

An equivalent post in English is here-- but you'll be more impressed with me if you don't know what it's saying.

My friends and I took a road trip to San Diego last Nov. 23 to visit that FSSP parish, and there we met a couple of those Brothers of the Little Oratory and got to see them all celebrate Vespers. It was a lovely and unexpected way to end the day. I wish I'd had time to quiz the Brothers about St. Philip Neri (who founded the Oratory in the 1500's) and Cardinal Newman (who started one up in England in the 1800's). They say of St. Philip Neri that his second favorite book in the world was a joke book, and that when people insisted on treating him as a saint he'd deliberately do ridiculous things to try to put a stop to it. Also his heart was so filled with love that it expanded and cracked his ribcage-- see him trying to hold it in? :)

The church was in the midst of a remodeling because the FSSP had only recently taken it over from the diocese. The first thing they did was move the very heavy marble altar back to the wall, and then they spent hours jackhammering out the cement platform that it had been standing on in the middle of the sanctuary. That NO asthetic dies hard!

Favorite things

I've been tagged by Joe and must list six of my favorite things and tag six people. I might fudge the second part of it. :) In no particular order:

1) Sitting down to dinner at home with a group of friends. We used to go out to eat a lot, but thanks be to God we now have an apartment near church where we can gather, and sit at our ease as long as we please in our own environment, and spend much less on food, and not have to tip anyone!

2) Weekdays at St. Peter Chanel, in between the 6 am Mass and the 7:20 am praying of the Office, there's time to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and make a (short) holy hour as the dark sky brightens to broad daylight. It's so quiet in the church and yet there are dozens of people there, praying before the new day begins, so one has the pleasure both of silent recollection and of like-minded companionship. Often there's a priest or two praying in the church as well, and that seems very good and fitting: priest and people praying together, all facing our Lord (it only just now occurred to me that it's reminiscent of an ad orientum Mass).

I love that time of day, but only when I prepare for it at other times, by going to bed early enough the night before to stay awake during the hour (did you know that I am capable of sleeping soundly while still maintaining a kneeling posture with hands folded piously under my chin?), and by not surfing the internet before leaving for Mass (that gives me too much to think about and distracts me when I'm in church.)

3) Nighttime walks in my hometown of Arcadia. I don't know why more people don't do this, but I'm glad they don't. There's a pleasure I can't explain in walking a neighborhood of lighted houses at night (especially when the Christmas lights are up!), knowing there are people nearby yet having the streets all to myself. It's odd, but that's the time I feel closest to the whole world and everyone in it. When distractions are removed from the immediate environment, there's space to think about and pray for others. Or to imagine I'm President of the United States and I'm whipping everyone into shape... not that I ever do anything as silly as that. :)

4) People who read this blog. :) Shameless kissing up!

5) Giving someone a present I totally know they're going to love. Doing chores for my parents (like putting sermons on my mom's iPod, or printing out photos for them) has something of the same joy.

6) Busywork in the lab or housework at home that keeps my hands occupied and productive but leaves my mind free. I wonder if that's an unusual pleasure? I have several intelligent friends who complain when their work is boring and wish they had more people interaction, or some challenging technical problem to solve, or both. But I like it when my work is easy. Not sure if that's a good thing.

If you like this meme, please consider yourself tagged. And in particular I pick on Hithah, Athanasius, Mary Rose, Adrienne, the Cellarer, Rachel, John, Meg, Andrew, and Megan. But should they scorn my command I'll forgive them.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Boy bishop

I've found a bishop to go with the orthodox young seminarians pictured two posts below! Here he is, austere and dignified:

All right, he's actually a boy bishop elected for the day at St. Joseph's school, in a revival of medieval custom. Here's Fr. Longenecker's post about it, and here's a blurb from Catholic Encyclopedia:

