Saturday, September 10, 2016

Random Thoughts

-- In my experience, there are three areas where people consistently feel exceedingly pleased with themselves, regardless of justification: (1) driving; (2) in bed; (3) performing field sobriety tests.

--  As the daughter of a combat veteran, I have always been suspicious of anyone whose tongue wags too freely about their alleged combat experiences.  Persons who hold forth to casual acquaintances about "atrocities" they committed overseas are, I believe, worthy only to be dismissed out of hand as liars.  Persons who speechify about the deaths of buddies as a means of drawing attention to themselves or making excuses for their own failures were probably in the rear with the gear, if indeed they were ever near the combat zone in question.  Now, there is nothing wrong with being in the rear with the gear: somebody has to be, and the soldier on the front line could not function or survive without such.  But if that is where you served, then say so and stick with the truth.  Real combat veterans don't say much about their experiences at all, except maybe to other combat veterans; and they would be ashamed to capitalize on the deaths of their friends for selfish purposes.

-- When I was a kid, my afternoon cartoons were periodically interrupted by a PSA warning us against -- of all things -- not drowning our food in sauces and dressings.  I of course am guilty as charged.  I have even taken to making my own ranch dressing so that I can control the calorie content while still enjoying volume.  But my biggest downfall is butter.  Fortunately, butter in reasonable amounts is good for you -- unlike margarine, which is basically plastic and deposits itself like silt on the human midsection.  But somebody needs to get busy and invent a negative-calorie butter so I can have the unreasonable amounts I want.

-- And speaking of cartoons, a lot of the ones I grew up on that were produced in the '30s, '40s and '50s are considered anathema today, mostly because they made fun of people's ethnicities.  Now, the world would not be a better place if we could just get back to the halcyon days of belittling ethnic minorities with impunity.  Still, we did not make a better world by trading that state of affairs in for one which has everyone living in dread of transgressing the ever-shifting and often invisible rules against giving offense.

-- If you are couch-surfing, and can't hold down a job, and have a string of drug- or alcohol-related convictions on your record, then maybe -- just maybe -- you are not as smart as you think you are.

-- The liberals' claim that illegal immigrants do jobs Americans are not willing to do is false.  Of course Americans are willing to do those jobs.  I myself have done those sorts of jobs.  What Americans are not willing to do is work for slave wages.  So what the liberals -- and, by the way, big business -- are really saying is that we need a permanent underclass of fellow human beings who can be exploited on account of their willingness to be paid less than their labor is worth.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Defrauding a worker of his just wage is one of the four sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance.

-- And speaking of defrauding workers, there is more to the concept of a living wage than merely making employers pay people more money.  A living wage requires a just society that does not confiscate excessive amounts of people's dollars or the value of those dollars.  What is really necessary is a return to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity -- the running of affairs by the smallest, most local unit of competent authority capable of handling them.  The absence of subsidiarity is immoral.  The usurpation of local functions by big government requires massive taxation.  A social structure that diverts so much wealth away from the individuals who earn it, until they can no longer advance materially, support themselves and their families, or maintain themselves in a condition worthy of their human dignity, is evil.

-- And speaking of the welfare state: it seems that a good many decent people support the concept of the welfare state out of a belief that, without the state's coercive police power, no one would ever care for the poor and needy.  But in a Christian society, this is a lie.  Long before we got FDR's New Deal or LBJ's Great Society, the Catholic Church was a powerhouse of charity, operating untold numbers of hospitals and orphanages and schools and soup kitchens down the centuries, and giving birth to numerous religious orders dedicated to teaching, nursing, ransoming captives, and spreading the Gospel to foreign lands to inspire more and more people to do likewise.  The Christian spirit is so potent that even in a degraded and diluted state, it moves people to take pity on their fellow creatures; but a welfare state is calculated to deprive them of the means.


-- I am beginning to think that the number of people I know who do not have tattoos, besides myself, can be counted on one hand.  There are many tattooed faces out there: I even saw a guy the other day who had tattoos on his eyelids.  And then there are the many piercings: I feel like an aberration with only one hole in each earlobe.  Apropos of this phenomenon, my late friend Gary Reedy once observed that 30 or 40 years from now, nursing homes are going to be some of the scariest places on earth.

-- There are too many adolescents running around in adult bodies.  The latest manifestations of this seem to be (1) running around in public in pajama bottoms, and (2) the application to hair of unnatural colors like pink and purple.  Even middle-aged and elderly people are doing this, especially item (2).

-- Another trait of adolescence is thinking you can make up your own reality.  Sadly, many of us are failing to grow out of that.

-- What I do for a living can be summarized as follows: you provide the bubble; I provide the pin.  Bubble-popping is not an occupation calculated to make a person popular.  Sadly, I cannot seem to get out of doing it even on my off-time.

-- Of course, even I have my own bubbles that require popping.  As much as we hate to have our bubbles burst, the world will be a far sorrier and more wretched place the day we run out of people to do it.      

Monday, September 05, 2016

A Year with Major Attitude

By now I'm sure most of my former readers have all but given up on this blog.  I have been going for weeks and months without posting anything.  But the last year has been rough.

