Thursday, April 30, 2009

Would a human explode in space?

Until last week I'd never really examined this question. I had in my head the vague notion that if you suddenly exposed a human to the vacuum of interstellar space, he'd promptly fly all to pieces. I thought we needed constant air pressure just to keep our bodies intact.

Well, it seems silly of me now, because I have been enlightened by a really good and detailed article explaining just what nasty things would happen to you if I pushed you out of the shuttlecraft, and how surprisingly long you could survive out there and even recover from your internal injuries if I deigned to rescue you:

Outer Space Exposure, by Alan Bellows.

Oh, one other silly thing I'd picked up: the use of the word "implode" for what happens to humans in space. This makes no sense because an implosion is a body collapsing on itself, which is the opposite of what you'd expect in a vacuum. But I've often heard "implode" instead of "explode", and I'm afraid I've used it that way myself.

Irrelevant but funny:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Chesterton misquote

More than once on the Internet I've run across this-- tell me if you've seen it too:

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.
-- G.K. Chesterton

I smelled a rat the first time I read it. First of all it's contradictory: if you see a possible way you could be wrong, how can you be certain you're right?

Second, it isn't bigotry to be unable to imagine how you might be wrong. It might be thought nasty and unpleasant, but that's not the same thing. Bigotry is utter intolerance of any differing creed, belief, or opinion-- and being sure a belief is wrong doesn't necessarily mean you don't tolerate it. But then, the meaning of "tolerance" also gets confused. People think it means "allowing for the possibility that the other person could be right", when in fact tolerance is putting up with something you believe is wrong, because the evil that would come of trying to stop it is greater than the evil of allowing it. One has to make judgments about right and wrong, and judgments about greater and lesser evils, before it's even possible to be tolerant. A man of no conviction has nothing to tolerate.

But the main reason I suspected the quote was that it smacks of modern sentiment. I don't know if it could have been written by anyone in Chesterton's time (1874-1936), but it certainly couldn't have been written by Chesterton himself. It's too wishy-washy and obviously self-refuting, like, "There is no absolute truth," which is another thing our ancestors were too reasonable to say, at least in so many words.

And now I've unexpectedly found the real quote. I was listening to Alarms and Discursions (downloaded from, and in Chapter 19, The Anarchist, I heard this:

No one worth calling a man allows his moods to change his convictions; but it is by moods that we understand other men's convictions. The bigot is not he who knows he is right; every sane man knows he is right. The bigot is he whose emotions and imagination are too cold and weak to feel how it is that other men go wrong.

"Too cold and weak to feel how it is that other men go wrong"-- now that makes sense, and that's Chesterton. To believe anything is to believe that others are wrong, but if you're a big enough person you can understand the lure of the wrong viewpoint and sympathize with those who hold it. Seldom do I meet anyone that sympathetic; I certainly have difficulty with it myself.

Update: The quote is completely correct-- check Oloryn in the comments.  So, okay, I was wrong, but at least I was very passionate about it. :)

2nd Update (May 2012): I've had an epiphany!  Yes, I was wrong about Chesterton being misquoted, but I was completely right about his meaning.  When he says "it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong," he means we need to understand how we might have come to the same incorrect conclusion as the person who disagrees with us (and who, we're certain, is wrong.)

To put it another way, Chesterton wasn't saying we have to be able to imagine that our belief is wrong.  We just have to understand how we could have arrived at a different belief, the belief which we know is wrong, but which nevertheless is held as true by many other (misguided) people.

So we don't have to be in doubt of our own conclusions; we just have to be understanding about others' conclusions.

"We might possibly have gone wrong" doesn't mean our current conclusion is possibly wrong.  It means that in an alternate universe, we could have come to the wrong conclusion.

To put it a fifth way, both those quotes of Chesterton's are saying exactly the same thing.

All is reconciled.  Whew!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Latin: a giant practical joke?

In the TLM there's always a prayer said shortly before the consecration that's called the Secret, because the priest says it quietly instead of out loud. The words change from Mass to Mass, but always ask for some benefit from the Holy Communion we're about to receive. Here's the Secret for the Mass of the second Sunday after Easter:

Benedictionem nobis, Domine, conferat salutarem sacra semper oblatio: ut, quod agit mysterio, virtute perficiat. Per Dominum nostrum...


May this holy offering, O Lord, always bring to us Thy healing blessing: that what it represents in a mystery, it may accomplish with power. Through our Lord...

Beautiful prayer, but right now I'm just looking at language. I've never learned Latin and I know nothing about it, except what I glean by comparing the Latin that's prayed in church to the translations given in my missal. These translations are very literal, so you'd think it would be easy to line up the Latin version with the English. But you would be wrong. As far as I can tell, the word order in this particular Latin prayer is:

Blessing to us, Lord, may bring healing holy always this offering...

Now that is just ridiculous. Who's with me? I suspect all those dead Latin-speaking Romans are having one over on us. They were only pretending to speak their language like that; they didn't really, behind closed doors. How could they?

I also have a theory that if you snuck up on a sleeping Irishman and suddenly smacked him awake, his surprised exclamations of protest would sound like any normal American's. (Normal = talks like me.) They're faking the accent thing because they've found it attracts women. Ditto for the whole British Isles, and I'll add Australia and New Zealand.

Turns out that 94% of the world is faking something or other; stay tuned and I, a rare genuine person, will reveal all. :)

Monday, April 27, 2009

The barbershop overtone, and other music stuff

There's an organization, called "Sweet Adelines International", of choruses of women who sing barbershop quartet-style harmonies. On Saturday the member choruses of Arizona and southern California had their annual competition, and I went to see them (a friend was performing.) The two biggest choruses amazed me. I'd never seen performances at that level before. Sound and choreography were so good. And the members are all amateurs, mostly older women who finally have time in their lives to do it.

The winning chorus was a group called Harborlites, and after they got their award they sang us an encore. The final big chord they hit had a vibrant high note that sounded different, almost alien. As we all applauded, a knowledgeable women in front of me turned around and said, "That high note wasn't a sung note; it was an overtone!"

I had no idea what she was talking about. Have you all heard of this phenomenon of overtones? Somehow I lived thirty years without knowing about it, though I must have heard it often unawares. Overtone "refers to a psychoacoustic effect in which a listener hears an audible pitch that is higher than, and different from, the four pitches being sung by the quartet.... The barbershopper's overtone is created by the interactions of the overtones in each singer's note (and by sum and difference frequencies created by nonlinear interactions within the ear)." Barbershop quartets often set up their chords to create this overtone, which explains why their harmonies sound so rich and ringing.

