Thursday, June 28, 2012

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen

On the same day as the announcement that Obamacare has survived in the Supreme Court, we receive the news of the decree that Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen was possessed of heroic virtues, and thus will henceforth be Venerable Fulton J. Sheen. 

Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.

-- Ven. Fulton J. Sheen

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fortnight for Freedom: Votive High Mass of St. Thomas More

It has been a red-letter week for some of us who love pre-conciliar rites.  Last weekend, my chapter had a visit from our religious assistant, Fr. Vincent Kelber, O.P., and he gave us sung High Mass for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart in the Dominican Rite.  Yesterday, we had a visit from our dear friend, the Inimitable Fr. Andrew Szymakowski of the Baker Diocese,  on vacation from canon law school, who gave us sung High Mass of St. Thomas More in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  

Although yesterday was the feast of Thomas More on the new calendar, on the preconciliar calendar it falls on July 6th -- the actual date of his martyrdom -- so this was a votive Mass.  This was our contribution to the Fortnight for Freedom: this Mass was offered for the intention of religious freedom in our country, and the crushing, humiliating defeat of the Church's enemies.

Here, then, appropriately enough, is our battlefield altar -- an actual, collapsible altar for use on the battlefield -- at our temporary chapel in the big room at Chapter House in Homedale, prepared for Mass.  Though this was not an actual battlefield Mass, our conditions are nevertheless pretty primitive: we don't even have matching candlesticks, and we have to borrow supplies anytime we have Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  Fr. Joseph Levine, also of the Baker Diocese -- and who, by the way, preaches a rocking homily and celebrates a beautiful TLM -- was kind enough to lend us the altar cards, altar missal and a set of red vestments.

We tried to get Father to pose for a nice picture in those beautiful vestments, but unfortunately, he wasn't cooperating.  He does love to clown around...  

...but once Mass starts, he's all business.  I have to say that Fr. Andy is a character and a half and has as much personality as any priest, or indeed, any human being I have ever known.  He is highly intelligent, gifted, a great conversationalist, a talented speaker (in no fewer than three languages), and loves to laugh.  But not one iota of any of this shows while he is at the altar.  When he celebrates Mass, Andy Szymakowski is totally hidden -- as he should be, as Holy Mass is not his work or indeed the work of any mere mortal.  Here is a priest who gets out of God's way, and he does it by the simple expedient of saying the black and doing the red.    

Which, frankly, he finds it much easier to do in the Extraordinary Form than his inexperienced little congregation, which made many mistakes.  Here we are.  The best part of this pic is you can't see me in it.  But I'm there!

Father says the words of institution.

The Bread of Life.

And the Chalice of Salvation.

Here is a close-up of that image embroidered on the back of his chasuble.

And Holy Communion on the prie-dieux.

Incidentally, one thing that is not captured by any of these pictures is the howling dust storm that began raging during Mass.  The ferocity of the wind outside, while the August Sacrifice proceeded calmly inside, seemed a perfect analogue of the world's wrack and turmoil as the forces of hell vent their fury on the Church, which nevertheless enjoys the peace the world can neither give nor take away.

The time has come for America to decide where she prefers to be during the storm: outside or inside?  May she choose wisely.   St. Thomas More, pray for us.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fortnight for Freedom

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have declared a Fortnight for Freedom, starting today -- the vigil of Thomas More and John Fisher -- and ending on the Fourth of July.  We Catholics in the United States should join our prayers with those of our shepherds, and offer our daily Offices and Rosaries -- you are praying the Rosary daily, aren't you? -- for the intention of preserving religious liberty and the rights of the Church in this country, and for the utter, crushing, and humiliating defeat of the Church's enemies.

Reciting the bishops' Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty might not be a bad start.

O God our Creator, through the power and working of your Holy Spirit, you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world, bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel to every corner of society.
We ask you to bless us in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.  Give us the strength of mind and heart to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened; give us courage in making our voices heard on behalf of the rights of your Church and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father, a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters gathered in your Church in this decisive hour in the history of our nation, so that, with every trial withstood and every danger overcome — for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and all who come after us — this great land will always be "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

And since St. Thomas More died to vindicate the rights of the Catholic Church in his own country, it might not hurt to invoke him as well:
Dear Scholar and Martyr, it was not the King of England but you who were the true Defender of the Faith. Like Christ unjustly condemned, neither promises nor threats could make you accept a civil ruler as head of the Christian Church. Perfect in your honesty and love of truth, grant that lawyers and judges may imitate you and achieve true justice for all people. Amen.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Today was the summer solstice, when the sun reached its highest point in the sky, making this the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.  From here on out, the days will grow shorter.  