Some of my setbacks I cannot discuss in public.  (Nothing to do with my health thus far, fortunately.)  But it has been one disaster after another.  My grandfather, aged 93, died right before Christmas.  My friend, Gary Reedy, succumbed to cancer in January.  Nine days later, and two days before his funeral, my mother died.  I watched Gary fight his losing battle, and had time and opportunity to think about it and find the words to describe it, and what it meant.  Not so for the loss of my mother, whose death came as a sudden shock.  I still cannot trust myself to write about it. 

And then there are the changes at work.  In August the county rolled out a complicated new computer system, not all of whose features work as expected and which is playing havoc with my personal methods of coping with my caseload.  This month, the Big Boss, who has headed my office since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, is stepping down in favor of his chief deputy.  All the usual sorts of changes that can be expected when a new sheriff rides into town loom on the horizon.

And then there is the overall sense that the country is going to hell in a bucket, and the confusion within the Church.  I feel the confusion too.  When you belong to a society -- whether it is a family, a nation or the Catholic Church -- you have to take the bad with the good.  That is part of the deal.  Confusion is a suffering, and when a society suffers, all its members must partake of it.  It is hard to know what to say about it, or when to say it, or whether you should say what you want to say.  It would be nice to be able to pretend everything is okay.

I was thinking about all the trauma and turmoil the other day, and my failures, and how small and ineffectual and compromised I am in the face of it all; and then, in my mind's eye, I saw, as if in answer to the satanic fury, Christ hanging on the cross.  That is the answer, which I am very apt to forget.  The war has in fact already been won.  There may be much yet to suffer, but there can be no doubt about the end. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit: God Clearing His Throat?

We have now a generation of adults too young to remember the Soviet Union and the Cold War, and to appreciate the amazing shock of the former's demise.  We kids all knew who Leonid Brezhnev was, and the parade of his short-lived successors who were finally acknowledged to be dead after suffering from six-month-long "colds" was actually a topic of schoolyard conversation.  By the time I started high school, the Soviets held a vast nuclear arsenal, thanks to the treason of the Rosenbergs; had conquered over eight and a half million square miles and reduced a quarter of a billion souls to serfdom; and, on the psy-ops front, had fought the West almost to a standstill.  The mentality was widespread that containment of the "Evil Empire" -- always with the obligatory scare quotes -- rather than its unmitigated defeat, was to be the objective; and the Cold War and threat of nuclear holocaust would go on forever, thanks to the intransigence of the Western democracies.  But just when the Soviet Union seemed most unmovable, then -- as William F. Buckley, Jr. described it -- God cleared His throat.  And on March 11, 1990, little Lithuania declared herself independent from Moscow: the first falling pebbles presaging the avalanche that caved in the Soviet fortress.

But it would be a mistake to assume that the Communists and their fellow travelers all turned into freedom-loving capitalists just because their precious socialist paradise collapsed.  They simply found new homes and brought their elitist, materialist, socialist, globalist, bureaucratist, collectivist, secularist, modernist, totalitarian ideals with them.  One of their biggest new homes, judging by its fruits, is the European Union.  And now, with the United Kingdom's vote yesterday to leave the European Union, over the opposition of political and economic elites all over the world, those presaging pebbles are falling once again.  Other member nations will doubtless follow suit.

And this is no cause for regret.  However motivated its founders might have been by a sincere desire for peace and the prevention of future world wars, the reality is that the European Union is just the Soviet Union with velvet upholstery.  To the EU, as to the Soviet Union, "peace" means the absence of opposition, and it is brought about by laying down a leaden blanket of minute regulations under which no one can move.  The EU is a load of bureaucrats thinking they can run people's lives better than the people can themselves.  It has no respect for democracy; no respect for freedom of association (including freedom from association); no respect for national identity; no respect for the principle of subsidiarity; no respect for private property.  It subordinates flesh-and-blood human beings to ideology.  It bullied Ireland into holding a new referendum to accept the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, after a 2008 referendum in which the treaty went down to defeat.  It replaced the legitimate heads of government in Greece and Italy with its own appointees.  In 2013, it confiscated money out of people's bank accounts in Cyprus to support a bailout of that country.  Its grand schemes to manage the economy -- which in truth amounts to trying to control the movements, private decisions, associations and property of countless individual, flesh-and-blood human beings --  are calculated to spread misery rather than prosperity, except for the anointed few.

Which is why neither the EU nor any merely political institution is the last, best hope for peace in Europe, which has proven so elusive over the last century.  These Eurocrats may love humanity in general, but clearly have no respect for human beings in particular, with their messy hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, needs and wants.  Individuals are merely means to an end.  This is why the Eurocrats see no problem with moving people and their property around like the inanimate men on a chessboard, as if they do not care where they are put, or with whom, or with what, or what the consequences will be.  At any rate, it is apparent that in the view of their betters in Brussels, they shouldn't care; after all, knowing better is what makes the betters...better.

After years and years of many people on both sides simply assuming that that is the way things are going to continue, there has finally been some pushback.   Despite the Eurocracy's best efforts, Britain is pulling out.  It is a hopeful sign that the tide is turning against the revolutionary ideologies and ideologues down the modern centuries that have busied themselves extinguishing the lights of Christendom, toppling thrones and altars, first in polities, then in men's hearts.  There are already calls for exit referendums in other EU member states.  The pebbles are falling.  God, in His mercy, is clearing His throat and opening the door to a new beginning.

