Monday, July 21, 2008

X-Files Politics

Great anticipatory review of the new X-Files movie over at Taki's Top Drawer, examining the non-ideological, conservative-ish politics of the show, including some Southern Gothic Catholic themes.
Perhaps the clearest conservative themes in “The X-Files” emerged in connection with religion. Scully’s Catholicism was the focus of several episodes, and she was depicted as a woman of sincere faith, if not a consistent churchgoer. Two episodes show Scully in the confessional, once after saving a boy who is a stigmatic from a man who was in league with the devil, and again after helping to thwart the devil from taking the souls of four teenage girls, whom Scully comes to believe had been sired by an angel. It’s doubtful a leftist show would ever feature the devil as a real character. It’s even less likely it would depict him occupying the professions he did when he appeared on “The X-Files”: a high school biology teacher (“Die Hand Die Verletzt”), a social worker (“All Souls”), and a liberal Protestant minister who advocates tolerance and opposes fundamentalism (“Signs & Wonders”).

“Signs & Wonders” might be the most reactionary episode in the entire series. Mulder and Scully go to rural Tennessee to investigate a murder, and they immediately begin to suspect Enoch O’Connor, a snake-handling fundamentalist preacher who expelled his daughter and her boyfriend from his congregation when she became pregnant. (Interestingly, in addition to sharing the same last name as the great Southern writer Flannery O’Connor, Enoch has the same first name as a character in O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood and wears old-fashioned glasses reminiscent of the type worn by the writer). When Scully complains to Mulder about O’Connor’s “intolerance,” he replies, “Sometimes a little intolerance can be a welcome thing. Clear cut right and wrong, hard and fast rules, no shades of gray.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Benedict the Cleaner

If only these messes could be cleaned. Benedict meets with Australian victims of pervert-priest underlings of Catholic bishops:
The brief Vatican statement said the encounter took place in the chapel of Cathedral House, the residence of Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, where Benedict XVI resided during much of his trip. The four victims, two men and two women, were accompanied by a small group of supporters and an Australian priest charged with pastoral outreach to sex abuse victims.
When are the bishops going to learn that the Pope does not enjoy doing their job for them? I can't help but squirm with every public apology Benedict makes. It's quite obvious that Benedict is humiliated by this shadow that follows him throughout every Apostolic visitation he makes. Bishops are and have always been in the best position to prevent the harm and remedy the damages, yet they continue to do little more than evade, bark, make excuses, deflect responsibility, parade pretty during papal photo-ops, and mutter some sweet-nothings about how wonderful the Church is to make the Pope feel nice. Meanwhile, the Pope continues to apologize for them at every major papal event. According to Vatican II and Apostolic Tradition, they're NOT Benedict's bishops, even though he appoints them (another reason to get rid of that antiquated role for the Pope). A "priest charged with pastoral outreach to sex abuse victims"???? I didn't know the bishops could canonically delegate their cahones to a subordinate.


I came across this video a couple of months ago and it has not lost any of its enchantment over me. There's no question that it's a highly stylized and romanticized vision of Serbian Orthodox pride, yet it's so different from the visions of national or religious pride that more often than not strut out in pompous and grotesque displays. Notice the characters, the facial expressions, the backdrops. Joy, pride, sobriety, lightness, wisdom, peace, purity, innocence, equanimity -- not an ounce of puritanical aspiration or eroticized exhibitionism. Notice the way tradition strums, pipes, and plucks aside modernity without apology, anxiety, or fear.

Notice the celebratory spirit free of that "Woo-Hoo!" frivolity and catharsis so common to Westerners. Notice the youthfulness without the nihilistic, self-conscious, and insecure gesticulations of "youth culture." Serbian young adults make appearances without that unctuously vacuous look that comes almost uniformly attached to the faces of Teen America (see World Youth Day). Notice how children and babies are displayed without trying to push a political agenda. Even the playfulness of the children exudes a reverence that is extinct in the race of adults which spends billions desperately clinging to the trappings of youth. Childlike without being childish. Note the traditional clothing and instruments, worn and played as if they were extensions of their souls, not props or ornamentation to exploit some vaunted romantic past.

Notice how the lyrics is the only thing that's expressly about Christ's Pascha; bodily expressions and interactions seem to embody it. Images of a priest and churches flash by, but they're not the center of attention, nor is it suggested that they're marginal or insignificant. The Orthodox have a wonderful way of embracing the hierarchical constitution of their Church without making it the centerpiece of their lived Faith -- a pro-clerical non-clericalism, while we in the West continue to oscillate listlessly between mindless anti-clericalism and mindless clericalism.

