Monday, April 30, 2012

ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή

Our Lord Jesus Christ is "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). As Christians, that is disciples of Christ, we are called to learn from the Master and to conform ourselves to Him in every aspect of our lives. We come to know God by faith and reason, through God's revelation of Himself in His Church and in the beauty, order, and variety of his creatures. A school in the Catholic tradition provides an admirable analogy, a microcosm as it were, of the workings of God through His Church and her members by means of secondary causes. We can use Our Lord's threefold naming of himself to explore further the meaning of Christian learning, particularly in the context of an academic environment dedicated to the principles of faith and reason in the service of the Church.

Jesus is the Way. The Christian life is a journey with Christ as its path, its destination, and its provisions. A Catholic school should emphasize this fact: namely, that its purpose is not merely to put information into students' minds, but to lead them on an adventure towards the ultimate beauty, truth and goodness, that is, towards God. Moreover, each individual is not alone on this journey. An essential component of the Christian life is that it takes place in the context of a community, God's "pilgrim Church on earth" (Eucharistic Prayer III). The teacher is a guide, not a general, and thus forms an integral part of the community of learners, who journey together to greater wisdom and love through, with, and in Christ, by the light of the Holy Spirit, who will "guide [us] to all truth" (John 16:13).

Our Lord is that Truth. He is the Logos, the Word of God and the eternal Reason of the universe. Our journey leads to Him, and the Catholic school keeps this goal always in mind. Contemplation of the truth proceeds from learning and forms an important part of it, and to hand on what we have contemplated to others is a natural fruit of the Spirit of Truth Himself, who gives us the words to speak in our particular moments of witness to Christ (Luke 12:12). In the Sacred Heart of Jesus are hidden "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3; Litany of the Sacred Heart), Therefore, Catholic education is not only a conforming of our mind to the Lord's, so that we have "the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16), but also a transformation of our hearts so that we may be one with Him in eternal life. For indeed to us, as to Saint Paul, "to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).

Christ, then, is Life. As the Word of God, he is "living and effective" (Hebrews 4:12), Our lives must be a reflection of His, and in a school community, teachers must lead the way not only in pursuing knowledge, but also in striving to conform themselves to Christ through growth in virtue, Thus they may also more truly serve as grace-filled models of faith, hope, and charity to their students. Nevertheless, no one, teacher or student, can grow individually. The school must be a living community, united and integrated in study, work, and prayer. In this context Catholic educators and students can learn a good deal from St. Benedict, who intended by means of his Rule to set up his monastery as "a school for the Lord's service" (Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue 45). Our service to the Lord is inspired by the joy and wonder of learning.

I want to teach at a school that knows this true meaning of joy as expressed through the Catholic Church. I want to be part of a community where each member shares in the same calling, and strives to fulfil that calling through striving for sanctity on our pilgrim way. I want to live, pray, work, and grow with people who are bound together by more than their location, indeed by ties of mutual charity and a shared love of truth and desire for God. Through my teaching I want to share with my students a foretaste of the Beatific Vision, which is the goal and final cause of the Christian life. These ideals can best be realized at a school whose Way and Truth and Life is the Word of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rural and Occidental Archetypes

I have written a country song based on a recent Facebook conversation. Anyone have a suggestion for a good title?

Chorus: I'm cold like a cup of left-over coffee
I'm flat like a glass of left-behind beer;
I'm empty like a Heath bar without any toffee,
I'm lost 'cause you're somewhere -- and somewhere's not here.

Verse 1: There's a cold travel mug in my left-hand cupholder
And it's filled with the juice of a life that's gone bad;
And my life, like the coffee, gets colder and colder
When I think of you, girl, and the love that we had.

Verse 2: There's a beer almost gone on the edge of the table
And I feel like a dog that is chasing a car
And he runs in its wake for as long as he's able:
Won't you please come back, girl, from wherever you are?