The custom of electing a boy-bishop on the feast of St. Nicholas dates from very early times, and was in vogue in most Catholic countries, but chiefly in England, where it prevailed certainly in all the larger monastic and scholastic establishments, and also in many country parishes besides, with the full approbation of authority, ecclesiastical and civil. The boy-bishop was chosen from among the children of the monastery school, the cathedral choir, or pupils of the grammar-school. Elected on St. Nicholas's day (6 December), he was dressed in pontifical vestments and, followed by his companions in priest's robes, went in procession round the parish, blessing the people. He then took possession of the church, where he presided at all the ceremonies and offices until Holy Innocents' day (28 December). At Salisbury he is said to have had the power of disposing of any benefices that fell vacant during his reign, and if he died in office the funeral honours of a bishop were granted to him. A monument to such a boy-prelate still exists there, though its genuineness has been questioned, and at Lulworth Castle another is preserved, which came from Bindon Abbey. The custom was abolished by Henry VIII in 1512, restored by Queen Mary and again abolished by Elizabeth, though here and there it lingered on for some time longer. On the Continent it was suppressed by the Council of Basle in 1431, but was revived in some places from time to time, even as late as the eighteenth century.
I'm wondering now if that suppression by the Council of Basle is binding in America today...

Happy feast of St. Nicholas!

Here he is looking properly like the bishop he was. (From this site, which appears to have lots more on St. Nick-- I haven't time to check it all out.)

This feast day makes me hungry for cookies.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Earthquake chasing

A little pleasure of mine is to feel a slight sway of the ground beneath me, and then rush over to usgs.gov and keep reloading this page until a big red square appears on the map of California, confirming that what I felt was an earthquake. It happened just a few minutes ago, a 5.5 on the Richter scale.

When I was in elementary school there was a lot of talk about "The Big One", an expected huge earthquake that would devastate Southern California. I used to worry about it. But it hasn't happened yet and now people worry about other things (terrorism, global warming, genetically modified foods...) Everyone thought gas would top $5/gallon and change our lives forever until in the last few months it dropped suddenly to below $2 again. (If I'm understanding correctly, the price of oil these days has more to do with market speculation than with its actual scarcity or the price at which OPEC chooses to sell. First stocks, then houses, then oil. If only someone would tell me what the next market bubble's going to be.) Funny how what we worry about has more to do with fads the media chooses to emphasize than with what's actually most threatening to life and health. Funny how the disasters that do happen are almost never the ones we were expecting. In the end most of us will probably die of mundane cancer and heart disease. And then? I hope everyone sets aside some time to worry about that.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Today's seminarians

I read that there's a new crop of young Catholic seminarians coming up who are very orthodox and should become fine traditional priests.

We'll just have to wait a little while. :)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Old diaries

When I was nine I received a diary for Christmas. It had a puffy cover with a picture of Minnie Mouse and pages of three different colors, but the great selling point was this: it locked shut with little keys!

Not that I had any interesting secrets to write, but I did confide some petty thoughts to that diary which certainly were better kept under lock and key. Apparently at that age I thought I was above my friends. I'm lucky they put up with me.

I kept journals intermittently from that time on and I've got a lot of them now, a long row of books with pages filled. And you know what? I hardly ever read them. Most of the entries I probably haven't looked at since I *wrote* them. They'd be more interesting if I'd written not just about special activities and vacations, but about the day-to-day stuff, what I was thinking and feeling in general, and what the people in my life were saying.

The more recent journals are absorbing, though. Two years ago, after researching and praying about it, I had just made up my mind to become Catholic and had joined the RCIA class at the local parish. There we discussed the Bible in warm fuzzy terms and were taught no doctrine at all. The sermons at Mass were vague and wishy-washy, and the congregation seemed uninvolved. (I realize now that I was judging the congregation by Protestant culture, and Catholics have entirely different ways of showing their piety.) So I wasn't much impressed with my first personal experiences of the faith I believed was the true one. Here I am on 12/4/06: "On Monday morning I prayed to the Lord that Catholicism would become more present and meaningful to me, or something-- I'm convinced in my head but don't love it in my heart."