All this love of country may have a dark side (what doesn't?), but it gives me pause whenever I hear another Westerner castigate intransigent Slavs who refuse to kneel to Westernism, whether in the form of NATO, UN, EU, or the ecumenical movement. I'm a Chinese-American Roman Catholic and this video adds a little more cement to my sense of solidarity with Serbia. It's just a sentiment, but it says a lot about my political and religious convictions. The particular mediates the universal indeed.

This should be our model for how Christianity and culture interact. The Faith should penetrate so deeply into the culture as to make its expressions liturgical. The video shows Serbians enjoying some traditional folk dancing, but no one even contemplates inserting folk dances into the middle of Divine Liturgy! Why do we in the West persist in the satanic lie that Liturgy should reflect secular life when the universal Catholic and Apostolic Tradition has shown us that we are to make our secular life reflect the Liturgy? The joy of the Resurrection is not just a churchy joy or pietistic, moralistic, or apologetic joy; it must always become a Serbian joy, a Greek joy, a German joy, an American joy, even a New Yorker joy.

Monday, July 07, 2008


Defended by its supporters as "densely theological" and "border[ing] on the poetic," derided by its critics as pastorally insensitive and a "linguistic swamp," the thumbs-down from more than a third of the USCCB's 250 Latin-rite members marks the first failure by an English-speaking episcopal conference to approve to a "Gray Book" proposal of the revised translation of the Roman Missal; the fixed "Order of Mass" was approved by the Anglophone conferences in 2006-7 (and still awaits the recognitio of the Holy See), while the proffered Proper had already been green-lighted by four other national benches before facing the American hierarchy. Rocco Palmo
You'd think they were writing the Articles of Confederation from scratch. If Holy Tradition really truly concrete, substantive, living, and enhypostatic to us Catholics, we wouldn't be wasting so much time pining for recognitios and supermajority votes out of the alphabet soup of committees and conferences that has come to define the Latin Rite Church. Why do we continually act as if we're reinventing the wheel when we have a 2000 year-old Tradition to guide us? "Linguistic swamp"? I wish we could assemble that one-third+ bishops in their lace-negligee choir dress, have them look any group of Orthodox in the eye and tell them that the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is a "linguistic swamp." I'd pay to see that kind of bloodshed, especially when there are plenty of sees that could use some vacating.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Inculturating America

Nothing like July 4th for this Catholic to bash on American culture. It's been interesting for me to read intra-Orthodox debates about the prudence of establishing an autonomous or autocephalous American Orthodox church. The general consensus among the bewildering array of Orthodox jurisdictions seems to be that it's still way too early and thus imprudent. The wiser elements of Orthodoxy seem to grasp that American culture is highly problematic and that before autonomy or autocephaly can be granted the Christian Faith must sink deeply, penetrating into and transforming American culture to create an authentically Orthodox-American culture before anyone can take seriously the idea of an American Orthodox Church.

Blogs like Art & Faith marvelously demonstrate what this true form of inculturation looks like. A&F does it for Russian Orthodoxy and incidentally, has no qualms about rejecting the existential rationales for the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) and its progeny (St. Vlad's Seminary, Frs. Schmemann and Meyendorff, et al). By the way A&F has got to be the most visually moving blog I've ever encountered. Thank you, Ms. Drezhlo.

This should not be such a foreign concept to American Catholics as we have learned the hard way how inculturation can behave like sulphuric acid on our own ecclesial life. So I think a rule is in order for American Catholics: To inculturate in America is to Protestantize and commit "soft heresy." We tried to implement trusteeism for church property back in the 19th century, aspiring to the efficiency of Protestant polities; today it's couched in terms of mushy canon law and theology about the dignity of the parish as a juridic person, but it's still essentially promoted in the spirit of American (Protestant) anti-traditional and anti-sacramental narcissism. Therefore, trusteeism (which today takes the form of statutory parish incorporation) is imprudent. In liturgy, "ecumenically-friendly" use of Protestant music is imprudent, even though it's often permissible in and of itself. This has nothing to do with feelings. No need to hate Protestants or America. This is just about preserving that which preserves and gives life to Catholics, our Apostolic Faith. It's about being radical in our Faith, caring about the roots of our Faith which need watering as much as the branches need pruning and care.

Institutions and structures matter more for Catholics than they do for Orthodox and that can be a very healthy difference. But the Orthodox can teach us how culture (also a major concern for JPII and B16) is its own pillar of Faith. May we learn from the cautious patience of the Orthodox in our struggles with inculturation. Pro ecclesia, pro patria.

