Monthly Archives: May 2011

Mother of Mine

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

Rudyard Kipling

To all mothers among our commenters, contributors and readership, the happiest of Mother’s Days! 

Osama bin Laden, Singing Chipmunks, Euroweenism and Internet Hitler


I like to regard myself as an American patriot, but I think I can see the flaws of the nation as well as its virtues.  One of its flaws can be a certain tackiness.  A minor example:  having cartoon chipmunks singing patriotic songs.  However, before I become too embarrassed for the land of my birth, I am usually strongly reminded by a news story why I greatly appreciate living in this country. 

Such a reminder occurred this week: Continue reading

“the Gaga-who-walks-among-us”

Blogging for the Jesuit national weekly America, Tom Beaudoin (associate professor of theology in the Graduate School of Religion at Fordham) indulges in speculation about the theological and cultural significance of … Lady Gaga, soliciting reflections from a new generation of budding scholars and theologians on Lady Gaga’s “ethos of ‘authenticity'” — as in the following, from a faculty member of Marymount School in NY:

But to think about incarnation in another way, imagine Gaga performing unplugged and sans makeup as her natural-born self. She would then be not the Gaga sanctified and worshipped as “Mother Monster” on a (media) pedestal, but the Gaga-who-walks-among-us, the one who knows and understands the pain of being freak, outcast, and reject.

Recall the furor back in 2005 when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the direction of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, gave the order to dismiss Fr. Thomas J. Reese, former editor of America. The CDF has been long concerned about the Jesuit publication’s promotion of positions on moral issues often in conflict with Catholic teaching. And insofar as the heterodox theological output of America was taken seriously, the Vatican’s concerns seemed warranted.

But in this case, I would encourage Mr. Beaudoin and company to keep up the good work.


Melkite Patriarch: Don’t Encourage Arab Revolutions – Benjamin Mann, CNA

How Rembrandt Reinvented Jesus – Dan Neil, The Wall Street Journal

Beverley Minster & Saint John of Beverley – Stephanie A. Mann, TER:S&S

Pakistan Church Scared, Revenge Attacks Will Come – Nasir Saeed, Cth Hrld

God’s Grandma Made Patron Saint of Detroit – Diane M. Korzeniewski O.C.D.S.

Sears Removes Pornographic DVDs from Their Website – Joshua Mercer, CV

Charges Dropped Against Notre Dame-Obama Speech Protestors – S. Ertelt

Same-Sex Debate in New York – Bobby Ross Jr., Get Religion

John Paul II and the Jesuits – Giuseppe Ambrose, The Three Bs

New Book on Canon Law – John Whitehead, Once I Was A Clever Boy

The Story of Each One of Us – Father R. Tomasek S.J., Zeal

Girl Freaks Out Against Pro-Life Display – Matthew Archbold, Crtv Min. Rep.


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Ave Maria

Something for the weekend.  Schubert’s Ave Maria sung by Andrea Bocelli.  May is the month of Mary, something I always like to keep in mind during the month. Continue reading

Narcissism in Music (or, “How Gregorian Chant can Save the World”)

Last week National Public Radio ran a story called “Narcissism on Rise in Pop Music Lyrics.” It opened up with,

On this very day in 1985, the number one song on the Billboard Top 100 was…”We Are the World” (“We are the world. We are the children.”)  Fast-forward to 2007 when Timbaland’s “Give It to Me” featuring Nelly Furtado topped the charts: “…love my a$$ and my abs in the video for ‘Promiscuous.’ My style is ridiculous.”

So more than two decades ago, we were holding hands and swaying to a song of unity, and these days, we’re bouncing to pop stars singing about how fabulous they are.  Psychologist Nathan DeWall has had the pleasure of listening to it all for research, and he found that lyrics in pop music from 1980 to 2007 reflect increasing narcissism in society. And DeWall is an associate psychology professor at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. DeWall proceeded to explain:

I was listening to a song that, really, one of my favorite bands, Weezer, had on one of their albums recently, and it’s called “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” and I kept wondering, who would actually say that out loud?  “I am the greatest man that ever lived. I was born to give and give and give.”