WOW, did He answer that one! A few weeks after that entry I found a parish where the priests loved the Faith enough to preach it, and in short order I became so fanatically happy to be Catholic that I could not contain myself. And you know what happens with people like that. They start blogging. :)

Monday, December 01, 2008

It's ten minutes to midnight

and I'm about to leave the lab, having finished my work for today. :)

What's more, there are at least two people still here working, and about three others only recently left. I'm here because the scope I needed wasn't free till 9 pm, but I'm not sure what everyone else's reasons are. I think they just prefer to work at night!

I remember my first day on this job, about five years ago. I showed up at 8 am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, only to find that all the rooms were locked and there wasn't a soul in sight. Our boss himself, I soon learned, never turns up before the afternoon.

Well, I left my previous job partly to have more freedom in my schedule, and I got it all right!

Site statistics

I like to amuse myself with my blog's site statistics, which tell me what internet searches have led people to this blog. Here are three recent searches that turned up my blog in the results. Sad to say, I don't think any of these people got what they were looking for from me:
why would need to have your foot infused
white roses for mexican funerals
photographer guardian angel female models
I'm a bit embarrassed that a search for "infused knowledge" in quotes brings up this site first and the Catholic Encyclopedia after it! I'll get over it, though. :)

Saint Charles Borromeo on Advent

Well, less than a day after I wrote that post below, I found St. Charles Borromeo saying the same thing in today's reading! Only he says it rather better:

Beloved, now is the acceptable time spoken of by the Spirit, the day of salvation, peace and reconciliation: the great season of Advent.... In her concern for our salvation, our loving mother the Church uses this holy season to teach us through hymns, canticles and other forms of expression, of voice or ritual, used by the Holy Spirit. She shows us how grateful we should be for so great a blessing, and how to gain its benefit: our hearts should be as much prepared for the coming of Christ as if he were still to come into this world. The same lesson is given us for our imitation by the words and example of the holy men of the Old Testament.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

All excited for the start of Advent

I love having a Church calendar and all sorts of traditional practices and recommended prayers and readings for celebrating different seasons. There's an accumulated wisdom there about what works with the human spirit, what things will help dispose us toward God. I'd never live long enough to work out this stuff on my own.

Today being the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the new liturgical year and the beginning of a penitential season anticipating the Lord's coming, I got out Volume I of the breviary and turned to the Office of Readings. And there was Isaiah crying out, "Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good!" I felt a push inside me, the call to holiness trying to dislodge sloth. I've seen the Christmas decorations going up and I've been getting catalogs for months, but it was only this evening with the breviary that I woke up: It's Advent! He is coming! The Israelites had a thousand years of prophecy and we get four weeks to relive it. The prayer given to us at the end of the Office was, "All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good, that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming..." Amen, I thought. Amen.

People are doing a 54-day novena of Rosaries starting today and running until the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. I wanted to pass that idea along. And here's a prayer I love. I discovered it too late last year to do the traditional thing of praying it from St. Andrew's feast day (which is today, November 30) until Christmas Day. But I'll do it this year. I have a few intentions I want to pray for.

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.
In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God!
to hear my prayer and grant my desires,
through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and of His Blessed Mother.

Why does tradition say Jesus was born at midnight? I used to think whoever wrote "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" was just being lyrical when he declared that "He came a flow'ret bright, amid the cold of winter, when half-spent was the night." But it looks like the writer was inspired by Wisdom 18:

For while gentle silence enveloped all things,
and night in its swift course was now half gone,
thy all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne,
into the midst of the doomed land

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another book meme

Thanks to Mary Rose for tagging me! I like simple fun stuff like this.

The rules: Pass this on to 5 blogging friends. Open the closest book to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, to page 56. Write the 5th sentence, as well as two to five sentences following that.

The book nearest me: Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

Page 56, 5th sentence and a few after:

When I told this priest I was undergoing infernal tortures, he answered that he was not worried about my soul, because he saw in it a great grace of God. But I understood nothing of this, and not even the least glimmer of light broke through to my soul.

Then my physical strength began to fail me, and I could no longer carry out my duties....

