I don’t know how it comes up or how we talk about it in a way that we both understand, but for some reason, I get it in my head that I want her to know something about me. I need to communicate this thing that explains me, that explains us, that explains our presence, how we ended up here out of all the places in the world that we could be tonight. I say what I think might be correct: Mi sposo, morto. She gasps, reaches a hand to touch mine, and I work out a way to tell her more about it.
I point to my heart.
John Di Camillo
The abortion debate has become mired in confusion over the interpretation of science. Abortion advocates have generated much of this confusion in two ways: first, they assert that science is on their side through their reduction of an unborn child in early developmental stages to “a few cells” or simply “fetal tissue” that is not yet a human being; second, they deny the validity of a religiously inspired stance as anti-science and based on unprovable, dogmatic metaphysics.
The proposition that science supports abortion is inherently flawed because science in and of itself is incapable of making moral judgments. It is objective, empirical, and non-partisan. Experimentation and scientific results present us with fact, not ethical analysis. Science forms the raw material upon which decisions of acceptability must be made: the fact that a biological human being during its developmental process consists of only a bundle of cells—only a single cell at its beginning point!—does not tell us whether we can justifiably destroy him or her during that phase. This requires ontology: a metaphysical analysis of the nature of a human being and what constitutes life.
On Thursday, August 26, 2004, U.S. District Court Judge Richard C. Casey issued a ruling striking down the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. Legally speaking, it was an unremarkable and entirely expected result. Four years earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled in Stenberg v. Carhart that a similar Nebraska state ban was unconstitutional. But Judge Casey’s opinion attracted attention for different reasons – not least of which is that he is a devout Catholic. [Read more…]
Rev. Pang Joseph Shiu Tcheou
As a transitional deacon eagerly awaiting priestly ordination this past year, I was confronted with the challenge (amidst many others!) of attempting to finish my last significant academic work: my Master of Arts thesis. Fortunately, the topic that I chose was one that is very intimately connected to the destiny that the Lord had mapped out for me: priestly celibacy. Studying the history and theology of priestly celibacy not only allowed me to hand in something substantial and of value to the seminary as part of my Master of Arts program but was, providentially, a beautiful way for me to meditate on and prepare for the incredible life that awaited me. In the little essay that follows, I would like to share the heart of this thesis and how, as a priest ordained for less than three months, I have humbly come to see the beauty and the glory that is the priesthood, lived out in celibate and chaste love. [Read more…]
At my alma mater, we so-called “intellectual Catholics” managed to surmount the lazy prejudices of elite liberal universities and earn the tolerance, respect, and even close friendship of some of the smartest and most thoroughly secular of our peers. But we were, at best, esteemed ambassadors to a foreign country, with little hope of changing the customs and at some risk of going native. And the very core of the “native” culture in the modern university is polymorphously “liberated” sex, which is protected as fiercely as a religion . . . which it arguably is. [Read more…]
When I was a kid, I was Catholic—-my head filled up like a chalice with holy mysteries. When I was an infant, my parents clothed my small body in a white dress and baptized me with the name Shannon Elisabeth, a good, strong Irish-Catholic name. At seven, I stood in line with the other second graders, waiting to enter the confessional for the first time. I hid a little hand-written slip of paper in my shoe, so I wouldn’t forget what to tell the priest. In the spring of that same year, I wore daisies in my hair and a simple white dress as I knelt, ecstatic and overly solemn, during my First Communion Mass. [Read more…]
The claim that the altar of the early Church was always designed to celebrate facing the people, a claim made often and repeatedly, turns out to be nothing but a fairy tale.
—Josef Jungmann, S.J., a former advocate of Mass facing the congregation 1
When asked about the era before the liturgical changes of the mid-1960s, Catholics who lived through it often bring up exotic tales of Masses celebrated by a priest with “his back to the people,” sometimes wistfully, sometimes not. In these reveries, the Second Vatican Council inevitably becomes the event that turned the priest around and broke the altar away from the wall. Until then, the celebrant had typically faced the apse or rear wall of the church, ostensibly appearing to be “away from the people.” This practice was described for symbolic and historical reasons using the Latin phrase, ad orientem, “to the east,” sometimes also rendered in English as “the eastward position.” 2 Now he was turned to face the congregation, versus populum, an apparent fruit of post-Conciliar openness. However, a careful combing of the relevant Council document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, reveals that Vatican II did not mandate any such action. In light of the skepticism Pope Benedict has expressed throughout his career concerning the prudence of this change, it is imperative that the informed layman to be able to evaluate the true historical rationale behind this still-controversial decision. Any detailed examination of the matter will find the logic behind this shift deeply flawed. [Read more…]
“Patience; listen to the world’s
Growth, resulting in fire and childlike water!”