So I tried to find YouTube videos with the overtone and it turns out there are lots of guys who record themselves singing different parts and combine the parts into a chorus. Here's 25 seconds of Scarborough Fair in eight different parts, and here's Sweet Hour of Prayer for which the man recorded 27 tracks: seven bass, seven lead, seven baritone, and six tenor. I believe both of these videos have some kind of overtone, but I'm certainly no expert in identifying it-- at any rate they've got the nice ringing sound.

I enjoyed the chorus competition so much that I toyed with the idea of joining Harborlites. You have to be able to sing on key and hold your own part while hearing other parts, but I think I could do that. What decided me against joining them, though, was the music they sing. It just isn't inspiring. Same with all the choruses at that competition. About three-fourths of the songs were about love, which themes like My Heart's Broken, or Don't You Dare Break My Heart, or My Guy Is Better Than Your Guy, or Everything Is Different Now That I'm In Love. I was quickly bored with it. But whenever they sang about something different, like "Consider Yourself One of the Gang", the subject didn't seem important enough for all the harmony and movement they were giving it.

It's just my own preference; I think everyone else at the competition was loving it. Well, I loved it too! But I realized I can't really get into singing, at least not enough to go to rehearsals and want to perform well, unless the song's about God. That's why when I sang in Women's Glee Club in college, I would join for the Christmas term and then quit-- because Christmas was when the songs were nearly all religious. In the other terms the material didn't interest me enough.

So the kind of thing I'd really enjoy is, say, the schola that sings at the traditional Latin Mass at St. Therese every Sunday. They sing Gregorian chant, Palestrina, St. Thomas Aquinas' hymns, classical Mass settings, all sorts of great stuff, mostly with beautiful harmony and mostly in Latin. A week ago a soloist sang Mozart's Laudate Dominum, and yesterday I heard Handel's He Shall Feed His Flock (the Gospel was Jesus saying "I am the good shepherd") and then Thomas Tallis' quiet and incredibly beautiful song, If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments. And I'm always hearing other ridiculously good stuff that I don't recognize.

But if I joined the schola-- and that's assuming they'd even let me in; they're not hurting for more members, at least not on the women's side-- that would mean I'd have to always be at St. Therese at 1 pm on Sundays, which would stop me from occasionally visiting other great churches around the area. And it would also mean I'd have to focus on singing during Mass just when I'd want to be praying. I'm not sure it would even feel like I'd been to Mass. Maybe if I stayed and prayed afterward.

Yesterday I was doing just that-- praying after Mass at St. Therese. They have a nice little adoration chapel, but for some reason I felt like staying in the big church, and the organist stayed too and was practicing a dramatic piece that filled the whole nave. Let me tell you, my prayers have never felt so... important! Then on came a trio with guitars to practice what sounded like some music for a teen Mass, and the tone of my prayers really changed. Ah, music.

EDIT: Here's the clearest overtone I've found. On the last note I definitely hear it:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Mass of the early Christians, according to St. Justin Martyr

Sometime between A.D. 153 and 155, a man now called St. Justin Martyr, who had studied pagan philosophy before converting to Christianity, wrote a long letter addressed to the Roman Emperor and others, in defense of the persecuted Christian faith.

I, Justin, present this address and petition.... We demand that the charges against the Christians be investigated, and that, if these be substantiated, they be punished as they deserve; or rather, indeed, we ourselves will punish them. But if no one can convict us of anything, true reason forbids you, for the sake of a wicked rumour, to wrong blameless men.

There followed an explanation of Christianity, ending with St. Justin's description of what exactly Christians do when they come together on Sundays to worship God. There are many references to Christian worship in the New Testament (the last book of which was written in the A.D. 90's), but St. Justin's letter is extremely important because it's the first detailed account. It's quoted in the Office of Readings today, which reminded me that I've always wanted to blog it. Here's the excerpt:

No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Saviour became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: Do this in memory of me. This is my body. In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: This is my blood. The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us; he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give assent by saying, “Amen.” The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, he takes care of all who are in need.

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our saviour Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

I love that reading so much.  We have communion with the Christians who have gone before. :)

Growing up Evangelical, I was taught and believed that the early Church was very pure, kept so by constant persecution that weeded out the insincere, but then around A.D. 300 it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and everybody jumped on board, and certain doctrinal and moral corruptions began to creep in, accumulating over the centuries like barnacles on a ship's hull, until the Protestants scraped 'em off at the Reformation. But those Christians in the first few centuries after Christ, they were the real deal, willing to die for the faith.  So, judging from this early Christian document, what did the early Christians believe?

1) Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ ("becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus").

2) This happens at the moment when the words of Jesus at the Last Supper are repeated ("by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving").

3) Not just anyone can make this happen, but only successors of the apostles ("The apostles handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do.... The Lord gave this command to them alone." The apostles were dead by St. Justin's time, so he had to mean that their appointed successors were carrying out the command.)

And that is just what Catholics believe today, and just how they worship: the priest, successor to the Apostles, prays using the words of Jesus ("This is my body.... This is my blood"), and bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

But St. Justin could have been mistaken, so what does the Bible say about all this?  It records that Jesus repeatedly emphasized that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6), even though this insistence lost him most of his followers ("How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?").  Then Jesus demonstrated what he meant at the Last Supper, which Catholics teach was the first Mass (Mark 14).  And St. Paul warned that those who receive Holy Communion unworthily are guilty of profaning Jesus' body and blood, which is such a serious crime that some have even been put to death by God for it (1 Cor 11).

Protestants believe that the bread and wine are only symbols of the Body and Blood.  Catholics agree that this is the case in Protestant churches, since they lack the priesthood, so the disagreement is whether anything more than symbolic happens at a Catholic Mass.  Protestants give their arguments for their interpretation, and Catholics give their counter-arguments.  I think that if you look at the Bible with no preconceptions, believing that God can do any incredible miracle He pleases, then the most obvious interpretation is that when Jesus and Paul said the bread and wine are His body and blood, they meant it.  But it is possible to adopt the Protestant interpretation.  I don't think the argument can be completely settled from the Bible alone.