And so, this is a fitting time for the Nativity of John the Baptist, which is celebrated on Sunday.  It shows that John's declaration that he must decrease while Jesus increased was in fact chosen from the beginning to be the theme of his whole life.  As John's decrease was signaled at his birth by the summer solstice, so Jesus' increase was signaled at His birth by the winter solstice, when the hours of daylight begin to increase.

Nor is that the end of the astronomical coincidences.  The vernal equinox heralds the Annunciation -- when the Spring of the Incarnation dissipates the winter of hell's dominion over the world -- and of course also Easter, when new life springs up even from the grave itself.

None of this is the product of chance.  The God of Order arranged it so.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ireland's War on the Church

St. John Nepomucene: preferred to die rather than give up the secrets of the confessional.
Ireland -- the island that gave the world spiritual giants like Brendan the Navigator, Brigid of Kildare, Columba, Fr. Willie Doyle -- will soon be filling its jails with priests.  At any rate, there is no other way to understand the holding of Ireland's Minister for Justice (or should that be Minister for "Justice") Alan Shatter that the seal of the confessional does not exempt priests from reporting the abuse of children or vulnerable adults.  There is no basis for a claim of privilege, says Shatter, now that the special position of the Catholic Church has been written out of the Irish Constitution.

So, then, it seems priests will be going to jail for the iniquitous crime of upholding the sacramental seal -- and they will go to jail, even the most off-the-wall liberal ones.  And how, it may well be asked, will the police know that priests aren't violating the seal?  Will molesters give themselves up?  Will the government resort to sacrilege in the form of undercover sting operations?  Or will it simply start rounding up priests who haven't reported any abusers, on the assumption that they must be withholding information?   

What are the people of Ireland going to do about this outrage?  In an age when only 31% of Irish attend Mass every week, can we expect an uprising?

The country that once held stubbornly to her Catholic faith in defiance of English oppression is not only abandoning the faith, but peopling her government with evil men of the same stamp as the old oppressors.  God help Ireland.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Solemn Moment Draws Near

This is the execution chamber at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution south of Boise.  On November 18, 2011, Paul Ezra Rhoades was put to death here for two of three murders he committed in 1987.  Rhoades' execution was the first in Idaho in nearly 20 years.  Now, nearly eight months later, preparations are being finalized for another execution.    

In July of 1984, Danette Elg was found dead in her home in Blackfoot, Idaho.  The floor of her bedroom was covered with the water from her waterbed, where she lay with numerous stab wounds and her sex organs cut out.  She had been dead for several days.  The following year, Richard Albert Leavitt was convicted of first-degree murder in her death.  On May 21, 2012, Seventh District Judge Jon Shindurling issued the death warrant.  On June 5th, the Comission of Pardons and Parole denied Leavitt's request for a commutation hearing.  This afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his request for a stay.  The execution is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Mountain Time tomorrow.  Leavitt continues to maintain his innocence.

Richard Leavitt is about to stand in judgment before his God, Whose Only Begotten Son died to open heaven to even the worst sinners.  We will all face the moment Leavitt faces, and we must all prepare for it.  Pray for him in his final hours, that God will give him the grace to die in His friendship.  

UPDATE: The execution proceeded, and Richard Leavitt was pronounced dead at 10:25 a.m.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Mrs. Kathleen Schuck, O.P., RIP

Mrs. Kathleen Schuck, O.P., in 2007.
Kathleen Schuck and her husband Jim were charter members of the Chapter of Lay Dominicans of Bl. Margaret of Castello, Boise, Idaho, Western Province of the Holy Name of Jesus, being among that first group to make their perpetual professions on the Vigil of the Assumption, 2004.  Jim died less than a year later and was the second member to be buried in the chapter cemetery in Homedale.  Determined to make merely temporary their separation after decades of married life, Kathleen had her own name inscribed on his headstone, and prepared for the day -- seven years minus 20 days thence -- when she would rejoin him.

But this was not a gloomy or dour preparation, as the photo above attests.  That was what Kathleen looked like most of the time, even after losing her hair and much of her strength to chemotherapy.  A master wood carver and maker of musical instruments -- particularly the mountain dulcimer -- Kathleen kept herself busy with her artistic pursuits; carving; teaching; traveling; her activities at her local parish and with the Dominicans, whom she served as our prioress, all of which she kept up until just days ago.  And praying, which she never stopped doing: she had rosaries all over her house, next to any chair she might settle in.  She greatly desired that everyone pray: her last phone call to me was a request that I find some good quality parts and make 100 rosaries for the Dominican mission in Mexicali.