The ironic thing is it’s a song about how I’m the greatest person in the world, but it’s to the tune of “‘Tis A Gift To Be Simple,” which is a song about humility. And so what I wanted to do, instead of relying on self-report measures of personality like narcissism, I wanted to actually go into our culture, our cultural products, which are tangible artifacts of our cultural environment. And so, for that, I thought maybe song lyrics would be a very good jumping-off spot.

What we found over time is that there’s an increasing focus on me and my instead of we and our and us. So, for example, instead of talking about love being between we and us and us finding new things together, it’s mostly about how, you know, for example, Justin Timberlake in 2006 said, “I’m bringing sexy back. Yeah. Them other boys don’t know how to act. Yeah.”

There is no doubt that DeWall is correct.  Pop music is becoming more narcissistic.  The broader, age old question is: Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?  The answer is probably some of both.  Our culture is increasingly narcissistic.  In the spirit of the NPR article, which was about music, I wish to propose a possible antidote for narcissism: the liturgy, specifically liturgical music.

Unfortunately, we must first distinguish between music that might be heard in any given liturgy and liturgical music, properly speaking.  While the Catholic Church has been plagued with bad versions of the four-hymn sandwich for decades, the fact remains that Holy Mother Church has given us a liturgical hymnbook: The Graduale Romanum,  In this book, one will find the ancient Gregorian chants.  But what many will be surprised to find is that the Church has given us specific chants for every Sunday of the year in the places that we currently sing “hymns.”  For any given Mass, there are prescribed chants for the Introit (think here of the “Opening Hymn” you are used to hearing), the Gradual (“Responsorial Psalm”), the Offertorio (“Offertory”), and the Communio (“Communion Song”).  Most of these date back more than a thousand years.  Of course, in the Graduale Romanum, one will find the chant written in Latin.  However, vernacular versions of these exist.  What is key is that the liturgical rubrics, while they permit hymns, call for a preference given to these chants.  Vatican II itself held that the Gregorian chant tradition should enjoy a “pride of place” in our liturgies.

Why do I see this as an antidote for narcissism?  The surest way to deal with this problem is to give people the sense that they are not the center of reality, nor are they the source.  The Cartesian turn to the subject has flipped classical metaphysics on its head so that people come to view reality as what is in their own minds rather than what their minds encounter on the outside.  The liturgy is a reality that is given to us, not one that is created by us.  In fact, it is in the liturgy itself that we find our own fulfillment.  When we go to Mass, we participate in reality itself, something that is much bigger than us.  If we see the Liturgy as something that we fit into rather than something that fits into our lives, we can come to understand that we are not the center of reality: God is.

The problem is, as has been observed on several observations over the past decade, there is an increasing narcissism even within the liturgy itself: both priests and people come to think that the liturgy is something that can be created and recreated with the fickle winds of changing culture.  In fact, the lack of narcissistic language in the new translation of the Roman Missal has been pointed out in comparison with the current, defective translation.  Currently, there are several places in the texts that seem to order God to do certain things and to give a primacy to the people over the divine.  The new translation, being more faithful to the Latin, has sought to correct many of these errors.  What remains to be fixed is the same problem in the hymns that are often chosen for Sunday worship.  Many of the modern hymns focus on man rather than God (think here of “Gather Us In,” or the ever-elusive “Sing a New Church Into Being”).  Quite simply, these hymns are self-centered rather than God-centered.

Contrast this with the use of the Graduale Romanum.  These chants have been given to us by the Church, each carefully constructed around sacred texts in order to serve as a sort of lectio divina for the readings of the day.  Indeed, when Gregorian chant is properly performed, it seems as if it is not of this world.  Part of that is due to the inherent structure of the music, for chant lacks a strict meter (though it has an internal rhythm of its own).  Unlike a hymn, which marches forward towards a climactic conclusion, chant allows the listener to rest in contemplation, a mirror of the eternity which we, God willing, will experience someday.  But another part is due to the words, which become primary (unlike modern pop music, where the words are often a later add-on to an already existing rhythm/chord structure).

