Monthly Archives: January 2009

Apparitions of Rachel in Gaza?

You get a lot of odd stories from soldiers in tight places, and reports of helpful apparitions of the saints are pretty common in all wars. But here’s one in a very modern war, which seems particularly fascinating. And of course, it causes controversy. Man, we humans love to argue!

If I were still writing fanfic, of course, it would be news of what Ziva was doing for those three months away from her NCIS team. :)

Anyway, whether or not she’s appearing in Gaza… St. Rachel, pray for us!

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African Incubi in Middletown, Ohio

There’s a lot of flippancy about African witchcraft beliefs, and about why on earth the Church would want to get involved with investigating “incidents” and tamping them down.

Well, here’s a perfectly good example, here in the US. A woman from Ghana was hired to take care of an elderly American lady who used to run a beauty shop. The Ghanan caregiver decided after a while that problems with the lights and odd incidents indicated that the old lady was consorting carnally with evil spirits, and tried various African exorcism home remedies, mostly amounting to physical injury for the old lady. (Oh, yes, but they were green! And one with the Earth!)

Apparently some kind of priest was brought in at one point, to do a house blessing just as a sop to the Ghanan woman, but there’s no evidence that he was told just how squirrelly things were getting. For that matter, there’s no evidence that the family did anything more about the Ghanan woman than just trying to talk her out of fear of the lights controlled by a motion detector.

Personally, I have to say I wouldn’t have left any old person I loved in the care of someone who thought evil spirits were about. (If there weren’t really any odd incidents, the caregiver was paranoid and not somebody to keep around. And if there was something hinky going on with the electricity, I would think it would be family’s job to discover what it was, and not to leave Grandma alone in a badly wired house with some stranger!)

But the thing is that, if you don’t cultivate good spiritual ideas in people, they will come up with their own ideas out of their hates and fears. A stranger woman alone in a house with an old woman in a faraway country with mysterious high tech devices? She can think up all kinds of horrible things.

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Fitness Report

I’ve been trying to exercise more, so as to lose weight more permanently than before. It’s annoying to do, but I do seem to be slimming down and gaining muscle tone by using the exercise videos. About the only ones with routines simple enough that I can perform them are Leslie Sansone’s walking videos, but those make me sweat plenty. I don’t like sweating, but at least if you do it at home, you’ve got a shower close.

(It’s not that I find sweating disgusting or anything. It’s just such a bother to sweat, and to exert myself enough that I get to the point of sweating. Exercise is just not all that exciting, even though it is good for you and makes you feel better.)

Anyway, on Sunday I managed to do Sansone’s 4-miles in 50 minutes video. (This includes a lot of jogging, which Sansone semi-jokingly calls “enhanced walking”.) I thought I was about to die when I was about halfway through, but I survived. (Actually, I think most exercise videos strive to make you feel like you’re going to die at about that point.)

I really need to do something more with my middle and back muscles, but unfortunately pilates and the like are a sure way for me to get a crook in my neck. (I’ve got some weirdnesses with my back, which is probably why.) I will probably have to break down and buy one of the belly dancing exercise videos, or something similar, that tries to exercise your back but not kill and eat it.

The biggest problem with me and exercise is that it’s really difficult for me to tell if I’m doing what the TV people are doing, the same way they’re doing it. I don’t really have a lot of awareness of where my body is and what it’s doing in relation to the rest of the world, when it comes to something new. If I already know how to do something, I can get my body to do it with a fair amount of precision; but if I don’t, it takes a lot of working out. It’s not that I’m clumsy, precisely. I can be very agile — if I know what I’m doing. But I’ve got a very slow learning curve with stuff I don’t know. Given how fast most exercise DVDs want you to learn new moves, you can see where this can be a problem.

My unexpected problem has been with doing sidesteps to the left. I must be spending a lot of time sitting wrong or something, because there’s a muscle on the outside of my left hip that absolutely hates sidesteps. I have found various ways to make it loosen up a bit and leave me alone, and it doesn’t really bother me at any other time than when I’m exercising in that specific way. But it’s strange to have a new problem. Maybe I’m getting old….