Before I knew Kathleen, she had fought a battle with breast cancer, from which she emerged, not unscarred, but still strong and robust.  Then, a few years ago, came the pain in her shoulder that could not be accounted for as an injury: the cancer was back, this time in her bones.  She beat back this new assault forcefully, and kept up her activity as much as she could.  The Cross of Remembrance Memorial Garden for the unborn dead, slowly but surely taking shape in Homedale, became her life's work.  But although Kathleen enjoyed stretches of relative vigor, both the cancer and the side effects of its treatment gradually gained ground.  By Thanksgiving, her hair -- which had never had more than a touch of gray, even though she was past 70 -- was gone.  For some months before her death, she was on oxygen, and had to cut short her appearances at chapter and council meetings because of her fatigue.  Her last appearance at a chapter meeting was in April, where she announced that for the first time, the doctors had given her a timetable for survival: twelve weeks to twelve months.  To our sorrow, their low estimate has turned out to be off by about five weeks, proving once again that the practice of medicine is called "practice" for a reason.

And so today is Kathleen's birthday in eternity.  In a little while this date will be memorialized on the headstone that already bears her name, and under which her mortal remains will be laid to rest alongside those of her beloved Jim, with whom, we trust, she was reunited this morning at 9 o'clock, together with her mother and father, her siblings, Bl. Margaret of Castello -- whose relic she had at her bedside when she died -- St. Dominic, Our Lady, and all the saints and angels, before the throne of the Trinity, Whose light she sought faithfully always to live in and reflect to others.  

In matters of liturgy, Kathleen and I disagreed: she was for many years involved in the Charismatic Renewal and did not care for Mass in the Extraordinary Form, although she did tolerate it on those rare occasions when we could have it, if only for the sake of affectionately indulging the younger, traditionally-minded members of the chapter.  I trust she will not mind my smiling a little at the thought of her newly-made discovery that, in fact, it really is Gregorian chant that most closely resembles the song of the angels before the Throne of the Most High.  I trust too that, even though she was not a fan of Latin, she will not mind my saying for her, from the heart:

Réquiem ætérnam dona ei Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Requiéscat in pace. Amen.  

Friday, June 08, 2012

Am I Married to My Brother?

That question must be on the minds of a lot of folks in the U.K. now that it has emerged that the Barton fertility clinic in London, which operated from the 1940s to the 1960s, impregnated about 1,500 women from the sperm of a very select group of donors -- including the co-owner of the clinic, Bertold Wiesner.  In fact, Wiesner may have fathered between 300 and 600 children via sperm donation.

That stunning estimate is the fruit of years of research by Canadian Barry Stevens, a maker of documentaries, and Londoner David Gollancz, a barrister, who turn out to share a father -- Bertold Wiesner.  At the age of 12, Gollancz discovered that his biological father was a sperm donor; DNA tests finally uncovered the truth about his parentage, as well as 11 siblings, including Barry Stevens.  In 2007, DNA tests on a group of 18 people who had been conceived at the Barton clinic between 1943 and 1962 resulted in the discovery that 12 of them were fathered by Bertold Wiesner.  

The co-owner of the clinic, Dr. Mary Barton, was Wiesner's wife.  In 1959, sounding as though she were talking about a program for breeding livestock, she testified that "I matched race, coloring and stature and all donors were drawn from intelligent stock....I wouldn’t take a donor unless he was, if anything, a little above average. If you are going to do it [create a child] deliberately, you have got to put the standards rather higher than normal." The donors consisted mainly in a select group of Barton and Wiesner's family friends, plus -- obviously -- Wiesner himself.  Of course, the difficulties of tracking down the true parentage of all the people conceived in this designer kid factory will be all but insurmountable: Wiesner has been dead since the 1970s; Barton died 11 years ago; and the medical records have been destroyed.

At this point it is worthwhile to look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the subject of sperm donation and artificial insemination:
2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' "right to become a father and a mother only through each other."
2377 Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that "entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children." "Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses' union . . . . Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person."
And a thought much ignored in today's society:
2378 A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception."
It is clear that, at a visceral level, David Gollancz gets the foregoing teachings.  He has drawn some good out of his situation by rejoicing in his long-lost siblings, but his feelings about his ancestry are mixed.  He says: "It's rather uncomfortable, because artificial insemination was developed on an industrial scale for cattle and I don't like the feeling of having been 'bred.'"  And Gollancz is campaigning for a change in the law to abolish the anonymity of sperm donors.  "Most recipient parents don't tell their children they are conceived this way, meaning they would never know to search for a donor father.  People have a right to know about their own history."