But it is only a beginning, and we cannot expect to gain anything by resting on our laurels.  Perhaps now would be an opportune moment to suggest that the best insurance against tyranny and fratricidal slaughters like the two World Wars would be for Europe to return to her Catholic Christian roots.  The trust is ill-founded, as the Psalm says, that is put in princes, the children of men in whom there is no salvation.  It is men's hearts that need changing, and this cannot be effected by mere political institutions.

Monday, June 06, 2016

V for Victory

The French poet, Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), never dreamed of the role he would play in a great drama that would take place exactly 100 years after his birth.  Seventy-two years ago today, the French Underground tensely awaited the great signal that the Allied invasion of Normandy -- the greatest amphibious operation in history -- was immanent.  This signal was the first stanza of Verlaine's poem, Chanson d'automne, broadcast over the radio.  

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

The long sobs
Of the violins
Of autumn
Wound my heart
With a languor
Monotonous.

All suffocating
And pale when
The hour strikes
I remember
The old days
And weep

And I go away
In the ill wind
that carries me off
This side and beyond
Like the
Dead leaf.


"Believe me, Lang, the first twenty-four hours of the invasion will be decisive...the fate of Germany depends on the outcome...for the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the longest day."
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to his aide, Capt. Hellmuth Lang, April 22, 1944

From Part One, Chapter 13 of The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan (available, by the way, on Kindle):

Now Eisenhower stood watching as the planes trundled down the runways and lifted slowly into the air.  One by one they followed each other into the darkness.  Above the field, they circled as they assembled into formation.  Eisenhower, his hands deep in his pockets, gazed up into the night sky.  As the huge formation of planes roared one last time over the field and headed toward France, NBC's Red Mueller looked at the Supreme Commander.  Eisenhower's eyes were filled with tears.

Minutes later, in the Channel, the men of the invasion fleet heard the roar of the planes.  It grew louder by the second, and then wave after wave passed overhead.  The formation took a long time to pass.  Then the thunder of their engines began to fade.  On the bridge of the U.S.S. Herndon, Lieutenant Bartow Farr, the watch officers and NEA's war correspondent, Tom Wolf, gazed up into the darkness.  Nobody could say a word.  And then as the last formation flew over, an amber light blinked down through the clouds on the fleet below.  Slowly it flashed out in Morse code three dots and a dash: V for Victory.

Monday, May 30, 2016

America's Heroic Priests

The (Congressional) Medal of Honor was established in 1861, during the Civil War.  The qualifications for being awarded the Medal have been tightened up and refined over the years, but it is currently awarded to a member of the U.S. military for acts of intrepidity and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while involved in combat operations.  

Since the Medal of Honor was established, it has been awarded to nine chaplains.  Four Protestant chaplains were awarded the Medal for their service during the Civil War: John Milton Whitehead (Chaplain, U.S. Army, 15th Indiana Infantry); Francis Bloodgood Hall (Chaplain, U.S. Army, 16th New York Infantry); James Hill (1st Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company I, 21st Iowa Infantry); and Milton Lorenzo Haney (Regimental Chaplain, U.S. Army, 55th Illinois Infantry).  One Catholic priest serving the Confederate Army, Fr. Emmeran Bliemel, O.S.B., was killed at the Battle of Jonesboro while administering last rites -- the first American chaplain to die on the field of battle -- and is said to have been postumously awarded the Southern Cross of Honor. 

Since the Civil War, five more American chaplains have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Every one of them was a Catholic priest, and two have causes for beatification.  Herewith the five priests who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor:


Lt. Comdr. Joseph Timothy O'Callahan, U.S. Navy (World War II)

Out of 464 Medal of Honor winners in World War II, Fr. O'Callahan was the only chaplain.  Here he is, ministering to the wounded aboard the U.S.S. Franklin in 1945.

Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as chaplain on board the U.S.S. Franklin when that vessel was fiercely attacked by enemy Japanese aircraft during offensive operations near Kobe, Japan, on 19 March 1945. A valiant and forceful leader, calmly braving the perilous barriers of flame and twisted metal to aid his men and his ship, Lt. Comdr. O'Callahan groped his way through smoke-filled corridors to the open flight deck and into the midst of violently exploding bombs, shells, rockets, and other armament. With the ship rocked by incessant explosions, with debris and fragments raining down and fires raging in ever-increasing fury, he ministered to the wounded and dying, comforting and encouraging men of all faiths; he organized and led firefighting crews into the blazing inferno on the flight deck; he directed the jettisoning of live ammunition and the flooding of the magazine; he manned a hose to cool hot, armed bombs rolling dangerously on the listing deck, continuing his efforts, despite searing, suffocating smoke which forced men to fall back gasping and imperiled others who replaced them. Serving with courage, fortitude, and deep spiritual strength, Lt. Comdr. O'Callahan inspired the gallant officers and men of the Franklin to fight heroically and with profound faith in the face of almost certain death and to return their stricken ship to port.