Bridge: And the only kick left in my life is the kick of my truck
As it kicks into gear, I believe that I am all out of luck.

Verse 3: I'm a cup of cold joe that's been decaffeinated
I'm a bottle of beer that's been left to go flat
Girl, how could you go? Well, it must have been fated
That my life should go dry when you left me like that.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Stonewells, Part 1

August 5, ----
The Old House, Forehaven

My dear Mr. Hale,

I take up my pen in this august month in response to the query with which you presented me in letter form some two weeks ago. I recognize that the matter concerning which you originally addressed me was one of moderately high importance and even greater interest to you as a student of the things that happen when no one is looking, but I confess that, as a student of the things that have been seen when someone was looking, I must draw your attention to an affair which, although implausible, happened to a cousin of mine last November while he was in residence at the house which was the subject of your letter of July 19. 

This cousin, Mr. Everlasting Jubilee Montgomery, known universally, or nearly so, as E. J., had realized in the months immediately preceding his stay at Stonewells, that he was in need of escape from the stressful world in which he had been for some time playing a leading part. He chose as his retreat our ancestral abbey, Stonewells, which is a late reconstruction of a Cistercian complex ravaged by Cromwell and his destroying angels in the aftermath of the English tumult which had as its motive, or at any rate its excuse, Henry VIII's marital situation, etc. 

Now you may be muttering to yourself that this already smacks of the monotonous motifs of some authors one could mention, who are concerned purely with the deeply grotesque and – dare one say it? – cannibalistic reaches of the human psyche, and to some extent I am afraid you are right to do so. Dare I go further in my story? Yes, indeed I do. Such unnerving details as I am about to present to you – albeit in letter form – must not lie hidden in the yawning abysses of one man's mind, tortured, perfectly at ease, or otherwise.

I fear, however, that I must reserve the actual narration of the chilling events for a later date. Furthermore, I am not permitted at this time tell you for what reason I cannot immediately disclose the facts of the case, but I am sure you understand their validity without comprehending their nature to any degree whatsoever. Do not doubt that I shall duly submit them for your consideration at my earliest possible opportunity.

I am and remain,
Your obedient servant,
R. O. Fox

The "Kindle Fire" Should Be Kept Away From Books.

A few comments on the Kindle, Fire or otherwise.

1. It seems odd, does it not, that a book-replacing piece of technology should have a name that would strike fear into the binding of the most stoutly-bound volume? You would think they would want to minimize, rather than maximize, the misobiblistic overtones of their nomenclature. I would like to suggest to anyone with aspirations of an e-book nature, that they should call their product the Tolle Lege. Latin evokes mystery, ritual, and antiquity, which are all things associated with books. The name I suggest also has the two following advantages:
a) It avoids any possible application to the destruction of books.
b) It is a quote from a book, namely Book VIII of St. Augustine's Confessions.
Even if Kindle Fire better indulges Amazon's prehistoric and Promethean fantasies, it also accords well with their rather violent name. One can imagine the Amazons coming upon a library and their chief ordering exactly what their product recommends: "Kindle Fire!"

2. A less antagonistic reflection on the Kindle Fire centers on the loose connection to grammar enjoyed by its name. "Kindle" is presumably a verb, since how an e-reader's name could be derived from a group of baby felines is above even the Amazon execs' pay grade, and "fire" is likely a noun. Other than that, we must leave it to the imagination to decide what possible synthetic and/or analytic signification attaches to these two words. There is, of course, the chief Amazon's destructive order (see above). This is unlikely, I deem. The "fire" part of the name is, in general, pretty redundant, because what else does one kindle (at least in a literal sense)? And is "kindle" an infinitive? An imperative? And is it acting transitively or intransitively? The glory of English is that no one ever has to know. Perhaps that is why technology is so rampant in American culture, because we can name things without being at all preoccupied by their grammatical inflections or syntax. Also, English has a lot of words that sound exactly like other words, such as the word "kindle." The use of Latin in product names would really be a great boon to those of us who like precision and clarity in nomenclature.

