Monthly Archives: March 2008


Rob Thomas is going to remake Cupid?!

Yes, it died too soon. And now it’s being reincarnated as a new pilot for faithless-but-repentant ABC, with new cast and new scripts but the same concept.

I assume that this time he’s going to lean harder on the “this guy is crazy” side, as it disconcerted him last time that all the fans were totally convinced that “this guy is a Greek god exiled to Earth”. Unless he’s decided to let go and let god. :)

But I don’t care. I’m sorry that our old friends won’t be there, but it’s such a theatrical concept that a recast won’t be too much of a strain. Besides, most people never saw the thing at all, let alone the most brilliant television episode ever to feature linguistics as a plot point. (Snif.)

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Goodbye, Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke died today, the last of the three great Deans of Science Fiction.

He was a great storyteller. May God be good to him.

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Popular Devotions Centered on Jesus

I’ve been musing a lot lately on the old insistence that Catholics don’t have a “personal relationship with Jesus”. Heh. There’s a wonderful picture at the Dayton Art Institute of a widow praying, which gives that the lie. Since that picture’s not online yet, I’ll show you another DAI work instead, demonstrating the same thing.

In fact, a personal relationship with Jesus is precisely why we have the religious practices that many non-Catholics find icky and idolatrous. Obviously, some people don’t want us to get that personal!

Since it’s Holy Week, the obvious place to begin is devotion to Christ, and Him crucified. Most people begin to take this stuff personally while looking at a crucifix, and realizing the price Jesus paid for everyone and for every individual. The more early Christian sites we examine, the more early Christian depictions of the crucifixion we find. In every age, we remind each other of what He came to earth to do.

Some people like to focus on bits and pieces of the scene, so it’s inevitable that popular devotion would follow this lead. During the Middle Ages, devotion to the Five Wounds of Christ was very big. People also had devotion to the Instruments of the Passion. Obviously, this would include the precious splinters of the True Cross that St. Helena, Constantine’s mother, dug up. But she also found nails, and a good few other reputed relics are scattered throughout the world: thorns from the crown of thorns, the centurion’s spear, and so on. However, devotion to the Instruments was for most people a mental thing; they meditated upon them and their strange holiness, not expecting ever to see them. There are also relics of Christ’s face and body: the Shroud of Turin, reputed to be Christ’s graveclothes, and the Holy Face, reputed to be the cloth which wiped Christ’s face.

But there are other important points in Christ’s life. Many people are devoted to Christ as an infant or a toddler. St. Ita and St. Anthony of Padua are only two of the many saints granted visions of holding the Christ Child in their arms. Statues of Baby Jesus are also very popular, and mysticism also clusters around these images. The crowned and gowned Infant of Prague is an example of this, as is every Nativity scene. The Philippines were allegedly evangelized by the Santo Nino de Cebu. Of course, many devotions focus on visualizing scenes from the life of Christ — notably, the Rosary, and some of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.

It’s a bit harder to have devotion toward the Resurrected Christ, because thoughts of Him tend naturally to lead to thoughts of Christ the Judge. (Well, not for some people. But we’re not all as optimistic as the folks who hang resurrectifixes and do liturgical dances. Perhaps they have a point, though, and it does count as a popular devotion because they’re people.) Obviously, we all want the Last Judgment to come and peace and justice to flow like rivers, but it takes a saint not to be a bit scared by it. Honesty is apt to lead one to reflect that if Justice is covering the earth, He’s probably not going to like some of one’s own behavior.

Still, we do have Easter, the fifty days after it, and a whole load of holy pictures of the resurrected Christ and Christ the King in pretty much every Catholic Church.  The Divine Mercy devotion focuses on the image of Christ in glory, also.

One of the best devotions is the simplest. Countless people have practiced seeing Christ in every person they meet, particularly in the poor — and treating each person accordingly. This is a straight road to holiness, for anyone who can do it.

People also focus on aspects of Jesus. Images of His Sacred Heart, crowned with thorns, and representing both Christ’s kindness and suffering, are very common. After the canonization of its promoter, St. Faustina, devotion to Christ’s Divine Mercy has increased, along with recitations of the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the display of images of rays of Divine Mercy streaming from His glorified Body. Devotion to Jesus’ Holy Name is scriptural, of course. Many Holy Name devotees also say prayers for those who use God’s Name in vain.

