Wednesday, February 8th, 2012
8 February 2012
Michael Flynn serves up enjoyable reads, if you like science fiction with great characters to accompany world building and slowly-unfolding plots that surprise. His latest, In the Lion’s Mouth, is the third novel set in a series that explores intrigue and human adventure thousands of years in the future. It strikes me as his most accomplished book to date, and the best in an ottherwise very good series.
Flynn’s human future includes the adventures of operatives of two interstellar empires. They battle it out, sometimes in space with ships, more often in hand-to-hand combat, and occasionally in the living room while attended by a butler. This book opens in the latter setting. Super-agent Bridget ban, a junior associate named Graceful, and Bridget’s daughter Méarana await the homecoming of the Méarana’s father, another agent/double-agent. What they get instead is an agent from a rival empire, who tells how the missing man has got himself embroiled in a power struggle. They and the readers are drawn into a story with enough plot twists and intrigue to keep everyone guessing until the second-to-last page. Then we are given a cliffhanger, and now a two-year wait for the next story.
I recommend reading these books in order. The current read does stand alone. But I would start with The January Dancer (2008) and proceed Up Jim River (2010). The first book is an excellent read, lots of space and shooting and stuff. What some call space opera (think soap opera), and much beloved by fans. I think I was less impressed with the second book, in which Méarana and her father go in search of her then-missing mother. I’ve sort of spoiled the plot point, but just erase from your brain what I wrote and read the book anyway. In the Lion’s Mouth is a superior sf novel. The pace is slow and steady, but the action unfolds well. The settings are fantastic, but believable. It’s nice to have a hard-to-put-down book in one’s hands.
Two observations. One is about world building. This is the craft by which a writer creates a world (or in this case, a region of the galaxy) and develops a culture complete with history, technology, politics, maps, and characters. The stars are vaguely familiar, Edacass is Eta Cassiopeia, 19 light years away; the Century Suns are nearest stars Alpha Centauri A and B and maybe C; Epsidanny is Epsilon Eridani; Serious is the Dog Star, Sirius. Tsol is our own sun. But Terrans (Earthlings) have become the riff-raff white trash of the galaxy. Book four promises a trip to Old Earth–I can hardly wait.
More on world building and especially language–there’s a lot of Celtic people in space in ten thousand years. In their empire, they speak Gaelactic. Cute. Law enforcement folks are magpies and riffs (sheriffs). Some Chinese stuff is going on, too. As is the serving of an ancient dish, hoddawgs and zorgrot. (Get it?) Flynn has a fascinating universe and plays around with language enough to distract me.
Second observation: religion is absent here. I guess the Irish bishops crisis of the 21st century was enough to drive every Celt out of the Church by the 121st. Not many sf writers handle religion well. Most, including the more conservative folks, tend to avoid it entirely. Maybe we’re better off for it. But it makes for an intriguing thought. Suppose you were transported to the far future, ten or twenty thousand years. And you found no Christianity there. What would you make of it? Would you still read the Bible and pray the Hours? Would you attempt to evangelize? Would you look for an underground and hidden Church? Would you give up?
One of the things I’ve done since I was a boy was to put myself in the setting of the stories I read. I’ve imagined myself a Borrower, in Middle Earth, and living in the Foundation. Easily enough, I can imagine myself making and serving food with the elusively rare spice coriander in Flynn’s future. But I always come up short with wondering about how I would live my faith if I were the last Christian in the universe. Maybe that’s a worth a book.
Meanwhile, read Michael Flynn’s books. I really enjoy this series. In order, I would rate these books four stars, three-and-a-half, and four-point-five in that order.
8 February 2012
Posted by catholicsensibility under Liturgical Music Leave a Comment
MR3 must be settling in, and clearly the unwashed masses are still smudged and in want of a shower, for a political blog to be commenting about the sorry state of liturgical music.
Do they know that Peter Jeffery, hero-critic, was also a critic of Liturgiam Authenticam, and by extension, the whole translation process even before Fr Anthony Ruff bailed on the mess? (Dr Jeffery, if you’re reading this, sorry to shatter your bona fides with the conservative crew.)