I hereby extend an invitation to my readers to submit names for the Kindle Fire in divers languages; Latin particularly comes to mind, but any tongue would be exceedingly welcome. Please include with your translation a defense thereof, which can be anywhere from long to short. Have fun!

Ready...Set...Kindle Fire!


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Two Sonnets -- One of Each Kind

There is a chance that you will throw away
A chicken bone into the garbage can;
It's possible that you'll discard today
A pair of tongs all twisted by the fan.
I wouldn't rule it out that you'll discard
An ace of diamonds, bent and torn with age.
I daresay you might find it rather hard
To keep from throwing out a bookless page.
It's not far-flung that you will fling a flower
Whose petals droop into the compost pail,
I won't exclude, within the coming hour,
Your hands' recycling of the daily mail.
All these, love, cast aside; it's only just:
But don't throw me out, if throw out you must.

The heat oppresses like a tyrant's power;
The fans blow forth hot air like demagogues.
We strive to move as if we're stuck in bogs
And wish in vain for a refreshing shower.
Each overheated, sudorific hour
Makes us exhausted, prone to pant like dogs,
Or lie like lifeless, carbon-breathing logs
Hoping that soon the thunderheads will lower.
To bring us rain, coolth, and a change of pace
As welcome as a glass of lemonade,
Or even more; this tempest we can face
With gratitude, like leaf and stalk and blade,
Who know its nourishment and see its grace
And praise their God for all that He has made.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Few Comments Regarding Early Christianity

1.There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need (Acts 4:34-5).

These verses came up in the First Reading at Mass recently, and I was struck by a similarity between the way the Apostles organized the distribution of property and Notre Dame's financial aid policy, namely, that to every admitted student they provide aid sufficient to meet the student's demonstrated financial need. Perhaps partly because I benefited from this system, I am highly in favor of it, agreeing that admission should be the endpoint for judgments based on merit in the university admission/aid/housing process. Other universities, which base some of their aid on further post-admission considerations of merit, seem to be lacking in the commitment to the Gospel that Notre Dame exhibits in this regard, which is, I grant you, a slightly unusual situation. But I don't mind Notre Dame admitting meritorious students and then giving them all the aid they need to get the education that Notre Dame can give them. It certainly works out well for Notre Dame in the end, since they get their money back in many different ways, such as investments  as well as in the tuition paid by wealthier students, who can afford it without much aid. On investments, see the first verse of the Acts passage, although Fr. Jenkins and the other administrators at Notre Dame are not quite the apostles, although at least one of the Fellows is an Apostolic Successor.

2. Has anyone else noticed the trend recently of basing new churches somewhat loosely but pretty recognizably on Early Christian architecture? Fairly wide in comparison to their height with clerestories (sometimes as the main area of windows) and round apses. The two things that are often missing (to my sorrow) are Columns (what's a Basilica without Columns?) and Mosaics. I really think a Liturgical Consultant was sitting around one day with a Somewhat Traditional Architect and the conversation went something like this.

LC: I'd like to help design a church, and I can, thanks to my vague liturgical training.

STA: OK, what kind of church would you like it to be? We've got Early Christian, Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Neogothic, and, I guess, Modern.

LC: Which one of those is the most like a Great Big Welcoming Hug?

(The STA considers for a moment. He seems unsure.)
STA: Um, none of them really, but the Early Christian basilica was based on a Greco-Roman meeting place type of building called a Basilica.

LC: Aha, the church is basically a place to gather, not like a temple you know. It's more about celebrating community than doing some kind of adoration for a God who's in "some heaven light-years away." It's more Gather than Worship, I'd say.

STA: I guessed you might be hoping for something along those lines. Yeah, Early Christian's pretty cool. Just think...all those Columns and Mosaics.