Children have a right to know their own history.  Children have a right to be conceived in love and self-giving, and treated with the dignity due to a human being.  Children have the right not to be treated like a commodity.  And they have the right to know who their close relations are, so as to avoid marrying their own siblings.  That's why the mean old Catholic Church declares sperm donation and artificial insemination to be gravely immoral.  Maybe one of these days, the lesson will finally sink in.  

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

June 6, 1944: D-Day

Every year, V for Victory! commemorates the anniversary of the Longest Day: D-Day, the Normandy invasion.  It is necessary to keep alive the memory of the men who sacrificed so much to fight evil, especially now that evil threatens to engulf us once again, this time from within.  

Herewith a digest of classic D-Day posts:

Our Lady of the Paratroopers  

UPDATE: Some awesome color pictures from before and after D-Day, from Life Magazine.

Monday, June 04, 2012

¡Viva Cristo Rey!

I come home tonight, a little queasy from the greasy popcorn that was my dinner, after seeing For Greater Glory.  I hereby mount the bandwagon of bloggers who think every Catholic ought to see this movie -- including the credits, all the way to the end.  I saw For Greater Glory in a theater that I shared with about six other people, illustrating the need to promote by word of mouth this independently-made film that enjoys the backing of no major studios in post-Christian Hollywood.

For Greater Glory is about the 1926-1929 Cristero War in Mexico, a rebellion against Plutarco Calles' brutal persecution of the Catholic Church.  The Catholic forces made mistakes and had plenty of sinners in their ranks, including priests who actually took up arms, thereby excluding themselves, if not from heaven, at least from potential causes for canonization.  Indeed, the most unlikely people found their way into the ranks of the Cristeros, especially Enrique Gorostieta (played by Andy Garcia), the retired liberal atheist general who turned the rebels into an army.   The war did not result in the overthrow of Plutarco Calles, or in total restoration of liberty for the Church; but it did produce many saints and martyrs, including the boy martyr Jose Sanchez del Rio (played by Mauricio Kuri), who was beatified by Pope Benedict during the first year of his reign.  Bl. Miguel Pro, perhaps one of the best-known figures of the war, is not mentioned by name in this film, but there is a scene instantly recognizable as a re-enactment of his martyrdom.

Why is For Greater Glory worth promoting?  Despite liberties taken with the history for the sake of drama, it is a worthy film in every respect.  There is certainly violence, resulting in an R rating, but the violence does not attain to levels of gratuitousness.  There is no sex, no nudity (in one brief scene, female Cristeros are seen in their underwear, secreting on their persons ammunition for smuggling to the troops), no blue language.  And, for once, Catholics are the good guys, and priests are not shown as perverts -- not even Fr. Reyes Vega, who was known not only for his brilliant soldiery but also for his cruelty and his less-than-strict adherence to his priestly obligations.  There are a number of scenes showing the Cristeros at worship.  The Tridentine Mass has a particularly compelling, edgy beauty  when celebrated on the battlefield, or amid ruins, or in a fugitive camp hidden in the desert.  The priest at the altar, with hundreds of scruffy soldiers kneeling behind him, looks like a general leading his troops into battle. Indeed, he is doing precisely that: exercising the priesthood of the baptized, the Cristeros will offer themselves up on the field of battle in union with the Sacrifice of Calvary, for the sake of the Kingdom.  The physical battles of the Cristero War are but the outward, sensible manifestations of the greater spiritual war against the forces of hell; the stakes are nothing less than the eternal destiny of souls.  For Greater Glory is about so much more than freedom in the political order; it is about how individual souls find redemption -- or lose it.     

Finally, For Greater Glory comes out at a time when it has taken on a far greater relevance in the United States than what its makers had anticipated when it was filmed.  Politicians of the same ideological stamp as Plutarco Calles have taken power in this country and have already begun enacting laws that encroach on the freedom of the Church.  In Mexico, Calles' laws against the Church were followed up by brute force; is it not naive to suppose that the same could not happen here?

¡Viva Cristo Rey!  

Friday, June 01, 2012

June: The Month of the Sacred Heart

June is the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  This is the first -- and best -- image of the Sacred Heart.  It was painted in 1740 by Pompeo Batoni, and resides in the Church of the Gesu in Rome, mother church of the Jesuits.  (Thanks to Supertradmum for the tip on the provenance of this picture.)

The key to devotion to the Sacred Heart is making reparation for all the outrages by which Our Lord is offended.  It seems scarcely possible that there was ever a time in the history of the world since the Crucifixion when He had more cause to be offended than right now.