Capt. Angelo J. Liteky, U.S. Army (Vietnam War)

Citation

Chaplain Liteky distinguished himself by exceptional heroism while serving with Company A, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. He was participating in a search and destroy operation when Company A came under intense fire from a battalion size enemy force. Momentarily stunned from the immediate encounter that ensued, the men hugged the ground for cover. Observing 2 wounded men, Chaplain Liteky moved to within 15 meters of an enemy machine gun position to reach them, placing himself between the enemy and the wounded men. When there was a brief respite in the fighting, he managed to drag them to the relative safety of the landing zone. Inspired by his courageous actions, the company rallied and began placing a heavy volume of fire upon the enemy's positions. In a magnificent display of courage and leadership, Chaplain Liteky began moving upright through the enemy fire, administering last rites to the dying and evacuating the wounded. Noticing another trapped and seriously wounded man, Chaplain Liteky crawled to his aid. Realizing that the wounded man was too heavy to carry, he rolled on his back, placed the man on his chest and through sheer determination and fortitude crawled back to the landing zone using his elbows and heels to push himself along. pausing for breath momentarily, he returned to the action and came upon a man entangled in the dense, thorny underbrush. Once more intense enemy fire was directed at him, but Chaplain Liteky stood his ground and calmly broke the vines and carried the man to the landing zone for evacuation. On several occasions when the landing zone was under small arms and rocket fire, Chaplain Liteky stood up in the face of hostile fire and personally directed the medivac helicopters into and out of the area. With the wounded safely evacuated, Chaplain Liteky returned to the perimeter, constantly encouraging and inspiring the men. Upon the unit's relief on the morning of 7 December 1967, it was discovered that despite painful wounds in the neck and foot, Chaplain Liteky had personally carried over 20 men to the landing zone for evacuation during the savage fighting. Through his indomitable inspiration and heroic actions, Chaplain Liteky saved the lives of a number of his comrades and enabled the company to repulse the enemy. Chaplain Liteky's actions reflect great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

Unfortunately, Fr. Liteky went on to change his name to Charles, repudiate his Medal of Honor (making him the only Medal of Honor recipient to do so), abandon his priestly ministry, attempted marriage with a former nun and took up political activism.  None of this changes his conspicuous valor under fire, or the fact that he deserved his Medal of Honor, or the indelible character of his priesthood.  Pray for him.

Maj. Charles Joseph Watters, U.S. Army (Vietnam War)

This photograph of Fr. Watters offering Mass in the field was taken shortly before he was killed in action on November 19, 1967.

Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Chaplain Watters distinguished himself during an assault in the vicinity of Dak To. Chaplain Watters was moving with one of the companies when it engaged a heavily armed enemy battalion. As the battle raged and the casualties mounted, Chaplain Watters, with complete disregard for his safety, rushed forward to the line of contact. Unarmed and completely exposed, he moved among, as well as in front of the advancing troops, giving aid to the wounded, assisting in their evacuation, giving words of encouragement, and administering the last rites to the dying. When a wounded paratrooper was standing in shock in front of the assaulting forces, Chaplain Watters ran forward, picked the man up on his shoulders and carried him to safety. As the troopers battled to the first enemy entrenchment, Chaplain Watters ran through the intense enemy fire to the front of the entrenchment to aid a fallen comrade. A short time later, the paratroopers pulled back in preparation for a second assault. Chaplain Watters exposed himself to both friendly and enemy fire between the 2 forces in order to recover 2 wounded soldiers. Later, when the battalion was forced to pull back into a perimeter, Chaplain Watters noticed that several wounded soldiers were Lying outside the newly formed perimeter. Without hesitation and ignoring attempts to restrain him, Chaplain Watters left the perimeter three times in the face of small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire to carry and to assist the injured troopers to safety. Satisfied that all of the wounded were inside the perimeter, he began aiding the medics--applying field bandages to open wounds, obtaining and serving food and water, giving spiritual and mental strength and comfort. During his ministering, he moved out to the perimeter from position to position redistributing food and water, and tending to the needs of his men. Chaplain Watters was giving aid to the wounded when he himself was mortally wounded. Chaplain Watters' unyielding perseverance and selfless devotion to his comrades was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

Lt. Vincent Robert Capodanno, U.S. Navy (Vietnam War)

Known for his sanctity and his devotion to his Marines, Fr. Capodanno was killed in action in Vietnam on September 4, 1967. Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the Archdiocese for the Military Services officially opened his cause for beatification on May 21, 2006.

Prayer for the Canonization of Fr. Capodanno

Heavenly Father, source of all that is holy, in every age You raise up men and women who live lives of heroic love and service. You have blessed Your Church through the life of Vincent Capodanno, Vietnam War Navy chaplain, who had the "courage of a lion, and the faith of a martyr." He was killed in action offering medical assistance to the wounded and administering last rites to the dying on the battlefield. Through his prayer, his courage, his faith, and his pastoral care he is an example of laying down one's life for one’s friends: Jesus told us that there is no greater love than this. If it be Your will, may he be proclaimed a saint! We ask this through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Chaplain of the 3d Battalion, in connection with operations against enemy forces. In response to reports that the 2d Platoon of M Company was in danger of being overrun by a massed enemy assaulting force, Lt. Capodanno left the relative safety of the company command post and ran through an open area raked with fire, directly to the beleaguered platoon. Disregarding the intense enemy small-arms, automatic-weapons, and mortar fire, he moved about the battlefield administering last rites to the dying and giving medical aid to the wounded. When an exploding mortar round inflicted painful multiple wounds to his arms and legs, and severed a portion of his right hand, he steadfastly refused all medical aid. Instead, he directed the corpsmen to help their wounded comrades and, with calm vigor, continued to move about the battlefield as he provided encouragement by voice and example to the valiant marines. Upon encountering a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of an enemy machine gunner positioned approximately 15 yards away, Lt. Capodanno rushed a daring attempt to aid and assist the mortally wounded corpsman. At that instant, only inches from his goal, he was struck down by a burst of machine gun fire. By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.