LC: Those aren't accessible to the average Joe Gather. Columns block the view and what possible symbolic significance could they have? And mosaics...they're all little pieces...way too scholastic for me. They don't look like anything

STA: The same could be said for a lot of your art.

(The STA collapses in a fit of laughter; when he has recovered, he leaves the LC to design his own church, while he himself goes to his studio and draws the elevation of a Renaissance palazzo or something.)

Click here to listen to a podcast of this post.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Based on an Historical Presumption...

Happy Shakespeare's Birthday!

We know from documentary evidence that William was baptized on April 26, 1564, so historians, being the speculative sorts they often are, presume that, three days being a usual or traditional period of time to intervene between a birth and a baptism, Shakespeare was born on April 23, which, by coincidence or providence, is both St. George's feast day and the date of Shakespeare's death in 1616.

The nimis speculative tendencies of historians deserve their own moderately scathing post. Keep an eye out for that. You don't want to read a book review I once composed on a book about monuments and the rhetorical use of urban spaces. It may have been a slight overreaction.

I will conclude with a grammatically and rhetorically notable quotation from Shakespeare; it's a fairly famous excerpt from Richard II, II.i., spoken by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out[...]

This sentence is grammatically notable because it contains what amounts to the longest subject in the history of English literature; if someone cares to show me a longer, I will not dispute it,!

It is rhetorically notable mainly due to its buildup, its final contrast, its pathos, and its overall masterful use of all the components of poetry: rhythm, sound, and vocabulary. It's just awesome.

I don't mind admitting I like poetry, and (not that it matters, but...) that I agree with the great overarching consensus that Shakespeare is among the best of poets.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Click here to listen to a podcast of this post.

A Poem (composed during Ancient and Medieval Philosophy class, Spring 2010)

May I not spy the sun these days
When rain is falling down?
May I not spy a glint of hope 
In this despairing town?

Lord Mayor, Lord Mayor, I bid you stay
From this your hopeless ride.
Stay with us, lest in future days
Some evil thing betide.

He turns him not; he sees me not
Or feigns he does not see.
He's ridden off; he's lost, he's gone
Beyond the farthest tree.

The farthest is an apple-tree;
Its fruit is green and sour.
Oh, woe betide me that I see
The Mayor's departing-hour.

The river runs beside our town;
It has no self-control.
When it is given cause to rise
It starts to rage and roll.

The rain has fallen seven days;
Tomorrow will be eight.
The river is in haste to flood
And can no longer wait.

A lady runs to me in haste;
Ah me! it is my wife.
Without a shred of sense or will
She begs me for her life.

Why do you run to beg of me
To spare your life this day?
I have to power to stop the shower
Or make it go away.

Her cries grow shrill, and as she cries
I feel my head grow light.
A quiet sound attacks my ears,
And all around is night.

I wake and see the light of day.
Oh joy! it is the sun.
I lie in comfort on a bed;
The stream has ceased to run.

But wait! Where am I? For this place
Is not the town I know.
What has been done while I have slept?
How long was that ago?

A man approaches dressed in green;
He seems a courteous soul.
He stops and says, "Thanks be to God
"That you are well and whole.

"Thanks be to God that he preserves 
"His sons from evil days,
"For he has freed you from the dark;
"To God alone be praise!"

"Good sir," I say, "now tell me true:
"Where am I, and wherefore?
"How long have I been sleeping here
"A night and day, or more?"

"The King," he says, "knew your distress
"And hastened to bring aid.
"He freed your townsmen from the flood
"Which knew no barricade."

"How did the King know of our plight
"When he is far away?"
"The Mayor brought news of your distress;
"He rode the livelong day.

"The King set out without delay
"To save your town from woe.
"He brought you to his castle high;
"This only do I know."

"The Mayor!" say I, "I took him for
"A coward, not a man!
"But now I see I have misjudged
"The way his counsels ran.

"For had the Mayor not gone," said I,
"Our townsmen would be dead;
"The rocks would all be wet with blood,
"The river stained with red.

