Thursday, July 31, 2008

Diamonds? Nah, I'll Take Rhinestones Instead!

The latest in Japan: fake Christian weddings. You have to see the video to believe it.

Which video raises some questions:
1. Can these "weddings" be valid even in the eyes of the state, since they are apparently not being presided over by accredited ministers of any stripe?
2. Re the "evangelical pastor" who rationalizes profiteering off this craze by claiming that it is "spreading the Gospel": was Jesus only kidding when He said He was the way, the TRUTH and the life? Didn't He warn His disciples that without Him, we can do nothing? That He is the vine, and we are the branches, and the only way for us to bear fruit is to remain in Him?
3. Do not the people of Japan have reverence for their ancestors? If so, is there a sense in which their use of fake Christian trappings is not an insult to those of their forebears who persevered in their faithfulness to the substance of Christianity -- even through persecutions that left them without a single priest for two centuries?
4. If those who are offered a choice between diamonds of the first water and rhinestones go for the rhinestones, is there a sense in which they are not nuts?

H/T Major Paul, OPL via The Redoubtable One.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fragrant Namesake, Fetid Industry

Pornographic film-maker David Allen Crawford and alleged prostitute Agnes Jenges pled not guilty in federal court today to charges of visa fraud and perjury. Jenges, a Hungarian national, and Crawford are accused of entering a sham marriage so that Jenges could stay in the country and ply her trade out of a disorderly house in Sherman Oakes -- which, say authorities, was run by another foreign national who is also accused of entering a sham marriage for similar purposes. The sole reason this story attracts attention is that the pornographer -- known in the industry as "David Lord" -- is based in my hometown of Reseda.

Along with most of the rest of the porn industry, a fact I never knew until after the Northridge Earthquake struck the Valley on January 14, 1994. Starting in about the 1970s, the San Fernando Valley went from being a leader in the aerospace industry to being a huge player in the porn racket, to the tune of several billions of dollars a year. Apparently, a big part of it located itself in Reseda.

Meanwhile, I quietly grew up and pursued my own innocent interests, utterly oblivious to the vice and sleaze lurking just within arm's reach. Then, after the earthquake (actually centered in Reseda) devastated the Valley, the porn people, anticipating the Christian take on events, came out and notified the media that this was not in fact God wreaking His vengeance on the community for tolerating the smut capital of North America in its midst -- as if they would know. And now, instead of turning over a new leaf, this David Crawford character has used up the 14 years since the earthquake to get into hot water with the feds, in furtherance of his scuzzy career.

Reseda odorata is known for its beautiful fragrance, while the area named after it is known for emitting a rather different aroma in the moral order. Let's hope that amid the good work the citizens of Reseda are doing to beautify their streets and storefronts, they make the time to start doing something about the moral blight that has contributed, in the worst possible way, to Reseda's notoriety.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

About Pre-Mass "Ice-Breakers"

About the widespread practice of making everybody shake hands and greet each other at the beginning of Mass, a few questions:

1. Is this practice prescribed in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal?

2. Is this a practice of long, uninterrupted standing such that it properly qualifies as tradition? If not, what has changed that makes it impossible for us to continue to do without it?

3. Can it be proven that this practice prevailed during the earliest days of the Church? If so, do the reasons for it that existed then still exist in the present day? If such reasons do not presently exist -- and assuming it really was an ancient practice of the early Church -- what justifies its revival?

4. Does this practice accomplish some purpose or fulfill some need that is not accomplished by the liturgy as presently constituted? If so, what is this purpose or need, and, if it is a genuine necessity, in what way does the liturgy fail to fulfill it?

5. Where this practice prevails, is it mandated by persons who have canonical authority to make changes to the liturgy?

6. Is this practice more or less likely to foster a spirit of reverence and recollection inside the church?

7. What are the assumptions about relations among parishioners that underlie the introduction of this practice, and upon what evidence are such assumptions based? Is there any evidence to support the proposition that making people engage in mutual intimacies will necessarily cause them to form friendships? If there is, what case can be made for introducing this practice to the liturgy, when there are other venues readily available and appropriate for fellowship?