– Denis Devlin, Encounter
Blood-orange haze; it flicked
the lazy tail.
Down the frantic Mistral,
down the flail
up of dust the Moor kicked
pert, dapper Man of Manresa
(Amadis the Gaul
comics under the donkey’s shawl)
could bloody maul
him for that slur on Santa María.
Holy pique, papelard strop. Flinch
of the ass’s left ear.
A moment snags an uncommon queer
thing (grace). Iggy’s steer
laxens, in love with mulish Providence.
Hyms to Our Lady of La Salette
Yes, there is the harping Sidhe Queen
vested in green
spud-haulms, hailed by sham-rock bodhráns.
She puts the cream on our porter.
There is Arán
-zazu, too—sharp farouche of thorn,
Basque wolfling, gorsefire-eyed. Low-born,
Your souvenirs mantled the world, daughter
Of Israel, mother of France.
Mariolatry like lepidoptery:
symmetries key in its beauty.
O Dame of La Salette, hear us
as the protestant sussurus
of your fine wingbeats break
against the pressing tack.
High-boned hymns, whiff of Grünewald’s
tattooed on Christ by Roman flails
whipped up the businessman in Joe,
of Pleasant Dales,
Wiltshire), scanning the classified
ads for tombs. Mourning hammered you low,
Lady, as they wormed out the nails.
Tacks removed, the butterfly
deliquesces into powdered dye.
Wordless grief may yet find voice,
Ma’am, in Dixie funereal noise:
as Joe’s hired meat wagon groans
off, we bring out the tongs and bones.
In 2013, Geoffrey Hill brought out Broken Hierarchies, effectively his collected poems over the last sixty years. Routinely described as the greatest living poet of the English language, Hill’s poetry is a challenging imbrication of theology and poetics, grammar and grace.
In the fashion of seventeenth-century treatise poems, Hill included as one aspect of ‘The Argument’ for his sequence ‘Hymns to our Lady of Chartres’ the following proposition: ‘That the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a late sentimental intrusion that infantilises faith.’
I had intended in any case to write to Hill to express something approaching an acolyte’s reverence for Broken Hierarchies, but the terse surety and (as I saw it) polemic of that ‘Argument’ stung me into writing my bewildered dissent regarding his theological position on the Immaculate Conception (with a young poet’s arrogance, I suggested he meant ‘dogma’ where he had written doctrine). As I drafted my letter to Hill, I also found I was writing a poem. The title, metre and stanzaic form were derived from an early baroque poem of Robert Lowell, ‘On the Eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (1942)’. I sent the poem along with my letter, and Hill duly responded. I was giddy to find that he had singled out the phrase ‘eldritch stained glass’ for comment (‘it is the controlled release of a good deal of semantic energy’). His reply conceded the point of my correction, adding with shrewd fairness that it would have been doctrine around the time of Duns Scotus. He explained that he found something oddly Calvinist in the proclamation of the dogma: ‘her mind, flesh, and will already consecrated by pre-election to the purpose; reserved’ (his emphasis).
The card has become a talisman, and the poems began their slow painful proliferation as I attempted to work out my bafflement. Soon, a sequence was forming, which I titled ‘On the Eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (2012)’—the date no more significant that it was roughly contemporary, and an anniversary of the date in the title of Lowell’s poem.
‘The Road to Montserrat’ is the poem in the sequence most mimetic of that initial shock on reading Hill’s ‘Argument’. Belonging to that unhappy tribe that Graham Greene dubbed agnostic Catholics, I was confronted with strange feelings, sculptural in their intensity, of the intuitive truth of the dogma, a truth equivalent to the eye’s register of the integrity of colour (she was the Immaculate as blue is blue). There was something like affront, too, and then also a sense of inadequacy as to how to ground the intuition given my desolation of learning.
