17 April 2008

Truly disturbing...

What else can you do but pray for people like this? I normally post the full text of articles in here, but I can't bring myself to force unwitting people to read this without realizing what they're getting into. Now, that's not to say that you shouldn't read the article, but you've been warned.

I'm nauseated beyond belief. The fact that someone could find life to be so utterly trivial is truly a tragedy.

Update: Apparently, the story was a hoax. That makes me feel better, but only slightly.

16 April 2008

Thoughts on the papal ceremonies this morning

First off, let me say that seeing Nancy Pelosi kiss Pope Benedict's ring when she greeted him at the White House this morning was probably one of the less pleasing things I've seen in my life.

I never get tired of hearing Kathleen Battle sing, and this morning was no exception. Her performance of the Lord's Prayer (even though it wasn't the correct wording of the Our Father) was quite excellent. I had chills running down my spine the whole time.

I've said it before (though not here) and I'll say it again: President Bush is one of the most Catholic-sounding Protestants I've ever seen or heard (too bad the music selections--that version of the Lord's Prayer and Battle Hymn of the Republic--are two of the most quintessential American Protestant hymns that exist). I don't know if the rumors about him converting to Catholicism after his presidency is done are true or not, but I pray that they are. Come on, Mr. President, join your good friend Tony Blair and come home to the Church. We would be exceedingly happy if you did so.

I won't comment at length on the Pope's speech this morning, but here it is if you want to read the full text. I was glad that he devoted a large chunk of his comments to the notion that truly free societies cannot exist without Truth as their foundation and even quoted the late beloved John Paul the Great in doing so. All in all, his speech set a good tone for the rest of his trip, in which he will hopefully continue to make his voice heard for true peace and justice as well as for the place of faith in modern society.

Still to come tonight: a prayer service with the U.S. bishops at the National Shrine.


Update: I forgot to mention that it's the Pope's 81st birthday, and I just discovered that he shares a birthday with another one of my favorite people, Rafa Benitez.

Logistical matters

I've jumped into the blogging craze full force, and it's time to take a step back and give you an update on what I've added in the space to your left.

First of all, you now have the option of subscribing to my blog in three ways. You can add me to your Google Reader, to another feed aggregator, or subscribe to e-mail updates. Now, you're free to do whatever you want, but I would highly recommend giving Google Reader a try. If you're not familiar with it, Google Reader is a place where you can aggregate feeds (both Atom and RSS) from basically any website you want, including blogs, news services, and the like. I just started using Reader when I started my blog (a little more than three days ago), and I'm already addicted. It's a fantastic service, and you should definitely check it out (and add my blog, of course!).

Second, you have the option of viewing my posts based on the labels I put on them. Pretty straightforward.

Third, I added a box entitled "My Del.icio.us", which has links to noteworthy articles/websites/whatever as well as a comment on them. This will replace my "Links from Google Reader" box soon, as I can't comment on the stories from Reader.

Fourth, I added links to a few Catholic blogs I read religiously (no pun intended). These, along with a few others, make up my "Catholicism" tab on Google Reader and are where I get a lot of my news and ideas for topics.

And last but not least, I added a (small) list of blogs written by friends of mine. Right now, the only person there is Matt, who deserves much credit for introducing me to the ways of the blogging world. If you happen to read this blog and want to be included, let me know and I'll be happy to add you!

That's all for now. I'll probably comment later on the Pope's activities today, but I haven't had a chance to watch them yet.


Music in the Church

I'm sure you can deduce on which side of the aisle I fall, but I was surprised to read this fairly balanced Washington Post article:

Catholics don't argue about abortion or the death penalty nearly as much as they argue about what music is sung (or not sung, or used to be sung) at their local Sunday Mass. It was ever thus -- at least since the 1960s, when Sister first shortened her habit, strummed a G7 chord and, to hear some Catholics tell it, all heck broke loose.

Among his more fastidious devotees, Pope Benedict XVI is valued most for the fact that he is not Casey Kasem, and Mass is no place for a hit parade, and church is most relevant when it is serious. (The point of this trip is just that: G et serious.) Do not hold your breath waiting for "One Bread, One Body" -- a '70s liturgical hit at most American parishes -- to be performed at His Holiness's mega-Mass tomorrow at Nationals Park.

But don't listen for too many sacred hits of the 10th century either. While Benedict understands the deep power of ritual, and loves little more than a Gregorian chant, what he and 46,000 others will be singing (or not singing) tomorrow will be a sort of compromise, neither modern nor traditional, but a little of everything. As soon as tomorrow's Mass playlist hit the Web, the new traditionalists were fuming on blogs and comment threads. (The pre-show includes African hymns, a "celebratory merengue" and some Mozart; the Mass itself includes a gospel-style Kyrie, some traditional Latin chants and several new interpretations of standard hymns.)

