Monthly Archives: March 2012

Rabbi Lapin is on TBN right now.

Channel-surfed and saw Rabbi Lapin show up on TV! Pretty cool.

The downside is that he’s on that creepy, magic-theology Benny Hinn’s TV show. So feel free to surf away immediately as soon as his segment is done.

Says he moved to the US because it was so full of Biblical placenames.

UPDATE: Ooookay. Rabbi Lapin is trying to explain capitalism, by explaining production and investment as creating value, and Jewish ideas of charity and prosperity. Benny Hinn is interpreting what he says as God making money ex nihilo.

Anyway, apparently the rabbi is out flogging a book which is indeed leeching off the prosperity Gospel, but doing it in some kind of saner Jewish way. His “rules” are common sense advice.

(Although there is a fundamental conflict for Christians between the old law’s explanation of suffering as mostly a punishment or trial of righteousness, and Jesus’ invitation to redemptive suffering as a participation in His plan of salvation.)

UPDATE: OMG. Benny Hinn blames everything on Franciscan spirituality taught to him by the nuns, whereas he’s pretty plainly not understanding that there are all different kinds of paths to holiness — and he even is rejecting the evangelical counsels in his hurry to talk about how riches can be nice.

Well. I think that’s about enough of that.

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The Pope’s Homily at Mass in Cuba Last Night

The occasion was the 400th anniversary of the miraculous finding of the statue of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, floating in the ocean in the middle of the bay. (Like other miraculously-found statues, it showed up at a miraculously right time and place, and that wonders accumulated around the statue afterward. The story goes that the statue was found in the middle of a sudden storm by three fishermen in a small open boat right before the waves calmed, and so they credited their lives as having been saved by Mary. But nobody is saying that it’s a statue “not made by hands” or anything like that.)

Anyway, the Pope naturally talked about the feast of the Annunciation, the Incarnation of the Lord, and so on. He had a chance to catechize people who might not have heard that part of the Good News, so her went for it.

But he also made another human rights speech.

He talked about God’s concern for Mary’s freedom. The Almighty asked for the free consent of a human girl, a creature He could have squashed like a bug. The unspoken criticism is that God was infinitely more concerned with individual human rights than the Cuban government is.

“….we cannot fail to turn our eyes to her so as to be filled with wonder, gratitude and love at seeing how our God, coming into the world, wished to depend upon the free consent of one of his creatures. Only from the moment when the Virgin responded to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), did the eternal Word of the Father began his human existence in time.

“It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: he almost seems to require it…

“….to live in accordance with his will is the way to encounter our genuine identity, the truth of our being, while apart from God we are alienated from ourselves and are hurled into the void.

“The obedience of faith is true liberty….

“Dear brothers and sisters, I know with what effort, boldness and self-sacrifice you work every day so that, in the concrete circumstances of your country, and at this moment in history, the Church will better present her true face… let us determine to follow Jesus without fear or doubts on his journey to the Cross. May we accept with patience and faith whatever opposition or affliction may come, with the conviction that, in his Resurrection, he has crushed the power of evil which darkens everything, and has brought the dawn of a new world, the world of God, of light, of truth and happiness. The Lord will not fail to bless with abundant fruits the generosity of your commitment.

“The mystery of the Incarnation, in which God draws near to us, also shows us the incomparable dignity of every human life… Dear brothers and sisters, before the gaze of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, I appeal to you to reinvigorate your faith, that you may live in Christ and for Christ, and armed with peace, forgiveness and understanding, that you may strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God. Amen.”

Babalu Blog is not satisfied. I sympathize with their impatience, but I’m not sure how much more open you can get in calling for freedom without actually unleashing the proverbial Swiss Guard Ninja Death Squad Elite to carve out a path of blood and fire through the bodies of every apparatchik on the island. And since there ain’t no such thing as Swiss Guard Ninjas, that would be a bit difficult to arrange.

Pope JPII’s rhetoric freed Poland — because Poland was ready. President Reagan’s rhetoric took down the Berlin Wall — because the people were ready, and the governments involved were weak. Neither of them managed to bring down Cuba by talking, because the Castros stink at everything except keeping their people in perpetual lockdown. Not even the fall of the Soviet Union freed Belarus, because their tyrant is similarly “gifted.” Someday the situation will shift far enough, and the Cuban people will stand up and grab their own destiny. But that time wasn’t last night, as far as I know.