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A Hemry by Any Other Name

A guy named John G. Hemry wrote a very decent series of military SF books focusing on JAG cases in the future. I thought they were very interesting, and was sad that Hemry apparently had no other books come out after that.

But wait! There’s more Hemry! He is just writing under the name “Jack Campbell” now. Hurrah!

I found this out by listening to the audiobook version of The Lost Fleet: Dauntless. This is the first book in a series which contemplates what happens if some poor guy gets turned into a King Arthur or similar culture hero legend, and then actually comes back from the dead at some point in the future. He crosses this with a big helping of Xenophon’s March; and this mixture actually works quite well. His hero finds himself faced with huge problems, despite considering himself just an average professional military officer, and has to both catch up and adapt to survive — all without drinking the Kool-Aid about how great everyone thinks he is.

The premise is somewhat similar to that of the old series Andromeda, but is carried out with less mythos and a lot more modernity of feel. Hemry/Campbell repeatedly captures both a realism of military setting and leadership, and of the jarring way that cultural and ethical differences would tend to show up when you least expected them, no matter how much you tried to study up. Hemry also notes in his audiobook foreword that he tried to use his Navy experience with “relative motion” to make the space shiphandling bits credible; and I think this also works well. I’m only about a third of the way through the audiobook, but it is really keeping my interest.

Anyway, if you have also been seeing Jack Campbell books in the store, but hesitated to buy them lest the cool concept be badly executed and your valuable reading time wasted, hesitate no more. Also, there’s an earlier trilogy by Hemry called Stark’s War. (I’ve never seen it, but in my area that just means that people bought it and held onto it. We like military sf in this town.)

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Excommunications Lifted; Media Ignorance Descends

Today, the Pope, through the Curia, “remitted” the excommunications placed in 1988 on the four new bishops who had just been consecrated without permission (validly, but not legally) by Archbishop Lefebvre. The remission was retroactive, going back all the way to 1988, and removing all juridical penalties otherwise incurred. Archbishop Lefebvre’s penalties for doing the consecrations were not removed. (Not that it matters at this point, as excommunication only lasts until the moment of death. But it could have been done, just as governors can issue posthumous pardons.) This was an important step.

The SSPX (Society of St. Pius X, aka Archbishop Lefebvre’s traditionalist group) has a complicated relationship with the Church. They have their own chapels and clergy, but still regard themselves as Catholic. Some of them regard themselves as literally more Catholic than the Pope, and think Pope Benedict XVI is a dangerous liberal and Vatican II an illegitimate Church Council. Others wish desperately for reunification, and are prevented by local idiocy.

In general, the Vatican today is sympathetic to these folks, who largely are composed of ordinary Catholics with legitimate desires for traditional practices (like the old Mass, or having Mass said in Latin) that were never really abrogated legally. Since their legal rights were violated by the practices of local priests and bishops acting illegally, it is they who were wronged. Even Archbishop Lefebvre was acting out of a legitimate desire to conserve legal Church practices. For this reason, it was announced a few years back that the Vatican did not feel that the SSPX was in formal schism.

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger always sympathized with the SSPX’s desires, even if he (as an obedient son of the Church) thought their methods were very wrong. He was always one of the chief negotiators for bringing them back, and no doubt felt his failure in these attempts very deeply. As soon as he became Pope, he began trying once more to call them back. He also took steps to make the continuity of Church practice, and the desirability of Church tradition, explicitly visible and legal. Although these steps were not fast enough or thorough enough to gain SSPX approval, he did win the cooperation and reintegration of at least three traditionalist religious orders and many individual SSPX members.

Rumors and news of official SSPX semi-negotiation and letters kept surfacing and disappearing again over the years. However, ever since the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum was promulgated, those rumors have gotten ever stronger. During the Pope’s recent trip to France and Lourdes, he spent some time scolding the French bishops for ungenerosity with the traditional forms; and SSPX groups showed up to cheer the Pope. Also at this time, the SSPX organized to begin praying the Rosary for a removal of their bishops’ excommunications. In a way, this was aggressive; but in a way, it also showed their great longing to have things normalized. (Pretty great, as they reported members praying 1.7 million rosaries.) Apparently the SSPX leadership wrote the Pope a letter asking for a removal of the excommunications. And so, the Pope took steps, strong news release-y rumors filtered out, and today the excommunications were remitted.