Probably the most intense devotion is that directed toward Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. This is practiced during Mass, of course, and particularly while receiving the Eucharist — but also during Divine Adoration or Benediction. There’s no doubt that this is the most meaningful devotion. He’s right there in front of you, not just as the invisible God, but in Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

Evangelical Protestants have just as creative a “pious imagination” as Catholics do, when it comes to finding new ways to worship God. The “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets are a perfect example. Of course, a Catholic would have been more likely to get the bracelet blessed by a priest so it’d be a sacramental, but the principle of the thing is much the same as that of a holy card or medal. :)

Basically, then, this is not all that strange. It’s a lot easier to live it than explain it. :)

(If you don’t really get this devotion thing, neither did one of my Constant Readers. Not a good explainer, me. So I’ve posted more about popular devotions here, which will hopefully make more sense.)

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The Definition of Devotion

Amusingly enough, the word “devotion” has picked up another meaning recently — apparently by back-formation. Let’s hit the dictionaries!

Here’s a modern definition from

1. Ardent, often selfless affection and dedication, as to a person or principle. See Synonyms at love.
2. Religious ardor or zeal; piety.
3a. An act of religious observance or prayer, especially when private. Often used in the plural.

3b. devotions Prayers or religious texts: a book of devotions.
4. The act of devoting or the state of being devoted.
Meaning 3B, which clearly should be a separate meaning, was not in the 1913 Webster in anything like this strength!
1. The act of devoting; consecration.
2. The state of being devoted; addiction; eager inclination; strong attachment love or affection; zeal; especially, feelings toward God appropriately expressed by acts of worship; devoutness.
3. Act of devotedness or devoutness; manifestation of strong attachment; act of worship; prayer.
4. Disposal; power of disposal.  [Obs.]They are entirely at our devotion, and may be turned backward and forward, as we please. Godwin.
5. A thing consecrated; an object of devotion. [R.]
So where’s the back-formation from?
The 1913 Webster:
 devotional – adjective. Pertaining to, suited to, or used in, devotion; as, a devotional posture; devotional exercises; a devotional frame of mind.
 But if you look on Google, the overpowering number of hits early on — are for a noun! “Free devotionals”. “Daily Christian devotionals”. “New devotions every day.”
The new meaning of “devotional” for Protestants and the religious book trade is “a book of short articles which encourage meditation and prayer”. The new meaning of “devotion” is “a short article written to encourage meditation and prayer”. There’s still a little bit of connection to the older “devotional literature” or “at his devotions”, but not a lot. I find this kinda fascinating.
I also think a lot of people searching for “popular devotions” are apt to get their minds blown….

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Economists Who Are Saints

Not that I ever hated economists or thought they were all evil, but “saint” and “economist” didn’t go together in my mind. Little did I know….

Clare Krishan quoted this interview, in Amy’s comment box:

“Two economists among the scholastics became saints: San Bernardino of Siena and his great student San Antonino of Florence. Let’s hope they will not be the last.”

Pretty cool, huh?

St. Bernardine is one of those saints who usually crops up only in studying St. Catherine of Siena’s life, because he was the patron saint of her city. But he did some neat things that shouldn’t be overshadowed by her, obviously!

One thing I’ve heard: after he preached against people who were addicted to playing cards and got them to stop, a printer of decks of cards complained to him that he and his family would starve now that the card bubble had burst. St. Bernardine thought about the problem, and then introduced various devotions (primarily the Holy Name) which could be printed on cardstock and put in the pocket, stuck on the wall as pictures, etc. This both helped the faithful and kept the printers in business. (Especially since they’d already bought all that cardstock.)

I believe the economics stuff normally comes in as a subset of natural law, with the Scholastics.


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I Wish to Register a Protest.

Janet Kagan died on February 29, 2008. Of COPD, of all things, which explains why she hasn’t been writing much for the last ten years. But there were no global funeral parades, no memorial tailkinker jalapeno eating contests. In fact, I wasn’t even informed. What is the deal, people!?!

(All right, the date’s got style. But as for the rest, I disapprove.)

Still, I bet the angels are having a lot of fun, with her around.

If you don’t know who Janet Kagan is… well, she was the author of one very good Star Trek novel, Uhura’s Song. She was also the author of a good but hard to find sf novel, Hellspark, and the wonderful Mirabile series of stories about genetic engineering that’s a bit too creative. She also wrote a few more stories, which I mostly haven’t read. She won a Hugo for one of them — I did read that one, but it’s not a favorite.

If you go to her webpage, she has a couple of free stories still up.  You might want to go soon.


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Surrrrrre He Hates Science.

“We can say that all science is one great battle for life….”

Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at San Lorenzo, 3/9/2008.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, the UK newspapers rip on the Catholic Church. Clearly, it’s suppressing astronomy by… building and funding better facilities for the Vatican Observatory guys!  Then they ignore Parliament taking away the funds for Jodrell Bank and all radio astronomy in Britain. So it’s the Church that has funded astronomy continuously for hundreds of years, but it’s anti-science; while the secular government clearly has science’s best interests in mind. Uh huh.

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Patristics and Sample Chapters of The Last Centurion by John Ringo

John Ringo is an odd bird, even by comparison to the normal oddness of science fiction writers. Ringo can write really really good, bad, and creepily-unwholesome-I-need-a-shower books. Often inside the same cover. So I was more than a bit hesitant to check out the sample chapters for his upcoming book, but I did.

Anyway, I have good news. The sample chapters of The Last Centurion do not involve anything creepy. They do involve vast amounts of infodumps on real life issues combined with sf. This is the sort of near-nonfiction that a lot of sf fans enjoy, because we like absorbing large amounts of data while slotting it into what we already know. (Some people say this means too little character development. I think that, properly done, the information a character likes to impart and how he does it can define their personality. But even if it’s generic, I usually enjoy it.)

In this case, the topic is “What Not to Do in Pandemics”.

Here comes the patristics angle.

In Ringo’s fictional pandemic, the US has an unusually high survival rate despite a lot of bad decisions. This is due in large part to the way surviving Americans take care of their neighbors.

What came to my mind is that his “high trust society” and “voluntary random social alliances” are very largely the same thing as “Christians trying to be Good Samaritans”. Early Christians took care of their neighbors during the ancient pandemics, even though their neighbors couldn’t be expected to take care of them. Even though their neighbors probably thought they were creepy malefici and mathematici, and quite likely had lobbied to have them killed for offending the gods and causing earthquakes. This is why a lot of neighbors, who survived the pandemics with the help of the creepy cross-cultists next door, suddenly found the Christian religion. In great numbers.

Anywhere that Christianity has been followed heartily, you see this same behavior. The problem is that Europe in De Tocqueville’s time was a weak sort of Christendom. A lot of bad stuff had happened — wars, schisms, culture wars, religious wars, etc. The Enlightenment had followed, and that meant that many people thought they were too smart to be religious. Governments were highly suspicious of religions of which they disapproved, but almost as suspicious of the religion they were supposed to affirm. Your neighbors’ parents or grandparents probably had tried to kill your family patriarchs, and lectured them about their shameful belief that good works pleased God, to boot. So a lot of people did their best to stay away from religion, and a lot of people didn’t see a priest or a minister very often. Safer to stay home on Sunday. So traditional religious life was at a low ebb in most of Europe even before all the revolutions started. Those were the societies that DeTocqueville knew — the battered remnants of what had been.

Many immigrants came to America either to build their idea of a truly Christian society, to escape persecution and go somewhere it was safe to be their brand of Christian (or Jew, for that matter — Jews also believed that God commanded them to do certain acts of mercy and other mitzvahs). We know this! It’s not a secret. So it’s no surprise that what DeTocqueville saw was indeed a Christian society. Maybe a little standoffish, granted, but a lot of people who came here had dreamed of being left alone. (Or of having elbow room and a fresh start — the other big reason people came.) The Deist and non-denominational language used in public life and our founding documents probably ties in somewhere — by making it easier for folks of very different sects to share natural law, sort out a common theology of national purpose, and to pray together. Having the ability for outsiders to choose American citizenship makes the association voluntary, and naturalization is almost like a baptism. It’s not an analogy you want to take too far, but it’s not entirely wrong. As Chesterton pointed out, “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence….”

The Constitution has its say, too. “….establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity….” It’s all about love your neighbor as yourself, and treat him as you would be treated. Common. General. Ourselves and our. “We the People” is very close to the assembly of Israel and the ecclesia of Christendom.

So there’s your “random” social association. It’s not random association at all, if the vast majority of a society believes in some sense that all people are your neighbors and all Americans, like all Christians, are your brothers. If you’re here, you’re chosen and have chosen — you’re one of us. That assumption is sometimes stretched to breaking point, but it’s still there in our minds.

It’s not surprising that, in the next chapter, Ringo provides an example of how churches are one of our great strengths during emergencies. Even in a pandemic that would throw local areas back on their own resources, churches would be a great resource.

However, he goes the very long way around, instead of quoting Paul: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’ We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.”

(Btw, if Mr. Ringo should read this — it’s the “teller” in the bank, and the “cashier” in the grocery store. You probably hit the delete key a bit too hard.) :)


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Hopping Vampire Sighting!

The newest Power Ranger show (Power Rangers Jungle Fury)  just started a couple weeks back. This particular American sentai show has a rather interesting theme: Chinese chopsocky flicks!

