Sunday, March 17, 2019

St. Patrick's Day

In Irish music, many of the instruments used are diatonic. In other words, they are not chromatic; it's hard to play in more than two major keys and their related minors. For example, on a standard tin whistle or uilleann pipes, the player can only play in the keys G major or D major, as well as the related modes that have only one or two "sharps." The lowest note played by these instruments is usually D, and this standard has become known among Irish musicians as "concert pitch."

In the 1970's it became fashionable among fiddlers to tune their strings a half-pitch up, so that their D string became an E-flat string. Many fiddlers liked the "brighter" sound.

However, since 2000 it has become increasingly popular to play various instruments at lower pitches. The sound is often mellower" than the normal high-pitched instruments, and lends a different tonality to the tunes, especially when played at a bit of a slower pace. Interestingly, many antique instruments were designed to be played at lower pitches, but went out of fashion for a long time. They have now been revived, and while they are often harder to find than "concert pitch" instruments, they are readily available, albeit for a price.

One of the albums that really sparked this trend of playing at a lower pitch was Kitty Lie Over by Mick O'Brien and Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, on flat pipes and fiddle respectively. Here is the well-known duo playing the second track off that album:

And here is a brother-sister duet playing a couple jigs on a baritone concertina and viola:

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Getting Serious about St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day is not far off. Many people will celebrate with green beer and garish plastic hats. But there are better ways to celebrate. One way is with authentic Irish music; the Guild Review has plenty, here, hereherehereherehereherehere, and here. Another great way to celebrate is with a novena (nine days) of the morning prayer that, at least according to tradition, St. Patrick himself wrote.

The prayer is known as St. Patrick's Breastplate or The Deer's Cry. It contains the kind of semi-Franciscan praise of nature that you might expect to find in Celtic Christianity, but it also includes elements more often associated with Roman orthodoxy, like praise of the apostles and condemnation of heretics.  Perhaps most importantly, the penultimate stanza, beginning with "Christ with me," makes very clear that, at its deepest root, St. Patrick's Day is really about Jesus Christ.  It's a fantastic prayer.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Today's image comes from the blog of Fr. Dwight Longenecker, from a post titled "The Importance of Patrick in Spiritual Warfare." 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Eliot's Reflection on the Magi's Journey

Today the Church recalls the coming of the Magi to adore the Christ Child. We know little about who they were or the nature of their journey. Their arrival is generally depicted as being an occasion of great joy, and no doubt it was. But great religious experiences, even while being joyful, can also be challenging. Indeed, many of the saints spoke of their deep longing to be with God; in some sense, a taste of His presence was as much a curse as a blessing, creating, as it did, a longing which would only be fully satisfied in heaven. This is one way of reading the Beatitudes: the blessed are troubled in this world precisely because they do not belong to it.

In 1927, T. S. Eliot wrote a poem reflecting on the Magi. (You can hear him read it here.) He considers the difficulty of the journey, suggesting the psychological or spiritual challenges that so often come on the heels of physical ones. He includes the mundane details which so often fill our loftiest endeavors.  He also reflects on the longing and discontent that true religious experience can prompt. This Christmas season, we would do well to imitate the fortitude of the Magi. And, should we persevere in the journey of faith, we should expect to be changed: powerfully, deeply, even troublingly, and - yes - ultimately joyfully.

The Journey Of The Magi

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Rossetti's "A Better Resurrection"

Currently taped to my bathroom mirror is the poem, "A Better Resurrection," by the British poet Christina Rossetti. It is a poem about death and rebirth, one that underscores the weakness of the human condition and our need for grace. I think it is apt for autumn or winter, Advent or Lent.