That right there is a problem for Protestants, at least for Sola Scriptura Protestants like I was, since they believe by definition that every important question about the faith can be settled from the Bible alone.  But if this teaching of the Eucharist is true, then their faith is lacking something incredibly important.  So they have to believe that it's clear from the Bible that Jesus and Paul were using a metaphor.  And that's definitely not the case. Generations of Christians from St. Justin to the present day have believed the words literally and organized their whole worship around it.  How could they, if it's so clearly a metaphor?

St. Justin says where Christians got the belief: "The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do.... Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things." The last apostle was St. John the Evangelist, who died in the A.D. 90's.  So the teaching of the Eucharist was carefully passed on, from the apostles to their successors, till St. Justin's time in A.D. 150. Is it really likely that Christians, guarding and preserving the true Faith even at the cost of their lives, would have gone so wrong so fast on such an important point? Is it likely that the Apostles believed the Eucharist was just a symbol, and taught everyone that, but the Christians who followed, while constantly reminding each other of the Apostles' teaching, managed to twist the belief completely around in only sixty years?

Well, that turned into a big ol' apologetics post, not that that's a bad thing. :)

Raphael's Dispute at the Eucharist
As for me, all this about the Eucharist actually wasn't why I became Catholic. I had already decided to do so on other grounds, and when I read the Catholic arguments for transubstantiation it was just another confirmation of the decision. It took time for the importance of the Real Presence to grow in my heart. The Eucharist is called "the source and summit of the Christian life", and when I first read that I thought it must be just a rhetorical statement.  It isn't.

St. Justin Martyr and a group of other Christians were put on trial in A.D. 165. You can read their incredibly brave defense here. After their questioning, the trial ended like this:

The Prefect Rusticus says: Approach and sacrifice, all of you, to the gods. Justin says: No one in his right mind gives up piety for impiety. The Prefect Rusticus says: If you do not obey, you will be tortured without mercy. Justin replies: That is our desire, to be tortured for Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and so to be saved, for that will give us salvation and firm confidence at the more terrible universal tribunal of Our Lord and Saviour. And all the martyrs said: Do as you wish; for we are Christians, and we do not sacrifice to idols. The Prefect Rusticus read the sentence: Those who do not wish to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the emperor will be scourged and beheaded according to the laws. The holy martyrs glorifying God betook themselves to the customary place, where they were beheaded and consummated their martyrdom confessing their Saviour.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Best vocations ad ever!

This is a decades-old ad from the Poor Clares in Roswell, but I see by the iPod and website references that they've reissued it. I'll bet they have women beating down the door. :)

Update: I just noticed another difference between these Poor Clares and this kind of order: the Poor Clares have a sense of humor. Those 60's-style nuns take themselves so darn seriously!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I want halo-halo

It's a Filipino dessert I only just heard of!

My parents in college

I just learned a story of my mom's college days. She majored in English at Gordon, a Christian college. This was in the early sixties, when the theory was still current that college administrations should stand in loco parentis-- look after the students like parents. Dorms were segregated by sex and students had curfews and a number of rules to keep them on the straight and narrow. I think this was especially so at Christian colleges.

So my mom the undergraduate saw a stray cat one day and took it back to her dorm room. Knowing that cats weren't allowed in the dorms, she stashed it in the closet. The cat promptly gave birth, on Mom's roommate's shoes, to a litter of kittens! Mom had had no idea the cat was even pregnant.

So, what to do with the kittens? Mom posted signs around campus: "Unwed mother needs home for her offspring. See Natalie in room 221." That was typical of Mom's humor. What she hadn't counted on was the Christian college authorities who came knocking on her door to ask anxious questions about the unwed mother!

That was my mom; now here's my dad. He was never excited about spending a lot of time cooking and decorating and having a pretty apartment. Give him a cardboard box for a table and one frying pan to cook in and eat out of, and he'd be set for quite a while. At the University of Maryland in the 50's, he used to cook himself an egg every morning. But he got tired of washing that darn frying pan every day. Wouldn't it be more efficient, he thought (being an engineering major and a smart scientific type), to simply crack open a raw egg and pour it down his gullet?

So he did! He started consuming one raw egg for breakfast each morning, and no doubt he felt proud of this highly logical proceeding, until one day a few weeks later he noticed that he was developing cracks in the skin around his mouth. It turns out that eggs contain a protein called avidin that binds biotin (a B vitamin) and prevents the body from absorbing it. Cooking deactivates the avidin, but it's active in raw eggs. My dad had developed a biotin deficiency that was hurting his skin, so he had to go back to the frying pan.

Now as for me, I never did anything silly in college.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Would you have admitted her?

Today I arrived home to a brown paper package sitting on the counter for me. It was a used book I'd ordered from for a few dollars: Maria, by Maria von Trapp. Her first book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, was published in 1949 and was the book on which The Sound of Music was based. Maria is a sort of sequel, published in 1972 and expanding on the story, offering lots more autobiographical information. We learn that she was an orphan, that she had a most unhappy childhood being raised by a distant relative who often beat her (he later died in an insane asylum), that she dumped her childhood faith but picked it up again at the end of her college years after a rather remarkable encounter with a Jesuit, and that one day when she was hiking on a glacier she saw a glorious sunset, asked God how she could repay Him for such a wonderful creation, and determined that the greatest thing she could do would be to join a convent. She left the hiking trip at once and grabbed the nearest train to Salzburg. That's the setup; here's the excerpt:

I still remember that as I arrived at the railroad station I saw a policeman standing there. I marched up to him and said, "Sir, could you please tell me which is the strictest convent in this town?"

He grinned at me and said, "I sure don't know. Ask this one, " pointing to a Capuchin monk.

So I strolled over to the monk and again said, "Sir, can you tell me which is the strictest convent in this town?"

He looked at me slightly amused and said, "Yes, you go down to the Salzach River and follow it upstream to the fourth bridge. Cross that bridge and you will see a red onion tower halfway up the hill. That is the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg, and they are the strictest around here."

I said "Thank you" and found my way.

In less than an hour I rang the bell and asked to see the boss. I have to laugh now when I think back on those days, because I certainly didn't know the proper way in which to address the people. I didn't know that you said "Father" to a priest and "Reverend Mother" to a nun, and not "sir" and "boss".

