Monthly Archives: March 2008

Spot the Assumption: The Home Game!

Here’s a history article by an anthropologist. She explains a battle’s outcome from the losers’ side, and it’s a good explanation. But alas! In doing so, she unwittingly revealed her own cultural biases, because they blinded her to the winners’ experience. Read the whole thing, and see if you can spot the huge, gaping hole in her explanation caused by this assumption.

Hint: I do not mean that she has to believe in Christianity to be a good anthropologist. But she does need to understand “things that humans experience”.

(Usually, anthropologists are pretty eager to point out that humans do experience all sorts of things, so it’s a rather odd bias to exhibit. Maybe all the sixties anthropologists are retiring.)

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Technology for a Better Life

If you are reading a fanfic on your computer, and the author names one of his characters

A) something twee, and

B) after someone you despise,

you can easily solve the problem with a global search and replace. What’s more, you can use this to deal with overly elaborate Mary Sue names, foolish errors in historical naming, and the like. (As long as you remember what you’ve done, and never write any reviews of scholarly articles based solely on your version, that is.)

Now, let’s see. Wouldn’t it be better if people didn’t use Merlin’s name so gratuitously to name their characters? Aren’t there a wide variety of other magicians about, like Michael Scott, Gerald Fitzgerald the Wizard Earl, Jan Tregeagle, Virgil, and Maugis? And wouldn’t it be better if everyone with a pretentious name were renamed things like Bob or Ann? So… if somebody is named, say, Pretentius Myrllllyn, you just rename him Bob Tregeagle or Mac Mogie.

Ahhhh. Much better.


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Don’t Fear the Hat!

I’m sitting here awake at 4 in the morning, watching Catholic Compass on EWTN. A bunch of Catholic movie stars are saying a rosary in a Hollywood church, interspersed with dramatizations of the Glorious Mysteries, and then each Mystery capped off with a song. The year of production is 1950, I believe.

During the church scenes, would you care to guess how many girls or women are wearing veils?

One. Said veil is part of her hat, and is apparently made of net that swirls up into the air above her head.

How many women are wearing every kind of cute little hats perched on the very top of their heads?

Most of them.

How many are wearing big garden hats?

Only one.

And now one of the Hollywood ladies, who has a much higher voice than me, is singing “The Holy City”! Heh! Makes me feel a bit better about my ignominious pre-Mass performance of the thing on Palm Sunday. It’s higher than I thought. (And she too is wearing a hat. A nice sensible one.)

I say it again: Most American Catholic women did not wear veils, before Vatican II, until the beehive hairstyle came into fashion and hats went out. If you really want to look traditional, instead of looking like the sixties, do like the old ladies and get yourself a church hat.


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Don’t Work for This Company!

A German grocery store company named Lidl has been spying on its own employees.

I thought maybe Lidl was the same as Aldi, but actually Lidl’s a competitor chain.

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Ven. Pierre Toussaint — Business Saint!

Sometimes those well-meaning folks who promote multicultural saints kinda leave out huge chunks of their story. We’ve talked about how St. Martin de Porres is promoted in the US as a charitable saint, while in South America he’s more of an animal saint and in Peru he’s that wonderworker who bilocated and teleported other people.

Now, we all know Ven. Pierre Toussaint. Haitian-American slave apprenticed to a hairdresser, who became the best hairdresser in New York. Freed by his owner at her death, he went on to become a very charitable hairdresser.

Except they left out the bit where he had a mini-business empire, as well as a fairly large charity empire. He founded a credit bureau and an employment agency as well, to help the poor get off charity.

They also left out the bit where he was married to a woman he paid to free, and who was his partner in everything, include raising his dead sister’s daughter.

They also left out the bit where he funded huge chunks of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

They also left out the bit where huge numbers of people of all colors stayed at his house.

I’m not knocking the ‘kind hairdresser’ thing, you understand. But holy cow, that’s a lot of the story to leave out! Is there something wrong with a black American saint’s biography including the line, “Toussaint, you’re the richest man I know”?

As for me, I find it to be a sign of hope that Venerable Pierre Toussaint’s body lies in the crypt beneath the altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the heart of New York. He was a business saint, and so it is fitting that his relics lend grace to Madison Avenue.


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Because It’s There

I’ve always liked Vathara, who is one of the better exponents of the theory that any sufficiently interesting universe can be crossed over with any other. I don’t like all her stuff, but I couldn’t go to sleep last night until I finished “Shadows in Starlight”.