Well, I don't think that passage is very self-explanatory, but that's what you get when you obey meme rules. :) In a nutshell, St. Faustina is describing a certain spiritual suffering she experienced early in her convent life, something often called "the dark night of the soul".

The Diary is an awesome book. If left to my own devices I might never have picked it up. I had some kind of prejudice against it, which I'm afraid had a great deal to do with my dislike of the blank expression on that painting of St. Faustina you always see... yes, I judged the book by its cover. (Here, by the way, is an actual photograph I like much better.) But then I went on my eight-day Ignatian retreat last June and Fr. Larry gave me a book to read for fun when I wasn't meditating, and when I devoured that book in short order, he gave me the big fat Diary and I promptly fell in love with it. But you know what, it's 11:15 pm already so I don't have time to say why.

Good night, dear friends, and as we say at the end of Compline, may the all-powerful Lord grant you a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen.

(Oh, as for the meme, I invite anyone who likes it to consider himself tagged.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving post

Mom, calling from the front door: "Don!"

Dad, from around the side of the house: "I'm over here!"

Mom: "Do you want breakfast out front?"

Dad: "Wherever I can be with you, Hon!"

I am thankful my parents are still in love. :)

(For further reflection see last year's post.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Religion May Help Extend Your Life

Religion May Help Extend Your Life

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter
Wednesday, November 26, 2008; 12:00 AM

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Attending a weekly religious service, regardless of your faith, may lower your risk of death by 20 percent compared to people who don't attend services, researchers are reporting.

Wow, that's pretty cool! So is an atheist's risk of death still at 100%?

"They are running still"

Some Chesterton brilliance from "The Everlasting Man":
It came on the world with a wind and rush of running messengers proclaiming that apocalyptic portent, and it is not unduly fanciful to say that they are running still. What puzzles the world, and its wise philosophers and fanciful pagan poets, about the priests and people of the Catholic Church is that they still behave as if they were messengers. A messenger does not dream about what his message might be, or argue about what it probably would be; he delivers it as it is. It is not a theory or a fancy but a fact.... All that is condemned in Catholic tradition, authority, and dogmatism and the refusal to retract and modify, are but the natural human attributes of a man with a message relating to a fact.... The religion of the world, in its right proportions, is not divided into fine shades of mysticism or more or less rational forms of mythology. It is divided by the line between the men who are bringing that message and the men who have not yet heard it, or cannot yet believe it.

Drainpipe whine

I love the sound of rain. Some of my coziest memories are of sleeping in the motorhome when I was a kid and hearing rain taptaptap on the roof.

Years ago my parents remodeled and added on to our house. My room was destroyed and I lived out in the motorhome for months, and when it was all finished I had a new room with corner windows and an awesome walk-in closet. But whenever it rained I regretted the one great drawback of my new digs: there was a drainpipe right outside my window, and the water would rattle loudly down and keep me from hearing the beautiful rain.

So it was for years until I moved, and then this last summer I moved again to this new apartment, and last night we had our first real rain. And what did I discover? There's a drainpipe outside my window again and it drowns out the sound of the rain!!!

"No one knows how I suffer. But then I never complain!"

Monday, November 24, 2008

An older form of Gregorian Chant notation

Sometimes during TLMs I find the chants in the back of my missal and sing along, and feel pretty cool that I can read the notation (it's very close to the way modern music is written).

Well, this will humble me. I just stumbled upon it on Wikipedia: an old-school (9th-10th century) form of notation!

Hard to believe that ever meant anything to anybody. :) Other crazy stuff here.

Liturgical note

Some friends and I visited an FSSP parish called St. Anne's this last Sunday. It was a High Mass, and at the consecration when the sanctus bells were ringing, the big church bell outside was rung at the same time. How cool is that? I suppose the neighborhood had no idea what it meant, but what a neat idea to broadcast the miracle that's happening inside to the outside world. Maybe some lapsed Catholic heard it and felt guilty. :)

I read somewhere that in the 15oo's in England it was made illegal to ring a church bell nine times at 6 am, noon, or 6 pm. The Angelus is traditionally sounded at those times with three sets of three bells. So that's how we know that the Angelus was popular in England when it was a Catholic country.

