Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation

Pope Francis has issues an Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), in which he outlines many of the themes he's been voicing and will likely continue to voice and develop.

From what I have read, he is not saying anything new or substantially different from what other Popes have said - but the secular media is treating it as a "bombshell;" I suspect they have not been paying attention! What sets this apart is it's said in his own particular style, which may help people to notice what he has to say just as they ignored similar pronouncements from his predecessors..

He criticizes rampant capitalism of the libertarian strain - as did, for example, Pope John Paul II. He reiterates the concept of the preferential option for the poor. He calls for just treatment of workers. He clearly states the Church's opposition to abortion and support for the sanctity of life. He addresses slavery and other forms of human trafficking, and the dignity of women. He discusses relations with other denominations and religions.

There's so much more. I have to read it all. But one of my favorite quotes addresses the notion that people of faith should just focus on their private devotional life and not comment on what's happening in the world:

"It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven."

Ah, yes.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

C. S. Lewis - his legacy will last

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis.

It's also the anniversary of the death of John Kennedy, whose tragic death overshadowed that of Lewis.

Both men had an impact on the world, but I think that in the long run, Lewis's legacy will be greater.

Kennedy's legacy is based on his incomplete term as President. The record was mixed - but his assassination and the emotional impact of his death overwhelmed objectivity in assessing that record. He's a martyr, a romantic tragic figure. I suspect that when the dust of history settles he will be judged somewhere in the second tier of presidents (in the 14/15 range). One has to wonder  what he would have achieved had he finished out his term - and, as I suspect he would have - served out a second term.

But Lewis has only grown in stature since his death. His Mere Christianity is ranked as one of the spiritual classics of the 20th Century. His Chronicles of Narnia books and The Screwtape Letters also rank high. They -  and a number of his other books - continue to sell briskly and to influence people. Many people have discovered or rediscovered faith through his works, and, through the case of Narnia, the movies made from them.

I suspect years from now people will still be reading and cherishing his writings.

Long after Kennedy's achievements are relegated to the history books.

Pax et bonum

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November windstorm

neighbor's raked lawn now
covered with leaves from my lawn -
November windstorm

Pax et bonum

Friday, November 15, 2013

Francis Fatigue

I admit it.

I'm suffering from Francis Fatigue.

I'm not being critical of Pope Francis. I like him. I'm interested in what he is doing and saying.

The problem is that because he does not use Carefully Couched Vatican Speak, or does spontaneous things, he is constantly being interpreted, translated, mistranslated, nuanced, distorted, and so on. Then folks on the left and right jump up and down and declare "He's on our side!" or "He's a danger to the Church!"

Meanwhile, non-Church people - like, most recently, Sarah Palin - base their comments on the way the secular media and folks in both extremes represent what he said and did. (Palin did acknowledge at the time that she was basing her concern on what's been reported, and later, apparently apologized.)

And then defenders have to come out to explain what he said and what he meant. Meanwhile some people - like some politicians looking for an out - vote against Church teachings because it seems as if Pope Francis gave them wiggle room.

As for me, I keep getting people asking me questions about whatever the latest news flash is.

I've gotten to the where I don't want to read news reports or commentaries about him. I inwardly sigh when people ask me my views.

Oh, I'll still read. I'll still answer when it seems the other person is sincere and not interested in starting a debate.

But I'm beginning to sense the same burned-out feelings I felt back in the 90s when I was a Catholic journalist for a diocesan paper in a deeply divided diocese.

I ultimately quit that job in frustration, and thought of leaving the Church.

It's not that bad now. But boy, I'm in a grumbling mood.

Thank God for my Franciscan Fraternity meeting tonight!

Pax et bonum

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

There is a genre of teen fiction I call the "Afflicted Teen Novel."

In the books of this genre, one or more of the sensitive teen characters are dealing with various afflictions - mental illness, drug addiction, abuse, suicidal thoughts, some disease, a physical disability, and so on.

In the worst of the books, we get a superficial and perhaps even improbable plot, a lot of whining, dense/smothering/absent parents, smart alec banter, and, very often, gratuitous abuse of drugs/alcohol and some sex.

In the best, we get some of the same teen fiction conventions, but in more restrained doses or they actually make sense given the characters or plot, and some depth of thought and feeling.

Some of the latter even get raised to the level of "literature" - think Catcher in the Rye.

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, falls into the second category, with cancer being the affliction of the moment.

It includes some of the usual teen affliction novel clich├ęs, but handles them reasonably well, is not too unbelievable in terms of plot, and even includes intelligent references to literature - the title is a play on a line from Julius Caesar, and there are citations from William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, and a Shakespearean sonnet, and discussion of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Heck, there's even a reclusive writer whose book touches teen souls (Salinger?).

It remains to be seen if it will be embraced the way Catcher was, but it is certainly a far better read that most of the books in the genre - or even many adult works of so-called literature being foisted on us these days.

And oh boy, there's a movie coming out.

