The Gospel Shatters Our Expectations

Orthodox priest and theologian David Bentley Hart writes in the most recent First Things (August /September 2013) about how we should look at Christian civilization in its historic glories, with its historic flaws, and considering its current “exhausted” state. The article is titled “No Enduring City” and while I don’t agree with every one of his judgments, the conclusion is luminous:

So perhaps the best moral sense Christians can make of the story of Christendom now, from the special vantage of its aftermath, is to recall that the Gospel was never bound to the historical fate of any political or social order, but always claimed to enjoy a transcendence of all times and places. Perhaps its presence in human history should always be shatteringly angelic: It announces, even over against one’s most cherished expectations of the present or the future, a truth that breaks in upon history, ever and again, always changing or even destroying the former things in order to make all things new. That being so, surely modern Christians should find some joy in being forced to remember that they are citizens of a Kingdom not of this world, that here they have no enduring city, and that they are called to live as strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Modern Myths and Dissipated Ones

William Logan writing about Sylvia Plath and modern myths:

The two myths that defined the fifties for itself were those of Marx and Freud. We still live in the ruin of those sacred myths (the Christian myth is of longer standing but more dissipated effect). If half a century later Freud doesn’t command the old belief, we have labored so long in the age of the ego and the subconscious, of the Oedipus complex, of Eros and Thanatos, of compensation and sublimation, of projection and transference, it is difficult to imagine how people will explain themselves without such terms. … It’s a mistake to condescend to a thinker as subtle, if at times brilliantly wrongheaded, as Freud.

(From “You Must Not Take It So Hard, Madame,” originally published in Salamagundi, summer-fall, 2002 and republished in The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin.)

The Boston Press in ’68 … and Every Year

In “The Short Season,” a 1968 New Yorker article, Roger Angell describes the Boston press during Red Sox spring training in 1968:

Morning training sessions at Chain-O’-Lakes Stadium, in Winter Haven, were studied with a mixture of excessive optimism and unjustified despondency by the immense Boston press corps, which has traditionally been made uneasy by success.

The Praying Parrot

From Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping:

A tiny old lady named Ettie, whose flesh was the color of toadstools and whose memory was so eroded as to make her incapable of [pinochle] bidding, ans who sat smiling by herself in the porch, took me by the hand once and told me that in San Francisco, before the fire, she had lived near a cathedral, and in the house opposite lived a Catholic lady who kept a huge parrot on her balcony. When the bells rang the lady would come out with a shawl over her head and she would pray, and the parrot would pray with her, the woman’s voice and the parrot’s voice, on and on, between clamor and clangor. After a while the woman fell ill, or at least stopped coming out on her balcony, but the parrot was still there, and it whistled and prayed and flirted its tail whenever the bells rang. The fire took the church and its bells and no doubt the parrot, too, and quite possible the Catholic lady. Ettie waved it all away with her hand and pretended to sleep.

Kimball on Kramer on Modernism & Postmodernism

“Modernism” is a word with many meanings. As Hilton [Kramer] understood the term, it describes not just a particular style or period of art but an attitude towards the place of culture in the economy of life. This may be the place to say a word about abstract art. Hilton is sometimes regraded as a champion of abstract art. It would be more accurate, I believe, to say that he was a champion of good art, by which I mean art that, whatever its genre or technical prowess, was palpably true to our experience of life. An inventory of Hilton’s criticism shows that he wrote, as often, and as enthusiastically, about figurative as about abstract art. Unlike Clement Greenberg, he never thought (as Greenberg wrote in 1959) that “the very best painting, the major painting, of our age is almost exclusively abstract.” If modernism, as Hilton put it, remains “the only really vital tradition that the art of our time can claim as its own,” it was not because of its association with abstract or other “experimental” forms of art/. It was because modernism recognized that traditional sources of spiritual nourishment had been irreversibly complicated. The “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the “sea of faith” that Matthew Arnold descried in “Dover Beach” was now an inextricable part of our our cultural inheritance. Preserving or reclaiming what was vital in that inheritance, and adapting it honestly to the vagaries of new experience, was the high and serious task of cultural endeavor. Hilton loathed everything that traveled under the banner of postmodernism not because it was “playful” (as was sometimes said) but because it betokened a terrible cynicism about the whole realm of culture, which is to say the realm of human engagement with the world. Postmodernism, said Philip Johnson, a doyen of the genre, installed “the giggle” into architecture. He was right. But that giggle bespoke not the laughter of joyful affirmation but the rictus of a corrosive and deflationary snideness, a version of nihilism. It is not always easy to distinguish the two. That was part of Hilton’s genius: an unerring instinct for the fraudulent. 
 –Roger Kimball, “Hilton Kramer & the critical temper,” in The New Criterion, May 2012

For All Saints Day

I thought this excerpt from a prayer of Our Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom before Holy Communion was especially approproate for the Feast of All Saints: …For not with disdain do I approach Thee, O Christ God, but as one trusting in Thine ineffable goodness, and that I may not by much abstaining from Thy communion become prey of the spiritual wolf. Wherefore do I entreat Theen for Thou art the only Holy One, O Master: sanctify my soul and body, my mind and heart, my belly and inward parts, and renew me entirely. And implant Thy fear in my members, and make Thy sanctification inalienable from me, and be unto me a helper and defender, guiding my life in peace, vouchsafing me also to stand at Thy right hand with Thy saints, through the intercessions and supplications of Thy most pure Mother, of Thine Immaterial ministers and immaculate hosts, and of all the saints who from the ages have been pleasing unto Thee. Amen.

Gain and Loss

I was reading the Wikipedia article about ultramarathoner Pat Farmer who did a Pole-to-Pole run, departing the North Pole on April 8, 2011 and arriving at the South Pole January 19, 2012. As I’m reading I say, “Oooh, he’s Catholic.” This being the post-Seigenthaler incident Wikipedia, there’s a reference footnote. I click it. Up pops the citation:

White, Marcel (March 2007). “The scandal of Australia’s anti-life Catholic politicians“…


That’s Not a Catholic Church

Here’s another entry for the Internet Movie Liturgical Database (descendant of the IMFDB and the IMDB). The above is the “Basilica of the Immaculate Conception” in “Red Mass”, season 4, episode 4 of The West Wing.

That’s definitely not a Catholic Church. Not visible in this photo is that above the sanctuary there’s a balcony with seats facing down the nave.

Oh, and for the scene’s most prominent music they used Vivaldi’s Gloria. That piece of music lasts about half an hour and no one in their right mind would program it for Mass.