I was ushered into a room and, to my great amazment, it was partitioned in half by a big grill. Rather amused, I marched up and down in front of it. Hanging on the other side were oil paintings of abbesses long gone.

I had to wait quite some time before the door opened and in came a small frail nun with a cross on her chest, a big ring on her slender finger, and the kindest eyes that have ever looked at me.

After searching for a moment, a very dear voice said, "What can I do for you, my child?"

Now here I was straight from the glaciers, brown as milk chocolate. Over my left shoulder I still had the coil of ropes. On my back I had a very heavy knapsack. In my right hand I had an ice pick with which I stood like Napoleon, pronouncing, "I have come to stay!"

The meek and mild voice inquired, "Has somebody sent you, my child?"

I reared up to my five feet seven and a half inches and said, "Ha, if anybody had sent me, I wouldn't be here. I haven't obeyed anybody yet."

After these momentous words I was really and truly received into the Benedictine Abbey. The Reverend Mother must have had some other reason than the ones I gave her for taking me in. She never told me why I was admitted. As I look back on it now I cannot understand it because everything was set against it.

There at the abbey started two momentous years of my life.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Impromptu soloist on Divine Mercy Sunday

Yesterday some friends and I were at St. Thérèse in Alhambra, a big stone church with a high ceiling, tall stained glass windows, huge pillars, and a tendency when candlelit to look like something from a Dracula movie. But this was a sunny afternoon, and people were gathered for a traditional Latin Mass. Afterward, in honor of Divine Mercy Sunday, there was a Eucharistic procession all around the church, and you should have heard the organ filling the rafters with music while the schola in the choir loft led us in verse after verse of Pange, Lingua. We'd repeated the first four verses about three times before the priest finally reached the front of church again and placed the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. The organ got even louder as we all burst into "TANTUM ERGO SACRAMENTUM..." It was really something.

But the whole time I was aware of a woman, a little distance behind me, talking very loudly. I couldn't make out what she was saying, but she certainly was animated. The music was too beautiful and loud for me to pay her much attention. Then the music came to its triumphant conclusion, the last note ended, and utter silence descended upon the church, leaving us all on our knees praying.

Only her voice didn't stop. "Is that you, Joseph?" she called out, loudly enough to be heard by at least half the church. I realized who it was: an little old lady who always attended that Mass. I'd noticed her before, and she sometimes seemed to be mostly deaf and somewhat unaware of her surroundings.

This dear woman proceeded to serenade us all. It was a song I'd never heard before, in Latin. Something from the churches of her Catholic childhood, no doubt. She gave us one verse, and then to our dismay she went right on to the second, in a somewhat off-key but determined warble. This whole time the rest of the church was trying to pray, and nobody moved a muscle. Whoever had helped the woman get into the church in the first place didn't seem to be around to shush her now.

But in due course the woman finished her recital. There was a little pause. Then suddenly she burst out, "Well, now I've heard everything! That was wonderful!" At this I couldn't resist turning around, and there she was about ten feet behind me, sitting in her wheelchair, beaming at me. I smiled back. I'm glad she enjoyed it!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I love my German shepherd!

Four years ago today, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. I wasn't Catholic when it happened and I didn't know much about it, but I knew I was happy with the choice because it ticked off all the right people. The mainstream press were calling him a hardliner conservative rigid doctrinal watchdog, which is how they describe anyone who has the temerity to believe his religion, and there were many foaming-at-the-mouth editorials. They'd find a way to mention three times in every story that "He was in the Hitler Youth!" but they hardly ever explained that he was forced in at age 14 like every other boy in Germany, that he and his family hated the Nazis as being opposed to Catholicism, and that he refused to go to their meetings.

Now I know much more about him and I love the man and his preaching and writing. You wouldn't know it from the "doctrinal watchdog" descriptions, but his teaching is characterized by an irenic tone and respectful engagement of opposing viewpoints. He's scholarly and acts a lot like the college professor he was. Anyway, I've been catching up on the joy of his election with the video Fr. Z posted here (mostly in Italian and Latin). May God grant him many more years of health in mind and body, and I hope it will be a loooong time before we see another election. :)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

˙ƃuıɹoq sı ʇxǝʇ dn-ǝpıs-ʇɥƃıɹ

¡ǝןʎʇs sıɥʇ uı sʇsod ʇuǝnbǝsqns ןןɐ ǝʇıɹʍ ןןɐɥs ı ǝʌǝıןǝq op ı

Friday, April 17, 2009

Seven Quick Takes, the links edition!

In my ongoing quest to keep my Quick Takes quick, this week's edition is all links! Here's Jen's post.

1. I've enjoyed the blog "Stuff Christians Like". A few random ones that really ring true from my childhood are Songs with Bottomless Lyrics, Bootleg Cookies, Friends are Friends Forever, and Cross Stitch Bible Verses.

Hey, friends ARE friends forever if the Lord's the lord of them! That meant a lot to me when I was thirteen, and when I think of my old junior-high friends, it still does. :)

2. Have you read J.R.R. Tolkien's much-repeated quote on the Blessed Sacrament? (Incidentally, "waybread" was an English word for the Eucharist well before Tolkien applied it in his trilogy to the lembas of the Elves.)

3. I don't know if this woman was ever identified, or if she lived. I hope so. But check the "religious necklace" she was wearing-- brown scapular. I wear one too, in case you ever hear of a redhead washed up on the beach. :) Mine says something like "Behold the sign of salvation- put on the Lord Jesus Christ."

4. Paleo-Future is a really interesting blog about past predictions of what our times would be like. Here's a 109-year-old article of predictions from Ladies' Home Journal that's surprisingly accurate.

5. From the Anchoress, a post about Cardinal Kung, a man who suffered much in China from religious persecution. What got to me was this quote from the Cardinal:

So we must not be surprised when persecution comes because it is a normal event for the Church to suffer persecution. Once, when Pope Pius XII received a group of seminarians in audience, he asked them how many special signs distinguished the true Church of God. They answered immediately without further thinking, “It is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” The Pope said, “There is still a fifth sign.” The seminarians did not know how to answer. The Pope said, “Persecution.” So, if the Church enjoyed peace all the time without any persecution, it would be very abnormal. It would be a reason for us to worry and examine ourselves lest anything was going wrong. Perhaps we were not living as faithful disciples of Christ? As persecution must be expected, it comes as a special sign of the Church and we should not try to make compromises or concessions of any kind in order to bring the persecution to an end quickly. We ourselves cannot take the initiative to create or arouse persecution. But if it comes to us one day, not only should we accept it readily from the hand of God but we should even rejoice and be glad. As the Acts of the Apostles records, .”… after they were beaten, the apostles left the Council, full of joy that God had considered them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.” (Acts 1:41)

In our case the "persecution" would usually be no worse than a bit of embarassment or at most some ostracism, but we shouldn't get in the habit of fleeing even little things like that. Wishy-washy behavior in small things might do more damage than expected, and it's a way of training for greater betrayals.