Perhaps the most important point, however, is the fact that the music of the Mass inevitably (forgive the pun) sets the tone of the entire celebration.  It stands to reason, then, if we employ a music that is provided for us by the Church (not to mention encouraged by the rubrics), then the people will better understand that the liturgy itself is given and not created.  If they come to understand the liturgy, which is the objective center of reality, in this manner, then they will come to see that they are not the center of reality.  Thus, my rapid fire, probably incomplete, but hopefully coherent, argument that an antidote for the rise in narcissism is Gregorian Chant.  Save the liturgy, save the world.

Gather Us In, A Bad Song Is Playing

A reader writes into Fr. Z to ask why Gregorian Chant is to be preferred at Mass to hymns like “Gather Us In” which the reader, a newly minted Catholic, happens to like.  Fr. Z responds here, and the commenters also chime in with responses that hit the mark.

Fr. Z writes:

As a preamble, music for liturgical worship is not a mere add on or decoration.  It is liturgical worship.  Therefore the texts used should be sacred texts.  The texts of those ditties mentioned in the question are not sacred, liturgical texts.  They are not the prayer of the Church.

He then discusses the quality of the hymns under discussion.  This is a more subjective argument.  After all, there are people who think the hymns located in the Gather hymnal are quite extraordinary.  I question the sanity of such people, but that’s neither here nor there.  This is a country that consistently puts American Idol at the top of the ratings, so I’m obviously a bit out of the loop with my musical tastes.

Besides, even non banal hymns seem out of place in our liturgy.  On Holy Thursday I attended Mass at St. Mathew’s Cathedral.  As always, it was a beautiful, reverent, and yes, Novus Ordo liturgy.  I don’t remember the entrance hymn.  It was a nice hymn – something more fitting than one of the turds from the Gather hymnal.  And yet there was something a bit off.  It was a fairly upbeat hymn, and as Cardinal Wuerl incensed the altar it just felt jarring.  Here is this solemn moment marking the beginning of the Triduum, and the accompanying music just does not fit what is happening up there in the sanctuary.  It’s the sort of thing that just snaps you out of the moment, and that’s the problem.

The liturgy is prayer, not entertainment.  The reason that these hymns are generally inappropriate, no matter the quality, is that they simply don’t fit in with what’s supposed to be happening.  Instead of amplifying our prayers they drown them out.  That’s why I find the incessant need to have some kind of music playing at all times whenever there is more than five seconds of silence so frustrating.  You’ve all probably heard organists vamp when the hymn ends before the Priest has reached the sanctuary, or after Communion when not all have returned to their places.  Why can’t he or she just let silence reign for a few minutes?  Why is there such a need for constant noise, especially when it does not fit in appropriately with that moment in the liturgy?


US: House Passes Permanent Ban on Abortion Funding – Kevin J. Jones, CNA

Does State of the World’s Mothers Rep. Show Best Performers? – C. Moynihan

Out of the Porn Darkness – Austin Ruse, The Catholic Thing

Consort Profile: Empress Maria Theresa of Austria – The Mad Monarchist

The Great Lie: Pope Benedict XVI On Socialism – Father Robert Sirico, IC

Cool Discovery About the Birth of Christ! – Jimmy Akin,

Vocations in the Wake of Scandal – Monsignor Charles Pope, Archd. of Wash.

