Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Chaste Chastening

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
— Hebrews 12:6–7

Chastening is grievous. If we knew it came from the father, it would seem less grievous. Is Jesus God, or was he just a carpenter with brothers and sisters?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Little Flower

If the Little Flower is the greatest saint of modern times, then respect your neighbor, who may also be saint.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Church of St. James the Less, Scarsdale

Mary told stories today to children at the Episcopal Church of St. James the Less in Scarsdale.

The Story Behind the Story

Why do today’s marriages topple over while yesterday’s make the long haul? No doubt the reasons vary, yet one may be related to technology. We have certainly entered into an age when it is more cost effective to dispose of products rather than repair them. Consumers can’t keep up with the technical advancements, and what is cutting edge today is dumped tomorrow. Things are not “built to last,” but built to taste and feel like bread, even office buildings now have a shelf life. If, then, the younger generation is taught to trash dated products, wouldn’t they do the same with people? Besides, if you can recycle a marriage and try again—that’s all the better.

It’s evident the “thick and thin” marriages are being replaced with the “crash and burn.” Although celibate, I hear enough stories behind the screen or in the friary parlor that I could moonlight as a soap opera scriptwriter. Priests know “the story behind the story,” and why wedding pictures find themselves off the wall and into the garbage. The crisis within the ranks of the clergy can’t compare with the adultery, pornography, and abuse of every kind which plagues married couples. Simply put, the big reason why one walks out the front door is because sin quietly slithered in by the back.

Since my certitude is greater than my fear of offending even one reader, I must say the reason why many marriages fail is more spiritual than social. Instead of building a solid life together on the granite of godly principles, many have only packing peanuts to work with, like emotional attachment and good will. I am no prophet, but neither am I an idiot; a marriage built on “me” instead of “thee” must, in time, collapse.

—Fr. Glenn Sudano, CFR, From the Friars, January 24, 2007


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cathedral Pastoral Advisory Council Letter to the Diocese of Albany

This letter was signed by the majority of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception Pastoral Advisory Council members attending its monthly meeting on Tuesday, January 16, 2007. The letter is inserted in this week’s Cathedral bulletin.

Ms. Elizabeth Simcoe
Chancellor, Pastoral Services
Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany
40 North Main Avenue
Albany, NY 12203

January 16, 2007

Dear Ms. Simcoe,

At the November 20, 2006 meeting with the members of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish on the subject of the Diocese’s plan for the reconfiguration of our church, you invited the parishioners to address their concerns about the plan to you, with every assurance that you would give them careful consideration. We, the undersigned members of the Cathedral’s Pastoral Advisory Council, have decided to take you up on your offer. Needless to say, we are assuming that you were being sincere in soliciting our input and assuring us that you would give these concerns your serious consideration.

Before we outline our concerns, we would like to forestall any objection on your part that we are voicing them at too late a juncture in the planning process. The fact is, many of us were stunned, and not a little offended, when Bishop Hubbard told us at last April’s meeting that this plan had been under consideration for years, as though this should have been obvious to everyone assembled. It wasn’t. Until that moment, we had been repeatedly told that any proposal for the redesign of the church interior was in a preliminary stage, and that there was no actual plan to share with us.

Furthermore, none of us actually saw the Diocese’s plan for the interior until copies of it were circulated at the meeting you recently attended. In short, we feel the Diocese has done an extremely poor job of communicating its intentions for the Cathedral to us, its parishioners. We don’t doubt that it wasn’t the Diocese’s intention to leave us feeling utterly frustrated and demoralized but, as the saying goes, it might as well have been. We certainly couldn’t have felt more disenfranchised.

As for our specific objections to the plan the Diocese has proposed, they are as follows:

1) Seating – Although the Diocese’s plan involves moving the pews, it does not address making them more comfortable for the Cathedral’s parishioners. This, in spite of the fact that comfort has been one of the most common concerns expressed by our parishioners in surveys and in the Q&A sessions held at our public meetings. As you know, the Cathedral has a significant elderly population, for whom sitting on what amounts to a narrow bench with a 90° backrest for an hour or more is extremely uncomfortable. In redesigning the interior of the church, why couldn’t the comfort of our parishioners have been taken into account? Why wasn’t it given higher priority?

2) Capacity – As the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, we feel it is crucial that the Cathedral retain a maximum seating capacity, and in the form of traditional pews, not movable chairs. Chairs may be appropriate for a more modern interior than the Cathedral’s, but we feel strongly that the Diocese should make every effort to retain and honor the historicity of the Cathedral. It is, after all, a landmark of Albany architecture.

