Friday, September 29, 2006

Princes of This World

Is it entirely an illusion to believe that one could contribute more to an organization than one is allowed to do? Is management invariably right? Perhaps, but airplanes are hijacked, buildings are flown into, dikes fail, wars are lost, laws are broken, thousands or millions die, while careers are made. It is not unusual at retirement functions to hear the retiree say, “This is the best organization I’ve ever worked in, with the best people.” Two thousand years ago the world was judged. Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

See Robert W. Komer, Bureaucracy Does Its Thing: Institutional Constraints on U.S.-GVN Performance in Vietnam.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Girl Who Could Not Kneel

And when the turmoil becomes too great and I am completely at my wits’ end, then I still have my folded hands and bended knee. A posture that is not handed down from generation to generation with us Jews. I have had to learn it the hard way. It is my most precious inheritence from the man whose name I have almost forgotten but whose best part has become a constituent of my own life. What a strange story it really is, my story: the girl who could not kneel. Or its variation: the girl who learned to pray. That is my most intimate gesture, more intimate even than being with a man. After all one can’t pour the whole of one’s love out over a single man, can one?

Etty Hillesum


Active Participation

. . . since the earliest times, Mass has been celebrated with both the people and priest facing the same direction, ad orientem, toward the East. Even after Churches were built where it was not literally possible to face East, then at least symbolically the priest and people were turned toward the Lord. It had nothing to do with trying to obstruct people's view of what is happening, or of the priest turning his back on the people. Nor is it even primarily for the sake of facing the altar or tabernacle. Rather, when the priest and faithful together face the same way, it manifests our common act of worship; it symbolizes our common pilgrimage toward the returning Lord, the Sun of Justice and our hope in the resurrection and the world beyond the here-and-now, our pilgrimage to the Promised Land.
— Father Gary Coulter, Ad orientem Mass today? Celebrating the Mass facing with the people (ad orientem)

One may ask the bishops, Which is the more active participation in Mass, facing the priest or, with the priest, facing God?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Eric Gill’s Water Tap

From Peter Brooke’s review of Fiona MacCarthy, Eric Gill: ­ A Lover’s Quest for Art and God, Faber & Faber, 1989:

I regard Gill as simply lacking a normal human faculty which we call modesty if we like it and prudery if we don’t — the feeling that there is something squalid about sexual activity independent of a willingness to take responsibility for children. We live in a society which is desperately trying to rid itself of this long-established human instinct, and is making itself miserable in the process. How can we help hating the man who, through some defect in his mental formation, is what we are all trying so desperately to become?

— Peter Brooke, “The Pillar of Fire”

This article comes from the Brecon Political and Theological Discussion Group, where one may also read, for example, Satya Claire, India — Spirituality and Reality Therapy.

Monday, September 25, 2006

God Is Love

Sometimes I try my hand at turning out small profundities and uncertain short stories, but I always end up with just one single word: God.
Etty Hillesum, Westerbork, 18 August 1943.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sin-up Sunday

Sin-up for Liturgical Ministries will take place at all Masses this Sunday.
— Bulletin, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Albany, September 24, 2006


Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Worst of Sinners

In the days of kingdoms and empires, St. Paul could say that he was the worst of sinners. In our demotic times, the worst I can say about myself is that I am like everybody else. So do I condemn myself.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I hear Paul nearly every day at Mass. I hear Samuel Butler or Bernard Shaw when I read one of their books. Is not, then, Paul much more my companion in life than Butler or Shaw?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Humans believe. Might as well say: Don’t eat! Don’t drink! Don’t breathe! as: Don’t believe! Given this, What to believe? How to believe? What quality of belief?

Active Participation with Organ

In the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (Sacrosanctum Concilium), it is emphasized that the “combination of sacred music and words . . . forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy” (No. 112). This means that music and song are more than an embellishment (perhaps even unnecessary) of worship; they are themselves part of the liturgical action. Solemn sacred music, with choir, organ, orchestra and the singing of the people, is not therefore a kind of addition that frames the liturgy and makes it more pleasing, but an important means of active participation in worship. The organ has always been considered, and rightly so, the king of musical instruments, because it takes up all the sounds of creation — as was just said — and gives resonance to the fullness of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to lamentation. By transcending the merely human sphere, as all music of quality does, it evokes the divine. The organ’s great range of timbre, from piano through to a thundering fortissimo, makes it an instrument superior to all others. It is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God.

