On My Bookshelf: Hamilton and Sondheim

Hamilton the RevolutionFor now, I live at least a half a continent away from the performances. As a consolation, the soundtrack is greatly enjoyable. And nearly so is this book, which arrived from Amazon last summer.

Having a readable libretto is nice; some of the rapid-fire rap on the cd is barely intelligible. Reading also deepens my admiration for the complexity and cleverness of the musical.

My first instinct on Hamilton was not to bow to the pressure of that particular corner of media hype. After all, when is it news that supporting cast singers will perform at the Super Bowl? (How’s that for a mish-mash of American pop culture?) But I’ve given in. The musical is just too good. And I find I’m getting too many good ideas–not slavish plagiarism, but just illustrations and advice on how to construct songs and scenes and move musical things forward. Already I’d like to do things differently with the already-written, but life’s too short to look back.

hat-boxThe book reminds me of Stephen Sondheim’s 2011 Hat Box, a gracious and generous gift from a blogosphere friend. It seems to have inspired Hamilton’s creator to write up his Broadway hit cultural phenomenon. Actually I’ve only begun to crack Hat Box, but I perceive the imitation/flattery in the later work.

Intertwined with his genius lyrics, Mr Sondheim peppers his book with advice for songwriters. I feel as if I’m an in advanced class in theatre every time I open the pages.

I don’t know how many songwriters are reading this blog these days, but my suggestion is to stop reading here and get one or both of these books. And even if you just like the shows, these books would get my highest recommendation for the year.

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Amoris Laetitia 301: Mitigating Factors In Pastoral Discernment

amoris laetitia memeThe third of five Chapter Eight themes examines “Mitigating factors in pastoral discernment.” In this paragraph and the two that follow we’ll wrestle with factors that mitigate against a single approach to all instances of divorce and remarriage.

To begin with, Pope Francis is not the originator of “mercy,” as understood or misunderstood. There is a Catholic tradition behind such considerations:

301. For an adequate understanding of the possibility and need of special discernment in certain “irregular” situations, one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised. The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations.

One size does not fit all. Nor can it. Our age is often focused on knowledge, reason, and human will. But human beings, though in possession of knowledge, may be unable to apply what is “known” to full effect:

Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”,(Familiaris Consortio 33) or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. As the Synod Fathers put it, “factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 51) Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well;(Cf. Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 65, art. 3 ad 2; De Malo, q. 2, art. 2) in other words, although someone may possess all the infused moral virtues, (she or) he does not clearly manifest the existence of one of them, because the outward practice of that virtue is rendered difficult: “Certain saints are said not to possess certain virtues, in so far as they experience difficulty in the acts of those virtues, even though they have the habits of all the virtues”.(Ibid., ad 3.)

The wording is involved, but note the sources: John Paul II, Thomas Aquinas, and the synod bishops.

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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Amoris Laetitia 300: Encouraging Discernment

amoris laetitia memeCritics of the pope sometimes like to employ the one-size-fits-all diagnosis. Like “adultery.” Even field hospitals employing triage don’t do things like that. And authentic accompaniment takes time. The synod bishops recognized this:

300. If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”,(Relatio Finalis 2015 51) the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.*

Pope Francis’s note on this involves a rare comment and a reference:

*This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists. In such cases, what is found in another document applies: cf. Evangelii Gaudium 44 and 47

The Holy Father advocates encouragement for many believers, and a sense of responsibility for ministers. This makes sense. We are talking about a blend between morality, law, rules, and discipline. Not every aspect of every situation falls entirely within 100% of any of those categories.

The synod bishops outlined the duty of clergy:

Priests have the duty to “accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop. Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God which is not denied anyone”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 85)

It does take some skill to walk with a person through such reflections. Ordinarily these are part of the annulment process. The synod bishops cite John Paul II and offer a cautious balance:

What we are speaking of is a process of accompaniment and discernment which “guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow. Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church. For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 86)

Two cautions follow: quick exceptions, and favors for favors.

These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favors. When a responsible and tactful person, who does not presume to put his or her own desires ahead of the common good of the Church, meets with a pastor capable of acknowledging the seriousness of the matter before him, there can be no risk that a specific discernment may lead people to think that the Church maintains a double standard.

What do you think? Do we live in such times and in a Church where specific discernments can be permitted?

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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Music Of the Trees 2: Hovhaness

tops-of-treesA sonata for harp and guitar, “The Spirit of the Trees,” has long been on my cd shelf. This recording by Yolanda Kondonassi on harp and David Leisner on guitar is the only release of which I’m aware.

Reviewer Steve Schwartz, writing for Classical Net Review, gives some insight:

Essentially, the harp hasn’t changed its essential character in thousands of years. It is still … not a chromatic instrument, and since at least Wagner, music sings mainly chromatically. You can’t do a quick chromatic scale on the harp. You can’t create a chord for it with three pitches each a half-step (or a major seventh or minor ninth, for that matter) apart. Hovhaness’ finds a radical solution – literally “radical,” since it goes back to the roots of the instrument. He makes the harp sing modally (mainly Dorian and Phrygian, for those keeping score), although he continually changes the modes. He confines chromatics mainly to slow, even turtle-slow passages. The emotional affect of the piece is odd, a piece “out of all time.” It’s modern and ancient at once. You can imagine it coming from under the hill.