It’s not like the pop hit machines of NALR and GIA were cranking out tunes that topped the charts just weeks after release. Mark Misulia at First Thoughts singles out some top-25 songs, but I think the Right is still reeling from the 70′s, because I don’t think any of them really gained traction (or composition, in one case) until the following decade.
Gather Us In. Copyright 1982. First appearance in a hardcover hymnal, Worship 3rd in 1986. I don’t think this hymn started sinking in until about 1984. That might be ominous enough for its critics. I don’t find there’s all that much to criticize about it. Every church musician who hates having the plug pulled after verse two loves the midpoint of the text. It’s about as close to the sneer of Steely Dan as we get in liturgical music. It’s much more fun to poke at people who don’t like it. And even though complaints roll in about its ubiquity, you think they’d be able to accurately quote it.
On Eagles Wings. Copyright 1979. When NALR trotted out Glory and Praise 2 the following year, this song caught on. I have to admit I found the original recording off-putting. Strings and chorus is not what college student folk groups think they can reproduce. And an accompaniment book full of piano arrangements. Who is this Mike Joncas, anyway? Where does he come up with this Bible-study material in the notes?
One Bread, One Body. Copyright 1978. Another GP2 feature. Mr Misulia counts himself in a group “still confused by the odd theological twists and turns.” While true that John Foley takes a few New Testament passages and ties it all together with a piece of The Didache, I don’t find apostolic Christianity to be very confusing. The piece is about unity. It might be less confusing–or more, depending on the extremity of your ideology–to sing about Left and Right. But there’s nothing wrong with delving a little deeper into a first century reference.
I’m not a subscriber to The Chronicle, so I can’t comment on what the Peter Jeffery and Margot Fassler actually said. I do find it curious that scholars wouldn’t bother to read the fine print at the bottom of the page. These three pieces mentioned above are, for all practical purposes, songs of the 1980′s, the settling-in period after Vatican II. They all have staying power. And their critics might do well to wonder why that is.
And if these three songs do need an update, it won’t be accomplished by a hermeneutic of subtraction. People are just going to have to find better pieces. I’m sure that’s possible in each of these cases. But the challenge is that it is a lot easier to upgrade “Here We Are” and “On This Day, O Beautiful Mother.”
All that said, there is a need for a serious upgrade in liturgical music. But the locus of change is more in the performance of music leaders in parishes, and less these days the composers. It is possible to have an uninspired arrangement of “One Bread, One Body.” And it is also possible to move even beyond the printed parts on the published page. If people love a worthy piece, it will be worthwhile to return the craft and attention. And if church musicians are unable to give that, I don’t think Vatican II is to blame for it.
I think one can argue against “On Eagles Wings” as a matter of personal taste. But I don’t think you can listen to the recording or read the scripture analysis in the book and come away thinking this is not serious music by intent.
Like Dr Jeffery and Dr Fassler at Notre Dame, I enjoy being in a university place where I have far better than average musical resources at hand. But maybe I don’t get out to the hinterlands as much as they do. Musical formation and imagination are where we have the most serious room for improvement in the Catholic Church these days. I suspect it was so thirty, fifty, eighty years ago. It was probably true in medieval times as well, though that fact probably doesn’t present itself as obvious to historians. So where does that leave us? Here we are, gathered in the same space, heaven light years away, again.
8 February 2012
Posted by catholicsensibility under Ministry Leave a Comment
In baseball-like fashion, the deal is complete. Rock notes that Kansas gets a new bishop. Interesting that a diocese that gave up its bishop gets one back from the see that “stole.”
I’m sure both these guys are talented. The Congregation of Bishops seems to think so. Yet I still wonder about appointments like this. Isn’t there some well-regarded priest in the northwest of Kansas that couldn’t have been tapped?
8 February 2012
Posted by catholicsensibility under Politics  Comments
CNS featured the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judgment to strike down California’s Proposition 8. I’d like to comment on a few aspects of the story, including how CNS presented it.
“This sets up an all-or-nothing showdown at the United States Supreme Court,” said (National Organization of Marriage Education Fund director, Brian S. Brown), who asked for contributions to help fund a possible Supreme Court challenge to the lower court’s ruling.