Like devout record store clerks, American Catholics are still having a sort of Stones-vs.-Beatles debate about what the classics really are.

Imagine a bizarro world where all the 25-year-olds want Mozart and all the 60-year-olds want adult-contemporary. The kids think the adults are too wild. The backlash against "Kumbaya Catholicism" has anyone under 40 allegedly clamoring for the Tridentine Mass in Latin, while the old folks are most sentimental about Casual Sunday (even more rockin', the Saturday vigil Mass), and still cling to what's evolved from the lite-rock guitar liturgies of the 1970s. The result, for most parishes, has been decades of Masses in which no one is entirely satisfied, and very few enjoy the music enough to sing along.

"The great majority [of Catholics] are totally inert at Mass," says Thomas Day, 65, a humanities and music professor at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. Day wrote a book called "Why Catholics Can't Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste," which is often cited by those who'd like to see a return to Mass music that is to them more sacred. "Most Catholics have either forgotten or never knew traditional music," Day says.

The great enemy in the Benedict era? Why, somehow, it's Sister and her guitar.

Although everyone says rock Mass is long dead, there are parishioners still complaining about it. There are faded, nearly gone memories of singing nuns and hippie laity and teenage guitarmies at the altar of love; or faded stories of pop phenomena like Sister Janet Mead, the now 70-year-old Australian nun who discofied "The Lord's Prayer" and charted gold on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1974 (and who then released an album of an entire rock Mass).

It's been a long time since anyone at church was singing the hosanna from "Jesus Christ Superstar" or Cat Stevens's "Morning Has Broken" at the offertory. Even the vast catalogue of the St. Louis Jesuits -- the stalwart, lite-rock ballads heard in almost any Mass for the past few decades ("One Bread, One Body"; "Be Not Afraid"; "For You Are My God") -- has come under assault.

It's "Day by Day" -- out, and Agnus Dei -- in. Younger priests now go to weekend-long workshops to brush up on their Gregorian chants, or to learn the lost seminary art of singing the entire Mass in Latin, English or both.

"You know, just today I received a publication from a mainline Catholic music organization, and there are aspects of it that seem like the musical version of the AARP quarterly, if you know what I mean," says Jeffrey Tucker, 44, a choir director who lives in Auburn, Ala., and is the managing editor of Sacred Music, a journal of the Church Music Association of America. "There is no question that we are talking about a generational issue here. The young priests and the young people just can't seem to get 'hep' to the whole 1970s thing, and the old people just don't understand why."

Tucker encounters this all the time, and blogs about it frequently. At a recent conference, a jazz pianist confided to Tucker that he'd been playing at church, but there was a new, young pastor who had taken over and "he said, 'You know what that means.' [And] I said, 'Well, I'm not entirely sure.' So he added, surprised that he would have to clarify, 'That means he wants Gregorian chant!' " In one of his many blog posts at New Liturgical Movement, Tucker characterized most Catholic church parishes as ruled by a "hard-core" group that "is fanatically attached to music of the 1970s and fears even the slightest hint of solemnity, warning darkly that the new priest is going to take the parish into a new Dark Age."

In news stories with a "conservative Catholics" angle, the church's most faithful frequently mention the nightmare of Mass as it was in the decades after the Second Vatican Council. Loaded words like "hippie" and "total mess" and "Brady Bunch" get thrown around. There are stories of suburban churches built in mod, saucer-shaped architecture. ("Lots of guitars and banjoes," a 32-year-old Catholic man moaned to The Post's Metro section the other day, recalling the church scene of his youth. "I felt uncomfortable about it constantly.")

So really it's a retro movement, but instead of "I Love the '80s" (or '70s or '60s), it's "I Love the 1000s [Up Until 1963]," with Benedict encouraging Catholics toward rediscovering the beauty of the old way. He is on record as thinking of rock music as "anti-Christian," and once fretted (according to his memoirs) over Bob Dylan's appearance with Pope John Paul II in 1997. Benedict canceled a Vatican Christmas concert in 2006, fearing it far too pop in nature. He also shuns guitars in church. (Sister has been in big trouble lately. The pope doesn't like her music, isn't so wild about some of her politics, and when it comes to her role in priestly matters, don't even go there.)

Tucker says the music debates going on in parishes nationwide present a more serious issue for American Catholics, "having to do with what is appropriate at liturgy, what is timeless, what is sacred -- but the [young vs. old] demographic element is very difficult to deny."

In defense of guitar Mass, was it really so bad? It was the soundtrack of a lot of social justice efforts. The St. Louis Jesuits stuff conjures up, for many, memories of food banks and felt banners, of youth group carwashes and, more nobly, martyred nuns and priests in Central America. Maybe that was the problem for some churchgoers? The groovier music really was of its time, and came with an agenda?