Vigil of the Next Big Decree

Rocco's got the latest buzz on yet another papal tidal wave regarding liturgy:
These would be changes which would be added to the changes in the liturgy and regarding sacred vestments which the Pope, together with his Master of Ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, has made in recent months, to recover ancient traditions: the restoration of the crucifix at the center of the altar, the distribution of Communion to the faithful in the mouth while kneeling, the recovery of the pastoral staff of Pius IX (the ferula), the changing of the style of pallium (the strip of white wool with red crosses worn by the Pope), the restoration of the papal throne used in the Consistory and the celebration of Mass with the back to the assembly, as happened in January in the Sistine Chapel.
Benedict's too smart to not be aware of the problematic bootstrapping logic underlying his actions on liturgy, which is why I'm a little confused. Clearly, Benedict believes the Holy Mass must be accorded the highest dignity and be rooted in a hermeneutic of continuity. Yet here he is changing this or that by papal fiat alone. The substantive correctness of the changes are not the real issue (I'm usually gung-ho about anything Benedict does). What is worrisome is the apparent precedent of popes tweaking the liturgy to suit their theological convictions, however "correct" they may be. Many argue that Benedict's renovations are merely corrective of the errors of the "Spirit of V2" but what's to stop the next pope from arguing the same according to his understanding of the erroneous interpretations of V2?

Imagine we elect a Cardinal Mahony to the papacy (a truly bone-chilling thought). How will Benedict's actions today affect the way a "Pope Roger" will mandate on the liturgy? I don't reject Newman's doctrine of development, but its weakness seems to be an inability to handle this very scenario. We either believe the Mass has an unchanging essence guided by Holy Tradition, or it's something that floats according to whoever's in charge justified by rationalistic rationalizations.

I'm just getting tired of this recurring Vigil for The Next Big Vatican Decree, as if my ability to pray with the Church requires breathless attention to dicastery stationery. It's a process that creates its own cynicism and apathy, mainly because it's so destabilizing and political in nature, not too different from our anguished obsession with 5-to-4 Supreme Court rulings. Does this decision help the people enter more deeply into the Holy Mysteries or does it just cause more alienation from the res of our liturgical and sacramental life?

A Catholic for Ancient Faith Radio

Ancient Faith Radio is amazing for its unwavering focus on a lived faith itself, not just a "living faith" or discourse on faith. No talk shows obsessing over ephemeral political or moral controversies in imitation of MSM. No soap box sermonizing or chasing after this or that soundbyte. No Christianized psychobabble trying to create a parallel cottage industry to Dr. Phil or Oprah. No ideological warfare between proggies and traddies. It does simple things, like a reading from a passage of Scripture or the Fathers, or a brief comment on the Psalter, all interspersed with tons of short distinctly Orthodox choral pieces from around the globe. Orthodox English-language choral output is much bigger than I ever thought for such a numerically small segment of English-speaking Christianity.

AFR is also usually quite nice to Catholicism. There's little of the Augustine-phobia that marks so many Orthodox converts and hardliners. It does pop up noticeably once in a while -- annoying but tolerable next to Catholic radio's own frequent self-gutting Protestantizations of Catholic faith. I've often heard readings from Sts. Augustine, Leo, Clement, Benedict, and even minor league Western saints like St. Dunstan of Canterbury. I've yet to hear Aquinas -- that would be a shocker. If only Catholic radio would draw deeply from the Roman Martyrology or The Golden Legend! At any rate, Catholics would do well to nourish their faith by getting in touch with our own tradition from AFR. Once again, it's the Orthodox who seem to be serious about keeping us anchored in an Apostolic Faith. I guess what I'm arguing is that AFR is more fully Catholic than most of Catholic radio.

It's streamable from iTunes too (unlike Relevant or Ave Maria Radio).

Anti-China Activism = Protestantism?

Interestingly, Interfax (Russian Orthodox English-language paper) labels this cartoon as "Protestant." If you substitute Rome for Beijing, Catholic Church for China, Interfax isn't totally off the mark. Of course, that's not exactly flattering to us Catholics. Something that always tempers my animosity to Protestantism is the fact that almost everything historically Protestant was "Made in Late Medieval Catholicism" -- remade and repackaged beyond recognition, to be sure, but directly and almost exclusively drawn from Western Catholic ruins. Catholicism is the material cause of Protestantism, a fact I wish our apologists would address with a little more self-critical honesty. Canon law even recognizes that when a Protestant becomes Catholic, he is by default enrolled in the Latin-rite Church by virtue of lineage. Now there's an admission of liability.