US: Historian or Fraud? – Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Get Religion

Vatican Pledges Penal Measures Against Canadian Bishop – Zenit

‘Viewpoint-Based Restriction’ – California Catholic Daily

Alaskan Bishops Listen to Victims in Effort to Bring Healing – Effie Caldarola

Pres. Obama is Right About Osama: ‘Justice Has Been Done’ – Wm Oddie, CH


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Controlling Catholic Media

One of the notable things about Catholicism is that it has a central teaching authority such that it is possible to say with a fair degree of certainty (at least on many doctrinal topics), “The Church teaches X” or “The Church does not accept Y as true.” By comparison, if you want to say something about “What Muslims believe” or “What Baptists believe” much less “What Buddhists believe”, the best you can do is a cite a number of authorities and recognize what the preponderance of them appear to say. (Even this gets very tricky, as different people will have different standards as to who is an acceptable authority.)

Given this, Catholics often suggest it would be a good idea if there were more quality control over who got to go around labeling things as Catholic. Conservatives sometimes ask why it is that Notre Dame and Georgetown are still allowed to call themselves Catholic universities, and make noises that someone should “do something” about publications like Commonweal and National Catholic Reporter. On the flip side, once and a while one hears more left-leaning Catholics ask why it is that the bishops don’t do something to about the largely right-leaning Catholic blogsphere, or reign in venues such as EWTN or Real Catholic TV.
Continue reading

The ‘Eathen

The fourth in my ongoing examinations of the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.  The other posts in the series may be read here, here and here.  Kipling was a passionate man in his likes and dislikes, and always wore his heart firmly attached to his sleeve.  Throughout his career he championed the rankers and non-commissioned officers in the British Army.  He rightly thought that the men who were at the sharp end of the stick in battle often got the short end of the stick outside of battle.  Kipling never forgot about them, and he made certain his readers never forgot about them, making them the subject of many of his poems, books and short stories, and constantly reminding the British that their nation and empire relied upon the raw courage of men too often regarded as scum by civilians.  Kipling didn’t romanticize them, he knew them too well for that, but he did recognize their virtues as well as their vices, and honored them for the courage and good humor with which most of them went about their dangerous tasks.  One of my favorite poems of Kipling is The ‘Eathen, written by Kipling in 1895, which is Kipling’s salute to the British non-com, and a searching look at how a slum recruit becomes a good one. Continue reading


The Removal of Bp. Morris Was a Long Time Coming – Noel Debien, ABC

Ask Tony: Monsignors & Cardinals – Anthony S. Layne, The Impractical Cth

US: Why ‘Republican’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Catholic’ – Joe Heschmeyer, Shmlss Ppry

There Be Dragons, in 30 Seconds! – Steven D. Greydanus, Nat’l Cth Register

You Know Who are Really Obsessed with God? Atheists. – Carl Olson, IIS

Has Science Buried God? – William West, MercatorNet

Themis – Tom Howard, InsideCatholic

The Exegesis of the Reformers: Authority Redux – Doctor Jeff Mirus, Cth Cltr

US: New CCHD Youth Campaign to Fight Poverty – Tancred, The Epnyms Flwr

Community Col. Cops Settle Lawsuit Over Arrests of Pro-Lifers – Cal Cth Dly

Grace is Not Rationed – Father Philip Neri Powell O.P. Ph.D., DDMHA!

Because of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Thoughts On War – Frank Weathers, YIMC


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Save Us From the saVE Act

You might think that the following snippet is from The Onion.  Oh, that it were.

A new law proposed in the Senate would require universities to have stricter policies against sexual harassment and have mandatory relationship training–and some free speech groups say there are problems with the law.

Earlier this month, Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced the Campus Sexual Violence Act (The Campus saVE Act) which would require universities to enforce new disciplinary guidelines against crimes of sexual violence. The law would amend the existing Clery Act, passed in 1990, which requires universities to report all crimes committed on campus.

While the law attempts to define and combat all manners of sexual harassment, it would also require all incoming freshman and university employees to attend mandatory classes on dating and healthy relationships.

There’s really one reaction appropriate for something like this.

Continue reading

George Washington and the Divine Author of Our Blessed Religion


A contemplation of the compleat attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object for which we contended against so formidable a power cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverance of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.