These might well have been the emotions of St. Ignatius of Loyola as he made pilgrimage to Montserrat, confronted with a Moor who denied the virgin birth. Loyola had served as a soldier, and during convalescence had taken up the lives of the saints and laid down his romances of Amadis of Gaul (the poem puns on the similarity of the name to the popular Asterix comics I read as a child). The old martial instinct still there, Loyola was of a mind to kill the man, but instead dropped the reins of his mule: if it took the road the Moor was continuing on, he would kill him; if it took the high road, he wouldn’t. The mule proved more charitable than Ignatius’s impulse. The phrase ‘mulish providence’ is one I again purloin from Lowell, one of his “imitations” of Pasternak: ‘I love the mulishness of Providence’—how providential to find that phrase in drafting the Montserrat poem! The epigraph is from the Irish modernist poet Denis Devlin, in a poem about being condescended to by an Englishman for his Catholicism (Devlin is one of the major Marian poets of the twentieth century). I hasten to add that I felt in no-wise condescended to by Hill, whose theological scruples regarding the dogma are no less foreign to me than the same scruples of Aquinas or Bonaventure.
The ‘Hymns to our Lady of La Salette’, as I understand them, are freakish and humane burlesques of Mariology. As a direct response to Hill’s ‘Hymns to our Lady of Chartres’, I take up that more formidable Marian apparition in nineteenth century France, of whom the writer Léon Bloy wrote approvingly, ‘I do not sense any attraction to an Immaculate Conception crowned with roses, white and blue, in sweet-smelling music and perfume… [I am] too soiled, too far from innocence, too much the neighbour of stinking goats, too needy of pardon…’ (Léon Bloy, ‘She Who Weeps’, 1908). I imagine that part of Hill’s distress at the dogma is that he has unwittingly linked it to ‘sweet-smelling music’ and this is just not so… La Salette shows us something at once more human yet unsentimental, and simultaneously unfathomable, I daresay terrifying.
The sections are named ‘Hammer’ and ‘Tongs’ after the implements of the Passion and of the Deposition from the Cross respectively, which have become the symbols of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette. Imagine the Immaculate Conception as a butterfly – something beautiful whose inner nature is shaped in secret. The structure of my poem attempts something like the symmetry of the butterfly’s wings, each line of each section corresponding in syllabic length to its opposite number. The ‘Hammer’ section concerns itself with how various Marian apparitions are humanly comprehended and co-opted—in terms of scholastic dry-as-dust Mariology, nationalism, profit, and so on. We hammer the mystery of the dogma into human terms. This is necessary but also violent—is the butterfly’s beauty best apprehended by the lepidopterist, pinning it to his mount? The ‘Tongs’ sections are about human grief, the pietas of Mary as the Passion becomes ever more real as the wounding nails are removed from her child’s hands and feet. There is violence, here, too, in formless emotion: nothing can be apprehended for too long by the intelligence (‘blood, imagination, intellect running together’—W.B. Yeats) without a formal principle. The butterfly deliquesces into dye. Proclaimed dogma is an utterance giving symbolic form to the raging colourful depth of the mystery. The grief remains nevertheless unstinting.
In the final section, ‘the tongs and bones’ are an allusion to Bottom’s saturnalia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, concluding that the crude music of poetry, especially “religious burlesque” (to coin a term), is one way of coming to terms with this unstinting grief.
Other sections of this sequence published or forthcoming include: ‘Ultra Montane’ (Blackbox Manifold), ‘The Statues’ (Agenda), ‘IIIa. Q.27’ (the Junket).
“A chicken in every pot, and a battle-harness in every home.” Words to ponder, words to live by. So what do I mean? Well, no half measures, dilution or counterfeits. An articulated set of gleaming steel, with a breastplate, backplate, oriental style bracers, a lobster-tail helmet and a gorget to protect the neck. (The neck always needs protection, it’s one of those things you learn quickly when people are trying to kill you). You need one, I need one, we all need one and, should it assist, I can point you in the direction of some armourers who will furnish you with appropriate wares. You should anticipate a wait of about a year as the parts emerge rough from the forge and slowly take on a complete shape. And yes, it is advisable to have a spare set, to deal with those occasions when your best suit is out being polished and you have some guests to entertain or perhaps a would-be-burglar to terrify. I suspect that when someone goes out to burgle a house, they are really looking for light and marketable luxury goods to sell on or fence. They were probably not expecting you in six feet of burnished steel as part of the bargain. Well, surprise!