And of course Paul Revere's friend hung a lantern aloft in the belfry arch of the old north tower as a signal light.

I've now exhausted my church bell lore and will end this post.

The Discarded Image, by C.S. Lewis

Not long ago I discovered this book-- something by C.S. Lewis that I had not read! My wonderful sister gave it to me for my birthday. :) It's not one of Lewis' specifically Christian works, but "An introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature". He gives this introduction not so much by talking about the literature itself, but by teaching the reader about the culture and worldview of the Middle Ages.

I like history for its own sake, but I think the book would have been interesting even apart from that, for the light it sheds on our own culture. Lewis wrote something about that in his essay "On the Reading of Old Books", arguing that it's parochial to restrict one's learning to one's own time and assume we must know best because we come latest. We may never find out what incorrect assumptions are common in our age if we don't step outside of it by reading works from other time periods.

Anyway, here are some quotes and ideas from Discarded Image that stood out to me. Of course they don't do justice to the whole book. Lewis' exact words are in quotes and my summaries are not.

"Savage beliefs are thought to be the spontaneous response of a human group to its environment." This can develop into "something more ethical, more philosophical, even more scientific," as probably occurred in ancient Egypt. But Medieval culture is like neither of these. It had an "overwhelmingly bookish or clerkly character... When we speak of the Middle Ages as the ages of authority we are usually thinking about the authority of the Church. But they were the age not only of her authority, but of authorities. If their culture is regarded as a response to environment, then the elements in that environment to which it responded most vigorously were manuscripts."

"At his most characteristic, medieval man was not a dreamer nor a wanderer. He was an organizer, a codifier, a builder of systems.... Of all our modern inventions I suspect that they would most have admired the card index."

Lewis spends most of the book describing "The Model", which is "the medieval synthesis itself, the whole organization of their theology, science, and history into a single, complex, harmonious mental Model of the Universe."

However, this Model is more important in art and literature than in religion: "We need to know something about the Model if we are to read Chaucer, but we can neglect it when we are reading St. Bernard.... The spiritual books are entirely practical-- like medical books."

"The insignificance (by cosmic standards) of the Earth became as much a commonplace to the medieval, as to the modern, thinker; it was part of the moralists' stock-in-trade, used, as Cicero uses it, to mortify human ambition..... The medieval Model is anthropoperipheral."

"If the reader will suspend his disbelief and exercise his imagination upon it even for a few minutes, I think he will become aware of the vast re-adjustment involved in a perceptive reading of the old poets. He will find his whole attitude to the universe inverted. In modern, that is, in evolutionary, thought Man stands at the top of a stair whose foot is lost in obscurity; in this, he stands at the bottom of a stair whose top is invisible with light." This difference "perhaps leaves no area and no level of consciousness unaffected."

"Perpetuity is only the attainment of an endless series of moments, each lost as soon as it is attained. Eternity is the actual and timeless fruition of illimitable life. Time is... a hopeless attempt to compensate for the transitoriness of its 'presents' by infinitely multiplying them. That is why Shakespeare's Lucrece calls it 'thou ceaseless lackey to eternity.'"

Lewis describes the Model of the heavens, the famous spheres that revolve around Earth which the medievals learned of from Aristotle, and then comments upon "how such a universe must have affected those who believed in it.... You must go out on a starry night and walk about for half an hour trying to see the sky in terms of the old cosmology. Remember that you now have an absolute Up and Down. The Earth is really the centre, really the lowest place; movement to it from whatever direction is downward movement. As a modern, you located the stars at a great distance. For distance you must now substitute that very special, and far less abstract, sort of distance which we call height; height, which speaks immediately to our muscles and nerves. The Medieval Model is vertiginous."