                                                                       George Washington

In 1783 the Revolutionary War was coming to a close, Washington now waiting for negotiations to conclude and the British to evacuate New York.  On June 8, 1783 he sent a circular letter out to the states discussing his thoughts on the importance of the states remaining united, paying war debts, taking care  of the soldiers who were wounded in the war and the establishment of a peace time military and the regulation of the militia.  It is an interesting document and may be read here

Washington ends the letter with this striking passage: Continue reading


The Miracle of Caring and Sharing – Mark Shea, National Catholic Register

Permanent Deacons Taking Role Away From Priests – Father John Zuhlsdorf

Infiltration Evangelization – Giuseppe Ambrose, The Three Bs

Of All the Rutten Ideas (Tim Rutten of the LA Times) – Phil Lawler, CC/OTC

If JP2 Can Be a Saint, Really, Anybody Can – John Norton, Our Sunday Visitor

Getting Off the Misery-Go-Round of Scrupulosity – Trent Beattie, Cthlc Lane

Vatican Surprises Bloggers with Successful Meeting – Father Tim Finigan

On Infertility and Adoption – This Cross I Embrace

Imminence, Unlawful Aggressors, & Proportionality in Self-Defense – M. D.

Things are Getting Airbrushed – Rich Leonardi, Ten Reasons

Congr’l Black Caucus Nuts in Asking Tax $ to Pay for Abortions – Lisa Graas

Why Religion Matters – Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service


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Osama bin Laden and 1848

In 1848 the quiet of mid-nineteenth century Europe was shattered in a wave of revolutions throughout the continent.  Beginning in France in February, a wave of revolutions began that would ultimately engulf 50 states in Europe and Latin America.  Some succeeded and some failed, but at the end Europe and the world was a very different place.  People who lived through this stunning year wrote with disbelief as well established governments were suddenly toppled by popular uprisings.  History often proceeds at a fairly stately pace, and change can be imperceptible.  At other times History moves with a lightning pace and dramatic changes occur almost literally over night.  In 1989 we saw a similar year of revolutions in Eastern Europe  where the Communist regimes vanished like chaff before a driving wind.  The Arab world is experiencing a similar year of revolution this year, and the year is but little more than a third gone as of this writing.

Thus far governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen have been toppled.  Libya is in the grip of civil war.  The Syrian government is making war against its own people as a popular uprising continues.  Major protests have occurred in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Morocco and Oman and minor protests, so far, in Djibouti, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauretania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Western Sahara.  In the age of the internet, blogs, facebook, twitter and ubiquitous cell phones, it is simply no longer possible for most autocratic regimes to keep their peoples ignorant of developments around the globe, and with each government that falls the movement grows throughout the Arab world to replace highly unpopular dictatorial regimes.  Continue reading

Choosing Hell

This post originally ran (I’ve cleaned up a few typos, but otherwise left it unchanged) back in 2006, but the topic has been on my mind, and having found it via Google while researching the topic of the Fundamental Option I decided to rerun this one rather than writing a new one.

Quite some time back, Pontifications ran a post about the theory of “fundamental option”, which it seems is the theological term for the idea that one’s salvation is based upon a fundamental choice that one makes either for or against God.

This image for the determination of one’s salvation has a certain utility in that it is simple and evocative. C. S. Lewis uses it in The Last Battle, where all of Narnia’s creatures face Aslan and swerve either to his right (with loving expressions) or to his left (with hate in their eyes). And yet, like any image or illustration, applying it absolutely leads to distortion. The ‘encounter God and choose’ image helps to emphasize that God’s judgment is not some arbitrary judgment imposed upon us. It also helps to explain how someone externally appearing to have sinned many times might be saved, while someone who to all appearances led a virtuous life, yet held pride in his heart, might reject God and be condemned. And yet, taken as an absolute of ‘salvation by choice alone’ the theory of ‘fundamental option’ becomes just as much a heresy as ‘salvation by faith alone’.
Continue reading

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