UPDATE: The papal coverage on EWTN was supposed to begin again at 10 AM Eastern Time, when the pope visited the shrine at Cobre. The coverage is now a half hour late; and of course, there’s no cellphone or Internet on Cuba this week, unless EWTN has a satellite phone somewhere…. It seems to be coming on now, though, at 10:30. The Pope’s already praying inside the shrine. I guess the Cuban government doesn’t want the Pope shown on the streets getting cheered, or being jeered by their shills with their pre-prepared anti-papal slogans. The EWTN people aren’t mentioning anything explaining the late coverage, at least not right now.

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Okay, Now This Is a Saga.

The tale of the mayor of Osaka, or, What’s in a Name?

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Scapular Promises Can Be Dead Serious!

Or is that “live” serious?

Like they say, God won’t take you if it’s not your time to go. And it’s apparently not your time to go if you’re wearing the Brown Scapular and haven’t had a chance to go to Confession and Communion.

Mary’s promise to St. Simon Stock.

Of course, it’s a bit worrisome to think that the promise may have been invoked on your behalf, because that’s a pretty dire circumstance… but it beats not having it and needing it!

It occurs to me that I should probably point out (lest the scapular wearer come upon my post!) that of course there are a lot of other reasons one might be summoned back to life by the Almighty; but that when one encounters a story about this exact sort of thing happening, it usually is a call to repentance. Especially among the Irish, because we love a dramatic interpretation, and escaping from Hell by the grace of God and His mom is nothing if not dramatic.

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The Pope’s Annunciation to Cuba Begins

Seldom have I enjoyed myself more while watching a speech at an airport.

After getting through a banana Soviet welcome and a long drawn-out speech by Raul Castro, after seeing the Vatican flag being flown noticeably higher than the Cuban one and hearing the papal anthem played more beautifully than the Cuban, our little pope walked up to the microphone in his unassuming way and made a human rights speech.

He greeted Cuban refugees… er, “all Cubans, wherever they may be.”

He explicitly prayed for Cuban prisoners and called for their rights to be protected.

He announced that he had come both as a pilgrim of love and charity, and to strengthen the faith of his brethren, as is his job.

He announced that the real future of Cuba was in the love, freedom, and justice symbolized by Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, and by the great Cuban “fathers” like Jose Marti. (There were references to the fact that the rest of the world really needs to get on the stick about this, too, and that thus Cuba could become a leader instead of being stuck at the back of the pack.) Which is a nice appeal to both patriotism and ambition, especially to Cuban apparatchiks that don’t want to be stuck with Chavez and his Venezuelans as bosses.

Basically, it was an appeal to both the Gospel and natural law, presented in a way that didn’t pull any punches; but also invited even the Castro brothers to get with the program instead of being left behind. This is our current pope’s usual style of argument, but it was particularly striking when done right in the face of tyrants.

The Pope knows perfectly well that he’s in a den of thieves and murderers, and isn’t going to be allowed to speak directly to Cuba’s valiant confessors and faithful. So he’s preaching to the thieves and murderers.

May the Lord turn their hearts to Him, as He turned the heart of St. Dismas the bandit. (Whose normal feast day is also March 25th.) And may the Lord deliver His faithful people from slavery and lies.

UPDATE: Here’s the English-language text of the speech, since it’s not up on Vatican.va yet. As you can see, it’s sort of “pleasant platitude, blah blah, pointed statement said like of course we all know this is true, pleasant platitude, pointed statement again….” Not fire and brimstone, but definitely to the point. And there’s Raul having to sit there and take it… heh….

UPDATE: Here’s the speech on Vatican.va. They have video, too.

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Update on the Pope’s Experience of Lent in Mexico

Our buddy the papal MC apparently put the kibosh on the gorgeous gold and purple brocade cope for Vespers. Instead, the Pope wore perfectly normal purple vestments (matching the set everybody else wore). Nothing was said about whether it was a visual consideration or a weight thing. (The Pope is an old guy who’s not fond of wearing heavy vestments at the end of a long hot day.)

However, at the end of Vespers, the Mexicans had the Pope turn on a new lighting system for the huge statue of Christ the King up above town. And that was the signal not just for lighting the statue, but for the release of at least ten minutes’ worth of fireworks.

Lenten. Fireworks. Mostly green, not terribly bright as fireworks go, but definitely fireworks.

You couldn’t be scandalized, really, because it was just so goodhearted a celebration of Christ. (The fireworks over the statue were beautiful.) But it’s not something that would occur to most countries!