"But tell me, if perhaps you know,
"What did befall my wife.
"Oh, do not say she met the flood!
"Did God preserve her life?"

"God did preserve her life," said he,
"And yours did she preserve.
"She bore you with her feeble strength;
"She did not faint or swerve."

"Oh joy!" said I. "Thanks be to God!
"For through our Mayor and King
"He has sustained us by his might
"From this most evil thing."

Mine eyes have spied the sun this day
When rain has ceased to fall.
And I have seen a glint of hope
From God who made us all.

So even when the raindrops fall,
And floods are drawing near,
Remember that the sun still shines
And do not yield to fear.

And when the storm Temptation comes,
with Darkness and Despair,
Remember that our God still iives!
Betake yourself to prayer.

All glory be to God above,
Who saves us from the flood;
When evil threatens in our lives,
He turns it to our good.

Click here to hear a podcast of this post.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Following Is a Sequence

Let Christians offer sacrifice of praise
To Christ the Victim in these Easter days.
The Lamb has purchas'd back his sheep gone wild,
And Christ (though free from sin) has reconcil'd
All sinners to His Father. Death and life
Have met in conflict and in wondrous strife.
The One who died, but came alive again
Life's Leader, starts his resurrection-reign.
O Mary, speak; explain to us and say
What thing you saw while walking on your way!
The tomb of Christ who lives, I saw the glory
Of Him who rose; the angels told the story.
I saw the cloths that wrapp'd his limbs and head,
For Christ, my hope, is risen from the dead!
He will precede his own to Galilee.
We know that Christ is risen verily
And dies no more! Have mercy, Victor King,
On us who now your Paschal paean sing,
On us who laud you (for you live again)
And chant you Alleluia and Amen.

Click here to listen to a podcast of this post.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's Not What You Know...

If I were in charge of branding for the Communion of Saints, I might come up with a tagline that went something like this:

The Communion of Saints: Getting It Done (By God's Grace) Since AD 33.

To belong to this Communion is, basically, to be Epic. It is a large group of people extending over a long period of time and accomplishing ineffably awesome things thanks to their common mission and mutual solicitude for the redemptio et salus et incolumitas of their fellow Saints. What adjective can better describe it than Epic, I ask you?

(Digression 1: I almost said "well-being and redemption," but since that is the Old Translation, I shied away from it; I think the New Translation is "redemption, health, and well-being" or something.)

(Digression 2: There is a non-denominational Christian church in Milwaukee called Epikos. I think they have a point, despite the presumable variance in doctrine.)

I don't mind admitting that I just codified my digressions.

Probably my favorite part about the Communion of Saints is the specificity of it. The names we receive in connection with the Sacraments link us with particular saints and their work. Moreover, the Church has named patron saints for all kinds of things, from various illnesses to divers occupations. (Maybe even the occupation of Divers.) Also, individual institutions (such as colleges, universities, hospitals, cities, republics, and kingdoms) are wont to dedicate themselves to a particular saint both as a sign of honor to that saint and as a very practical way of getting it done. (Pace the Circumlocution Office [see Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens], the point of govenment is in fact to Get it done, and a patron can be helpful in this regard.)

I emphasize the fact that it is practical not because it is counter-intuitive; quite the contrary: it makes a lot of intuitive sense. People are always going around saying the following thing (particularly in the context of Success): "It's not what you know; it's who you know."

(Digression 3: No one says "It's whom you know," even if -- which I don't guarantee -- the accusative form would be correct.)

The same holds awe-inspiringly true in the Communion of Saints. Patrons excel at getting things done in their particular provinces (geographical or otherwise). St. Anthony rivals Sherlock Holmes when it comes to finding stuff. St. Cecilia has helped thousands of musicians over the centuries create some of the most beautiful pieces known to man for the praise and glory of God's name. Just think how many more sore throats one might have to endure if St. Blase wasn't watching our larynges. (I think that's the plural; Blogger recognizes it anyway.) I am firmly convinced that St. Benedict is very interested in all places where his monks have established communities, and takes an active role in them to this day. The same goes for any patron, and for all the saints in a more general fashion.