Very slowly, I am working on memorizing the poem. One of the benefits of memorization is that you are able to carry within you a small scrap of civilization, a little bit of culture that you can call upon wherever you are, whenever you need it. Another benefit is that it forces you to think about every word, to go over the contents again and again. It is an invitation to deep reflection. If you don't care to memorize this one, let me suggest that you find another poem and give it a try.
A Better Resurrection

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb'd too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm'd with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish'd thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

Christina Rossetti is an interesting individual. Among her poems is "In the Bleak Midwinter," which was set to music by Gustav Holst and is now a beloved Christmas hymn. Her father, Gabriele Rossetti was an Italian nobleman, poet, and revolutionary nationalist who was forced into exile in Britain. Her uncle was Lord Byron's physician. Her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was a painter, illustrator, and translated.  (The portrait of Christina, left, was painted by him.)  Two other siblings were also writers. Quite the family!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

¡Viva Cristo Rey! - British Style

Tomorrow is the Solemnity of Christ the King, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  Coming on the final Sunday of the liturgical year, it is a reminder that, at the end of time, Christ will return to judge the living and the dead.  It's a nice segue into Advent, when we will reflect on both Jesus's first coming as a baby and His second coming in glory.

The feast also reminds us that Jesus Christ is sovereign over all things.  All people and nations, all rulers and governments are ultimately under His authority.

This solemnity was instituted partly in reaction to contemporary events in Mexico, where an anti-Catholic government had come to power in the Mexican Revolution.  When a new set of anti-Catholic laws were passed in 1926, Catholics - known as Cristeros - took up arms against the government, adopting as their battle cry the phrase, "¡Viva Cristo Rey!": Long live Christ the King.

Our family's favorite hymn, "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending," is one appropriate for Advent or for tomorrow's solemnity.  The text, which comes in a few variations, is by Charles Wesley:
Lo! He comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of His train.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign!
Ev'ry eye shall now behold Him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at naught and sold Him,
pierced, and nailed Him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see. 
Those dear tokens of His passion
still His dazzling body bears;
cause of endless exultation
to His ransomed worshippers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
waze we on those glorious scars! 
Yea, amen! Let all adore Thee,
high on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the pow'r and glory,
claim the kingdom for Thine own:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou shalt reign and thou alone.
Here it is sung by the choristers of Lichfield Cathedral in the North-West Midlands of England:

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

"And miles to go before I sleep" - it is one of those lines we all know, but from where? Many Americans will recognize that it is a snatch of poetry from Robert Frost. Fewer will be able to name that poem: "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Perhaps we had to read it in school at some point, but it is a poem - simple, elegant, thoughtful - which bears repeating.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Euphemism & Bureaucracy: A Recipe for Scandal in the Church

Quanta malignatus est inimicus in sancto!

Any American Catholic with a pulse and a passing interest in Church news has become aware in the last couple months that the Church in the U.S. is facing a new round of accusations that it has systematically covered up rampant sex abuse by the clergy. This summer's revelations--the public disgrace of Cardinal McCarrick, the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and Archbishop Viagno's affidavit--are even more shocking than those of 2002, which were serious enough to bring about the downfall of Cardinal Law of Boston. In 2002, the general public found out that many American bishops had for decades been systematically covering up for the sexual abuse of minors by their priests. But the summer of 2018 has shown that our bishops were covering up for themselves and an extensive homosexual network. Cardinal McCarrick was a pederast who treated seminaries as brothels where he could lust after and molest those handsome young males who tickled his fancy. Cardinal Wuerl, McCarrick's protege and successor in Washington, D.C., protested that he knew nothing of his predecessor's predations and that he had an outstanding record for dealing strictly with any allegation of sexual impropriety among the clergy--but then the attorney general of Pennsylvania published a special grand jury's report, which featured evidence that, while serving as Bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl failed to adequately punish a priest (George Zirwas) who repeatedly fondled boys and was later found to be a leader of a child pornography made up of fellow priests; Wuerl simply placed Zirwas on personal leave and allowed him to move to Florida and then to Cuba, where he died in 2001.

And then came the affidavit of Archbishop Vigano! The former nuncio to the U.S. accused Pope Francis of being complicit in McCarrick's rehabilitation and called on him to resign. If American Catholics had been trying to ignore the bad news coming out in the media, it was no longer possible. Even ordinary parish priests were joining Vigano in calling for the pope to resign. (I was surprised to hear just such a sermon from a mild-mannered priest while visiting a small town in Michigan the day after the affidavit was published.)