Even if you don’t normally like fanfic, this one you might enjoy. It is a work in which we learn what Rurouni Kenshin would be like if the people and situations had been born into the Star Wars universe, circa A New Hope. However, she also manages to retcon the chronologically-earlier first trilogy,  such that I don’t hate and despise all its works and pomps at the moment. (Though I still say Alec Guinness was thrice the Obi-Wan that anyone else could possibly be.) Anyway, tons of fun. If we have to have Those Other Movies, I’ll explain ’em to myself like this.


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On Taking a Saint’s Name

John C. J. M. Wright asks whether one takes only the first name of one’s Confirmation saint, or both first and last.

First off — what did the guy who confirmed you say, and what did you request as your name? “Justin” or “Justin Martyr”? That would be the usual determinant. (If the deacon/priest/bishop mispronounces your name, of course this doesn’t affect anything. You get the name you asked to have. If you had asked to be baptized with the name of the locally sainted Bishop Lucifer of Cagliari, and the priest had given you a steely-eyed stare and firmly baptized you “John”, your baptismal name would be John, and serve you right.)

There is nothing wrong with baptizing or confirming someone with a long saint’s name that includes the saint’s nickname or surname. The most common example in America are the countless Irish gentlemen named “Francis Xavier O’Someclan” after St. Francis Xavier. (Hence all the “F.X. O’Someclan” folks, too.) But there are plenty of people named “Juan de la Cruz Spanishfamilyname”, “Lawrence O’Toole McSomeclan”, and the ever popular “Charlemagne”. The French have traditionally been much given to hyphenated names of this sort, whether or not they use them these days. There was even some obscure fellow who was baptized Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart.

So feel perfectly free to style yourself “John Charles Justin-Martyr Wright”, if that is in fact your name. You will be following the conventions with perfect propriety.


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More on Devotions

Devotions. From some private comments I got, I guess I over- and under-explained this one. At the same time!

When we Catholics say people have a devotion to some aspect of God, or some saint, or some useful practice, it basically means that they love it and they persevere in working with it. They’re devoted to it. They have a devotion.

Or… maybe I need an example. Okay, say you meet some people in a Precious Blood order, and shortly afterward, you come across that verse from Peter about the Precious Blood. You start thinking about that verse a lot, and its implications. You start running into other mentions of the Precious Blood, maybe find a book about it or a holy card. It starts to be one of the primary ways you meditate about salvation, and the more you get into it, the more you seem to understand what’s going on, and the more depths open up to you. Then maybe you learn a prayer about it, or find out what other people in the past were interested in this. Maybe you get some prayers granted, or maybe you just learn to carry your own cross a bit better. Probably you talk to people about Jesus’ Precious Blood whenever it comes up — and probably it comes up more often than you’d expect. After a while, you realize you’ve got a devotion to the Precious Blood.

Most Catholics at least have their favorites among the saints, or their favorite ways of looking at Jesus, whether or not they’d express it as rising to the level of having a devotion. Adoro’s a blogger who can tell you something about having a devotion: her family is devoted to St. Padre Pio, and she has a personal devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

As Adoro points out, there is a certain element of personal devotion that seems to be part of Providence and the mysterious unity of the Body of Christ. Sure, sometimes people just like something, for conscious or even frivolous reasons. Sometimes, though, a saint or an aspect of the faith seems to find you and haunt you, until you finally start paying attention to God’s obvious will in the matter. You discover that these things already had ties to you, or that a saint’s life parallels your own in ways you never knew. It turns out that a faith practice is exactly what you needed, or that it leads you to people who need your help. All this increases your affection, of course.

There are certain devotions that are more attractive to people at certain points in life. A pregnant woman will feel a lot closer to St. Gerard Majella than a little old lady whose kids are long grown, probably. It is very likely that certain devotions are provided and shown to us to help us grow, both in ways common to all Christians and in ways tailored to our own individual characters and experiences. But of course, a lot of what you get depends on what you give — how you dispose yourself properly to receive graces, trusting in God but not treating Him as a vending machine.

But personal devotions are always optional — additions to the Faith. You can drop them whenever you feel like it; nothing wrong with choosing to do something else, or focus your interests and affections elsewhere. (As long as you are still doing the stuff commanded by Jesus and His Church, that is!) Still, if God offers you extra help and graces, why wouldn’t you want to glom onto them, for as long as He chooses to help you that way?