On the other hand, there is no question that even a little separation from the Church is not healthy. There are plenty of loony people inside the Church — even loony bishops — but some members of the SSPX have hared off after things like geocentrism, royalism, or (in Bishop Williamson’s case) holocaust denial. Very odd, creepy prayers circulate, and many odd, creepy things are practiced in the name of traditionalism, even though they often only date back to 1962. But who is to tell people to quit the madness? There is no accountability for this kind of stuff outside the Church.

(Also, it’s been noticed before that every time SSPX negotiations with the Vatican are going well, Williamson tends to send out a press release saying something outrageous, ensuring that he’ll be attacked, arguments will break out, and the SSPX will back out of negotiations. Many wonder whether this is him being crazy or him being deliberately obstructive, to avoid losing power. Would it be fair, to allow him to continue holding the SSPX membership hostage to his mouth?)

So for the good of souls and minds, and for the sake of justice, the Pope is trying once more to call the SSPX back. That’s the point of the remission of excommunications. It doesn’t mean the SSPX have won; but also, it doesn’t mean that they have lost and must grovel. There’s no win or lose here, especially when the Pope has always largely agreed with you. It just means that the bishops of the SSPX aren’t excommunicated anymore, and thus are personally better off. The hope and understanding is that this will make for a good start for negotiations.

However, it is important to point out what this doesn’t do. It doesn’t legitimize the SSPX bishops as normal Catholic bishops in good standing or give them a normal place in the hierarchy. It doesn’t even say that they aren’t sinning by doing what they do. It certainly doesn’t say, “Oh, yeah, we’re good with all of Williamson’s statements, and we agree with him that it’s Catholic doctrine that women shouldn’t wear pants.” (Another Williamson comment.) Heck, no! (Especially since that one pope told the Bulgars that he didn’t care a bit whether or not women wore pants instead of skirts.)

What it does say is, “The door is open, and the ball is in your court. Respond.”

A really good parsing of the decree of remission by Father Z. The specific canon law reasons are not given in any form that we mere mortals have decode. We’ll have to wait and see on that one, to get commentary from the canon lawyers.

The official SSPX response may seem a little coldly worded. But for the SSPX, it’s pretty warm. After the nice letter to the Pope, the SSPX bishops have to reassure all their sterner followers and themselves that they haven’t wimped out. Still, words like “filial gratitude” and “thanks” are prominent in this statement, which has definitely not always been the case.

Apparently, Fellay’s letter to the SSPX membership is much more warmly worded. News agencies quote him as calling the remission “unilateral, benevolent, and courageous”. He apparently also said that SSPX members would no longer be “unfairly stigmatized”.

Finally, it is notable that Bishop Fellay also issued a statement this week to the effect that the SSPX did not endorse the private opinions of its members. (Which is to say, crazy things said by Bishop Williamson.) Naturally, he also condemned the interviewers, but this is pretty much par for the SSPX. They’re a combative and sensitive lot, and their instinct is to circle the wagons when outsiders say anything. For Fellay to condemn Williamson’s statements at all is another big step.

Things are in a very sensitive position right now. With any luck, the SSPX will respond quickly, things will be normalized, the bishops will get some kind of position to keep them happy, Williamson will get some help, and everything will go merrily in the peace of Christ. But there are a lot of unhappy SSPX folks; a lot of priests and bishops who’ve had run-ins with the SSPX; a lot of priests and bishops who will suddenly have a different administrative situation going on in their jurisdictions, even if it’s for the good; a lot of progressives who will feel threatened by the SSPX; and a lot of traditionalists who resisted joining the SSPX, and who now feel that their loyalty is being disrespected if the SSPX position is in any way vindicated. The Pope has to herd all these cats (or sheep) without losing them.

However, if he can manage this and things go well with the SSPX, some of the people even further out than the SSPX (like the sedevacantists, who believe there hasn’t been any valid pope since before John XXIII, or the various antipope fringes) may come in from the cold as well. That would be very desirable. (And the Pope is responsible to Jesus for the souls of all these folks, too.)