"What about silence?" wonders Day, the music professor, 18 years after he wrote "Why Catholics Can't Sing."

If he has any prescriptive at all for Mass music, he says, "it would be to cool it. Pick plain, simple music. Plain, square hymns with reasonable accompaniment. And listen to silence occasionally."

A mingling of pope and politics...

A hilarious and highly appropriate cartoon from this site:

15 April 2008

He's here!

Photos courtesy of the Associated Press:

Rather spry for a man who will be 81 tomorrow, no? He doesn't make any official public appearances until tomorrow, but I'm still extremely excited right now!


14 April 2008

Popestock 2008!

Yes, my friends, the day has almost arrived. Deo Gratias! Only a few short hours remain before the Holy Father touches down at Andrews Air Force Base for his first visit to American soil. I'm both happy and frustrated at the same time – happy that he is coming to the United States relatively soon after his elevation to the See of Peter, but frustrated at the timing. As I'm sure you are aware, I'm in the middle of the push toward exams here at the law school, which means there is no way I can get away to go up to D.C. To be fair, I've seen him in person already (at the Vatican in 2005…sorry, I'm still working on a better way to incorporate photos in to these posts), so I'm not that annoyed. But still, it's unfortunate.

There has been a lot of press recently about the pope's "approval ratings" among Americans. For the most part, the results are encouraging. According to CNN, 80% of people they surveyed had a favorable view of the pope. This is higher than I might have expected, and that is a good sign. However, there have been more telling opinions published in recent days that claim to have found deeper problems with the views of American Catholics. This article from Slate claims that the more "orthodox" members of the Church are displeased with Benedict's perceived moderation, and there is a veritable plethora of opinions from "progressive" Catholic sources pining for change in the Church and in the papacy. These people were the same ones who lamented Benedict's election in 2005 as the end of whatever hope they had of gaining ground on the issues of clerical celibacy, female priests, and the like. In short, the more progressive members of the Church argue that Benedict has already gone too far in cracking down on touchy subjects, while the conservative members argue that he has not gone far enough in such matters.

While I obviously lean toward the "orthodox" side of things, what people on both sides fail to realize is that the office of pope is unlike any other. His position as the pastoral leader of Christians all over the world is not the same as the one he had as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was Joseph Ratzinger's job there to be the watchdog of the Church, so to speak. It is the job of Benedict XVI to be the Vicar of Christ on Earth, and because he is such a gentle and insightful man, he realized from the very beginning that this was necessary.

All of this aside, I firmly believe that Benedict's trip across the pond will unite Catholics as well as people of all faith traditions. After all, how often does the spiritual leader of one-sixth of the world come knocking on your door?

I will, of course, be waiting with baited breath for all of the pope's public appearances (I'm especially curious to see his speech at the United Nations) and will likely comment more as his trip progresses.

Get excited, people!


Miracle of miracles, another post!

This post won't be too lengthy, but in the interest of full disclosure, I thought I should share a highly appropriate ecard I discovered yesterday. Not saying, just saying.

Now that that's out of the way, let me expound on my introduction. A big part of why I started this was to have someplace better than Facebook to share news articles, opinions, etc. I will provide links and commentary on articles that I find particularly interesting and insightful, but I also added this nifty box down to your left entitled "Links from Google Reader". Having just discovered the joys of Google Reader, I'm quickly getting the hang of perusing items from a wide variety of websites, and I plan to share articles I find interesting (but not necessarily comment-worthy) this way. I hope you'll take a gander at them every once in a while.

It's exam crunch time here at the law school, so I'd better close and actually be productive today (but honestly, being in the exam crunch will probably make me post MORE, not less).


Yes, I started a blog...

Yikes. How to begin?

First off, let me explain the title of this blog (in case you're too lazy to Google it). It comes from the Vulgate (Revelation 21:5), and is commonly translated as "Behold, I make all things new". This verse is part of one of the most beautiful parts of the Bible, and I would highly recommend reading it if you have a chance. Heck, in the spirit of blogging (isn't everything supposed to be linked?), here you go. Eventually, I'll figure out how to make these things more streamlined...

What can you expect from reading this? A veritable smattering of topics, that's what. Anything is fair game, though I can give you an idea of the things about which I am most passionate and we'll proceed from there. I will likely post many Catholicism-related things (many of which will be written by people more articulate and knowledgeable than I), with many posts dedicated to baseball, soccer, news/politics, and happenings in my life thrown in. I'm an eclectic person, so you get an eclectic array of topics.

That's all I have for now (and it's almost 2:00 in the morning), so I'll close.