By our membership in the Body of Christ, by our enlisting in the Church Militant at Baptism, and thus by our Communion with the Saints, we receive the enormous privilege of knowing all these people, and what is even better, and not always true or emphasized in the world of Success, sharing with them the love of Christ. The Lord says, No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends (John 15:10). The Saints are those who have committed themselves to this love, and through Baptism, all are friends of each other and of Christ. The Saints, though they have gone ahead of us to the triumph of Heaven, nevertheless continue to lay down their eternal life for us, by interceding for us before the throne of God. Our part, which is also part of God all-knowing and all-loving plan, is partly the same as theirs: to intercede for our militant friends on earth. But we have a further privilege and task as pilgrims here on earth: to ask our friends in high places for help they have the right, the duty, and the opportunity to obtain for us. My help comes from the LORD, says the Psalmist (Ps 121), the maker of heaven and earth. The same God and Father who devised all of creation for the good of his children, has also instituted the Communion of Saints for the sharing of spiritual goods.

And, thanks be to God, it really works.

Click here to listen to a podcast of this post.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Vita, Dulcedo, Spes

I don't mind admitting that I love the University of Notre Dame, or that it has has a considerable potential to frustrate and disappoint me, or that it has often actualized that potential.

Sometimes when I consider an aspect of the University, I rejoice; other times I lament. Notre Dame is not consistent, and I wish it knew this about itself as well as I and many others do. Specifically in the area of academics, the University needs to come to grips with the fact that while its research may be benevolent, useful, and innovative, and its professors are well-trained in their respective subjects and often very good at teaching, it has fallen away to a great extent from any kind of integrated approach, and its Catholic identity, of which it seems to recognize the value more and more with time, is not unified with its academic identity, resulting in a most unpleasant situation of not being One, which as always weakens its ties, and even perhaps its communion, with the Church. I do not mean to imply that Notre Dame is in schism; it is still far from that, but trends have now long been in development which if encouraged may prove quite detrimental to unity.

This situation cannot be solved merely from above or from below, by good students or good professors or good administrators, but it rests more with those in authority to guide the place, and as it stands now, the Board of Trustees has the greatest power. The task of electing the president of the University is entrusted to them (as Trustees, obviously), and if they choose a weak president, as they have been known to do twice over in days not long past, they have a clear way to getting done whatever they want done. Now why their agenda should have become so radically distinct from the Catholic identity and mission of the University as it used to be, I cannot fully say, but it has, I can wretchedly state, a great deal to do with -- to put it plainly -- money.

Inasmuch as a university is part of the economy (and it undeniably is: people work there and -- like it or not -- train for future work), money is a factor that must be taken into consideration. However, it would seem that if financial concerns trump the Catholic identity per se or (as seems especially to be the case at Notre Dame) its integration into academics, someone has made a sizable mistake, and those in highest charge of the University's finances, namely its Trustees, are the ones who must be courageous enough to do something about it, even at risk, painful as it may be to men and women rendered mercenary by the Fall, of losing some prestige, some innovation, or some -- to put it plainly -- money.

A university cannot survive without money, and money comes at least partly from students. And a good university cannot exist without good students. Thus the solution is not to keep away from Notre Dame and hope it will get better: what would that avail us? Why would we want to go there after all the good professors have left when they see that no students there even wants an integrated education permeated and fulfilled by the Faith of Christ? We know from experience that almost everything in this world is a joint effort of some kind. Not everyone can love Notre Dame, especially as it exists today, but no one should give up on it. It is not the best university for every individual: l am among the first to acknowledge this; but it is has things going for it that have stood the test of time and can, if fostered, emulated, and expanded, lead to a renewal of greatness, as defined by strong academics, a love of Truth Himself, and a commitment to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

Here are a few examples. The last two are, in my mind, the most important, so you may skip to them if you wish, but the others are admirable in their own ways.

