26 March 2017

Not on the news

Yesterday, St Paul's basilica, mother church of the archdiocese of Toronto, was vandalized.  Someone spray painted, among other things, 'this is the house of satan' on the front steps of the church. 

The graffiti was quickly removed and apparently the archdiocese has been in contact with police to increase security around the church. 

22 March 2017

In your charity

...please pray for the victims of today's attack in London.

17 March 2017

It's St Patrick's Day

A Happy St Paddy's Day to all my fellow micks and mostly micks out there.  Here's hoping you don't hear those wretched pseudo Irish songs 'Danny Boy' or 'Tooralooraloora'. 

A little trivia for any Toronto area micks:  Prior to the arrival of the famine Irish in '47, the Irish Catholics and Protestants of the area actually got along, and even formed a charitable organization called the Pan Ireland Association, the main function of which was to have a feast on this day.  The feast was, by all accounts, a bender of truly epic proportions.  The toasts would go on for hours, and included an ironic toast to the founder of the Irish Temperance Movement. 

So, a Happy St Pat's to all.  Celebrate your Irishness as you please, but also take time to remember there was a man, a great and holy man who went by the name of Padraig, behind it.

14 March 2017

Got back from the funeral last night.

I would have liked to have stayed an hour or two longer, but the weather reports were saying that I would be driving into a snowpocalypse. It didn't quite materialize.  It figures.

 Only the wife and I and Frodo could go. Being in a new place and surrounded by strange people is usually a challenge for Frodo because of his condition, but he handled it fairly well.

You could tell from the people there that my cousin was much loved and will be missed and mourned for some time to come. I think of the words of Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Bixby: "I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost." As I wrote for my own mother a few short months ago: I think of the words of the New World Symphony: "I'm going home, just going home." I think of the words of Seneca the Elder, who wrote that everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives. Always remember that, in her own quiet way, she lived, and as we are believe in the promises of our Savior, she lives still.

Please remember her and her family in your prayers.

Professor Esolen on the 'Dark' Ages.


This touches on some things I have been saying for years.

There is a poem by Auden wherein he asks how is it that Chaucer, Gower and their ten thousand brothers anonymous lived through the Black Death, the Hundred Years War, the War of the Roses, a hundred other calamities; a time wherein one third of the population did not see their first birthday, and half did not see their tenth; a time where a scratch or a mere toothache could be fatal, and yet write poetry about joy and ...happiness, of taking what delights were to be had, of seizing today because tomorrow may never come? We are in every material way immeasurably better off than they, yet we are depressed and medicated and constantly seeking counseling for the troubles we imagine for ourselves. We have forgotten the small pleasures because our lives are glutted with pleasure and entertainment, and we are resentful that there is not even more. Their real misery meant that they could embrace the good times with all their hearts, and taught them the wisdom that is now forgotten: that life is both to be endured and enjoyed.

That, and yes, they were a whole lot smarter than they are generally given credit





10 March 2017

Please remember in your prayers...

... the cousin I asked you to pray for earlier. She died last night, surrounded by her family and loved ones. 

7 March 2017

Preaching to the wrong choir.

There's an old story I once heard from Mother Angelica.  Someone called on her talk show and complained about the quality of their priest's homilies.  Mother Angelica quickly asked her what viewers may have thought was an irrelevant question:  "How much do you put in the collection plate?"  The caller stammered for a moment and then said they put in a buck or two.  "Two bucks?" demanded Mother.  "What do you expect for two bucks? Fulton Sheen?"

I thought of this when I read a document that was released a few days ago.

In honour, so to speak, of the 50th anniversary of Musicam Sacram , a Declaration on Sacred Music Cantate Domino, signed by over 200 musicians, priests and various scholars, has been released in six languages.  Here is the link to the English version.  It is brief, only five pages, and consists of four parts: an introduction, a survey of the current state of sacred music (short version: we're in a pickle), some recommendations on how to remedy that situation, and a brief conclusion.