Yes, these Power Rangers were student monks at a mysterious mystic temple. (Religion unspecified.) They’ve got some kind of animal spirit/kung fu martial arts style thing going, and the requisite demon unwisely released by traitorous jerk, etc.  This is crossed over with the requisite Power Ranger secret base and cover job — which in this case is a pizza joint run by their hippie, techie, foodie sifu. (I must confess that I’m fond of him. He reminds me of Yellow Springs when it was still fun.)

But there is also a group of enemy fighters with a poisonous animal theme, and called… THE FIVE FINGERS OF VENOM! They are pretty much a direct tribute to Five Deadly Venoms.

The forces of evil also feature faceless goons which are not the usual “putty men” or robotic troopers. These guys are HOPPING ZOMBIES/HOPPING VAMPIRES! (Alas, the American dialogue deliberately obscures this. But the Japanese footage is pretty darned difficult to misinterpret.)

I still think this whole unexplained monk thing is rather odd, especially as it’s been featured in at least a couple of American shows now. But the other chopsocky features are cool. Not bad for a Power Rangers show.

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Misunderstood Martyrdom

Apparently I miss the really funny anti-Catholic propaganda. :) But apparently, the tour guides take a lot of Protestant missionary visitors to a certain monastery church in Ecuador, so that everybody can go home to tell their friends that they’ve seen a statue of a crucified Mary. But what they’re seeing is a statue of a crucified St. Liberata, aka St. Uncumber, aka….

Which is logical, because her legend says she was crucified. By her dad the king, not the Roman government. There is also similar iconography associated with the legend of St. Wilgefortis, except that she used to be portrayed bearded. (She’s the one who allegedly miraculously grew a beard, which counts as one of the funniest saint legends ever.)

However, it’s possible that the whole thing ultimately derived from the early Christian martyr St. Julia of Corsica. She was a slave who was crucified — by being tied to the cross, which was common and cheaper than nails — and is portrayed accordingly. Her feast day was May 22.

“Shocking” photos and links about an extremely obscure saint below!

You can buy a whole scholarly art history book showing all the permutations. (No, this is not the perfect birthday gift for Jack Chick!) The image on the cover of the book is a bearded one.
“St. Wilgefortis” is also a song by Rebecca Clamp, with two music videos available on YouTube. Good fun, and some very pretty animation!

at Matt & Andrej Koymaski Home biographies

at Our Lady of Consolation Parish, Tacony in Philadelphia, PA

St. Wilgefortis holy card. This one’s interesting, because it has traditional crucifix iconography, a European mountain country background, and the Holy Spirit in the “illumination” pose you usually only see in pictures of the Annunciation, Christ’s baptism, and illustrations of Pope St. Gregory the Great writing down Gregorian chant. :) To my eye, though, the iconography is pretty clearly that of “virgin saint, but not the Blessed Virgin”. You’ll note that the outfit and colors are way different. No beard, though. Sigh.

St. Wilgefortis over at the Lion and the Cardinal. A snarky remark at the end about the portrayal of Christ on real crucifixes.

Even more statues at Curious Expeditions.An old German one at Wikimedia. This one’s interesting for the way it portrays the woman as very small and the cross as very massive.

And of course, we should mention that Castle Waiting is not only a good comic which comes highly recommended by myself and Joy, but also includes a lot of mentions of St. Wilgefortis. :)

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Roll the Bones

Rest in peace, Gary Gygax — sometime insurance agent, wargamer, groundbreaking game co-creator, Dungeonmaster, entrepreneur, novelist of sorts, and friendly guide to the D&D cartoon’s writers.

May the angels and St. Cuthbert come to meet you — and not with complaints about their stats.

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Since Julie Wanted to Know

In the last few days before the election, I got a bunch of ads for McCain (not totally spam, since I gave the Grand Old Party my phone number), a bunch of ads for Other People, one ad for a deserving local levy, and about 5000 zillion polls. No ads for any form of TV.

I’m afraid that I gave in to temptation, and notified one poor live body that we have the right to a secret ballot. Sigh. I don’t really take proper advantage of all this Lenten mortification.

I did, however, attempt to pray the Rosary today while having my teeth cleaned. It is a spiritual exercise which chiefly leaves one with a great deal of respect for those martyrs and confessors who managed to pray or sing hymns whilst having far worse things perpetrated upon them.

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In Other News

My mother’s crocuses finally bloomed today.

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Not That I Ever Vote or Get Nominated, But….

Doesn’t it make it a bit hard to vote, if you can’t even see the nominees until you log in to do the voting?

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