"All power, movement, and efficacy descend from God to the Primum Mobile [Prime Mover] and cause it to rotate. This moves the other spheres down to the last moving sphere, the Moon... Besides movement, the spheres transmit (to the Earth) what are called Influences." The Sun illuminates the whole universe; stars receive their light from the Sun. "Night is merely the conical shadow cast by our Earth... we are looking through darkness but not at darkness." Space isn't silent either; as Henryson wrote: "Every planet in his proper sphere / In moving makand harmony and sound." So a medieval man on a nocturnal walk was "looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music." The modern man looking at a night sky feels he is looking out; medieval man was looking in.

One problem to solve was this: How can God be an Unmoved Mover? If he is Himself unchanging and motionless, how does he initiate the motion of the spheres? This had already been asked and answered by Aristotle: "'He moves as beloved.' He moves other things, that is, as an object of desire moves those who desire it. The Primum Mobile is moved by its love for God, and, being moved, communicates motion to the rest of the universe.... It will be noticed that when Dante ends the Comedy with 'the love that moves the Sun and other stars', he is speaking of love in the Aristotelian sense."

"Certainly there is a striking difference between this Model where God is much less the lover than the beloved and man is a marginal creature, and the Christian picture where the fall of man and the incarnation of God as man for man's redemption is central. There may perhaps.... be no absolute logical contradiction...But there remains, at the very least, a profound disharmony of atmospheres. That is why all this cosmology plays so small a part in the spiritual writers, and is not fused with high religious ardor in any writer I know except Dante himself."

Luxury and material splendor in the modern world need be connected with nothing but money. But in medieval royal courts, in Faerie, and in Heaven, "They were all symbolical or significant-- of sanctity, authority, valour, noble lineage, or, at the very worst, of power. They were associated, as modern luxury is not, with graciousness and courtesy. They could therefore be ingenuously admired without degradation for the admirer."

"Nearly all moralists before the 18th century regarded Reason as the organ of morality.... To recognize a duty was to perceive a truth, not because you had a good heart but because you were a rational being."

To the Greeks history was meaningless flux or cyclic reiteration. Significance was sought not in becoming but in being, "not in history but in metaphysics, mathematics, and theology." For Hebrews their whole past was "a revelation of the purposes of Jahweh. Christianity, going on from there, makes world-history in its entirety a single, transcendentally significant, story with a well-defined plot pivoted on Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment."

(The above passage is similar to one in G.K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man. You find a lot of Chesterton in Lewis' work, as he himself frankly acknowledged.)

Medieval narratives about the past are lacking in a sense of period. For us the past is a costume play, and this helps us more than we suspect towards subtler discriminations between different ages. "Where even the most obvious and superficial distinctions between one century and another were ignored, the profounder difference of temper and mental climate were naturally not dreamed of."

"Medieval and 19th-century man agreed that their present was no very admirable age; not to be compared (said one) with the glory that was, not to be compared (said the other) with the glory that is still to come. The odd thing is that the first view seems to have bred on the whole a more cheerful temper. Historically as well as cosmically, medieval man stood at the foot of a stairway; looking up, he felt delight. The backward, like the upward, glance exhilarated him with a majestic spectacle, and humility was rewarded with the pleasures of admiration... The saints looked down on one's spiritual life, the kings, sages, and warriors on one's secular life, the great lovers of old on one's amours, to foster, encourage, and instruct. There were friends, ancestors, patrons in every age. One had one's place, however modest, in a great succession; one need be neither proud nor lonely."

"Marcus Aurelius wished that men would love the universe as a man can love his own city. I believe that something like this was really possible in the period I am discussing."

We get the impression from medieval poetry "that the poets were unable to keep to the point." But it was deliberately done. Digressions "can be regarded as an expression of the same impulse we see at work in much medieval architecture and decoration. We may call it the love of the labyrinthine; the tendency to offer to the mind or the eye something that cannot be taken in at a glance."