Of course, in this world of frenetic intemperance, we will have the scoffers. This does not apply to you, of course, reader. I could detect your impeccable culture immediately. But they will say—pointless! Exorbitant! Childish! A fantasy! And—pointless! (This will not prevent them from asking for pictures, however, so that they can display them in whichever medium garners the most attention). Nevertheless, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires a justification for certain actions, and I can defend this one on the grounds of the beautiful, the good, and the true. Those are indeed worthy defences, which I intend to rely on, the basis of art and surest ground of an artist. But you want more, don’t you? So you’ll get more. The very nature of the thing, those three fundamentals working their way out in particular cuts and edges. So, in three words: arrest, invincibility, and hiddenness.
Beauty, especially extreme beauty, has on occasion elements of violence and paralysis. It strikes you as a blow, the shudder you have in a car as it stops suddenly, throwing you against the safety belt. And yes, the word stunning has been overused and it now appears as a description of everything from apartments to Tinder profiles. But this armour is stunning, is arresting, drawing in the light and your attention, demanding both. Which is what you would expect. When hussar knights appeared on the battlefield, this quality was supposed to intimidate—the usual stuff—riders, pale horses, and all Hell breaking loose.
There is also the distinct experience of wearing the armour. Normally, a strike to your chest would hurt. With a stick, you might take some bruises, perhaps crack a rib. With a sword or a hammer, it’s game over. In armour, though, you feel the impact but are utterly unharmed. The shape of the breastplate encourages blows to skitter off to the left or right. Perhaps you recall the old Norse myths about the god Balder, where everything in the universe apart from mistletoe swore not to harm him? Then the other gods played a game where they threw weapons and rocks and him—and found him invulnerable. This made them happy. It is one thing to read about it, another to feel confidence and euphoria, adult and child within you gloriously radiant. You are not just impassable. You have become impassibility, and nothing can hurt you.
And finally, hiddenness. In Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, the character of Death has a conversation with his granddaughter. (Don’t ask.) Here’s how it goes, with Death speaking first:
“Yes. Justice. Mercy. Duty. That sort of thing.”
“They’re not the same at all!”
“You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy.”
“And yet”—Death waved a hand.
“And yet you act as if there is some ideal order in the world, as if there is some . . . some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.”
Death always gets the last word, and here he’s right again. There isn’t a single atom of courage in the universe, not an ounce of nobility. There isn’t any measure of bravery, and as for identity, you can’t, for instance, show yourself being Polish or American or French in any other way than making it physically manifest. Art is a type of sacramental. It is the means by which the conversation of the living and the dead is prolonged. It is a proof for who we are and what we value. We have to become the winged horsemen, the angel knights, to show the angels inside us.
And here, dearest reader, you should imagine me smiling, and it is a real smile, with humour, but also hard, a grin which shows the edge of teeth, and because certain things are both funny and true—there is something wild in my eyes, something untameable, which speaks of the pride of a tribe that was long ago and far away, of the very deepest woods and campfires in the Old Country, of dark forests and tangled, where, if you pause and listen, you can still hear the griffins calling to each other and, ever so faintly, the wings of eagles.
The Winged Horsemen
This series depicts a particular type of cavalry unit unique to Poland: the hussars. The hussars were active in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and were characterized by their singular appearance and fortitude. They were largely undefeated during their period of operation, often taking on opponents when outnumbered three to one or more. Their most famous engagement was the relief of the siege of Vienna in 1683.
The photographs depict contemporary Poles dressed in historical reproductions of hussar armor. The participants are associated with an re-enactment society based in the castle of Gniew (g-nyeah-fff) in North Poland.
Andrzej Wiktor and Gabriel Olearnik are personal friends. When Gabriel saw Andrzej’s series of “Knighthood” pictures a few years ago, he suggested that they work on something in the future. A few months ago, they met and agreed to produce a revised series of photographs to accompany Gabriel’s new essay.
How did the book come about? Why St. Thérèse?
A few years ago, I was approached by an editor at Paraclete Press—an editor with whom I had a long-standing relationship—with the idea of writing a book about “walking” with a saint for a year. Not a biography, or a hagiography, but a sort of lived reflection on the saint’s work, thought, prayer, path. So I thought for a bit and chose Thérèse of Lisieux because there is something kind of irresistible about a beautiful young French girl who wanted to be the Bride of Christ so badly that at the age of fourteen she traveled to Rome, knelt at the feet of Pope Leo XIII, and begged for permission to enter the freezing cold, crawlingwith-neurotic-nuns, cloistered convent at Carmel. Who spent the rest of her short life in obscurity but on spiritual fire, going so far at one point as to offer herself as a “Holocaust Victim” to love. [Read more…]