I think they were basically trying to have something of their usual festival eve of the feast of the Annunciation (which is celebrated tomorrow, because you can’t have Annunciation celebrated instead of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, even though the feast is very very important). And it was after dark, so technically they were starting Monday and back in happy major solemnity land, instead of in deepest Passiontide/Lent.

Anyway, tomorrow is Cuba, when things get strange and scary. Tomorrow, we go to Passiontide, no matter what the calendar says. It’s been Passiontide since Castro took over, in Cuba.

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Little Boy Playing Priest Make-Believe

Here’s a cute YouTube video of a little Catholic boy playing priest. Traditionally, this sort of play was supported by parents (as you can see) with costumes and Mass sets, in the hope that the boy’s desire to play priest would grow into either a priestly vocation or a devout Catholic layman.

But yes, the play was originally the little boy’s idea; the Mass playset with chasuble came afterward. In the comment box, the dad says, “Isaiah is enthralled with the Mass and goes around the house consecrating everything from Waffles to milk to Cheez-It’s so we wanted to get him something a little more appropriate.” :)

Unfortunately, the combox not only includes delightful comments recalling priest play methods past, but there are some very mean-spirited comments toward the kid and his parents. So you might want to prepare yourself for the nasties.

Via Father Z.

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Review: Sense Nonsense by Francisco J. Garcia-Julve

Little sayings, proverbs, aphorisms, slogans — they’re a humble form of literature. The people who come up with them are often forgotten, yet they can stick around for thousands of years. Philosophers and poets of pagan society, prophets and kings of Jewish society, saints in Christendom, and businessmen and politicians in secular modern society — everybody tends to treasure and live by those few short words of wisdom that ring true. Sometimes they wake people up and change their lives, in a moment of satori-like realization or outright conversion. Sometimes they give people the courage of their convictions, to continue doing what needs done.

Sense Nonsense: Fundamental Propositions Not Too Good to Be True, Just Too Hard to Accept is an original collection of “propositions” by Francisco J. Garcia-Julve, a Spanish philosopher now living in the US. I got a review copy, so let’s take a look.

The book is full of both comments to live by, and questions to use in scrutinizing oneself and the ways of the world. Garcia-Julve’s take on things is determinedly contrarian, challenging you to ask if what he’s saying is a deliberate test, nonsense to get you thinking, or serious advice.

There are also a good many aphorisms relating to God, and what attitudes we should take toward Him. They are even more challenging, because their obvious good sense makes you wonder why you aren’t doing it.

This is not a book to read straight through, although I suppose you could. This is more the kind of book suited to daily reading and thinking about a few of the sayings at a time, or only one.

We’re living in a time in which many people have a vested interest in keeping us from thinking much. If you want to resist marketing, discern truth, or chart your own path through life, you have to learn to think straight. This book can help.

The Sense Nonsense webpage, with links to various online booksellers.

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A Few Things

Had a job interview on Wednesday. They’re supposed to let me know on Friday whether or not I got it. They called to schedule the interview on St. Joseph’s Day, so let’s hope that’s a good sign….

My mother’s feeling miserable from the unusual amount of maple pollen in the air around our house. I’m trying to get her to take some loratadine for it, and fortunately there’s a brand called Alavert that doesn’t use corn or yeast in its tablets. (Because there’s no point taking allergy pills containing stuff you’re allergic to.)

On the other hand, the dog had one very happy moment out of it. Mom’s been going through Fisherman’s Friend cough lozenges like there’s no tomorrow. Mom unwarily left one of her little paper packets of lozenges out by the front door with the rest of her stuff she was taking to the car. The dog decided that she liked the smell of it, and left only the paper behind. So now Mom is carrying her lozenges in one of those cute little tins with the dog-proof lids, but the dog keeps waiting for her to start using lozenges for treats.

I just read a good (old) article by Michael Grant called “Translating Latin Prose”. He takes the view that prose isn’t easier to translate than poetry, and that translations do have to be readable.

There are more gulls in the parking lot of Meijers every time I stop by. They seem to love the lightpoles. I heard a teenage girl call the place “the beach.”

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“In Defense of Bells”

The New Liturgical Movement posted “In Defense of Bells”, an interesting article on bells and the liturgy. Yet another important traditional thing that a lot of people don’t bother to use.

The interesting thing that he points out is that both pipe organs and bells are not just something of a mature technology, but that attempts to automate the technology too far (ie, beyond carillon and organ keyboards played by humans, and into total automation) tend to be unsatisfying, quick to become obsolete, and generally are a bad return on investment. Better, more diverse programming could solve some of the problems he identifies, but it’s something to think about.

