Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May 28th: England's Witnesses

Today is the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury, the Apostle to the English. In 597, Pope St. Gregory the Great sent Augustine, a Benedictine monk, and 40 of his brothers in religion to the British Isles to evangelize the inhabitants. Aethelberht of Kent, the high king, was an Odin worshipper; he insisted on meeting with Augustine and his monks in the open air, under a tree, in order to foil any spells the representatives of Christendom might try to cast. After considering Augustine's mission, and no doubt under the influence of his Christian wife, Aethelberht granted him leave to convert as many of his people as he could. Augustine proceeded to spread the faith far and wide, and within a year, the king himself accepted Baptism, bringing in his own turn ten thousand of his people into the Christian fold. Together with King Aethelberht, who would later be acknowledged a saint in his own right, St. Augustine founded the See of Canterbury. He died on May 26, 605, though his feast is celebrated, at least on some calendars, on May 28th.

terestingly, the feast of the Apostle to the Anglo-Saxons is also the feast of some of his distant spiritual descendants who, nearly a thousand years after his arrival on English shores, would give their lives for the faith he planted there:

Bl. Margaret Plantagenet Pole. A member of Britain's ancient royal family, Margaret had five sons, including the outspoken Reginald Cardinal Pole, Archbishop of Canterbury. When Cardinal Pole publicly denounced Henry VIII's pretensions to headship of the Church in England, the latter had two of her other sons and other members of her family arrested, and nearly all executed. Margaret, old and frail, was herself arrested in November of 1538 on false charges of plotting revolution and subjected to grueling interrogations, during which she is said to have uttered nothing. When a white tunic with the Five Holy Wounds was produced from among her possessions and brought out in Parliament in 1539, an act of attainder decreeing her death was passed. That same year, Margaret was sent to the Tower of London, where she endured harsh captivity until she was beheaded on May 28, 1541, 936 years after the death of the saint who brought to England that faith which it was now declared treasonous to hold. Margaret Plantagenet Pole was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.

Bl. John Shert, Bl. Thomas Ford, Bl. Robert Johnson. These three men attended seminary at the English College in Douai, France, received Holy Orders, and then returned to England to to minister to Catholics at a time when priesthood was a capital crime. The three were arrested in turn, tortured, and ultimately were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on March 28, 1582, 61 years to the day after Bl. Margaret Pole's martyrdom. Pope Leo XIII beatified these three priests, along with Bl. Margaret, in 1886.

y St. Augustine of Canterbury, who gave England the faith; St. Aethelberht of Kent, who opened the door to the faith and gave England her first written laws; and Bls. Margaret Pole, John Shert, Thomas Ford, and Robert Johnson, who shed their blood for England's soul, intercede on behalf of their ailing, etiolated, post-Christian nation.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Saving Us from Ourselves

Idaho police are going to start cracking down on people who don't wear seatbelts. Idaho law requires people to wear seatbelts, although (a) the cops have to have some other reason to pull you over besides a seatbelt violation, and (b) the fine for not wearing a seatbelt is only $10.00. Citing statistics on deaths related to the failure to wear seatbelts, police all over the state are launching a campaign to make everybody buckle up, or else.

there people whose lives have been saved because they wore a seatbelt? Undoubtedly. Are there people who have died because they didn't have a seatbelt on? Sure. Is wearing a seatbelt a good idea? Of course. But does the fact that something is a good idea give the government the right to make it compulsory? The state has the duty to protect the rights of individuals against encroachment by others, and to punish those who commit such encroachments; but who told the state it had the right to interfere with the freedom of individuals to risk their own safety?

is true that we are not morally justified in unnecessarily assuming grave risks. Whether not wearing a seatbelt falls into that category is debatable: riding in a car is always a dangerous proposition, even with a seatbelt. Just getting up in the morning is fraught with perils, visible and invisible, to which we must either expose ourselves or fritter away our precious time on earth trying to avoid them. But people who don't want the state to be a moral arbiter in the arenas of, say, sex and marriage are prefectly prepared to have the state encroach on our free will when it comes to our personal safety, even where the moral stakes are less clear.

reedom has consequences that we must be prepared to live with, and one of these is that individuals might choose to do stupid things to themselves. If we are not prepared to live with the consequences of freedom, then the only alternative is tyranny.

r, as Benjamin Franklin is said to have commented, those who are prepared to trade liberty for security deserve neither and will lose both.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Gold Mine of Legal History: The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

Diogenes at Catholic World News has uncovered a remarkable website containing a searchable archive of what is known as Proceedings, a sort of magazine published under various titles and formats from 1674 through 1913. It is an informal record of nearly two and a half centuries of proceedings at London's Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey), containing summaries of trial testimony, verdicts and sentences from selected cases. Begun as a form of entertainment, the Proceedings at first covered mainly sensational or amusing cases; although it always had to be selective for reasons of cost, the coverage expanded, and ultimately came to be relied upon by judges and lawyers, among other things, as a handy summation of cases under review. The Proceedings is a fascinating record of criminal cases, from R. v. Susan Grimes (1725), in which a prostitute was accused (and acquitted) of stealing a gold watch from an Irish customer (whose drunken testimony was recorded phonetically), to R. v. Hawley Harvey Crippen (1910), a notorious case in which an American doctor was convicted and executed for murdering and dismembering his wife for another woman.

The Proceedings also (unwittingly) renders the signal service of testifying to the fortitude of the Catholic clergy at a time when it was considered high treason for a priest to function in England. Plugging the word "Romish" into the search engine brings forth, as Diogenes puts it, a cloud of witnesses.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dipped in Gold

Who knew a 23-cent pizza could cost so much?

When LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers complained about "hard fouls" during a playoff series against the Washington Wizards, a Papa John's pizza franchise in D.C. responded by marketing T-shirts with the word "CRYBABY" over James' jersey number, 23. The shirt was a hit with Wizards fans, but Cavaliers fans were not amused. Amid angry complaints, as well as the realization that Papa John's has a large number of stores in the Cleveland area, the pizza company decided to make it up by offering large, one-topping pizzas for $0.23. It will also donate $10,000.00 to the Cavaliers Youth Fund.

The amazing thing about this whole affair is not the large amount of money Papa John's is losing by giving away cash and virtually free pizzas. What is amazing is the incredible cost Papa John's customers are prepared not only to absorb but to disregard almost completely in order to get something they neither needed nor probably even wanted only a few days ago. Consider what a $0.23 pizza has cost:

-- Hours of waiting in line. People wrapped up in blankets in Cleveland to wait in a line that wound through the parking lot and across a lawn; lines in University Heights were two blocks long. One guy waited nearly four hours for a pepperoni pizza. Time spent waiting in line is a cost; in order to devote time to waiting in line, it is necessary to sacrifice some other and probably more worthwhile activity.

-- Ill will. People got into arguments about cutting in line. Ill will is costly as an emotional and physical drain; it is also costly in the erosion of good will, and its replacement by an increase in cynicism. As the next point demonstrates, the containment of ill will is a drain on the resources of society.

-- Police intervention. In University Heights and Springfield township near Akron, police had to intervene in line-cutting incidents. One regional manager felt obliged to called the police to help close his stores in Columbus. All of this is on the dime of the thousands of customers waiting in line for their "23-cent" pizzas.

Admittedly, not everybody put up with all this purely for the purpose of getting a virtually free pizza. Some customers did it to defend LeBron James. "I did it for the principle of it, said Jennie Moore (no relation) of University Heights. "The principle of it is he's not a crybaby and Papa John's should not have gotten into it." It is one hell of an expensive principle.

Then there are those who are just plain clueless. "It's worth it,"declared Patrick Mone of Westlake. "All the money is going to charity, and obviously, it's bringing new business to Papa John's. Even though there is a line, I think it's pretty cool ... 23 cents, you can't beat it." Where the "new business" is actually a drain on Papa John's resources, and people are going to such excruciating lengths to get a 23-cent pizza they never knew they wanted before, this is on the order of spending a thousand dollars on lottery tickets and then crowing over winning a hundred bucks.

The most valuable service Papa John's has rendered in this whole business is not providing the hungry with all-but-free pizza, but demonstrating clearly and concretely that there really -- and literally -- is no such thing as a free lunch.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Need Some Help?

The Communion of Saints is the Christian dogma of the spiritual solidarity that binds the Church Triumphant (the saints in Heaven), the Church Militant (Christians on earth) and the Church Suffering (the holy souls in Purgatory) in the Body Christ. Since not even death breaks this union in Christ, we are able to pray to the saints (i.e., ask them for their aid and intercession); we are able to pray for the relief of the souls in Purgatory; and God makes it possible for the Saints in Heaven to hear our prayers and to join theirs with ours. We invoke the saints, not to worship them, but to secure their aid and intercession before God's throne. It is the same as asking a friend on earth to pray for us; but when we pray to a saint, we are asking a friend who already stands before God's throne to exercise his influence with God on our behalf.

Everyone who makes it into Heaven is a saint. The world is full of invisible saints in the making, and heaven is full of saints whose memory on earth is now forgotten; but there are those that the Church holds up to us as examples to imitate, as well as friends to intercede for us in our troubles. Different saints have different areas of "expertise" or special concern, based on their life's work on earth, or extraordinary events or circumstances surrounding them. For example, that roaring lion of two-fisted cool, St. Thomas More, was a lawyer and statesman; he is therefore the patron of lawyers and statesmen. St. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux had a special love for missionaries, though she lived in a cloister; therefore, she is a patroness of missionaries. St. Dismas, the Good Thief whom Jesus Himself canonized as he hung next to Him on the cross, is the patron of condemned criminals.

There is a patron saint for just about any conceivable occupation, pursuit or concern, and against just about every disaster under the sun. Herewith some very interesting ones:

St. Hubert. The patron saint of hunters. St. Hubert was born in Holland and lived from about the middle of the 7th century to the first quarter of the 8th. A dissolute young nobleman, he was out hunting a stag on Good Friday -- a huge no-no -- when suddenly he saw a vision of a crucifix between the stag's antlers, and a voice told him that if he didn't straighten up, he would soon go off to Hell. He straightened up; and when his wife died, he renounced all his worldly goods and became a priest, then a bishop.

St. Genesius of Rome. The patron saint of actors. Genesius had a conversion experience not unlike that of St. Paul. While he was on stage playing a role in mockery of Christian baptism, God knocked him on his ass. He arose converted, and refused to go through with the part any longer. He suffered martyrdom during the persecutions of Diocletian.

St. Dymphna. The patroness against mental illness. St. Dymphna's mother died when she was a teenager. Her father, a pagan Irish chieftain, driven mad by grief, made advances on her, which she refused. She fled, and he pursued her; when he caught up with her, and she continued to resist his advances, he swept her head off with a sword. Miraculous healings of the insane and mentally ill have taken place on the spot where she died.

or more on the saints and their special areas of expertise, check out the Patron Saints Index.