3) Baptismal Font – On the subject of architectural integrity, we feel that stationing the baptismal font in the center aisle is extremely ill-considered. It would impede movement up and down the center aisle for parishioners and clergy, and block the view of the altar from the rear of the church. We can think of nothing to recommend this particular aspect of the proposed plan, other than that it seems to have been necessary to fulfill the designer’s vision for moving pews to the side of the church where the font is currently located.

4) Floor plan – Again, in the interest of retaining the historical integrity of the Cathedral, we think any proposal for reconfiguring the interior should seek, as much as possible, to maintain its current seating “footprint,” that is, a traditional long aisle with pews (not chairs) on either side. On this note, we find it especially distressing that the Diocese’s plan call for the effective removal of some 60 pews from the church’s interior. As we have stated, we wholly support renovating the pews to make them more comfortable for our parishioners, but we would like to see the current layout of the church preserved.

5) Closing the Cathedral – Finally, we are deeply concerned that closing the Cathedral for the duration of the construction – which is optimistically estimated at two years (and anyone who has hired a contractor knows that construction projects are typically fraught with unexpected delays) – will have a lasting injurious impact on the Cathedral parish, both financial and communal. Our concern is that faced with the choice of worshipping in a nearby school gym or auditorium for 2+ years or simply joining another parish, many of our parishioners will opt for the latter.

This is not to impugn the loyalty of our parishioners. They reside in 54 different zip codes. Some of them travel long distances, bypassing their own neighborhood churches, to worship at the Cathedral. They are drawn to the grandeur, the beauty and, most important, to the unique charism of the Cathedral. However, if it is necessary to close the building for the duration of the construction, we fear that we would lose a good many of them. Some have already said as much, in plain language.

We would like to see the Diocese take whatever steps are necessary to keep the Cathedral open while the restoration of the Church interior is carried out. Our survival as a parish may well depend upon it. If temporarily relocating the Parish is unavoidable, we feel that there should be specific mechanisms in place to maintain the viability of the parish.

The above list comprises our chief concerns at this juncture. We hope you will weigh them carefully and respond to each of them.

At your last meeting with us on this subject, you pointed out that the Diocese, not the members of this parish, are in charge of this project, that you are “the client.” This, of course, is true. At the same time, we are the ones who donate time, effort, prayers, and, yes, money for the maintenance of the parish. It will be ours to maintain and support long after this construction project has been completed. We are the ones who will be most directly impacted by the plan the Diocese has proposed. Given that fact, we strongly feel that the Diocese should have taken a more collaborative approach in planning the redesign of the interior. This would have meant showing the parishioners a plan for the new interior at least two years before construction was scheduled to begin, rather than several months. As you can see, if you had done so, we would have expressed serious reservations. And you would have been in better position to incorporate them into your final plan.

This is not to say we have resigned ourselves to the plan you have shown us. On the contrary, we believe that if the Diocese would simply take a moment and hear the concerns of those who have most at stake in this matter, it can devise a solution that will be in everyone’s best interest.

Thank you for your time. We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours in Christ,

[signed: 14 members of the council]

[two members present at the meeting abstained]

Cc: Bishop Howard Hubbard

See also A Letter to Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.

Our Prayers

Aren't our prayers prayers that we do well enough that we won't have to pray?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Another Letter from Mary Tripoli

January 24, 2007

Yes Leo, I will keep you in my prayers. Look at Bishop Brown! The laity can move the needle with love and perseverance. One necessary ingredient is the ability to offer up much suffering. How is your strength? I certainly know that you have the brains! Pray of me too, Leo!

God bless you,

See also Indult or Insult? and A Letter from Mary Tripoli.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Letter to Bishop Howard J. Hubbard

This is a letter from a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, NY, concerning the planned re-ordering of the church’s interior. Anyone familiar with the work of Father Richard Vosko will not need graphics to picture the changes referred to in the letter, which appears here with the permission of its author.

. . . State Street
Albany, New York 12210
January 22, 2007

Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard
Bishop of Albany
40 North Main Avenue
Albany, New York 12203

Dear Bishop Hubbard,

This is a letter of respectful dissent to some of the interior plans for the cathedral, my parish for about 40 years.

I approved the exterior repair of the brownstone and contributed some appreciated stock to help in that effort. It seems that work still needs to be done on the exterior, surely the front steps.

My first concern deals with what will happen to the congregation if the church closes for two years. People will be disenchanted in worshipping in the school building and many will bond with a church near their homes.

Father Pape often refers to the fact of our coming from so many zip codes. There is no natural parish boundary after the mall and the cathedral family, like other urban groups, is fragile.

Secondly, some of Father Vosko’s ideas seem hostile to the integrity of a Victorian Gothic building. The architect’s vision should be mostly respected; it is a historical reading of its time.