Psalm 150, which we have just heard and interiorly followed, speaks of trumpets and flutes, of harps and zithers, cymbals and drums; all these musical instruments are called to contribute to the praise of the triune God. In an organ, the many pipes and voices must form a unity. If here or there something becomes blocked, if one pipe is out of tune, this may at first be perceptible only to a trained ear. But if more pipes are out of tune, dissonance ensues and the result is unbearable. Also, the pipes of this organ are exposed to variations of temperature and subject to wear. Now, this is an image of our community in the Church. Just as in an organ an expert hand must constantly bring disharmony back to consonance, so we in the Church, in the variety of our gifts and charisms, always need to find anew, through our communion in faith, harmony in the praise of God and in fraternal love. The more we allow ourselves, through the liturgy, to be transformed in Christ, the more we will be capable of transforming the world, radiating Christ’s goodness, his mercy and his love for others.

— Pope Benedict XVI, Greeting during the Blessing of the new organ of Regensburg’s Alte Kapelle (September 13, 2006)

For information about the Pope Benedict Organ, see: Mathis Orgelbau and Pp Benedikt Orgel.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Talk in Regensburg

Pope offers mea culpa
— Headline in the Albany times Union, September 18, 2006.

Is the media’s misreporting of the pope ignorant or intentional?

Pope Benedict XVI did not offer a “mea culpa” for anything he said in his academic talk at the University of Regensburg. As any Catholic of sufficient age would know, “mea culpa” means “my fault.” The Pope did not say that he was at fault. Rather, he said that he was deeply sorry, that is, sorrowful, at the reaction to his talk. It is rather the media, which have misreported the Pope’s talk from the beginning, and the rabble-rousers who have incited threats and mob violence, who should issue mea culpas.

Pope Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections, Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg, Tuesday, 12 September 2006.

See also:

Sandro Magister, Islam’s Unreasonable War Against Benedict XVI and Why Benedict XVI Did not Want to Fall Silent or Backpedal

Spengler, Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and eternal life

Sunday, September 17, 2006

pons asinorum

I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.
— John 14:28

Who does not understand this does not understand the Christ.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Savoir écouter

La vie spirituelle est tout entière d’abord communion avec Dieu (puis communion avec les autres). Puisque c’est Dieu qui a choisi de nous parler, qu’il nous a même envoyé son Verbe, l’attitude de l’homme doit donc être en premier lieu une attitude d’écoute. C’est là tout le sens de la lectio divina. Aujourd’hui c’est devenu un peu la mode de parler de lectio divina. On la présente malheureusement souvent comme si c’était une sorte de pratique, et même une technique. Et bien des personnes écrivent des livres et des articles et même organisent des sessions pour montrer comment « faire » la lectio divina. Or, la lectio divina est tout d’abord une attitude — une attitude d’écoute. Il s’agit de se mettre à l’écoute de Dieu, lorsqu’on lit l’Écriture Sainte, bien entendu; mais aussi lorsqu’on étudie, ou encore lorsqu’on lit un ouvrage de théologie, ou simplement un journal qui nous informe sur les grands événements de l’humanité aujourd’hui, ou encore lorsqu’on écoute une personne qui nous parle. Si l’on n’arrive pas à développer en soi cette attitude d’écoute, toutes les techniques seront inutiles. Nous serons aussi alors incapables de parler vraiment ou correctement — de dire les choses qu’il convient de dire en chaque circonstance.

— Armand Veilleux, Savoir écouter afin de pouvoir parler

See also Savoir se décider.


After 10 years I am wearing contact lenses again. This exchange occurred at today’s Cathedral Pastoral Advisory Council Retreat at the Kenwood Convent of the Sacred Heart:

AB: Do you have contacts?

LW: Yes, I have contacts, but I don’t know anybody.