Green is a good writer, so it's an enjoyable read (if a book about people suffering and dying from cancer can be called enjoyable). Yes, there are bits of it that seem a little implausible. And the sarcastic lead teens and reclusive writer all tend to talk in the same smart alec well-read intelligent way - there were times I wondered if I could remove the name of who was speaking and not be sure which of the three was wise cracking and profounding at me. But I did want to read on, and not just to get it over with as I do with some books. Some of the dialogue really is clever and amusing. Some of the feelings and thoughts of the narrator came across as genuine and realistic.

A confession: I read the book only because several people had recommended that I put it on my senior English independent reading list among all the heavy works there (Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Conrad, etc.) to give a little variety and as something the less-motivated readers might actually read.  (Did I mention there's a movie coming out - a sure way to get teens reading?) I didn't add it to the list officially, but I said I would allow some other books if students came requesting them individually, and some girls did ask for permission to read it, which I granted. Book reports are due next week so I figured I better get to it.

Having read it, I can see why it is popular and recommended. But I do have some reservations. The language is sometimes vulgar, though not consistently or blatantly offensively so, and, sadly, realistic for many teens. There is a loss-of-virginity moment involving a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old that's handled discreetly, though as if it's a normal part of dating life and separated from moral implications. I'm sure it will get praise for the use of a condom - SAFE SEX! - but also that few will notice the fuller implications of the choice the young couple makes and its potential influence on young readers.

I don't know if I will permit it next year. Still mulling that one over.

I also don't know if, given the genre, adults will want to read this book unless, like me, they have to.

But given that 50 Shades of Gray and its vile sequels are still on  best seller lists, this book would be a better choice. There's no perverse sex, and some Shakespeare gets sprinkled in.

Pax et bonum

A Salute to Dad and all veterans

On this day I honor my father - a Korean War veteran - and all those who honorably served their countries.

Yes, I know not all wars have been just, but many men and women were not aware of or caught up in all the debates. They just did their duty to their nation, and they did it to the best of their abilities.

I respect that.

As for Dad, he never talked too much about what he did during the war. I know he was an underwater demolition expert. I know there were some missions behind enemy lines before landings. I know he was injured. I know he lost some friends. I know he had some medals and decorations; I found them once, but he quietly put them away and didn't want to talk about them.

I also know he was a fleet heavyweight boxing champion. I know his boxing career ended when a pro heavyweight boxing champion trounced him in an exhibition match. I know he made lots of money from card games - in his last years in the nursing home part of our Sunday ritual was to play cards, and even after the strokes he was a sharp player up until the last few months. I know that a stop in Scotland led to him meeting and later marrying a certain Scottish lass. I know the story about one man who dared to flirt with his newlywed bride, and the former fleet boxing champion came home, found out, tracked the guy down and laid him out (dad never told me that one, mom did, with a gleam in her eye!). I know his last duty was in Boston which meant I was born in the naval hospital there and can claim Boston as my place of birth. Thanks to Dad I am a life-long Red Sox fan.

I salute you Dad.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Johnny Cash - Ain't No Grave

I was listening to Cash's last album as I was grading a set of papers.

Don't worry - the music did not influence the grades!

Pax et bonum

Great Audrey Assad interview

Singer/songwriter/musician Audrey Assad - currently on my loaded in my car cd player - gave an insightful interview in the Nov. 5 The Catholic World Report. If you haven't discovered her music, check out some of her videos online - then think about buying her albums. Fortunate Fall is wonderful for prayer time.

You gotta love a modern young woman who lists Leo Tolstoy as her favorite author - and then names as others Jane Austen, Sigrid Undset, and C.S. Lewis.

And I appreciate her comments about "Christian music."

Making music that is not intended for Church use, but is intended only for Christian listeners, is not a Catholic approach to art and never has been, in my opinion. Let’s learn from the mistakes of Christian subculture in the West and seek to achieve something brighter, higher, and better—let’s be artists, makers, and creators out in the culture doing good work with the best of them, witnessing in our very pursuit of excellence and integrity to the Beauty that is most full in the Sacrament. Let’s not be followers, but leaders. And above all let’s not use “Christian” or “Catholic” as marketing terms, speaking only to our own, and “being combers of sheep”, as Pope Francis put it.* I think we would impact the culture at a much deeper level if we learned to be great at what we do and stopped sitting around combing each other’s hair—er, fleece. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it!

Pax et bonum

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mayor of New York out to get pro-lifers

The un-Democratic Party's death march apparently continues with a new operative.

NY Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has reportedly said that he's going to help Planned Parenthood and related death merchants to expand their disservices, and that he's going to go after pro-life pregnancy centers.

Vile. But typical of the path being taken by the Party of Death.

Pax et bonum

Thursday, November 7, 2013

He's not even installed, and already ...

Bishop Salvatore Matano isn't scheduled to be installed as Bishop of Rochester until January 3, but already the pickers of nits on the left and the right are searching for nits on him to pick.

Too conservative. Not enough parish-level pastoral experience. Too many ties to the hierarchy. Shielded diocesan assets during the sex abuse settlements in Vermont.

Someone even made a crack about his hair. Oh, and he's short.

And, of course, there are the gratuitous digs at Bishop Emeritus Matthew Clark.

Jeesh. Give Bishop Matano a chance to get here and get his suitcase unpacked.