Well, of course, contributions are solicited. It seems like whenever some side loses something in the courts, money has to be funneled in to pay off the last round or move on in the playoffs. Do people ever just accept a lower court’s ruling? Probably the poor schmucks who don’t have a national fundraising organization behind them. Like ordinary citizens.
Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson:
We are disappointed by the ruling today by a panel of the 9th Circuit that would invalidate the action taken by the people of California affirming that marriage unites a woman and a man and any children from their union.
Wait a minute. This ruling in no way denies that “marriage unites a woman and a man …” It would be one thing if Prop 8 opponents were determined to take marriage rights away from heterosexual couples and give them exclusively to homosexuals. In that case, I could understand the fervor on this issue.
What the court ruled on is that an electoral majority cannot impose its will on a minority. The majority would need to show the minority intends to damage others and in fact does so. Even gay marriage opponents have to concede traditional marriage is more under fire from widespread pornography–just to name one issue.
Rather than fund another legal round of nonsense, I wish the NOM would pull back. Instead of lawyers and lobbyists (who, it seems, will always have work) I suggest donations be taken up for child care for couples. Has every Catholic married couple in the Los Angeles Archdiocese been Encountered? And if not, why not?
Instead of ministry, we get a hope for a SCOTUS resolution:
However, given the issues involved and the nature of the legal process, it’s always been clear that this case would very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Marriage between one man and one woman has been — and always will be — the most basic building block of the family and of our society.
In the end, through sound legal reasoning, we believe the court will see this as well and uphold the will of the voters as expressed in Proposition 8. We continue to pray for that positive outcome.
What I’d really prefer my bishops and pastors pray for is my marriage. And the marriage of tens of millions of Catholics. And maybe do something about solidifying that building block, rather than focus on what the one-percent of Californians are seeking in terms of permanency, commitment, and civic privileges.
When an older couple marries, their inability to bear children does not offer an imposition to me and my wife in raising our child. When people in other neighborhoods in my town marry, that doesn’t harm my neighborhood, which has more graduate students living in single-unit housing. If a gay couple down my street want to share some of the legal aspects I share, it takes nothing away from me.
Love, respect, and commitment–unlike donated money–is not some zero-sum game. A sacramental marriage strengthened makes strong all the relationships around it. A couple focusing on their marriage in a healthy way does not mean neglected children. The Church needs to re-focus it’s commitment to couples. And yes, it needs to justify the expense as well as the time it devotes to politics.
What would be nice for churches to do while the kiddoes are in faith formation–just once in a while–have a parent night in the church hall. Instead of contributing to the drop-off, tune-out culture, offer a coffee bar and one simple discussion question. Something like:
“I should take more time for you.” When I hear you say that to me, how do I feel?
My wife and I often drop off our daughter to evening faith formation. And we scoot to a coffee shop or diner. It would be just as easy to stay on the premises–if we had a reason to stay.
Mr Brown, Bishop Wilkerson, and the other public faces on this effort need to read the numbers. Their support is eroding, and CNS isn’t afraid to tell it:
A Pew Forum analysis on attitudes toward same-sex marriage by religion released Feb. 7 said Catholics supported same-sex marriage 52 percent to 37 percent, with 11 percent undecided as of an October 2011 survey. That is up from a 46 percent favorable opinion (42 percent unfavorable) in a survey conducted in August and September 2010.
Hispanic Catholics are split, 42 percent to 42 percent, on same-sex marriage, while white Catholics approve of same-sex marriage by a margin of 57 percent to 35 percent.
Overall, same-sex marriage was favored by Americans 46 percent to 44 percent in the 2011 poll; in the 2010 survey, it was opposed 48 percent to 42 percent. The only religious groups remaining opposed to same-sex marriage in the latest survey were white evangelicals, 74 percent to 19 percent, and black Protestants, 62 to 30. Protestants overall remain opposed to gay marriage, 58 to 34.
Just for once, I’d like to read about and see what the Church is doing to publicly support actual marriages. And not just finger-pointing the gays.