6. I used the word "usually" above, because a few Christians even in the West have to suffer a bit more for their faith. A blogger in England pointed out some of the problems (which exist here in America as well.)

Alas that I cannot be Queen of England. :)

7. I've thought for years now that it's kind of crazy and very boring that everyone wears blue jeans all the time. Turns out I'm not alone!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Is this book on my side or not?

I'm not certain, but one thing I do know: inter-religious dialogue used to be a lot more spirited!

Also more alliterative.

Hey, this could be my tagline!

"Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a blog."

With apologies to Edward Gibbon. :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Funny Catholic videos

I have a backlog of stuff I'd planned to post, so I think I'll embed it all today. My favorite is the ice-skating one. :)

SoulWow: an ad for confession in the style of a late-night infomercial. It can't be wrong when it's so funny. This was not just a parody, but an actual announcement of an actual drive to get New York Catholics to confession before Easter. I don't know how successful the drive was, but the advertising rocked.

A wordless ad for Stella Artois. I understand those are some famous Polish actors playing the main parts.

"Where would the seminarian of the future be without his trusty robot arm?" If you've ever seen those old sci-fi movies about the future, you'll know the tone of this is spot on, right down to the giant atheist martian ants.

This one's long but amusing to young fogies like me. It seems that a few decades ago, when there was a movement to scrap time-honored Church teaching and replace it with 70's kitsch, some high muckamuck in the Northwest suggested that the sacrament of Confession be replaced with a pleasing little ceremony in which the priest would wash the penitent's hands in a bowl. Evidently it didn't occur to the innovator that bowl washing is more associated with Pilate than with Jesus. The idea fortunately went nowhere, until this group of seminarians filmed "The Attack of the Bowl Washer", revealing that the novel rite is in fact a damnable instrument by which an evil infiltrator plans to destroy a whole seminary.

Here's part two of the above. "We must get to Fr. Connall before his fortieth birthday, or else forever he shall be a promulgator of orthodoxy!" When you see the seminarians dipping Nerf darts in holy water and throwing on their cassocks in slow motion to the beat of a rap song, you'll feel that the Church's future is safe in their responsible hands.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dental horror averted

I went to the same dentist for decades-- Dr. Khanchalian, a really good guy. His office is cozy and homey, with cross stitched signs that say things like, "'Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.' -Ps. 81:10".

But then I switched insurance and had to get a new dentist, one randomly assigned by Safeguard. Last month I walked into the new guy's waiting room for the first time. I decided at once to switch dentists again as soon as this appointment was over.

It was the raunchy morning show playing on the TV that offended me, but I also had a general bad vibe. Still, I figured I'd get my teeth cleaned before severing my relationship with the place. When they called me in, a nice girl took my x-rays and then a young dentist came in and said many things to me, all of which amounted to: "Your teeth are ugly and unhealthy, you and your last dentist have messed them up, but lucky you, you've come to us and we'll fix everything. You just need three fillings and some mini-veneers to cover those unsightly roots peeking out above your gums!" This man actually told me that my three new cavities had probably been started by Dr. Khanchalian carelessly knocking little holes in them while drilling adjacent teeth. It was a ridiculous story and I had the distinct impression that he was lying to me (he got nervous and hesitant when I asked a few innocent questions). I did believe him about the cavities' existence, though, because he pointed to spots on my x-rays. I've been very cavity-prone in the past, though it's been years since I developed one.

The young dentist sent me off to a man who would "develop a treatment plan" with me and discuss the financial and insurance arrangements. That guy told me which three teeth needed fillings and gave up the veneers idea when I showed no enthusiasm. I asked if I could have my teeth cleaned today, since they hadn't done anything else but take x-rays. "No, you need to have the fillings done before you can have your teeth cleaned," said the man. "Oh, really?" I asked. "Yeah, it's the policy of your insurance. Because you can't polish decay," he said impressively. It wasn't a big deal-- except I had a feeling that if I suddenly asked, "Which insurance do I have?" he wouldn't know. Anyway, it didn't make sense: with cavities the decay is inside the tooth.

So I smiled, let the receptionist make an appointment for a filling, walked out of the office, called back from home to cancel the appointment, and called Safeguard to see if it really is their policy to make dentists do fillings before cleaning. It's not. The man did lie to me.

Now I needed a new dentist to fill my three cavities; I wasn't going to let the sleazy place work on me! How to find someone trustworthy? I called Dr. Khanchalian's office to ask for a recommendation, but they didn't have one for Safeguard insurance. The secretary warned me that their dentists tend to make up for low insurance payments with "aggressive treatment practices," which was a nice way to say it.  I cast around for a bit and then hit on the idea of checking all the top-rated dentists on Dr. Oogle until I found one in the Safeguard network. That led me to a dentist with lots of patient recommendations and I switched to him.

I saw him today, bringing copies of the x-rays taken in in the other office. He was a middle-aged guy who told interesting stories while scraping plaque off my teeth and then said everything looked fine and he'd see me in six months.

But what about my three cavities? Non-existent! Apparently the other guys lied about that, too. Sad way to make a living, conning people and drilling their healthy teeth. No wonder most of the staff didn't look happy to be there.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Boss cake

Happy Easter, everyone! I've had a very moving Triduum: late-night adoration on Holy Thursday, and a TLM for Good Friday (only it wasn't a TLM but a TLL-- traditional Latin liturgy; since there's no Mass on Good Friday), and the beautiful Easter Vigil at my own parish where the single Paschal candle burned bright in the huge dark church, and Easter Sunday at St. Therese in Alhambra where I heard the most beautiful Mass I've ever heard, the schola chanting unbelievable a capella harmonies. I caught a Tenebrae service as well, Lamentations chanted in Latin by the Norbertines, God bless them. But I'm not going to try to blog about all that. This post is about our boss's birthday party at the lab today.