8. Will this practice tend to alleviate the burdens of the introverted, the grief-stricken, and the penitent, or will it tend to add to them? Are the extroverts who tend to advocate this practice specially equipped to understand the violence that forced gregariousness does to the sensitive, retiring soul, or the soul drowning in sorrow? What effect might this practice have on the weak soul who, like the penitent tax collector in the parable, comes to Mass to try, humbly and anonymously, to make his peace with God? What interests outweigh these considerations, and why?

9. Does this practice tend to focus the attention of parishioners upon the worship of God, or does it tend to focus it elsewhere?

10. Does this practice tend to contribute to, or to detract from, the Catholic understanding of the Mass as the actual sacrifice of Calvary, represented on the altar in an unbloody manner? Does this practice tend to increase or decrease our awareness of the fact that at Mass, we are literally at the foot of the Cross?

Just something to think about.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It Didn't Work

36-year-old Katherine Gunther of Lebanon, Indiana conducted a Wiccan good luck ceremony in a local cemetery. Result: two days in the hospital after stabbing herself in the foot.

In a ritual involving candles, incense, the full moon, a three-foot-long sword, and trespassing in a cemetery after posted visiting hours, Gunther tried to plunge the sword into the earth, but missed the earth and nailed her foot instead.

I bet the handsome gentleman pictured below didn't miss what he was aiming at. If Katherine Gunther wants to wield swords, maybe she ought to try following his example.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dancing on Thin Ice

Diogenes at Catholic World News caught the following entry from the parish bulletin at St. Francis Xavier church in New York (a Jesuit parish; 'nuff said, unfortunately):

2008 Catechetical Convocation – Archdiocese of New York
"The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church"
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Westchester County Center, White Plains, New York
Modern dancers, liturgical dancers, and expert dancers
in Mexican, Philippine, German and African dance
are invited to volunteer
for the Opening and Closing Prayer experiences
of the 2008 Catechetical Convocation of the Archdiocese of New York
to be held on Saturday, September 27, 2008 in White Plains, NY.

At least they acknowledge that "liturgical dancers" and "expert dancers" don't belong in the same category.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

July 15th: St. Vladimir

Today is the feast of St. Vladimir I of Kiev (956-1015), honored alike in the Catholic and orthodox churches as the man who Christianized the people of Kiev. He is patron, among other things, of Russia, of converts, of parents with large families and -- murderers.

The first thing that strikes one on reading a sketch of St. Vladimir's life is that he was not a very nice person -- certainly not before his conversion, and maybe, just possibly not even then. He made war on his brother, whom he eventually slew after the latter surrendered; slew a prince and took his daughter to wife; took several other wives and numerous concubines, by whom he had a boodle of children (hence his patronage of people with large families); and set up a great many shrines devoted to Slavic pagan gods. In an interesting parallel with my favorite obscure saint, King St. Aethelberht of Kent (who must surely have prayed for him), St. Vladimir started out as a committed pagan. St. Aethelberht was a worshipper of Odin, who demanded human sacrifices, usually by strangulation or hanging from trees in sacred groves; it is thought that Vladimir may himself have participated in rituals involving human sacrifice.

Although Christianity was quietly and secretly blossoming in the lands under his rule, it was not until 987, while planning a campaign against the Graeco-Roman empire, that he began to be interested in Christianity. He sent envoys to study the religions of various neighboring lands, and received glowing reports about the Divine Liturgy celebrated at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Thus was the finger of God, as Whittaker Chambers put it, laid on his forehead.

But unlike St. Aethelbehrt, who had possessed a great deal of natural goodness and decency even before his conversion, Vladimir was still far from exhibiting those virtues for which the saints are often renowned. In 988, after beseiging the city of Kherson in the Eastern Roman Empire, Vladimir sent an embassy to Emperor Basil II of Constantinople asking for his sister Anna's hand in marriage, and threatening to march on Constantinople if he refused. The Emperor replied that a Christian could only marry another Christian, so only if Vladimir were a Christian prince could he sanction such a match. Vladimir replied that he had studied the Christian faith and was inclined favorably to it, so that he was ready to accept Baptism.