"Far from feigning originality, as a modern plagiarist would, they are apt to conceal it... If you had asked Lazamon or Chaucer, 'Why do you not make up a brand-new story on your own?' I think they might have replied (in effect) 'Surely we are not yet reduced to that?' Spin something out of one's own head when the world teems with so many noble deeds, wholesome examples, pitiful tragedies, strange adventures, and merry jests which have never yet been set forth quite so well as they deserve?"

"I think the majority of the audience, then as now, could hardly conceive the activity of invention at all. It is said that people pointed out Dante not as the man who made the Comedy but as the man who had been in Hell. Even today there are those, some of them critics, who believe every novel and even every lyric to be autobiographical."

Epilogue: "I have made no serious effort to hide the fact that the old Model delights me as I believe it delighted our ancestors. Few constructions of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendour, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree. It is possible that some readers have long been itching to remind me that it had a serious defect; it was not true.
"I agree. It was not true. But...."

There was a change "from a cosmology in which it was axiomatic that 'all perfect things precede all imperfect things' to one in which it is axiomatic that 'the starting point (Entwicklungsgrund) is always lower than what is developed'.... This revolution was certainly not brought about by the discovery of new facts. When I was a boy I believed that 'Darwin discovered evolution' and that the far more general, radical, and even cosmic developmentalism which till lately dominated all popular thought was a superstructure raised on the biological theorem. This view has been sufficiently disproved. The statement which I have just quoted about the Entwicklungsgrund was made by Schellin in 1812. In him, in Keats, in Wagner's tetralogy, in Goethe, in Herder, the change to the new point of view has already taken place.... The demand for a developing world-- a demand obviously in harmony both with the revolutionary and the romantic temper-- grows up first; when it is full grown the scientists go to work and discover the evidence on which our belief in that sort of universe would now be held to rest.... I do not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory. Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.... Nature gives most of her evidence in answer to the questions we ask her."

"I am only suggesting considerations that may induce us to regard all Models in the right way, respecting each and idolising none. [Each Model] reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age's knowledge. Hardly any battery of new facts could have persuaded a Greek that the universe had an attribute so repugnant to him as infinity; hardly any such battery could persuade a modern that it is hierarchical."

"It is not impossible that our own Model will die a violent death, ruthlessly smashed by an unprovoked assault of new facts-- unprovoked as the nova of 1572.  But I think it is more likely to change when, and because, far-reaching changes in the mental temper of our descendants demand that it should."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This post is purgatorial; the desserts were not.

Healthy. That's what Christie said on Thursday when we were planning dinner and she announced she'd bring dessert over. "Healthy": the fruit redeems the chocolate, apparently.

(I'm aware the correct word is "healthful", and "healthy" would mean the dessert was in good health. But "healthful" sounds so pretentious or health-class-y or something...)

Christie also claimed it's a Catholic dessert for the following reason: Luther explained his concept of "imputed righteousness" by saying that in God's sight we are covered by the righteousness of Christ as a dunghill is covered by snow. The dunghill isn't actually pure and white, but it looks that way-- and so we appear righteous to God even though we're sinful, because He only sees Christ's righteousness. But Catholics would say sanctification means we actually become righteous, intrinsically righteous. Of course it's only because Christ by His grace makes us so, not all at once but over time. Ideally we cooperate fully with His grace so that He can make us holy before we die. If we don't, thank God, He can perfect us after death, if only we die in His grace. "Infused righteousness", that's the Catholic view. And these strawberries, once dipped in any of these three chocolately dipping sauces (Christie continued) are covered by something good and sweet but are also inherently good and sweet themselves, which surely accords with the Catholic view.

It was something like that, anyway-- my brain's processing power had been partially diverted to my stomach so I can't be certain that's exactly what she said. But I do remember wondering if that would make the remaining Oreo truffles, which we also consumed that night, a Lutheran dessert. Snow-covered dunghills... no, let's just leave that thought alone. There's got to be a good excuse to declare the truffles a Catholic dessert as well; can anyone think of one? I'm longing to add my tag to another post!