Then you can crucify him.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Habemus Episcopi

Today we learned of our new bishop, Bishop Salvatore Matano. He is set to be installed January 3.

I don't know much about him - I'll have to do some digging!

Pax et bonum

Sunday, November 3, 2013

No Shave November? Capuchins got ya!

Pax et bonum

"Life" counts even in local elections

I live in a town that's run by a supervisor and a town board. Whenever there is an election, I always study the candidates' stance on the issues as stated in ads and on their websites. If they come campaigning to my door, I always ask questions.

One issue I always consider and raise is abortion.

I've gotten some puzzled responses. After all, the town board doesn't vote on laws directly related to abortion.

But that doesn't mean the town board - or a city council, or a school board - doesn't vote on issues related to abortion.

Suppose Dr. Death wants to open a practice providing abortion services in the town. The board may not vote directly on whether or not abortions can be performed, or can't put limits on abortion, but it can make zoning decisions. A town board might be able to effectively block the opening of a death center. Similarly, the board could rule on zoning issues regarding a Planned Parenthood clinic.

A board could vote on measures regarding buffer zones for pro-life prayer vigils and even protests.

A board could vote on what services to contract with to give presentations in youth programs. Planned Parenthood likes to offer "health" talks during which they promote their pro-abortion, pro-contraceptive views, so a town board member can have a say about whether to allow them into the youth center to speak, for example. When it comes to school boards, they can decide who comes into the schools to speak. I remember a public school where I taught where they contracted with Planned Parenthood, and the PP representatives blatantly distorted the facts when it came to abstinence and birth control. When I challenged the PP representatives, they admitted they had not told the truth, but argued that young people would not be able to understand the full truth.

In some towns, they regularly pass measures in support of or opposed to various issues or to honor individuals. They are non-binding measures, but they still send a message. So a town board member could then propose or oppose measures that tread into the abortion waters.

And some of those town board members will later run for higher office - county legislature, state legislature, Congress, and more. We want to give them the message right from the start that life is an important issue. We want pro-lifers starting up the political ladder so that we can turn this country around.

So as we vote for town board, school board, city council, we need to keep "Life" in mind.

Pax et bonum

Nit picking a candidate's grammar

In a recent article concerning women candidates/elected officials in New York state, Lovely Warren, the winner of the Democratic primary for mayor in Rochester, N.Y. - and given the party control of the city, the likely winner in the general election - observed of political women who went before, “I think we have just started to turn the tide in politics, and we stand on the shoulders of many other great women that have ran for offices in New York state.”

Have ran?

Given that it was an interview for which she presumably was prepared, as opposed to an off-the-cuff remark, her grammatical slip is regrettable. Now I'm an English teacher, and when I'm talking in front of my class I make errors. In private conversations, we all break the rules. But for an interview, for something that's going to be published, I would be far more circumspect. Moreover, having heard her speak before, this kind of an error is not an anomaly.

But  what makes this really embarrassing is that part of her campaign is the deplorable state of the Rochester City School district. How can she credibly speak about improving the English scores on standardized tests - Rochester ranked at the bottom of the state results - when she speaks in public like this? What kind of an example is she setting for grammatically-challenged youth?

Oh, and don't give me "Black English" argument. She was speaking publicly to a multi-ethnic reading audience. Good grammar counts. Impressions count.

I also wondered about why our local paper not only included the quote, but also chose to use it as a pull quote. Did they not recognize the error? Did they not care? Were they trying to make her look less educated?

Maybe she will be fine mayor. Maybe she will be forgiven for minor grammatical errors like some regular foot-in-mouth politicians (Joe Biden, for example). But given her political allies, the way she has handled her election campaign, and the enormity of the task she faces in a troubled city with a dysfunctional school district, I'm not overly optimistic.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Brother Slug Opining `bout Dining

Our local newspaper today offered an article about dressing up the dinner table. It contained all sorts of tips about searching for and creating decorations, presentation, and so on.
The more I read of the gushing prose, the more my snorting side reared its unpleasant head.

For me, dining is about eating to fill my stomach and feed my body. I want good food well prepared, but it certainly does not have to be gourmet. Macaroni and cheese is just fine, for example, and that cheese doesn't have to be imported cheddar. Or the broccoli I love can be prepared simply - steamed or stir fried, for example - without a special sauce you need hours to prepare.

As for presentation - I'm just going to shove that food in my mouth. It doesn't matter how pretty it looks. I barely notice that. Nor do I need crystal and fine china - a plastic cup and a paper plate work. Heck, some nights when I'm eating alone I just eat right out of the pan the food was cooked in. Fancy linens and napkins - you just have to wash them anyway.

I like manners, for they help to make the eating go more pleasantly - I hate to be around noisy slurpers or people who blow their noses at the table, urgh! - but it doesn't have to involve all the folderol and rules about things like which fork to use and so on.

Now I'm not mocking the people who are into such things. If it makes them happy, fine, I'm happy for them.

I can even accept there are special occasions when you doll things up - I love Babette's Feast.

But for the kind of regular dining the article was talking about, I don't think there's any reason to waste money and time on all that fluff: Just give me my grub.

Pax et bonum