Capt. Emil J. Kapaun, U.S. Army (Korean War)

The newest Medal of Honor winner, Servant of God Kapaun, is shown here offering Mass in the field on the hood of a Jeep, less than a month before he was captured by the Communists.  He would die in captivity, but not before making himself a thorn in the flesh of his jailers, and an inspiration to his fellow prisoners.  Father Kapaun would sneak out of his own compound in order to minister to the other prisoners, and, by the intercession of St. Dismas, the Good Thief, to scrounge for basic necessities to help them survive their hellish conditions.  He got even non-Catholic prisoners praying the Rosary, and also made himself irritating to the Communists by answering them back and openly defying them in their daily forced indoctrination sessions.  For a long time, they did not dare retaliate, for fear of provoking the other prisoners to rebellion; but when Father Kapaun came down with an eye infection and a blood clot in his leg, they seized the opportunity to carry him off to an isolated "hospital" and starve him to death.  

Father Kapaun's cause for beatification opened in 2008.  We should pray for his intercession against North Korea and its itchy nuclear trigger finger.

Prayer for the Beatification of Emil Kapaun

Lord Jesus, in the midst of the folly of war, Your servant, Chaplain Emil Kapaun spent himself in total service to You on the battlefields and in the prison camps of Korea, until his death at the hands of his captors.  We now ask You, Lord Jesus, if it be Your will, to make known to all the world the holiness of Chaplain Kapaun and the glory of his complete sacrifice for You by signs of miracles and peace.  In Your Name, Lord, we ask, for You are the source of peace, the strength of our service to others, and our final hope. Amen.  Chaplain Kapaun, pray for us.

Citation

Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from November 1-2, 1950. On November 1, as Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades and rescue friendly wounded from no-man's land. Though the Americans successfully repelled the assault, they found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Facing annihilation, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate. However, Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded. After the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense in the early morning hours of November 2, Chaplain Kapaun continually made rounds, as hand-to-hand combat ensued. As Chinese Communist Forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American Forces. Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety and unwavering resolve, bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute Sergeant First Class Herbert A. Miller. Not only did Chaplain Kapaun's gallantry save the life of Sergeant Miller, but also his unparalleled courage and leadership inspired all those present, including those who might have otherwise fled in panic, to remain and fight the enemy until captured. Chaplain Kapaun's extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the United States Army.

Roman collars...iron men.  It is no accident that the Roman collar is a military collar.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Evil of "Inculturation"

At the heart of modernism is the reduction of Christianity to an abstraction.  To say that Christianity is an abstraction is as much as to say it can be anything to anybody, which is as much as to say that it is not real.  The whole point of purging churches of statues and images, butchering the liturgical calendar, and discarding devotions was precisely to further this idea of Christianity as an abstraction divorced from reality and inaccessible to our senses.

But in the Incarnation, God entered history in the flesh and made Himself accessible to our senses.  Luke's Gospel carefully spells out for us the time and place when this happened, and under which temporal rulers, and in what cultural context -- precisely so that we understand and take to heart the fact that Salvation occupied actual moments in the history of the world.  True, the artists of different nations have always felt free to portray Jesus and His mother with various ethnic features and in various costumes; but it is another matter entirely to try to shape the Christian faith itself according to the molds of cultural idiosyncrasies.

And that is where "inculturation" becomes an evil, in the service of the heresy of Christianity as a mere "idea."  Fr. John Hunwicke puts it best in his musings on the intimate connection between the Christian faith and the realities of life in the Mediterranean basin (emphases in original):
But more insidious still is the idea that the principle of inculturation could be applied to the elements used in the Christian sacraments. I have known suggestions that to use bread made from something other than wheat, alcohol produced not from grapes, and the oil of vegetables other than olives, would 'affirm' cultures which do not find their origins in the Mediterranean basin. This seems to be based on the notion that Christianity is an idea; and ideas can, in different cultures, be garbed in different clothes. That is what is the basic heresy. Because Christianity is not an idea. It is a person, a God who took flesh - a particular flesh - from a particular Girl in a particular country in a particular culture, and in that flesh died on a Cross made from a particular Tree after he had, on a particular evening, given himself to his friends under the outer appearances of a loaf and a cupful of wine. This particularity and this materiality, this rootedness, is Christianity. That is why the Gnostics were not Christians, and why Matthew Fox is not a Christian. And the Matter of the Sacraments is rooted in the particularity of that Incarnation and its culture.

Without the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil, nulla salus.
Indeed.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The End of the Church's Prague Spring

A soul that is full shall tread upon the honeycomb: and a soul that is hungry shall take even bitter for sweet.  

-- Proverbs 27:7

Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice. His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.

-- The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene 1

The new apostolic exhortation has given rise to so much Sturm und Drang that I feel the need to crawl out from under my rock for a minute.  That commentators find themselves obliged to reach so strenuously for orthodox interpretations of everything in this text -- or indeed in any of the Holy Father's voluminous outpourings -- shows the depth and breadth of the Church's current crisis, and how desperate we are for any crumb of comfort.