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“Inventor Rutili” Update

You know how you tend to have a certain picture in your head of how history was, and then you find out some little bit of information that brings you up short, like you’ve just tried to walk through a glass door?

In the Pope’s Easter Vigil homily this year, he said, “Gregory of Tours recounts a practice that in some places was preserved for a long time, of lighting the new fire for the celebration of the Easter Vigil directly from the sun, using a crystal.”


I assumed that the “petram” “silicis” in the hymn was flint. So did everybody else, apparently. But the poetic images transition much more smoothly from sun to rock, if Prudentius were referring to using rock crystal to focus sunlight the same way a magnifying glass does. Heck, the whole Easter Vigil imagery is stronger, for that matter.

We just don’t want to think of the classical world as knowing so many of the same scientific facts we do, much less of the early Church as employing science and technology in the service of religion. But many of the Fathers loved natural philosophy as much or more than regular philosophy. Also, it’s much easier for a Christian to love the wonderful things God’s creation can do, than if one were a Stoic thinking of the world as a plate that can break or a Gnostic hating all matter. So heck, if the early Christians had had a “frickin’ laserbeam” available to turn the sunlight into something that could start the Easter fire, they’d probably have used it.

(*rub hands together evilly* And you know, I have seen some calculations that lasers were possible in the classical world, given a good enough gemstone… that is, a good enough crystal…. Heh! No, I don’t really believe the early Christians had lasers. But in an alternate Greco-Roman universe, it’d be a pretty obvious liturgical development; and it would be really cool if the Vatican did something like that now. Not practical for every parish, though. And I think the frickin’ Roman laserbeams wouldn’t really have been technically possible without some real improvements in all kinds of materials. So take this all as total fiction; but it was pretty cool in a fictional way in that one James Rollins novel, and I think it might have showed up in a few more sf historical novels.)

UPDATE: Thanks, Cassandra, for the correction! At certain hours of the morning, I apparently can’t remember what Latin goes where, and… um… I was kinda in a hurry to post before work, so I didn’t do a fact check. *bloggy blush*

So silex, silicis = pebble, stone, rock, flint, boulder, stone. Not sounding very much like “rock crystal”, is it? I suppose Prudentius could have been writing about it in a way which would possibly include both flint and rock crystal, but… I don’t know that I’m buying it.

Sigh. Another beautiful crystalline boat of theory sinks slowly into the West, under the weight of a boulder of fact. Taking with it my frickin’ laserbeam.


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Christ Our Light

Thanks be to God!

I have always really enjoyed Easter Vigil — in the sense of feeling great joy within me — and last night was no exception. We gained many new brothers and sisters in Christ through their rebirth in baptism, we were reunited with those re-entering the Church, and we welcomed home those coming into communion with the Church. We heard readings from the entire history of salvation, we saw many elements of life blessed, and we acclaimed Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

I love Christmas, but there’s nothing like Easter.

Part of my joy was that I helped find documentation of the saints for people’s baptismal names (though some apparently decided to use different saints in the end, as was their right). There was also some kind of cute thing going on with Confirmation names; two of the girls of similar age in the RCIA class chose the same fairly obscure saint’s name, probably as a bond of their friendship (and mutual liking for the saint). I also got to sing part of the Litany of the Saints, which was wonderful.

One reason for joy that I didn’t know — though I was thinking of the man on the day! — was that John C. Wright, one of my favorite authors, was entering the Catholic Church that night also. Felicitations, congratulations, and tintinnabulations aplenty!


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Inter Mirifica Is Your Friend

I usually do things backward. I start doing something first, and then, if it works, I start planning. Last of all, I look for intellectual underpinnings. 🙂

The Popes put out a lot of Helpful Documents, and most of them really are helpful and interesting. But first you have to find the applicable ones, and then you actually have to read them. Most people have trouble doing even the first, and I’m no exception to the rule. I have less excuse since’s been up, though.

Anyway, today I followed a link from Fr. Corapi’s homepage to one of the Vatican II Council documents — a 1963 Decree by Paul VI called “Inter Mirifica” (Among the Wonderful). It’s one of the periodic documents that have come out from the Vatican over the course of the last 150 years which have encouraged the Church, collectively and individually, to use all possible forms of the media. I will accordingly inflict upon you some quotes — some because they’re good, and others to justify what I’ve already done!

Among the wonderful technological discoveries which men of talent, especially in the present era, have made with God’s help, the Church welcomes and promotes with special interest those which have a most direct relation to men’s minds and which have uncovered new avenues of communicating most readily news, views and teachings of every sort.