Which baptism took place that same year, as depicted above by the Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov. Vladimir followed it up by marrying Anna, returning the city of Kherson, returning to Kiev with his new bride, getting rid of all his other wives and concubines, and setting about expunging paganism from within his borders. Catholic Encyclopedia describes the opening of his campaign:
When Vladimir returned to Kieff he took upon himself the conversion of his subjects. He ordered the statues of the gods to be thrown down, chopped to pieces, and some of them burned; the chief god, Perun, was dragged through the mud and thrown into the River Dnieper. These acts impressed the people with the helplessness of their gods, and when they were told that they should follow Vladimir's example and become Christians they were willingly baptized, even wading into the river that they might the sooner be reached by the priest for baptism. Zubrycki thinks this readiness shows that the doctrines of Christianity had already been secretly spread in Kieff and that the people only waited for an opportunity to publicly acknowledge them.
Vladimir did become known as a mild and devoted ruler (having given up warmongering), and was zealous for the spread of the Christian faith. Although two of his sons were later recognized as saints in their own right (Boris and Gleb), his later life was dogged by the intransigence of some of his older children. Vladimir died on the march north to deal with his rebellious son Yaroslav in 1015, and his feast is celebrated on July 15th.

Vladimir's conversion and subsequent recognition as a saint provide us with a striking example of the powers of Baptism, even in the case of a man with multiple murders on his conscience, whose appallingly evil life should have landed him in the bowels of Hell. Mere good will on Vladimir's part -- especially mixed as it appears to have been, at least in the beginning, with political motivations -- could never have been enough to give him the purpose of amendment he obviously exhibited after Baptism, let alone save his soul. Here is proof, if more is needed, that Baptism is no mere symbol.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Broads at Work

"Men at work" signs. "Men Working Ahead" signs. Signs with pictures of guys wielding shovels. Like a noisome fungus, they sprouted up all over the city of Atlanta, blocking the warm sun of "gender equality," choking off the dying gasps of feminine self-esteem.

Unable to bear the agony for one more second, Cynthia Good decided that enough was enough. Striking a decisive blow on behalf of oppressed women everywhere, the women's magazine editor daringly vandalized one of the abominable signs, spray-painting the letters "WO" in front of the word "MEN." When police came to her office in response to a complaint about the vandalism, she took up the banner of women's equality in earnest.
"Good fired off letters complaining about the signs to Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Gov. Sonny Perdue," reports In the face of this estrogen-fueled temper tantrum, the Atlanta Public Works Commissioner (a man) caved. To reward Cynthia Good for her act of vandalism, the city will modify or replace "Men at Work" signs at a cost of $22.00 to $144.00 apiece, and force contractors to do the same. And Atlanta is only the beginning. Declares Good: "We're calling on the rest of the nation to follow suit and make a statement that we will not accept these subtle forms of discrimination."
Thank God the citizens of Atlanta no longer have to look at signs telling them that only men are working. All over the world, the female sex is subjected to a vast array of horrors and degradations, from female infanticide (including sex-selective abortion) to genital mutilation; from burqas to polygamy; from sexual slavery to stonings. But at least the deadly peril of "Men at Work" signs has been removed.
And as an extra added bonus, Cynthia Good just happened to escape having to answer for malicious injury to property. How convenient.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Fourth of July

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast and sail and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
'Tis of the wave and not the rock;
'Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest's roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee.
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee -- are all with thee!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Thoughts on a Milestone Year

1998 was rather a momentous year, at least for me.

Ten years ago in May, I donned the purple hood that was the emblem of my victory in the great, three-year battle to graduate from law school.

Ten years ago this month, I sat for the bar exam, an ordeal that may be likened to crossing the Nevada desert on a rider mower. I came out of the exam knowing I'd flunked, and waited grimly for the beginning of September, when the results would be available by phone. The state bar office absolutely would not take any calls about the exam even one milisecond before the time set to release the results, making the last ten minutes before that time the longest of my life.

Then came the stupendous news that I couldn't bring myself to believe until I saw it in writing: I passed. I immediately changed the recording on my telephone answering machine to announce exultantly that I was now a lawyer-elect -- only to have the first message after that be from my best friend, who had taken the bar in another state, calling to tell me she hadn't passed.

Three weeks later, I parked my Chevy pickup at a seedy motel in Moscow and rode the bus down to Boise to appear before the Idaho Supreme Court and the U.S. Court, District of Idaho. On September 24, 1998, I was officially sworn in as an attorney and counselor at law in all the state and federal courts in Idaho.
And that's when all my trials and tribulations really began.