With the encouragement of our pastor, we have been worshipping in a post-Vatican II atmosphere. We can pray and relate to each other no matter the antiquity of the setting. Rather, its historicity adds a rich dimension to current worship.

What if the great French cathedrals were modernized with every liturgical surge?

I have visited Irish churches which were ‘remuddled’ and they are sad physical testaments to unwise architectural reform. I rather feel John Mesick, whom I respect as a preservationist, would agree with me on the substance of the above.

To take out some of the pews, move the altar and install an elaborate new baptismal are not just aesthetically uncertain ideas; when work starts the contractors may find that these changes cannot be satisfactorily accomplished.

If more minor work was scheduled, might it be possible for the church to stay open?

One last idea, monies beyond those needed for essential repairs might be spent on the ‘social gospel’. The years ahead could be quite difficult for some of our parish family in the light of looming national problems: international debt and the short-changing of the poor, which aren’t going to magically turn around.

In summary, the electrical, floor, front steps, essential repairs should be budgeted and carried out, but a long, hard look should be taken of the architectural changes about which there is universal grave concern among the parishioners.

Most of the cathedral family is of the same mind as I.


Mrs. W— S—

See also Cathedral Pastoral Advisory Council Letter to the Diocese of Albany.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Secularism of the Heart

Churchmen complain about secularism. Their complaints and criticisms are all about secularism of the head. They never complain about secularism of the heart. No wonder: secularism of the heart dominates their own hearts.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Meditating on the Gospel has led me to believe that in some ways the first disciples experienced infatuation with the Messiah, and that their relationship with Him had to be purified and transformed beyond hero worship. Such growth in awareness was a necessary part of their training which would be put to its ultimate test on Good Friday. . . . The single person owes it to himself or herself to recognize infatuation and to grow beyond it quickly.
— Benedict Groeschel, The Courage to Be Chaste, 1985, 47.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Failure in Iraq

Potentially catastrophic consequences of failure demand that we do all we can to prevail in Iraq.
— Senator John McCain

After which, we shall probably still be failing, so start thinking now of how to deal with the potential consequences of failure.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Word of God

Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith,

To day if ye will hear his voice,

Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:

When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.

Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.

So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;

— Hebrews 7–14

To day if ye will hear his voice,

Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:

When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.

Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:

Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.

— Psalm 95:7–11

For Paul, the Holy Ghost did not speak differently in David’s time than in his own. The later revelation fulfilled, not superseded, the earlier. Christianity embraces Judaism.

The vision of coherence and connectedness that gave rise to biblical cross-references can plausibly be credited with one of the greatest social transformations of all time: the 19th-century abolition of slavery. The movement to ban first the slave trade and then slavery itself in the British Empire came from Quakers and other religious-minded men and women who understood the link between Exodus and Corinthians to mean that they were morally obliged to repeat the work of Moses as long as any individual people were enslaved, that every individual — not only one or another group of people — had been promised liberation by God. The slaves themselves, in their campaign for freedom, found in this connection both a promise of deliverance and an unanswerable rebuke to the slaveholders, who so manifestly failed to practice the religion they professed. To accept slavery was to sign up with Pharaoh. To fight against it was to obey the same imperatives that Moses obeyed.
— Edward Mendelson, The Word & the Web


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Civil Service Mural

The quotation at the bottom left is from Theodore Roosevelt:
The merit system of making appointments is in its essence as democratic and American as the common school system itself. It simply means that . . . applicants should have a fair field and no favor.

1. George Clinton  10. George William Curtis
2. DeWitt Clinton  11. Everett P. Wheeler
3. Martin Van Buren  12. Grover Cleveland
4. Thurlow Weed  13. Theodore Roosevelt
5. Thomas C. Platt  14. Horace White
6. Roscoe Conkling  15. Joseph Choate
7. Charles Guiteau  16. Elihu Root
8. James A. Garfield  17. Civil Service employees
9. Dorman B. Eaton

Cleveland was in the vanguard of the advocates for the preservation and protection of the Adirondacks, which was now a preferred place for the rare days of relaxation that he took. His notable efforts were a foretaste of those that soon fascinated the country under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt. As a member of the state assembly, Roosevelt had approved Cleveland’s initiative. In his turn, Cleveland had his eye on the young Roosevelt, who sponsored the bill creating the state civil service system. When it had passed [1883], Cleveland appointed a list of notable citizens to be members of the new civil service commission.
— Henry F. Graff, Grover Cleveland, 2002, 42.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Wright, Fadiman, Lewis

Winter 1945. Club night at the Valley Forge Military Academy, Wayne, Pennsylvania. . . . . Exercising the privilege of my rank for the first time in a cadet assembly, I say, “I’ve just read Richard Wright’s Black Boy. It’s a very important book. The most important work of fiction of our time. Wright’s autobiographical approach testifies to the fact that —” I pause for dramatic effect, struggling for Clifton Fadiman’s style and the elusive cliché of command — “American justice will never work until we are fair to the negroes.” I conclude with a quotation from the review I am writing for the Legionnaire campus weekly, “Black Boy is a must-read.”