Naturally, the media is trying to spin this act of mercy as “Excommunication lifted on holocaust denier”.

Obviously, they haven’t been paying attention. You can be a murderer, a liar, a thief, or a rapist without being excommunicated. You can live a very moral and legal life in most all respects and still choose to separate yourself from the communion of the Church. Excommunication is about very specific offenses against the Church and its teaching; it is not about whether or not you’re a twit who’s drunk the antisemitic Kool-Aid. (That would be dealt with by the confessional, the mental health professional, and long talks with folks who have numbers tattooed on their arms.)

This shouldn’t be surprising. If a mass murderer confesses his sins truly and sincerely and does what he can to make amends — even if that’s just a mental prayer for his victims — he can be a Catholic in good standing even as he sits down for his lethal injection. The Church is a hospital for sinners, with Jesus Christ as head physician and chief surgeon. We, sinners trying to become saints, welcome our fellow sinners.

(And I, a twit who has said many foolish and creepy things that were not to the benefit of souls, am happy to welcome my fellow twit as a brother. I’m just glad I’ve never had as big and captive an audience or felt so persecuted and edgy, tempting me to say even stupider and more harmful things than I have.)

Does the media expect anyone arriving at Emergency in an ambulance to be in perfect health? No, of course not!

So why do they expect people having excommunications remitted to be perfect saints and Doctors of the Church to boot?

And if anybody is expecting the Pope to make the SSPX walk barefoot in the snow to ask forgiveness, that’s not going to happen. He hasn’t prescribed that medicine, so don’t you try. They have been much sinned against, and he’s trying a nice treatment of rest and soothing balm to heal their wounds before anything else. Once they’re feeling stronger, the Pope will no doubt have plenty of work for them to do, and perhaps some other medicines to use. But first things first.

(I hope that my words haven’t hurt or discouraged anybody (except maybe Bishop Williamson, but I’m sure he doesn’t care what I think, since I wear pants and believe that the Holocaust did occur). When I explain things that have emotional connotations, I think I have to explain how people feel about them by using a certain expressiveness. There’s no feuds like family feuds, so there’s a lot to explain….)

Look, folks. There’s plenty of crud going on in the world that is sad and murderous. This is a move toward joy, forgiveness, peace, and unity. I am determined to rejoice in this day; and I hope that other people have the sense to do the same. Ignore any gloating or insults on any side (even mine), and just be happy for the Church.

Fr. Tim Finigan is on the ball, and notes some early happy reactions from the French and German hierarchy.

Damian Thompson is also covering the story over on his blog with many posts.

Rorate Coeli has some interesting posts on the consecrations of 1988, and the events leading up to them. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Some canon law comments from the comment box over at Father Z’s:

http://wdtprs.com/blog/2009/01/lifted/#comment-108255

“Remission is specific language to indicate that the sanction existed and has been lifted, such as in “remission of sins”… the sanction really existed between 1988 and now. But the important thing is that it is now lifted….

“So, the “reconsideration of the canonical situation”, simply means, it seems, that the Pope decided to re-examine whether the continuation of the excommunication was appropriate after Fellay’s letter, and decided to grant the remission.

“….in the present case the SSPX excommunications are explicitly being lifted without simultaneous full reconciliation, with regularization of Episcopal ministry and the lifting of other sanctions being left for the moment of return to full communion.”

http://wdtprs.com/blog/2009/01/lifted/#comment-108266

“‘Deprived of juridical effect’ is a statement of revocation, not an admission of invalidity.”

http://wdtprs.com/blog/2009/01/lifted/#comment-108268

“The excommunication, which was incurred ‘latae sententiae’ back in 1989, has, according to the Decree of the Congregation for Bishops, been ‘remitted’. A censure which has been incurred or declared (in this instance, the Congregation for Bishops declared that the censure of excommunication had been incurred by these four Bishops on 1 July 1989) cannot be remitted unless the offender has purged his contempt (cf. c 1358, 1), i.e., he has ‘truly repented of the offence and has made, or at least has seriously promised to make, appropriate reparation for the damage and scandal’ (c 1347, 2). Once contempt has been purged, the censure, which is a medicinal penalty the purpose of which is to bring about the correction of the offender’s behaviour and his reintegration into the life of the Church, must be remitted (cf. c 1358, 1), although the person remitting the penalty (in this case the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops at the behest of the Roman Pontiff) can make further provision, including the imposition of a penance, should it be so warranted.”

http://wdtprs.com/blog/2009/01/lifted/#comment-108270

“Before incurring excommunication, the SSPX clergy had already incurred suspension a divinis. It was the suspension that made—even before the excommunications—SSPX liturgies illicit. The excommunication was lifted, but the suspension a divinis was not.