But while there is consolation to be had from the continuing institution of the Papacy, which is a sign of the Four Markers of the True Church -- one, holy, Catholic and apostolic -- there is no consolation to be had from the man, Jorge Bergoglio, who now holds the office.  Look: the current occupant of the Throne of Peter is a standard-issue, spirit-of-Vatican-II liberal.  Just look at some of the prelates he has sidelined, and look at those who obviously stand in his favor.  Look at his words -- his many, many, many words -- and his conduct.  Look at his authoritarianism.  Look at the confusion that follows in his wake.  Look at the enthusiasm for him of all the other standard-issue, spirit-of-Vatican-II liberal priests and bishops, and contrast that with their attitude toward his immediate predecessor.  Look at the fact that so many non-Catholics love him precisely because he does seem to represent a break from Catholicity

Pope Francis is entirely unlike his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI -- and that is exactly what too many people in the Church hoped for.  The depth of the hatred for Pope Benedict from day one of his pontificate cannot be overstated.  He was hated in my own backwater diocese.  I don't know how else to explain the failure -- indeed, refusal -- to implement his reforms within a 300-mile radius of the cathedral parish; or the fact that, at the then-bishop's Mass on that awful Ash Wednesday, 2013, not a syllable was uttered about the earthquake that had just stricken the Church.  Pope Benedict restored some of the treasures of our Catholic patrimony that the mailed fist of "liberalism" tried to pound out of existence.  He measured his words and his actions carefully, and submitted to the trappings of the office, which he knew were meant to honor, not him, but the One Who instituted the office.  He generated a great deal of controversy, but never confusion; and that is why he was so loathed by the Church's enemies, both from within and from without.  

Jorge Bergoglio, on the other hand, is, for better or for worse, much more to the liking of worldlings; thus, he has never, in all the three years of his reign, taken the salvos from the sewer that Josef Ratzinger took just during the moment he stepped out on the balcony in papal vestments.  The liberals are bound to be disappointed in Pope Francis to some extent, because many of them still do not get that the Church is not a mere human political institution, and that the Holy Spirit does indeed protect her from utter destruction, and therefore sets limits to the evils and follies of the men who populate her hierarchy.  But who can now doubt that the liberals are right to identify Francis as one of their own?  The Church's current chastisement was never going to play itself out until we got a "spirit-of-Vatican-II" pope; and now, that is just what we have got.  The assault on the wholesome traditions of our fathers, beaten back under Pope Benedict, has now been redoubled under Francis, at the hands of liberal priests and bishops who think this is their Big Mo'.  We are so overwhelmed with evil from the secular culture and confusion within the Church that we devour any crumb of comfort, trying desperately to spin things that come out of Rome as harbingers of reform. We hail the tiniest victories as great successes and a sign that things are getting better. Yet these soon get swallowed up in the status quo ante, and before you know it, we are back to square one.

When Pope Benedict abdicated, I wondered if we had not arrived at the time St. Don Bosco spoke of in recounting his vision of the two pillars, and the enemy assaults on the Barque of Peter.  I wondered if Pope Benedict was not the slain Pope in that vision.  Three years into the reign of Pope Francis, new thoughts emerge.  Perhaps the slaying of the Pope in the vision is not so much the slaying of a man but the apparent destruction of the papacy itself.  To all appearances, the papacy at present seems to be unmooring itself from the Catholic faith, failing to confirm the brethren in the Faith and sowing confusion, to the great joy of the Church's enemies, who think they see victory on the horizon.  But in fact the papacy cannot be destroyed, despite outward appearances: the death of the Pope was not the end of the vision.  Once the Pope was dead, there was no delay in electing the new Pope, who routed the Church's enemies and brought her calm and peace.  

Still, until that moment arrives, we have much to suffer.  All we can do is watch and pray, and ride out the storm until we are finally granted the victory.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Gary Scott Reedy (1958-2016)

My dear friend and colleague.
I first met Gary in the doorway between Courtroom 206 and chambers.  He struck me as nerdy and eccentric, with a quirky speech pattern and a somewhat nervous laugh.  I was poised to dismiss him as a harmless crank and a jovial misfit, the sort that lends color to the workplace but that requires large investments of time and is therefore best kept at arm's length.  I did not know it then, but I was standing at another doorway, an unseen doorway, and the course of lives would depend on whether I decided to go in or continue on my way.  I decided to set aside the temptation to dismiss Gary and went in that doorway.

And so we became friends.  In the fall of that year we were assigned to work together on the same calendar, and we got to know each other more.  Gary turned out to be highly intelligent, a shrewd and wily negotiator, and a tenacious fighter.  He was also a great talker and possessed a wit of a high order, and we had a lot of good back-and-forths and a lot of laughs.   He frequently appeared in my doorway; sometimes he would pace around in my office, tapping on the top of my water cooler with his fingers while recounting some client's courtroom follies, or going over a particularly hairy case; other times, he would sit and talk about his travels, which he relished, or his wife and daughter, to whom he was utterly devoted, or about Rumpole of the Bailey, of whom we were both fans. 