The Church recognizes that these media, if properly utilized, can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to men’s entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God.

The Catholic Church, since it was founded by Christ our Lord to bear salvation to all men and thus is obliged to preach the Gospel, considers it one of its duties to announce the Good News of salvation also with the help of the media of social communication and to instruct men in their proper use.

It is, therefore, an inherent right of the Church to have at its disposal and to employ any of these media insofar as they are necessary or useful for the instruction of Christians and all its efforts for the welfare of souls. It is the duty of Pastors to instruct and guide the faithful so that they, with the help of these same media, may further the salvation and perfection of themselves and of the entire human family. In addition, the laity especially must strive to instill a human and Christian spirit into these media, so that they may fully measure up to the great expectations of mankind and to God’s design.

The prompt publication of affairs and events provides every individual with a fuller, continuing acquaintance with them, and thus all can contribute more effectively to the common good and more readily promote and advance the welfare of the entire civil society. Therefore, in society men have a right to information, in accord with the circumstances in each case, about matters concerning individuals or the community. The proper exercise of this right demands, however, that the news itself that is communicated should always be true and complete, within the bounds of justice and charity. In addition, the manner in which the news is communicated should be proper and decent. This means that in both the search for news and in reporting it, there must be full respect for the laws of morality and for the legitimate rights and dignity of the individual. For not all knowledge is helpful, but ‘it is charity that edifies.’

…Those who make use of the media of communications, especially the young, should take steps to accustom themselves to moderation and self-control in their regard. They should, moreover, endeavor to deepen their understanding of what they see, hear or read.

All the children of the Church should join, without delay and with the greatest effort, in a common work to make effective use of the media of social communication in various apostolic endeavors, as circumstances and conditions demand.

this sacred Synod is confident that its issuance of these instructions and norms will be gladly accepted and religiously kept by all the Church’s children. By using these helps they will experience no harm and, like salt and light, they will give savor to the earth and brighten the world. Moreover, the Synod invites all men of good will, especially those who have charge of these media, to strive to turn them solely to the good of society, whose fate depends more and more on their proper use.

St. Blog’s Parish: “Inter Mirifica”-compliant!

Interestingly, this document pretty clearly says that it’s the Church’s job — and one of the pastors’ jobs — to promote media education and even technical classes in using new and old media. This is both an example of Vatican II’s ambitious goals, and the way the actual documents have been almost totally ignored, especially by those supposedly its greatest partisans. (I expect to see such classes at every parish at about the same time we see the Vatican II-mandated classes on singing and Gregorian chant for all parish members.) But if anybody out there has technical skills and wants to run a class at your parish, you’ve now got Ye Justificacioun to show whoever’s in charge.

Anyway, feel free to read it all. It really is a Helpful Document, though there’s probably not much there that will surprise you.

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My Lent

Complete total mishmosh, including some really annoying difficulties with fasting and prayer, followed by extensive opportunities for giving alms. I had a feeling there was some reason I kept getting all this alms emphasis prior to Lent, and sure enough….

But seriously, I’ve been very glad to be able to help out, and I really did need the practice. (Or praxis.)

Now I just have to get through tomorrow’s fasting without doing anything stupid, like fainting or getting sick, and keep my voice through Good Friday and Easter Vigil.

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More on That Popular Devotions/Personal Relationship Thing

Meditating on the Life of Christ through reading the Bible/lectio divina, through the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross, or in other human beings, is too often presented as being a thing done mostly by… well… stupid people. People too stupid to read theology articles, for example. This makes me angry, as it’s manifestly untrue.

In fact, most great theologians do theology as an integral part of their spiritual and prayer lives, not in opposition to it. People who don’t soak themselves in their Subject don’t come up with any good ideas about Him. (It’s hard to see why you’d waste time on theology if you weren’t doing it to learn more about God and hence get to know Him better.) I could quote the Pope on this, but instead I’ll quote a story Happy Catholic found in Fulton Sheen:

One day while he was visiting St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas asked him where he had acquired such good doctrine as the one that he set out in his works. It is said that St. Bonaventure showed him a crucifix, which was blackened from all the kisses he had given it, and explained, “This is the book that tells me what I should write; the little I know I have learned from it.”

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Hornblower Audio Drama? Hornblower Fan Discussion Podcast?!?

Well, some people certainly are busy! And since I know that certain readers of this very blog are very fond of Horatio Hornblower, I have to link to it. Enjoy!

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