“So, SSPX priests and Bishops are no longer excommunicated, but they still cannot licitly celebrate the Sacraments and sacramentals or exercise any clerical ministry. This will be solved once full communion is achieved, which I hope will now happen soon.”

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You Are Getting Very Sleeeeepyyyy… ZZZZZ.

There’s been way too much going on at work, and I started sleeping badly again. Just to add to the fun, it’s been really dry air at work, so my contacts started killing me.

Oh, yeah, and the morning before last, some guy up on the third floor tried to burn his undershirt. I’m not sure why, although I don’t think he was either clean or sober from his demeanor. Anyway, somebody smelled the smoke, woke up, got out of the building, and began honking her truck horn until everybody else got up and the firetrucks got there. A whole bunch of police cars then arrived, and they seemed to be going into close conference with Mr. Undershirt and his drugs of choice.

So last night I skipped choir and went to bed at 7:15 or so. I also drank a lot of water. It helped a lot. Did you know that your eyes don’t have to have huge dark circles under them all the time? Amazing! They can have little itty bitty dark circles instead!

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Advocacy of Free Information Sharing and Distribution by St. Augustine of Hippo

For a possession which is not diminished by being shared with others — if it is possessed and not shared, is not yet possessed as it ought to be possessed. The Lord saith, “Whosoever has, to him shall be given.” He will give, then, to those who have; that is to say, if they use freely and cheerfully what they have received, He will add to and perfect His gifts. The loaves in the miracle were only five and seven in number before the disciples began to divide them among the hungry people. But when once they began to distribute them, though the wants of so many thousands were satisfied, they filled baskets with the fragments that were left. Now, just as that bread increased in the very act of breaking it, so those thoughts which the Lord has already vouchsafed to me with a view to undertaking this work will, as soon as I begin to impart them to others, be multiplied by His grace, so that, in this very work of distribution in which I have engaged, so far from incurring loss and poverty, I shall be made to rejoice in a marvellous increase of wealth.”

From Book I, Chapter I of On Christian Doctrine, Augustine’s book on interpreting Scripture.

As a podcaster, I am happy to report that Augustine is absolutely right. The more audiobook readings I give away, the more I learn and the more stuff I find to read! :)

RIAA and WMG, take note! Music doesn’t disappear by being shared; therefore the easier its distribution becomes, the more the publishers collect money from the various online music stores. The harder the distribution is, the more people steal songs or never know about a song at all, thus making it a worthless property. :)

Seriously, though, I wonder whether St. Columba had encountered this quote when (in his pre-saint days) he got into his famously acrimonious copyright dispute with his teacher by sneaking out to the library at night to copy out an imported psalter. Would St. Augustine have thought that “to every cow belongs its calf” in this situation? How could a book of all the Psalms possibly be diminished by being known? Why was his teacher so stingy about allowing copies, anyway? Trying to recoup the expense and trouble of importing the book? Trying to increase travel to his monastery by having a particularly desirable book?

Of course, St. Augustine had his own problems with people copying and distributing his manuscripts without permission, even when they were still in the first draft stage. (I think it was the lack of editing and potential distribution of wrong versions that really bugged him. Although it would be creepy to find out that everybody and their uncle were reading your book when you were still trying to write it!) But I think his feelings on copying the Bible would have been quite different. Every Jew and Christian in the civilized world knew and sang the Psalms for recreation as well as worship. Even pagans might know something of them. It was common knowledge, not a secret.

Of course, with distribution of good complete copies of the Psalms so low in early Christian Ireland in Columba’s youth, I expect that they weren’t exactly swimming in copies of St. Augustine’s works, either.

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