It didn't take long in our acquaintance to run into the generosity and sweetness that underlay Gary's gruff exterior.  Early in our working partnership, I suddenly found myself between cars.  Gary let me have his old station wagon until I could get another car.  That he would lend me a car without knowing me very long was extraordinarily generous.  How he did it was extraordinarily sweet.  He did not give me to understand that he was doing me an immense favor -- though he was -- or make me feel as though I was incurring a debt -- though I was.  He and Phoebe and Lizzie brought the car to the office, all washed and cleaned, and he handed me the key as though I was doing him a favor and placing him in my debt by letting him help me.

Another time we were working a heavy load of pretrial conferences when one of my clients, unhappy with how I had resolved his case, shot a parting insult at me over his shoulder on his way out the door in front of a packed courtroom.  Gary's response was swift and decisive.  He immediately got between the guy and the door and would not let him out of the room until he had, in the plainest terms, made him see the error of his ways in thinking that his rudeness toward me was somehow acceptable.  His dressing down of the guy was as public as the guy's offense against me had been, and by an amazing coincidence, there was a marked improvement in everyone else's behavior that day.  Gary seemed concerned afterward that I would think that he thought I couldn't take care of myself.  On the contrary: I don't know if I ever sufficiently conveyed to him how much it lifted my spirits to have him stick up for me.  From that day forward, Gary was my hero.

Gary was an authentic tough guy, in the best sense of the word: not a hoodlum or a ruffian, but staunch and passionate in his defense of the underdog, yet courtly and gentlemanly, uncompromising in his pursuit of righteousness according to his lights, keenly aware of being at the service of causes greater than himself.  Amid his many trials, in and out of the courtroom, he was always thoughtful and considerate, constantly overlooking wrongs or slights against himself, uncomplaining in his fortitude, and always looking to ease other people's burdens, or at least refrain from adding to them.

Never did these qualities shine forth more brightly than in his greatest and last trial.  Through all the laughs and the jokes and the stories and the lunch runs to Winco, I couldn't help eyeing the ever-changing growths and lesions on his head and face.  Gary always tried to make light of these uncomfortable reminders of his mortality.  He would emphasize that his kind of cancer was among the less virulent varieties, and talk reassuringly about his doctors' experience and qualifications and plans of attack.  Even after his prostate surgery, and the discovery of tumors in the lymph nodes in his neck, he referred to his cancer as a "first world problem."  He would say that at least he had all the medical care he needed to get these things taken care of, as if they were mere inconveniences.  Then came that awful morning when he closed my office door and sat down and carefully and gently worked his way to the news that he was terminal, trying his best to cushion the blow.

Then came the inevitable day that, to Gary, seemed at least as sore a blow to him as the news of his impending end: the day it became clear that the pain and the fatigue were too much for him to go on working.  The hard knocks he had taken over the course of his career did not diminish his love for his work, or for his colleagues, and he worked hard to get used to the idea that his part in the battle was over.  Now he had to arm himself for a greater battle, one that he knew he would ultimately lose, but that he was determined to fight as well as he could.  But he never forgot us, and never tired of keeping tabs on us: even near the end, when he was bedridden and barely able to speak, he wanted to hear about our small triumphs and tragedies at the office, and revel in our victories.

And so Gary's last days passed -- all too quickly.  Too few were the opportunities left to seek his advice; or to take him out for a picnic at the drive-in after his pain medications made it impossible for him to drive anymore; or to enjoy his cooking, which he loved.  As the weeks passed, he grew weaker, and his lesions increased, and his immune system broke down as he fought to stay alive through the holidays; but his courage and his sense of humor rose to meet every setback.  After coming very close to death in November, he rallied, as the dying often do.  When I came to see him during his father's last visit, to my surprise, he opened the door to me himself, walking without a cane or a walker.  He threw his arms around me and said, "I was dying, but I changed my mind!"

But then came the moment that he -- and we -- could only hope to postpone, and the long-anticipated but dreaded news finally went out.  The battle was over.  Gary had gone in that last doorway through which we all must pass.  He had approached death manfully; "nothing in his life became him like the leaving it."  Now there was nothing left for the rest of us to do but pray for his soul, and mourn, and pay him his last offices. And, like Gary's beloved Horace Rumpole, quote Rumpole's beloved Wordsworth:
The rainbow comes and goes,        And lovely is the rose;          The moon doth with delight      Look round her when the heavens are bare;          Waters on a starry night          Are beautiful and fair;      The sunshine is a glorious birth;      But yet I know, where'er I go,  That there hath pass'd away a glory from the earth.
The fate of a soul that has gone to stand before God in judgment is hidden from us.  While we remain on earth, we cannot know whether that soul has gone to everlasting life or everlasting punishment.  But we can hope in God's fathomless mercy.  I hope in God's mercy.  I have hope that the God Who loved Gary infinitely, and created him from nothing for the express purpose of being happy forever in heaven, poured out His mercy upon him.  And so I think of Gary, appearing in my doorway, like he used to.  In my mind's eye, he is young, with the youth of the soul that never fades even in old age.  He is beautiful, with the beauty that in this life was hidden from all but those who loved him.  He is radiant, with the glory of those whom the grave cannot hold forever.  He bears the wounds and the lesions and the tumors no longer as torments or disfigurements, but as trophies of victory, set like jewels in the crown of immortality.  Every one of them taught him patience and humility and fortitude and resignation; every one was a rung on the ladder to heaven.  They could not defeat his spirit, but only his body; but even in his body they will be defeated in the consummation of the world, when the Last Trumpet sounds, and the graves are opened, and hell and death are cast into the lake of fire, and every tear is wiped from our faces forever.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ninety-seven November 11ths Ago: Armistice Day

We in the States now honor all our veterans, living and dead, on November 11th.  The original reason for this holiday, observed throughout the Western world, was the Armistice with Germany in 1918.  On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the feast of St. Martin of Tours, the Roman soldier who renounced war, the First World War ended. 