More importantly, a real bell or organ lasts for centuries; an electronic version or a recording lasts for ten or twenty years, at best. It turns out also that the Church’s liturgical law forbids “any kind of machine or instrument which merely imitates… the sound of bells….”, because bells are supposed to be a sacramental. (Both because bells serve the worship of God, and because they are blessed specially against demons and storms and so on.) So basically, we Americans in the suburbs have been getting along, for many many years, with imitation holy water instead of the real stuff. Well, that explains a lot. (The regulation quoted is from 1958; but a lot of American Catholics figured that anything from even a year before Vatican II didn’t count. Well, it does.)

The Church had to be pretty stern in rejecting recorded and automated music used during Mass, because the act of live humans playing the music is what makes it an act of worship. Recorded or pre-made MIDI music may be nice in many ways; but during Mass or other liturgies, it gives no glory to God. The Church hasn’t been quite so stern about enforcing the rules against parishes using bell recordings; but maybe she should have been, given the neglect talked about in this paper.

(Heck, it was just this year we heard about a church that had totally forgotten for over fifty years that it had bells at all. The parishioners just thought the tower was a meaningless architectural whimsy, until their new music director got curious about what all his keys were for.)

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Publishers’ Pathetic Misunderstanding of Indices

I’ve been wondering why so many academic and other nonfiction books have recently been showing up without indexes. Apparently the geniuses of publishing have been telling people that indexing is obsolete in a search engine world. Running a search will find the page number, ergo, no problem. You may imagine my annoyance.

An index is not primarily a tool for finding page numbers on which topics are mentioned. Rather, it is meant to inform you that some topic is available in that book.

(Said topic is probably not labeled or mentioned in the same exact way in the text, particularly in books where the indexes helpfully annotate oblique references by the author. This is also why you sometimes see extremely detailed and cross-referenced tables of contents taking the place of indexes, particularly in poetry compilations, songbooks, and old hymnals.)

Cross-referencing is important, especially when one topic connects closely to another. So is good alphabetization (I know it should go without saying, but it doesn’t), and a logical choice of labels for the topics which people might think to look up.

Basically, an index is a database providing more intuitive, swift, thorough use of a book’s information, starting by informing you of which topics are available at all. It’s not a poor man’s search engine. Search engine makers dream of achieving the same accuracy and ease of use of a really well-indexed book.

Now, I suppose that if nobody buys books any more, and if you are going to search for topics entirely through the cloud, you might be able to find what you want. But if you can’t remember what something or someone is called, it’s hard to run a search except in the most oblique and frustrating ways. (Especially within a single book one has not yet read.) Indexes are great for this.

Also, if you are interested in, say, a specific Biblical passage or sourcework quote, and if very similar passages are quoted throughout a book, you will want to find out not just if the source is quoted or referenced, but whether the specific passage is there, and how many times, and in what context. If quotes consist of, say, a single word like “slings”, and the book also discusses handheld weaponry of ancient times, you won’t be able to search by “slings and arrows” with much effect. If you’re looking for Rev. 3:8, and the book only cites Rev. 3:7-9 or even Rev. 3:3.7.9, a search engine won’t find that, either. Biblical translations vary a lot and are quoted and referenced in various non-literal ways, which is why the chapter and verse citation method was invented in the first place.

So if you’re studying the Fathers or a theologian, the book usually includes a huge index of Scriptural citations in back. To do otherwise would be madness.

I could go on, but I’m sure you can think of other uses for good indices.

Now, it’s possible that in the future, indexes for ebooks will be built in some different way which enables quicker browsing and searching. But right now, the good old index in the back with links is badly needed.

I suppose the most efficient thing to do would be just to tag every paragraph with a unique anchor id tag, and then link back to that whenever you needed. People used to number their paragraphs in the old days; it wouldn’t be that different.

Sigh. I hate to get all angry in these posts all the time. But it just seems like a lot of people who are paid to think about these things, refuse to think. They tell people to do things every which way, and then they’re all surprised when it makes it harder to find stuff when they want it.

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Everything’s Baroque in Mexico!

Check out this beautiful vestment created by his Mexican hosts for the Pope’s Vespers in Mexico.

You can say this kind of thing is way over the top. But I think the Mexican aesthetic is that they are fully committed and not afraid to go big.