This was his birthday cake. Someone took a photo of him and got it printed in edible ink on marzipan, to the delight of all. I've always thought it was cool that my boss looks like a mad scientist with his wild grizzled hair. Scary picture notwithstanding, he's been a good boss for lo, these many years. I've enjoyed working in his lab.

There were lots of people at the party and we dug right into the cake, but then an interesting problem developed. Who would dare cut into the boss's face? Who'd chomp on that mustache? Who'd eat a piece of cake with that right eye glaring up from the surface of it?

Nobody, it turns out. This is what remained at the end of the party:

Later on some bold, hungry soul lobotomized the cake, and no doubt became smarter as he ate the boss's brain. But the face remained, and when I entered the break room later in the day, there it was, catching me suddenly in its scary glare. I don't mind telling you I was disconcerted. I promised the cake I'd be getting back to work very soon.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

California state taxes-- WWJD?

Tax day, April 15, is this Wednesday. I have to file for federal and state income taxes. The state I live in is California, and I just came across this thing California has called the use tax. I honestly don't remember if I've ever heard of it before (but I've been filing my own taxes for years now, so I may have just blocked it out of my conscious memory).

What is use tax? It's something in addition to the tax on income and in-state purchases. As explained at the link above:

In general, you must pay California use tax if you purchase an item out-of-state (for example, by telephone, over the Internet, by mail, or in person) and
  • The seller does not collect California sales or use tax, and
  • You use, give away, store, or consume the item in this state.
To determine the amount of use tax you owe:
  1. Add the amount of all purchases made from out-of-state or Internet sellers made without payment of California Sales/Use tax. Include only items on which you would have paid sales tax if you had purchased them in California. See the Board of Equalization Website for more information on taxable items.
  2. Look up the use tax rate for the location where you used, gave away, stored, or consumed the items you purchased.
  3. Multiply the amount by the use tax rate.
  4. Subtract any sales or use tax you paid to another state for the items you purchased.
  5. Enter this amount.

So, whether I buy clothes from Victoria's Secret or a digital camera from Amazon or a budgerigar from New Hampshire... I'm supposed to have kept a record of every purchase I made out of state all year. (That's a lot because I buy more on the internet than in retail stores.) Then I'm supposed to look up the tax rates in the cities of Lakewood, Arcadia, Pasadena and wherever else I might have used the various items, and calculate the tax I owe on the stuff. Then I can subtract whatever sales tax I've already paid to all the other states I bought stuff from. Then I pay what's left over to California.

I have the following reflections:

1) The average citizen is not capable of executing this task. I really mean the average person, and not just the dumb folks. It requires good organization, lots of time, lots of motivation, accurate and complex record-keeping, information that's not trivial to locate, and solid math skills. I don't know how a professional tax preparer might handle this, but of course not everyone can be expected to hire a professional.

2) A law that is impossible for most citizens to obey even if they want to: isn't that unjust?

3) It seems a bit desperate and pathetic that a state would try to tax all out-of-state purchases. Of course California with its very high sales tax (8.25% - 10.25% depending on what city you're in) would have the problem of people trying to escape it. Just the other day a co-worker told me he'd order his printer ink from Amazon to avoid California state tax. And of course, with our huge budget shortfall, lawmakers would be casting about for more income.

4) Leaving aside the question of #2, here's my situation. It is not completely impossible for me to try to comply with this law. If I spent all my free time between now and Wednesday on taxes, I believe I could check my checking account and paypal account and credit card accounts from online records, and cobble together a list of out-of-state purchases-- assuming the online records say where each seller was located and what the purchase was, whether it was a taxable item or not and how much state tax I already paid on it. Actually I'm sure the online records don't have all that information, so it's not possible for me to comply fully, but I could come up with an estimate. I could at least try.

5) I'm not going to do it. I simply do not feel the slightest obligation to attempt to obey this stupid, ridiculously difficult tax rule. California won't get it from me-- no, not so much as the forty cents I might owe on that used book I bought for my mom that was shipped to me from Nebraska. I ain't paying no use tax.

6) I don't feel even slightly guilty about it.

7) Now, there are guilty feelings, and then there's guilty knowledge. It's possible to know you've done wrong even though you're not at all sorry about it. What I'm doing now is thinking of my objective situation. Normally I have a pretty sensitive conscience; I attempt to avoid even small sins, and I'm sorry about it when I inevitably fail. But right now I feel an utter lack of remorse-- indeed, even a bit of satisfaction-- even though objectively it seems I'm in the wrong. I'm totally going to go to the Easter Vigil Mass tonight and receive Holy Communion without compunction and with no intention of calculating any use tax in the next three days, or ever.

8) There's a theory which says that laws shouldn't be enacted that go too far ahead of what most people are prepared to obey. Even if a law is good and just in itself, if it's imposed on a populace that views it as ridiculously restrictive, they'll grow contemptuous of law and government in general, and they'll all become lawbreakers and no longer view that as a serious thing. Thus, a good law can have a bad result if unwisely imposed. Prohibition in the 20's and 30's is one common example of backfiring: the prohibitionists wanted to end drunkeness but arguably they only increased vice overall, and quite a few people died in gang wars over the bootleg alcohol business before the thirteen-year experiment ended.

9) But I'm not trying to use all that as my excuse for ignoring this requirement of paying use tax. If use tax violated the natural law I'd have a right, and even a duty, to oppose it-- but that's not the case. I could try to obey this law; I'm just not going to because it's too hard. Maybe this isn't wrong, because as noted in #4, it is literally impossible for me to get all the information I'd need to make the calculations. But that might not excuse me from at least making an estimate.

10) My mom, who wiped my nose when I was three and has been seeing through my nonsense ever since, just walked into the kitchen here at my parents' house, saw me blogging, and asked, "Are you procrastinating instead of doing your taxes?"

11) That would be a yes.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

TLMs during the Triduum?

Does anyone know if any of the parishes in the Los Angeles area will be celebrating the 1962 rites on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday? I'm thinking not, since we don't have any parishes fully dedicated to the TLM, which means every parish will do its one service on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the Novus Ordo. But I thought I'd ask. :)

Seven takes before the Triduum

Jen won't be doing her quick takes Friday thing this week because of Good Friday, so here's a Quick Takes Wednesday:

1) Why write my own profound Good Friday post when I can rip off someone else's? Jen, whose blog I enjoy very much, had a question when she first started looking into Christianity:

"Why did He need to die for my sins? I mean it sounds great that He loves me so much that He'd be willing to give His life, but why exactly was that necessary?"