1. The Liturgical Choir (and some other choirs, but I know Lit Choir best). These splendid people (I can say this now, no longer being one of them) sing for Mass each Sunday, and on several other occasions, and they know (thanks to their excellent directors) why they do this: to give glory to God and to assist others in doing the same. If only these goals were applied in the academic realm, the University would be a healthier and lovelier place. Furthermore, as a community whose members work together for a common goal despite their different functions, Lit Choir can be seen as an example to Notre Dame as a whole. Then, too, there is the beauty of the music they sing. Nothing truly beautiful can lead away from God. As long as the music (not to mention the Mass [see no. 3]) remains at Notre Dame, it will not have failed: far from it.

2. The Center for Ethics and Culture. Judging from its inimitable conference held each autumn, this Center could just as well be called the Center for Charity and Truth. It is has always been viewed as suspect by the University, since, as I see it, if it were left to its own devices and given total control, driven by students as well as faculty, it would more or less implement the necessary reforms throughout the University community. Hence, the University, which sees peril in such a possibility, has considered it prudent to provide as few devices for the Center's use as possible, and to prevent its gaining devices in any other way. We must remember to thank the Center for all it does, since the University would be a far less lovable -- and loving -- place without it.

3. Our Lord is really present in every single one of the 29 dorms on campus, as well as in many other buildings. Mass is celebrated many times every day, and for many the Paschal Triduum is a highlight of the spring semester. As long as the love of Christ shines forth at Notre Dame, as long as priests and people there keep desiring Our Lord and making him present sacramentally and in other ways, he will be present there. And if the just and merciful Judge has not abandoned or condemned a place, who are we to despair and leave it for dead?

4. Finally, a word on Our Lady, Notre Dame. The University has been placed under her patronage, and as long as this continues, she will not fail to protect it from ruin. I believe this wholeheartedly. And since Mary's will is perfectly attuned to that of the Heavenly Father, it is true to say that God is for Notre Dame. And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). I ask you all to pray for Notre Dame. By trusting in the charity of God, she can and will overcome.

And I don't mind admitting that I long to see that day.

Click here to listen to a podcast of this post.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Automobile Scale, Part 1

Let there be no confusion. I don't mean weigh stations, though truckers or those who live near long-haul shipping routes may presume otherwise, and I don't mean to rate various makes or models, even Italianate ones like Fiat or Alfa Romeo, as my brother N. W. Thomas so kindly suggested; I will leave these matters to Teamsters and the like. Rather, I wish to reflect a bit, not upon mirrors (though my chosen verb may imply it, and objects are no doubt closer than they appear), but upon an aspect of our modern society. I was about to say "upon our modern society," but then I realized that I would alienate a large portion of the blogosphere by infringing upon their province. (Blogger, by the bye, does not recognize the word blogosphere; I am outraged.)

After such a prooemium, you may be wondering what I'm getting at: so much the better, say I. I am talking about the practice that has developed in the United States particularly of planning, designing, and constructing things so as to accommodate that no doubt useful item of technology, the automobile, with the further effect of inconveniencing to a variably great extent, the pedestrian, who, unlike the automobile, has human dignity. I would like to imagine a scenario for a moment; I beseech my dear Realists not to be too put off by my flights of fancy. Idealists, this one's for you.

Imagine, I pray you, a man of another age, indeed, more or less any other age: let us say a Roman of the Late Republic. His praenomen is Gaius, or I daresay Marcus, but no matter. He comes to our time and begins, like a virtuous and civilized man, to follow a road in well-founded hopes of its leading to Rome.