However, it is important to note that before both of the American Church's recent anni horribiles, the most important facts leading to the widespread scandal were already widely known among the clergy and, in many cases, among the laity as well. The Church was full of open secrets. After McCarrick was disciplined by the Vatican, commentators came out of the woodwork to announce that "everybody knew," inter alia, about the now infamous beach house on the Jersey Shore. These facts, then, were not, strictly speaking, news. What was new was the public outrage.

So, how could it be that we are living these scandals all over again? What went wrong?

There are obviously many factors, and the reader could do far worse than to consult Fr. Paul Mankowski's summary of the causes (from 2003!). But, I would like to focus on two factors that work hand in hand: euphemism and bureaucracy.

Euphemism in this context simply means the refusal to call a spade a spade. It is a problem that affects the Church in many areas. When it comes to sexual crimes, as the Pennsylvania grand jury reported, it leads bishops to describe rape as "inappropriate contact" or "boundary issues." But, it applies in other areas of the Church's life. For example, here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Cupich (who, incidentally, dismissed public outrage over widespread sexual crimes among the clergy as a "rabbit hole") has initiated a program he calls "Renew My Church" but which is essentially a new process for closing failing parishes. In the presentation given at my parish about Renew My Church, the phrase that cropped up over and over in the archdiocese's talking points was that we were dealing with the consequences of "demographic change." True, certain neighborhoods are no longer heavily Catholic like they used to be since their inhabitants moved to the suburbs back in the 1970's. But, white flight only explains so much. What we are dealing with is not some anodyne shift in the population, but mass apostasy! The reason why so few Catholics bother attending Mass every Sunday is that they do not believe in basic Catholic doctrines such as the Real Presence and the propitiatory nature of the Mass. Only around 25% of American Catholics attend Sunday Mass every week, compared to around 75% before Vatican II. If Catholics were anywhere near as faithful as they were sixty years ago, demographic changes would explain why we might have to close a few small parishes in the inner city but found a dozen new ones in the suburbs. But instead of confronting the staggering loss of faith since Vatican II, we talk about "demographic" trends.

The chief moral danger of the euphemistic style employed by our bishops is that it turns concrete wrongs for which bishops must take responsibility into vague, impersonal processes that they "manage" as best they can. A bishop who writes in this euphemistic style sees himself not as a moral agent who by the very nature of his office is called by God to avenge wrongdoing and to do justice, but as a passive spectator who only feels the limits of his power in the face of a challenge. These bad bishops are not consumed by zeal for the house of the Lord but instead busy themselves with their dioceses' quotidian affairs and their personal comforts while events overtake them. Euphemism makes many bishops into feckless bureaucrats.

Bureaucracy here means managing the Church like a secular institution for the sake of the administrators, not as God's "universal sacrament of salvation." It entails the loss of any sense of a mission; instead, the administrators simply try to do just enough to ensure that the institution continues so that the next generation of administrators can take over. When bishops lose this essential sense of mission, they look to provide for the comfort of themselves and their close companions. Cliques form in competition for bishops' favor, in the hope that their members will receive preferment in the form of easy jobs in the chancery office downtown or be named pastors of wealthy suburban parishes with several associates to do the real work. Bureaucracy enervates.

When euphemism and bureaucracy combine, then, we have a recipe for scandal in the Church. Euphemism allows bishops to avoid examining a problem closely; the fancy-sounding name they give to a problem becomes a veil they toss before their own eyes. The bishops then only see vague shapes in front of them, not flesh-and-blood people who demand justice. The spirit of bureaucracy saps them of their moral vigor and the demands of justice become petty administrative hassles, an unpleasant part of their day jobs. Soon enough, the bishops go from avoiding problems to believing their own self-deception. At that point, they are no longer capable of reforming themselves. Any reform will require divine intervention--often in the form of a hostile (quite possibly godless) prosecutor or an aggrieved mother who refuses to be silent about the abuse of her son.

God has chosen to rebuke His Church, but it is up to us to accept this punishment in the right spirit. Let us pray, then, for the Church! Let us pray, above all, for our bishops to repent and to become real men who do not seek after pleasure but will allow themselves to be consumed by zeal for the house of the Lord!

Exsurge, Deus, judica causam tuam!