— Sydney Offit, Memoir of the Bookie’s Son

Another student gets up and talks about reading Animal Farm. After the club meeting, Sid Offit learns that this is Michael Lewis, son of SL and DT (these passages are more interesting than the one I quote).

Friday, January 05, 2007

History in the Making

There was always a sense of “history in the making” at the major league games we attended. No matter how remote the possibilities, my brother and I clung to the hope of seeing a no-hitter, or a batter hit for the cycle or . . . could this be the year Feller would win thirty games? Our baseball registers were filled with records and local legends created by the recitations of uncles and neighbors whose greatest achievements seemed to have been seeing Babe Ruth batting at the height of his powers or Lefty Grove mowing them down.
— Sidney Offit Memoir of the Bookie’s Son


Romano Guardini versus populum

“If anywhere, then here, lack of purpose is the greatest power.”
Romano Guardini

If I wanted to explain in a few words what drew me and the small congregation that came from all parts of Berlin to Guardini’s Mass, it was simply this: He was a person who by his words and actions drew us into a world where the sacred became convincingly and literally tangible. His mere appearance radiated something for which I have no better word than luminous; in his presence one fell silent and became all attention. With him on the altar, the sacred table became the center of the universe. . . . The impact of the sacred action was all the more profound because Guardini celebrated the Mass versus populum — facing the people. It was a missa recitata, a Mass at which people responded aloud to the presider’s prayers, something still new in those days [the 1930s], and we, the congregation, were the altar boys and girls answering his invitations to prayer. . . .

It doesn’t matter . . . . that I found him unapproachable, even abrupt in social encounters, somewhat shy and unwilling to be drawn into anything resembling mere chitchat. What matters is that during those 30 or 40 minutes he gave us the sustenance that nourished us for another week of uncertainty, danger and fear, the strength to face Satan and his demons for another week, and that a mere evocation of his presence at the altar and of his words brought light even into our darkest moments of hopelessness or despair.

— Heinz R. Kuehn, Introduction to Kuehn, The Essential Guardini: An Anthology of the Writings of Romano Guardini, 1997, 7–8

Though palpable, Guardini’s power was palpable only to a few, and only in formal situations (Mass, lectures, writings). Compare The Eye of the Beholder.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


“I’m gonna pick him up, and I’m gonna give him one hundred dollars and tell him to get the hell out of our lives and stay out of our lives,” Jim told Joy.

Jim stormed out to the car, so angry the he was throbbing with the pain of it. But as he slid into the driver’s seat, the anger entirely disappeared. He had taken no deliberate action to calm himself. He had said no prayers, nor had he tried to bring his anger under control. If anything, he had fanned his rage. But the anger was gone, and in its place was compassion. Jim knew immediately that God had changed him. He picked up Michael and brought him home.

Jim would have loved to have been able to say that Michael never ran away again. But he did, and Jim and Joy took him back. But Jim believed that the moment his anger disappeared was the moment the healing began. Michael was eventually diagnosed with a treatable disorder. He married and had two children. He was an active member of the Unitarian Church and raised his children with a sense of the importance of spirituality in one’s life. Jim was proud of him. The thought of what would have happened had he followed through on his anger that day was both a dark reminder and a sign of hope.

— Englert, The Collar


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hope for Seminaries

and therefore also the Church:

Don wondered aloud about professors who explained Church teachings to their classes, then said, “But this is what I believe.” Don had seen this kind of thing done in the past, but he admitted that he hadn’t seen it happen recently. Without hesitation, Father Brackin said that this kind of teaching style was unacceptable. He read, “We create a learning environment based on mutual trust and respect for our theological expertise and the significance of students’ individual histories and diverse religious sensibilities.”

This had been a challenging concept for some of the faculty, Father Brackin acknowledged. He talked about the expectations many people had had in the 1960s and 1970s about the post-Vatican II unfolding of the Church. There had been a vision of what the Church would be like forty years after the council, he said, but the Church today didn’t resemble that vision. And since there had been a strong sense that the Holy Spirit had been driving change then, there was a temptation to reject any retrenchment. Sometimes students would take positions that looked like retrenchment, but the faculty must be willing to accept the possibility that a student’s life experiences and long years of living with his faith had cultivated wisdom and that wisdom had informed these opinions.

— Jonathan Englert, The Collar: A Year of Striving and Faith Inside a Catholic Seminary, 2006, 194–195

See also The Collar.

Dannenbaum on Barzun on Religion

In Barzun 100.