He comes, let us say, to a market of sorts, what we today call a shopping center, a strip mall, or a Series of Shoppes. He at first wonders what it could be, for it is separated from the roadway by a field, or a group of fields, entirely paved. He estimates that the nearest building is a furlong from the road, though this maybe an exaggeration, he thinks. He considers the patrician villas in various outskirts of Roman towns, and wonders if this might be something similar. Let him look as he will for signs of habitation; it is in vain. Instead as he traverses the paved field he notes that the place has a commercial appearance, and is in fact a group of places to buy things. Why, he wonders, separate the products from the consumer? (He sometimes thinks in very 20th century ways.) And why, he further considers, is all the writing so oversized? As one walks along beside the shop, one cannot receive any useful information. He becomes a bit frustrated, and wishes that some roads led to Rome a bit more quickly.

To be continued...

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Why the Dickens?

I don't mind admitting that I like Dickens. Indeed, the very title of this blog is a quotation from Chapter 48 of Great Expectations, one of my favorites among his works. An admission, however, is no explanation, and I intend in my first post to explore some aspects of Dickens' works that may elucidate my grounds for liking him. This is not a Dickens blog per se, but considering its title and the presently occurring bicentenary of that novelist's birth, I find it not inappropriate to begin these pages with at least a Dickens post.
Liking an author is a simple way of saying someting multifaceted: more the beginning of a conversation than any sort of conclusion. The meaning of the phrase indicates something about the person who says it as well as the object of his predilection. Thus I cannot hope to include and conclude all at once. A couple introductory points follow, which will hopefully develop into a discussion and perhaps also a further series of posts on different, gradually diverging topics.

1. Philology in the broad sense
Dickens' writing strongly suggests that besides being able to write long books (as other lesser authors have insisted on doing repeatedly), not to mention long sentences chock-full of words and short sentences with only the right words in just the right places, he loves each of his words, each of his sentences, and each of his books. This love includes both enjoyment and care. Each of these aspects is displayed in the way he combines words in sentences, and sentences in paragraphs. He enjoys a pleasant or unpleasant juxtaposition or layering of sounds as is appropriate to the situation, and takes care to preserve that beauty which is τὸ πρέπον even in his ugliest and most disturbing scenes. The marvels of his paragraphs range from dramatic progression to commonplace events, all expressed in ways that promote interest, inspire commitment, and often evince a wide range of emotions, both in quantity and quality. In many cases he uses the particular ambiguities of language for any or all of the preceding effects, as well as for another, which will be the second section of this post.

2. Humor and character
Dickens has a well-developed sense of humor: humor in all its senses. He has an aptitude for portraying different temperaments, and he does so when he chooses with what to me at least amounts to incomparable hilarity. Now I don't mind admitting that when he refrains from this hilarity, his own temperament as well as the conventions of his period sometimes leads him to sentimentality -- and such in my mind are often the weakest points in his books -- but for the most part his use of the language, laden with enjoyment and care, tends to create identifiable and distinguishable characters and unforgettably funny speech and narration: at the parts where it is meant to be funny. Thus I distinguish four types of Dickensian writing
a. Sentimental (I don't really approve, and it is the least prevalent)
b. Serious (He is excellent especially at setting moods [the openings of Bleak House and Little Dorrit come to mind], and there is rarely a dull Serious moment)
c. Playful (This really deserves a more normal-sounding name, since it is actually his general mode of narration, but it means that the narrator is using the language perfectly correctly and basically seriously, but does not hesitate to notice little ambiguities and turns of phrase that pop up and deserve notice. See the last few paragraphs of Chapter 34 and the beginning of Chapter 35 of Great Expectations for a masterful transition from Playful to Serious.)
d. Downright Funny (Similar to Playful, but -- usually in direct speech -- often quite distinct)
The combinations and progressions among these four, combined with his general skill in language and his memorable characters and locales, come together to create much of what I love about Dickens. He has influenced my writing style, my taste in literature, and even, I think I may truthfully say, my view of the world. I owe a lot to him. I don't mind admiting that.

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