She's tackled the question in different ways and now this guest post offers a beautiful reflection that had never occurred to me before.

2) If I say something to someone, and my listener doesn't quite hear it and says, "What?", I repeat what I said, but slower and louder. That is the normal, sane, non-stupid thing to do.

I mention this because in my life I have encountered a shocking number of people who, if I say "What?", will repeat what they said at exactly the same speed and volume as before, sometimes three times in a row. What are they thinking? Are they too embarrassed to speak clearly? If it was too slurred or quiet to be understood the first time, don't you think we might have the same problem the second time?

I get all fussy when people aren't logical.

(That's illogical of me.)

3) My roommate and some other friends spent last weekend up at St. Stephen's in Sacramento, the FSSP church that would surely be our official hangout if it weren't seven hours away. I couldn't go this time, so I took the opportunity to use my roommate's toothbrush, eat her food, wear her clothes, and conduct this little test to see whether she reads my blog.

4) Someone proofread a speech by Winston Churchill, and informed the great man that he'd ended a sentence with a preposition and needed to change it. Replied the Prime Minister: "That is precisely the sort of pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put."

Which reminds me of this story: a young boy was settling into bed while his father went downstairs to fetch a book for a bedtime story. But the book the father brought up was not the story the son had wanted to hear. He demanded to know, "What did you bring the book I didn't want to be read to out of up for?"

That sentence ends in five-- count 'em-- five prepositions.

5) I had actually succeeded in forgetting that tax day is a week from today. The awful truth just broke in on me when H&R Block spammed my email about it.

6) William Hazlitt makes a distinction: "He is a hypocrite who professes what he does not believe; not he who does not practice all he wishes or approves."

7) Two years ago yesterday I was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. I am still thrilled about it. :)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Fasting for humility

So the Lenten fast is almost over. I didn't do all that well-- next year I think instead of trying several things to modify my behavior, I'll just pick one thing that I can easily remember and stick to that. But anyway, on the subject of fasting, I came across an interesting concept in the Office of Readings a little while ago. I've heard of fasting for self-denial, to develop discipline, to have solidarity with the poor, to offer a sacrifice to God, to remove distraction in order to pray better, to remind oneself of the superiority of spiritual and eternal things over earthly desires... but I had never before seen this idea of fasting to develop humility:

Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

The whole thing is here. Now that I read it, it makes perfect sense. It also reminds me of something St. Patrick wrote in his Confessions, how when he was a slave tending sheep in Ireland he was often cold and hungry, and that made him humble. I've always lived in physical comfort, but I think I can see how suffering from hunger would help you remember that you're not as awesome as you think you are.

Yeah, yeah, April Fools. :)

I want you all to know that I feel appropriately guilty about fooling some folks with the April 1st post a bit more than I'd intended. :) If it gives anyone satisfaction, I got taken in like an idiot that day: I got to the lab in the morning and a co-worker convinced me that the boss wanted to see me in his office, even though I knew the boss never gets in before 1 PM and was away on business anyway!

I copied most of my April Fools' post verbatim from the websites of actual religious orders, as sad as that is. If you're wondering what's so wrong with that missions statement, the short answer is that its main focus is off God and on other things. If you'd like a longer explanation of my views, here's a fisk with the original April Fools' post in italics.

"it seemed most of the religious congregations I talked to were pretty insular, with the nuns either confining themselves in a cloister..."

I would never denigrate the cloistered vocation; I think it's beautiful, important, highly practical, and not at all insular, because the nun intercedes for the whole world.

"or just doing institutionalized works"

What a shallow mindset that "institutional" = "not worthwhile". The Catholic hospitals and orphanages and monasteries that have done so much to relieve suffering and preserve culture for fifteen centuries are all institutions.

"basically assigned by the hierarchy as an extension of their agendas,"

That shows disdain for traditional religious orders and mistrust of the Catholic hierarchy, as if nursing the sick etc. is such a sinister agenda. It implies that traditional nuns are mere pawns of their bishops (Haha! Chess pun!)

As crazy as it sounds, there are a lot of Catholic religious sisters out there who actually seem to hate the teachings of the Catholic Church. It's a 60's thing. What they've done is drop their faith for left-wing politics. They do say their faith is very important to them, but the faith they're speaking of isn't the Catholic faith. I'm not trying to be insulting here. "Catholic" is a word that is not honorific but descriptive. It means something specific about one's beliefs, including beliefs about the nature and authority of the Catholic Church. These orders I'm talking about do not share those beliefs. And why be a Catholic nun if you don't agree with the Catholic Church?

"After much discernment I realized I was looking for something entirely different, something that would enable me to go out into the world as a minister and preach freely in word and deed as Jesus' first itinerant followers did"

This isn't wrong except that it implies that traditional nun activities like nursing and teaching aren't going out into world and preaching in word and deed, whereas I think those are excellent ways of doing it. If what you want is to hit the streets and help the homeless, there are good faithful orders doing that too, like the Missionaries of Charity and the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. What's funny is that the sister I copied these words from is a professor at the Jesuit school of theology in Berkeley. How is that going out into the world as a minister, if the other stuff isn't?

"developing my unique gifts as a woman in service to those (often on the margins of society) who have been sorely neglected by the institutional church."

Again with the distrust and contempt of the Church. And yet the poor and neglected have been most likely to be helped by those at the heart of the church-- that was the exact purpose for which many of the existing religious orders were founded.

"And I found all this in an order called the Dominican Sisters of Social Justice."

Social justice is a very good and important thing that's worth fighting for, and yet if an order of nuns talks a great deal about social justice, it usually means their politics have superseded their faith, and more often than not I don't agree with the politics. Do they defend innocent life from the moment of conception to natural death, or do they defend the right to abortion and euthanasia? People fight on both sides in the name of social justice.

"The Dominican Sisters of Social Justice, impelled by the Gospel and outraged by the injustices of our day,"

I wouldn't join any order that puts "outraged" in the first sentence of a mission statement. Sometimes outrage is proper, but it still tempts you to hate the people you think are committing injustices, and I don't want an order that embraces the temptation. Anyway, to me it sounds a little self-righteous.