The Armistice was signed about five a.m. on November 11th, and the news was rushed to the hostile armies.  Yet the fighting raged on, pointlessly, and men continued to die, right up to the last minute before the cease-fire took effect: a sobering testimony to the effects of original sin.  2,738 men perished on the last day of the war.

Except for a few centenarians who would have been children at the time, this fratricidal slaughter has passed out of living memory, and there are now no more living veterans.  The last American veteran of that war, Frank Buckles, died in 2011 at the age of 110.  The last veteran of the defeated Central Powers, Franz Künstler, died in 2008 at the age of 107.  The last veteran on either side, Florence Green of the United Kingdom, died in 2012, also at the age of 110.

*          *          *  

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Convalescent Cogitations (UPDATED)

Sts. Cosmas and Damian: physicians and martyrs.
Going to the hospital for, if not a life-threatening, at least a life-inconveniencing procedure under general anesthesia causes one to pause and meditate upon one's vulnerability and mortality.  In the weeks leading up to this morning's surgery I mostly went about my daily business; but now, while I rest and metabolize the various sedatives out of my system, I have little to do except ponder Great Issues.  I probably should also make room in my cogitations to consider the wisdom of publishing their fruits while still in a condition that would make it illegal for me to drive; maybe I will hold off on clicking that button until tomorrow.  On the other hand, maybe today is the day to announce the happy news that I came through the surgery very well, with very little pain, and the doctor said everything looked good.  I should have lab results on the biopsy in a week.  UPDATE: Biopsy results were normal.

-- I have to first express my gratitude to my aunt, Margie Blake, who got up at an ungodly hour to drive out all the way from a neighboring county and get me to the hospital at 5:30 a.m.; stayed with me until I went into surgery; stayed at the hospital all morning until I was ready to go home; talked to the doctor for me after the surgery; and provided me with a very delicious potato soup and Jello.  Her response to being so sorely put out by me?  Happiness at being able to do it.

-- I have to also express my gratitude to the doctors and nurses and orderlies at St. Luke's Hospital in Boise for the extraordinary care they took to be kind and gentle, see to my physical comfort, avoid inflicting unnecessary pain and assuage my anxieties.  These were people who get up extremely early in the morning, work long hours, perform strenuous and sometimes stomach-churning duties, ford innumerable streams of government red tape, and treat difficult and demanding people with kindness and compassion on a daily basis.  I, who roll out of bed at the latest possible minute I can get away with and still make it to work, and then spend my days being difficult and demanding, don't know how they do it.

--  One point that forced itself upon me with great clarity this morning was the necessity of preparing spiritually in advance for that supreme moment when one is about to leave this life.  The only real way to do this is to get into the habit of praying -- in particular, praying for protection from a sudden and unprovided death -- and frequenting the Sacraments.  It is rash and foolhardy to count on being able to slide into heaven at the last minute after a lifetime of neglecting the things of God.  After all, even if you don't die suddenly, you may nevertheless be in excruciating pain at the end, or you may not have all your marbles, or you may suddenly lose consciousness.  (I tried but failed to be aware of the moment when I would lose consciousness in the operating room: I was waking up in recovery before I knew I had gone to sleep.)  But even if you have the capacity for quiet concentration, a hospital is too full of distractions and interruptions for it.  Make your preparations and intentions and resolutions for that time now, while you are still capable, and keep renewing them.

-- I did not seek the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, or Extreme Unction, before my surgery.  This was because Extreme Unction is for persons who have begun to be in danger of death through bodily infirmity and not an anticipated cause from without.  All the evidence up to now indicates that, apart from certain symptoms, I am otherwise quite healthy, so that to the extent, if any, that I was in danger of death, it was from an external source and not from one internal to myself.  However, there are other ways to prepare for situations like this: going to confession and receiving Holy Communion ahead of time; getting in the daily Rosary before going in (even if you can't quite finish it); wearing the brown scapular (though the doctors will make you wear it someplace other than around your neck); arranging in advance to have a priest contacted in the event something goes wrong.  If -- which God forbid -- my biopsy turns up something potentially life-threatening, then I will seek Extreme Unction in the hell-whipping traditional form.

-- You never want to eat a thick, juicy steak so much as on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, and you never want to go out and run errands so much as when you're not supposed to drive.  I also would really like to take a shower tonight but can't.

-- I hope the Swedish chemist Nils Löfgren made it straight into heaven without stopping in purgatory for inventing Lidocaine.

-- One downside to the Internet is that the ready accessibility of limitless information makes people think they can be experts without the expense and arduous labor of going to school and gaining experience.  Doctors and nurses must get really tired of having constantly and daily to burst people's Internet research bubbles.

-- I told myself to pick up some dark chocolate with almonds when I went to the store last night.  Should have listened.