When a composer is communicating something of the essence of trees, I think that fits. Those plants are both old and new, a balance of wood building annually on itself, and each year, new leaves and flowers spring into view. To the untrained eye, the flowers fade and the leaves fall. But they have accomplished their task: nourishing the old and contributing new growth inside. The modern sustains and refreshes the ancient.

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Amoris Laetitia 299: Looking At Integration

amoris laetitia memeThis paragraph has a lengthy quote from the final document of the synod bishops:

299. I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal.

I think there is an important distinction between persons who have been outed by nosy neighbors and those who choose to keep a high profile. Either way, neither ministers nor neighbors can abdicate their effort of companionship.

The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care, a care which would allow them not only to realize that they belong to the Church as the body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it. They are baptized; they are brothers and sisters; the Holy Spirit pours into their hearts gifts and talents for the good of all. Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services, which necessarily requires discerning which of the various forms of exclusion currently practiced in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework, can be surmounted. Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel.

Policies in some particular parish schools may be rightly called into question:

This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children, who ought to be considered most important”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 84)

My sense is that we can discount the occasional practices like using parental status to bar children from sacraments, school enrollment, and the like.

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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Amoris Laetitia 298: No Remarriage Is Quite the Same As Another

amoris laetitia memeRegarding a remarried person, we cannot hope to summarize using one classification:

298. The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. The Church acknowledges situations “where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate”.(Familiaris Consortio 84)

John Paul II recognized certain situations, and there is undeniable witness of many unions and families arising from or nurtured by a new relationship. The last century’s last pope also acknowledged that sometimes the divorced person has been unjustly treated:

There are also the cases of those who made every effort to save their first marriage and were unjustly abandoned, or of “those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid”.(Ibid)

Pope Francis certainly recognizes that grave suffering and conflict occurs when a remarriage follows closely after a divorce. His example:

Another thing is a new union arising from a recent divorce, with all the suffering and confusion which this entails for children and entire families, or the case of someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family. It must remain clear that this is not the ideal which the Gospel proposes for marriage and the family.

The synod bishops write:

The Synod Fathers stated that the discernment of pastors must always take place “by adequately distinguishing”,(Relatio Synodi 2014, 26) with an approach which “carefully discerns situations”.(Ibid.)

The pope emeritus adds:

We know that no “easy recipes” exist. (Benedict XVI, Address to the Seventh World Meeting of Families in Milan (2 June 2012), Response n. 5: Insegnamenti VIII/1 (2012), 691.)

And the council bishops:

In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers” (Gaudium et Spes, 51).

The questions sit with the Church today: Can we treat every remarriage as the same? Another aspect Pope Francis does not treat here or elsewhere in this document is when a person in a second marriage joins the local parish with the desire to become Catholic. Provisions are made for the unbaptized converts. But not for those already baptized, no matter what the circumstances of their faith, belief, or marital practices were in the past.

Any other comments, friends?

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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One More Month

Peace to all you readers, regulars, long-time, or occasional.

After some discernment, I’ve decided to wrap up daily posts here when I get to the end of Amoris Laetitia in one more month. Assuming hackers don’t crack the code here, everything will stay up, but regular bits from me will largely cease. I will monitor comments for some weeks, but unless you email me, I wouldn’t expect a same-day reply. WordPress changed its admin platform for bloggers, and I’ve decided not to spend time learning a new system when I was perfectly adapted to the old. Plus, the WP programmers have rather botched the code for accompanying images on posts, so …

I’m turning my attention to other projects, musical and writing, and even writing more musicals. I don’t need a blog platform to advance any of these. I’m getting to the stage in life where I’m taking seriously the time and energy I spend doing things. There are a lot of things worth doing. Sitting in front of a computer at 6AM or 11:30PM in my pajamas, t-shirt, and slippers isn’t one of them.

I first went online in the late 90s, having discovered that people of wide geographic spread were clumping together to discuss liturgy and music. That was kind of cool. That led to a regular writing gig in the outside world that lasted sixteen years. And it eventually landed me as a mostly persona non grata in the conglomeration once known as “St Blogs Parish.” There, I mostly got to write things I couldn’t and wouldn’t write as a staff member in a parish. Online, I was just a parishioner. And not at all a bigwig like other folk who made a cottage industry, large or small, out of blogging. So I got to annoy the hell out of a handful of people who took themselves and their Catholic culture too seriously. And I made a lot of friends, including a few from the other side of the fence.

Some people who weren’t friends regularly reported me to my boss and the occasional bishop. Things like that happen in real-life parishes, too. I’d like to think I learned enough from that to not do it to the people I served in real life, and that I could develop open ears for people of any opinion to have a hearing with me. On that point, mission accomplished. Thanks to Liam and a few others, I can look with more honesty at what I say and do in the real world.

The bulk of content here these days involve the documents of the Church. I don’t even know how that got started. I know I get annoyed when self-satisfied Catholics of any stripe cherry-pick their way through Church teaching to bend God’s will to their own. We never did that here. So if I feel a bit self-satisfied on that front, the good news is that there’s only another four weeks of it.

I may have two or three more farewell posts to offer if I feel inclined to look back, around, or ahead. Otherwise, there’s a daily dose of Pope Francis before the curtain falls. After that, keep in touch. Email is good. Call if you have my number. I might stay on facebook.

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