8 February 2012
We begin Part Three (137-162) of the GDC with this post. Word hounds may know the Greek origin of “pedagogy,” to lead the child, referring to the practice of accompanying one’s charge in the pilgrimage of education and formation. Pedagogy in this context treats the theory and practice of forming believers in the faith. It applies, hopefully in our parishes, to a wider clientele than just children.
The GDC offers a few illustrative Scripture quotations before starting an examination of catechetical pedagogy with a Scripture-laced first paragraph:
“Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I lead them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them” (Hos 11:3-4).
“And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve asked him concerning the parables. And he said to them, ‘to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God’”. “But privately to his own disciples he explained everything” (Mk 4:10-11, 34).
“You have one Master, the Christ” (Mt 23:10)
137. Jesus gave careful attention to the formation of the disciples whom he sent out on mission. He presented himself to them as the only teacher and, at the same time, a patient and faithful friend. (Cf. Jn 15:15; Mk 9:33-37; 10:41-45) He exercised real teaching “by means of his whole life”. (Cf. Catechesi Tradendae 9) He stimulated them with opportune questions. (Cf. Mk 8:14-21; 8:27) He explained to them in a more profound manner what he had proclaimed to the crowds. (Cf. Mk 4:34; Lk 12:41) He introduced them to prayer. (Cf. Lk 11:1-2) He sent them out on a missionary apprenticeship.(Cf. Lk 10:1-20) He promised to them the Spirit of his Father whom he sent to bring them to the complete truth, (Cf. Jn 16:13) and to sustain them in inevitable moments of difficulty. (Cf. Mt 10:20; Jn 15:26; Acts 4:31) Jesus Christ is “the Teacher who reveals God to Man and Man to himself, the Teacher who saves, sanctifies and guides. He is the Teacher who lives, who speaks, rouses, moves, redresses, judges, forgives and walks with us day by day on the path of history. He is also the Teacher who comes and will come in glory”. (Catechesi Tradendae 9) In Jesus Christ, Lord and Teacher, the Church finds transcendent grace, permanent inspiration and the convincing model for all communication of the faith.
An apt beginning. Jesus is not only the model for all of us in living the Christian life. Jesus is the model catechist, and we look to him for the basis of Christian pedagogy–how to teach. Jesus Christ is both practice and theory for the Church.
You might share my inclination to skip over those quotations at the beginning. The Hosea passage is extremely illustrative. The bishops chose to illustrate Christ’s teaching method not with a quotation from the Law, but from the Prophets. And not just any prophet, but one (who along with Jeremiah) offers the most tender emotional plea for intimacy and compassion. God is at one with the people chosen. The ideal catechist, one might say, is as close with her or his charges.
8 February 2012
Did you know there’s a proper ritual way to bless with incense? Read on:
277. The Priest, having put incense into the thurible, blesses it with the Sign of the Cross, without saying anything.
Before and after an incensation, a profound bow is made to the person or object that is incensed, except for the altar and the offerings for the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Three swings of the thurible are used to incense: the Most Blessed Sacrament, a relic of the Holy Cross and images of the Lord exposed for public veneration, the offerings for the Sacrifice of the Mass, the altar cross, the Book of the Gospels, the paschal candle, the Priest, and the people.
Two swings of the thurible are used to incense relics and images of the Saints exposed for public veneration; this should be done, however, only at the beginning of the celebration, following the incensation of the altar.
The altar is incensed with single swings of the thurible in this way:
a) if the altar is freestanding with respect to the wall, the Priest incenses walking around it;
b) if the altar is not freestanding, the Priest incenses it while walking first to the right hand side, then to the left.
The cross, if situated on the altar or near it, is incensed by the Priest before he incenses the altar; otherwise, he incenses it when he passes in front of it.
The Priest incenses the offerings with three swings of the thurible or by making the Sign of the Cross over the offerings with the thurible before going on to incense the cross and the altar.
Are these instructions significant? I think so. Is there a problem with a minister making a single error? I think not. These directions certainly permit alternate forms of the thurible, though many long-time liturgy geeks like me appreciate the clanging sound of metal on metal. I have used and can see using a more open holder for burning incense. Whatever objects are used, it’s important for any minister to be well trained and prepared. Especially for those relics and images of two-swings.