On the whole, it is a good document, but it suffers from the problems that plagues most such documents: first off, the wrong people will be reading it.  In my experience, the people at whom such writings are aimed are almost never the ones who read it, and if one of those people actually does come across it, they are almost always inoculated, as it were, long before they read such a document.  Usually they would consider it from a poison source, or some such fallacy.  Perhaps they will read the names and see a famous one (Fr. Zuhlsdorf, perhaps) and say to themselves something along the lines of: "Oh, he's signed it.  That tells you all you need to know right there." They may then comfortably ignore it.

The Declaration makes several sound points and recommendations, though on the whole it seems have a flawed assumption, which brings me to the second problem.  The flaw is particularly apparent in recommendation number 4, which states


Higher standards for musical repertoire and skill should be insisted on for cathedrals and basilicas. Bishops in every diocese should hire at least a professional music director and/or an organist who would follow clear directions on how to foster excellent liturgical music in that cathedral or basilica


It is curious to me that the recommendation is a very stripped down version of the usual recommendation that I have seen many times:  churches in general should hire professional musicians.  That in itself is a wildly impractical suggestion (of which I suspect the writers of this document are fully aware) for reasons I'll get to in a moment, but it seems to me in restricting the recommendation down to merely the cathedrals and basilicas (which in most dioceses amounts to the Cathedral alone) they are conceding a lot of ground.  They may be correct in their belief that such churches should be shining examples, and they are also- judging from my own experience- correct in their assumption that such churches very often are no such thing.

I cited this recommendation because it most overtly illustrates the biggest flaw in this document.  Did you catch the critical word in the passage I cited?  Yes, it's 'hire', as in pay.  With this word it becomes obvious that this recommendation is, in its own way, also directed at the wrong people.  It seems to be directed at the bishops and rectors who are in charge of the Cathedrals and basilicas.  From my limited experience with them, I would imagine that many of them would read that recommendation and say to themselves: "Oh, they want me to spend more money, do they?"  In that respect, it is a misfire, and it is the misfire that I find underpinning this entire document.  These recommendations should have come with a very clear and very stern statement aimed directly at the Catholic worshippers: if you want better music, pay for it, and a reminder of the famous libertarian saying: There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.

Catholics on the whole are a cheap bunch, and Canadian Catholics particularly so, I am sorry to say.  Among those clergy and others who live off the generosity of congregations who travel back and forth across the border between us and our neighbours to the south  there is a joke: "Q: What is the difference between a Canadian and a canoe? A: A canoe might tip."  The place where most Catholics show their love of tradition is in the collection basket.  That is the place where they wish to maintain the customs of their ancestors, as in: "If a dollar was good enough for my great great great granddaddy, it's good enough for me!"  It is dangerous to tell these people that churches in the past were raised and furnished by the congregation sacrificing their pennies and nickels, because they will not hear the word 'sacrifice' and instead think to themselves "Nickels, you say?" In short, it is utterly pointless to tell any priest or bishop that they need to spend money on some project or other without telling the congregation to start forking out.

This is not to say we should do nothing.  I have been active as an unpaid cantor in my parish, and I have been trying to improve the quality of music at the early Sunday Mass.   I have taught my children what I could about quality music, and it seems to be working.  My elder daughter likes to sleep in.  She tried to spread her sleep habits to Sunday and tried to go to the later Mass (where the music is provided by a choir).  She did it just once.  Upon her return home she announced that we were to do whatever it took to wake her up on the following Sunday, as she never wanted to hear that choir sing again.  On top of everything else, and I quote, "They had some guy playing a harmonica!"  In his case, we might have to do the opposite of the recommendations in the Declaration, and pay him not to play.

In the end, while the document is good, I do not see it going anywhere.  Everything they ask for- better music education for children, the promotion of quality composers- costs money, and any discussion of what should be done without a consideration of how it should be done and especially how it should be paid for- well, no matter how good and how well intentioned, that discussion is ultimately doomed to be merely theoretical.  Parishioners need to know that a music program is heavily dependent upon their donations. A Luciano Pavarotti level singer would not even clear his throat for a couple of bucks.

6 March 2017

Prayer request

I have just learned that a cousin of mine has been sent to the ICU and is on full life support.  Please pray for her and her family in their time of need.