This may have been our last retreat at the convent, since the nuns may have sold the property by next September.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Against God and Man

Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.
— Luke 15:18 (also 15:21)

One first sins against God. So did Eve, so did Adam, so did Cain. (Speaking to myself:) Do not think you can love your neighbor, unless you love God. Not: “unless you love your God”; but: “unless you love God”.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Of Ted Adams it may be said that he has a private life but not a secret life.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


. . .

In my last installment (American Idolatry, August 29), I observed that America’s popular music descends from the whining complaint of American rural folk. Resentment causes Americans to listen to singers who sound like them and with whom they can identify, rather than singers who sound much better than them. Children prefer finger-painting to Diego Velazquez because they feel at home in the world of children and feel lost in the world of results. Americans who grew up in the 1950s and afterward remain in a perpetual childhood of peer identification, hostile to all authority.

That is not quite true, I concluded in the August 29 essay; most Americans acknowledge the Bible as a supreme authority. But that is not quite the case if the Bible is to be taken “literally”, that is, the way an ignorant man would read it on the surface. In that case, the authority is not the Bible at all, but rather the authority of the ignoramus who reads it. This writer accepts the authority of the Bible, but confesses his inability to understand most of it without the assistance of learned commentators. Paradoxically, biblical literalism is a resentment-driven revolt against authority.

. . .

There is a well-developed argument that Islam is “a monistic paganism”, and that Allah is “the old pagan pantheon rolled up into one”, as German Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig wrote some 85 years ago. I reported Rosenzweig’s views three years ago in this space. Pope Benedict offered a devastating judgment on Islam’s ability to reform, but it was intended only for the ears of his inner circle of students, not for public circulation. A scandal erupted last year over the pope’s remarks on Islam to a seminar at his summer residence, as reported by Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, on a Florida radio talk show. My report in this space contributed to the notoriety of the incident. Father Fessio ultimately apologized for making the popees views public.

That is the misery of the West. The evangelicals have no fear of offending Muslims and say what they think; the crafty old men of the Vatican understand the issues far better, but are afraid to speak them above a whisper.

. . .

The fact is that Americans are beholden to the Old World and will be until Americans can produce minds with the depth and scope of a Soren Kierkegaard, a Karl Barth or a Franz Rosenzweig. As I noted last year, the most important theologian working today in the United States might be an Orthodox Jew, Michael Wyschogrod. It is well and good to throw off the authority of the compromised and often corrupt state churches of Europe, but the threadbare homespun of evangelical thinking is very, very far from being a replacement.

It is not that Americans are inherently stupid. They make themselves stupid by resenting authorities that seem distant and alien to them. Until that changes, the evangelicals will be America’s non-commissioned officers, not its generals and statesmen.

— Spengler, Fundaresentalism, Asia Times Online, September. 12, 2006

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Applauding in Church

Miss Manners . . . is all for music, speaking, and other decently appropriate forms of worship. But she is afraid the good people missed that part about [a joyful noise unto the Lord] being directed unto the Lord, and not unto themselves. Their pleasure may be great, but it is incidental to the purpose of worship, and they should not attempt to usurp the Lord’s power of passing judgment on those who are worshipping Him. If God wishes to applaud in church, He may, but it is inappropriate for anyone else to do so.
— Judith Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated, 2005, 123.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

“The Ambitious Guest”

Was reading more of Rousseau’s Confessions to Ted Adams when, at Ted’s suggestion, we left Rousseau in Venice till next time, and read Hawthorne’s “The Ambitious Guest,” in which unfulfilled ambition is shown to be justified.

I should remember that recently Ted lent me a audio copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, beautifully read by a man named, I think, Norman Bass. Later, M and I saw a videotape of the movie version, which I like much less than the audio.

O is reading Persuasion to me.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Hidden Jesus

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Three Organs

With Father P, Glenn O, Charles J, and Mary Ellen S, heard the (newer) Rieger organ at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, the Létourneau organ at the Church of the Ascension and St Agnes in Washington, D.C. and the Schoenstein organ at St. Paul’s, K Street. At each place, we heard the organ being played by and spoke with the resident organist (Jeff Brillhart, Haig Mardirosian, Mark Dwyer) and Glenn and Charles also took their turn at each console.