"seek truth"

Very good, as long as they acknowledge that absolute truth does exist, and that to some extent at least it is knowable, and that the purpose of seeking truth is to find it and then live by it, and not just to have an open mind about everything forever.

"make peace"

Sounds good, but I wonder: peace between whom and whom, and how do they propose to do it?

"reverence life"

Again it's very vague. Are they just talking about a feeling?

"Stirred by the Wisdom of God"

This is the only mention of God in the whole statement, and see how impersonal it is. There's no sense of loving Him, serving Him, worshiping Him, relying on Him, following His call, having any kind of personal relationship with Him at all. Just a proud little remark about how we have the spirit of Wisdom stirring within us. Ooooh...

"we challenge heresies of local and global domination, exploitation, and greed that privilege some, dehumanize others, and ravage Earth."

Beautiful example of what I mean about substituting left-wing politics for religion. Are you not a good environmentalist? You heretic! But watch-- if the Catholic Church says you need to believe the truth about God or you're a heretic, these same sisters will be really mad at the Church for being so threatening and intolerant.

"We confront our racist attitudes and root out racist practices in our lives and systems."

It's not that it's a bad thing, but I'm just not inspired to leave my old life behind and take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in order to devote my life to confronting my racist attitudes. See why these orders don't attract many new members?

Anyway I suspect they're not really worried about their own racist attitudes so much as condemning what they believe to be the racism of others. I admit I've no proof in this case, but it's a phenomenon I've seen before-- people repenting sins of which they're not personally guilty, in order to accuse others of sin without looking self-righteous.

"We confront systems where women are denied freedom, equality, and full personhood."

I want to know what they think constitutes denying a woman her "full personhood". It sounds good but there's a good chance they've got a different definition than I do. I'm totally behind securing the rights of women in the third world, for example, but when you read the writings that come out of orders like this you see they're usually focused more on attacking the Church for not ordaining women as priests.

"We walk in solidarity with people who are poor"

What does that mean? Do they actually meet with poor people, and feed them and talk to them and care for them? Or like cloistered nuns, do they fast and pray for them? Or do they not do anything? Some people substitute sentiment for real help, and then-- this is what's annoying-- they condemn others for not professing the sentiment.

"We practice non-violent peacemaking."

I really want to know what the violent peacemaking looks like. That should be interesting. :)

"We promote lay leadership and shared decision-making for a renewed Church."

NO. Absolutely not. This is where they tip their hands and show that they do not believe what the Church teaches about her nature and apostolic authority.

"We live right relationships with Earth Community."

We come in peace, Earthlings! Take us to your leader! :)

"We Sisters are also members of a United Nations Non-Governmental Organization that helps us advocate for the realization of the UN Millennium Development Goals."

I really did get this from a religious order's website. They don't say anything about fidelity to Church teaching, but UN teaching is another matter!

"Here's a video of one of the creative liturgies celebrated by my new community."

That was a taken at a conference for Call to Action, a "Catholic" group that dissents loudly from Catholic teaching. It is literally impossible to parody. I've noticed that people with dissident theology usually have bad taste as well-- I don't know why the two go together, but they really do.

"As a novice I'll be able to opt to take lessons in reiki healing, personality enneagrams, and liturgical dance!"

Reiki and enneagrams. The Church has spiritual classics like "Imitation of Christ" or "Introduction to the Devout Life", and the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, and the spiritualities of the different orders-- Carmelite contemplation, Dominican study, Benedictine work and prayer-- but some folks ditch all that for Reiki and enneagrams.

"And although this isn't a deciding detail or anything, I really liked the habits worn by this congregation."

That habit is like a mullet: business on top, party down below! It combines the high neckline and veil of a modest nun with the short hemline of a flirt with great legs. Alas, it doesn't do justice to either aesthetic.

Now the problem with this post is that I go on about what's wrong and never say what I think would be right-- what does a good order look like? Alas, that's all the time we have today. :)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I am going to have to stop blogging in four months because...

I'm going to be a nun!

I've determined that God is probably calling me to this, and I've finally found the right order! For quite a while I looked around, but it seemed most of the religious congregations I talked to were pretty insular, with the nuns either confining themselves in a cloister or just doing institutionalized works basically assigned by the hierarchy as an extension of their agendas, in Catholic schools and hospitals and the like. After much discernment I realized I was looking for something entirely different, something that would enable me to go out into the world as a minister and preach freely in word and deed as Jesus' first itinerant followers did, developing my unique gifts as a woman in service to those (often on the margins of society) who have been sorely neglected by the institutional church. And I found all this in an order called the Dominican Sisters of Social Justice. Their mission statement sums it up:

The Dominican Sisters of Social Justice, impelled by the Gospel and outraged by the injustices of our day,

*seek truth
*make peace
*reverence life

Stirred by the Wisdom (Sophia) of God and rooted in our contemplative prayer, communal study, and life in community, we challenge heresies of local and global domination, exploitation, and greed that privilege some, dehumanize others, and ravage Earth.

We confront our racist attitudes and root out racist practices in our lives and systems.

We confront systems where women are denied freedom, equality, and full personhood.

We walk in solidarity with people who are poor and challenge structures that impoverish them.

We practice non-violent peacemaking.

We promote lay leadership and shared decision-making for a renewed Church.

We live right relationships with Earth Community.

We claim the communal authority and responsibility of our Dominican heritage. We commit ourselves to live this vision in mutuality, inclusivity and collaboration.

We Sisters are also members of a United Nations Non-Governmental Organization that helps us advocate for the realization of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Here's a video of one of the creative liturgies celebrated by my new community. As a novice I'll be able to opt to take lessons in reiki healing, personality enneagrams, and liturgical dance!

And although this isn't a deciding detail or anything, I really liked the habits worn by this congregation. I've always said if I became a nun I'd insist on a habit with a traditional veil.

There's so, so much else to say about this order, how I found it, and how I discerned that I should enter. But for now, everyone congratulate me. :)

Here are a couple of other posts from around the web on this fine April Fools' Day:

St. Louis has a new archbishop, and it's none other than SSPX superior Bishop Fellay! Fr. Z reports.

An interesting story about Brother Ursus, member of a Dominican congregation in England. I have to say that's the cutest Dominican I've ever seen. But once I join the Sisters of Social Justice, I'll give him a run for his money. :)