Actually I just recently read in some blog (can't remember where; sorry!) that although Catholics and Protestants both frequently cite Luther's analogy of imputed righteousness, no one seems to be able to find the original reference. It's possible Luther never did compare redeemed souls in Heaven to snow-covered dunghills. At any rate I think it was a PR mistake if he did. It gets the concept of imputed righteousness across very well, but rather too well. The image of dunghills into Heaven, snow-covered or not, doesn't really work in Luther's favor, at least not in my opinion. And it seems that C.S. Lewis agreed:

Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.'

I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don't think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

Dessert, anyone? :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Presentation of Mary

Can I say "Happy feast day!" when technically it ranks as a memorial? Anyway, here's a sermon by St. Augustine from today's Office:

Stretching out his hand over his disciples, the Lord Christ declared: Here are my mother and my brothers, anyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and my sister and my mother. I would urge you to ponder these words. Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Savior was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her-- did she not do the will of the Father? Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father's will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ's disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood.

A longer excerpt is here, and explains in what sense we too can be mothers of Christ.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oreo truffles

I haven't really said anything about food lately on this blog, so here's a post about something I just made (recipe here). :)

It had only three ingredients. Kind of embarrassing to go through a grocery line with stuff like this; I should've thrown in a few apples to look more respectable. But when your starting material is Oreo cookies, white chocolate, and cream cheese, you really can't go wrong.

"We who are about to die salute you."


Mixed in with cream cheese.

Rolled into balls, coated with melted white chocolate, and sprinkled with more crushed Oreos.

Some desserts don't taste as good as they look. These taste BETTER. So good!

But too much of anything is too much, and I began to feel overloaded on sweets. To detox I quickly scarfed down some chopped broccoli:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Animal-print eye shadow and St. Clare of Assisi.

I should have been able to go my whole life without ever having to type the phrase "animal-print eye shadow", but this ad has ruined it for me:

That press 'n' peel idea won't work nearly as well in real life as in the ad... but that's not the point! Even if it works perfectly, you'll still look at best like you're a month late for the costume party! How do you parody a fashion magazine that offers stuff like this seriously?

I guess now I need to include a photo I scanned more than a year ago from a similar magazine. It's from an article advising women on how to talk to their doctors. This helpful picture illustrated it:

What, don't tell me that's not what your doctor visits look like. :) Doesn't everyone slip into a plunging vinyl catsuit, Space Age hairdo and vacant expression before trotting off to the office to be grabbed by random latex-gloved hands? (I don't recall what advice the accompanying article offered, but I'm pretty sure this picture undermined every word of it.)

I feel the need to say here that the only reason I'm in possession of magazines like these was that my frequent-flyer miles were going to expire unless I spent a few of them on a subscription, and the fashion/makeup/shopping magazines for very silly women were the cheapest option at 400 points. Check back tomorrow and I might have an excuse for why I was actually reading them. :)

And now, I deeply regret what I am about to do. Well, not really, but I do feel vaguely guilty. I am going to drag St. Clare of Assisi into this.

It's the fault of Ignatius Press! Look at the cover of their new movie about St. Francis and St. Clare!

Click for a closer look and you will unfortunately be unable to deny that St. Clare... she who renounced all worldly vanities to found the congregation of Poor Clares... St. Clare is wearing Revlon Beyond Natural™ Cream To Powder Eye Shadow in Brown Sugar, Stila Tinted Gel Brow Polish (shade: Dark Chocolate), and Max Factor Maxalicious Lip Color in Stunning Berry, finished off with a dusting of Maybelline Photo Finish Shimmer Powder in Champagne Glow.

Okay, I understand that people are made to look more attractive for movies than they were in real life-- Tom Hanks was cuter than Jim Lovell, Cate Blanchett leaves Elizabeth I in the dust, and I sure hope they don't sign me to play me in my movie biography-- but is it really asking too much if I think a saintly humble nun character at least shouldn't be that obvious about having had a makeover?

(The DVD might be good though; I was looking at production stills and St. Clare fortunately isn't that heavily made up in the actual movie.)