Like a cope (a very solemn cloak used for carrying the monstrance with the Real Presence of Jesus), that’s made out of cloth of gold brocade with purple trim during Lent. I mean, heck, you know they say you can use cloth of gold or cloth of silver as a stand-in for any liturgical color. But in the modern church, you don’t usually see it happen. Now, it’s going to happen. It will be solemn, and Lentish, but also pretty darned formal and big-occasion. (And it doesn’t make it look like a cheap poncho splashed with paint is how we choose to serve God, which is the visual that a lot of rich host countries in Europe tend to stick the Popes with.)

The subtle reason for this is that Leon’s patron saint is Our Lady, under the title of Most Holy Mother of the Light. So the golden cope points to Christ (in the monstrance) as the Light of the World. It also shows the kinship between the Virgin Mary and the priest, because both have had the privilege of carrying God and serving as His throne. It does not glorify the Pope, but only Jesus Christ.

So it’s classy, it’s oriented toward the sacred, but it’s not what most Europeans today would do. And that’s just fine.
It’s a good article. Too bad we don’t see these details in the English-language news media.

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Troll for the Prosecution

In another win for forensic linguistics and reading comprehension skills, a guy in New Orleans proved that a troll who was a little too knowledgeable in the comment box at the local paper was also one of the guys from the prosecutor’s office who was on his case.

It’s strange that a lawyer wouldn’t be able to figure out what could get him sued and disbarred, but apparently there are some people who think they’re too smart to get caught.

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St. Columbanus’ Government Trouble

As an example of how human nature and government pressure doesn’t change, the Life of St. Columbanus by Jonas is extremely topical!

About halfway through the story (at paragraph 31), the Irish missionary monk runs afoul of one of those infamous and/or formidable Frankish queen grandmothers of those Frankish kings who routinely die young, and of the Frankish custom of concubinage which the Church was usually fighting.

(Although actually this queen Brunhilda (originally Brunegilda) was a Visigoth princess, and the Visigoths (though Arian) didn’t do concubinage and term marriage. This is probably why St. Columbanus spoke more freely to her about the illegitimacy of some of her grandson’s kids; he expected her to know better. However, to be fair, Brunhilda’s sister who married another Frankish king was strangled in her bed soon after, to clear the way for another woman’s marriage; her daughter whom she sent back to marry a Visigoth king got killed in a war; and at one point she was outlawed by one of her grandsons and left to wander the roads with no attendants. So Brunhilda had reason to be obsessed with control, and was not in a good mood when she met Columbanus. She’d had a much better relationship with St. Gregory of Tours, in her youth, not long after her conversion to Catholicism.)

The interesting bit is that, after St. Columbanus refuses the king’s hospitality at one point in order to reprimand his insincere sucking up (which was harsh, but well within a church leader’s authority, especially when Columbanus and his monks weren’t actually in the king’s house but camped nearby), the king and his grandmother and the court decide to attack Columbanus’ cloistered monastery on the grounds that Christian houses should be open to all Christians, and that therefore the monks must be wickedly hiding something if they are cloistered at all. (Needless to say, Columbanus wasn’t the first cloistered monk in Frankish lands, or anything like that; this was just a BS argument.) There are many complaints about people living outside the common customs. The existence of a guesthouse is not good enough. (Even though all monks and nuns had guesthouses for guests.) Since Columbanus was a typical hospitable, give everything away sort of Irish saint, you get the feeling that the monks felt this was a particularly low blow.

After much hassling, the king eventually expels all the Irish monks (from Columbanus’ monastery, but no others) and refuses to let any of the Frankish monks of his community leave with him. The people are afraid or forbidden to give hospitality to the monks on their way out, so the monks are treated like Frankish outlaws and not given food or lodging or fire.

But at one point, passing through Orleans, the monks run into a Syrian businesswoman and her husband, and they feed the monks. Columba heals the husband’s blindness. (Frankish Syrians… gotta love it.)

Anyway, the situation was resolved by divine providence, and by support from one of the legitimate sons (with lands on the coast) sending Columbanus and his monks over to his uncle, who was king of a different sovereign Frankish country. (The Franks had a habit of preventing strife among royal brothers by divvying up the land.)

The queen grandmother finally got hers, when it got down to her being the queen great-grandmother. (Executed in a very nasty way, too, after being charged with the murder or death of ten Frankish kings.) But the legitimate son who ended up with the throne was also one of those Frankish kings who started off by executing most of his relations. (He ended up having to do like King John of England, and made huge concessions of rights to the Frankish nobles and the Church.)

But by that time, St. Columbanus was all the way over in Italy, hanging out with the somewhat saner Lombards and building yet another monastery (the famous one at Bobbio). So at least he got to die without any more governmental pushing.

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