Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

David Suchet reads the Gospel of Mark

Perhaps you know him best as the definitive Poirot, but actor David Suchet is also a devout Christian who came to the faith through reading the Bible in a hotel room. In this glorious two-hour recording from St. Paul's Cathedral, he reads the entire gospel of Mark straight through as it would have been heard by the first Christians, without chapter or verse breaks.

It's easy to think of the gospels, or of any book of the Bible, in the small chunks that we normally read or hear at Mass. But hearing the good news as one whole narrative is a reminder that God's time is not our time, and that we, too, are part of a narrative that is not yet ended, and will not end until Jesus comes back. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Wanting Catholics To Do Better

Sometimes institutions we love and identify with do things we don't like.  I've had occasion to think about that this week, as we've dealt as a family with frustration at the way Franciscan University of Steubenville has declined to allow their county health department to offer a COVID vaccine clinic on campus, despite the county's offer to do so and the fact that the university now has an outbreak on campus which is rapidly spiraling out of control (and thus at risk of shutting down in person classes.)  This is an issue for us not just in a vague "with my alma mater would do better" sort of way, but quite directly because our eldest is a freshman at FUS this year.  Indeed, right around the time we found this out she got put into quarantine (for the second time this semester) after someone she's been in contact with (this time a roommate) tested positive for COVID.  (At the end of quarantine she tested negative again and was able to go back to normal.) 

I had assumed that the university (as many are doing) would have a vaccine clinic on campus in order to get their students vaccinated.  Although COVID is not terribly bad for most people student age, the fact that they can pass it around rapidly while living in close quarters makes them a problem for professors, staff, and people in town.  But not only did the university apparently turn the county down (one assumes because some key administrators adhere to the belief -- which the CDF has rejected -- that there are moral reasons Catholics should refuse to receive the vaccine) but they did not see fit to inform parents of this or provide transportation off campus for students to go get their own vaccines.  Once we found out what was going on, we had to set up an appointment for our daughter to get the shot at a Walgreens a mile away from campus and ask her to walk there since as a freshman doesn't have many friends with cars.

A number of friends have made comments along the lines of "that's why I'd never send a student there" or "I'll definitely never support that place".  I understand the impulse behind these sentiments.  It is certainly disappointing to see an institution which is so clear in its commitment to being "passionately Catholic" take an unreasonable and irresponsible action in the name of the faith.  I've heard similar sentiments expressed before whether it's in regard to the bishops, a parish, or some lay organization.

However, I don't want to cut ties with the university or cease to support them.  After all, the reason why I chose to go there, and why it attracted our daughter, is that the university fosters a culture in which being a faithful Catholic is so normal as to go nearly without saying, rather than being considered alien and freakish as it would be on many university campuses.  I want the university to succeed in being a place where both faculty and students are faithful Catholics while at the same time pursuing academic excellence.  

There's a pair of opposing errors that people often make as they deal with the mistakes of organizations they see as being on their side of the cultural divide in our country.  Either they excuse (or even praise) any mistakes made by institutions on their side in order to show that their side is right, or they suggest writing erring institutions off entirely.  Both of these approaches are mistaken.  

I think it's wrong to defend Steubenville when it errs just because they're generally speaking a good Catholic college, because to defend error along with truth is to give the impression that the error is in fact truth.  If the value of Steubenville is that they are "passionately Catholic" then we should not want to see that Catholicism melded onto error.  Steubenville is admirable in not trying to combine Catholicism with the many intellectual and moral errors that people rightly are concerned about in many secular colleges.  Many colleges have successfully made their Catholic identity meaningless by trying to combine Catholicism with the sexual revolution, moral relativism, scientific materialism, cultural consumerism, and the rest of the modern grab bag.  But it would be no comfort to see Steubenville escape this while at the same time grafting Catholicism onto another set of errors.  

At the same time, immediately suggesting that we abandon support for Steubenville and support secular colleges instead is also misguided.  Secular colleges come with their own whole host of errors about the nature and purpose of the human person, morality, etc.  It's easy to think of these errors as normal because they are so pervasive in our culture, but they are nonetheless errors and very destructive ones at that.  All in all, I'd still see a college which is right about Catholicism but wrong about COVID vaccines as better than a college which is right about COVID vaccines but wrong about the whole host of issues which form the modern progressive consensus.  And yet, what I want is not to excuse Steubenville for this error, but to see it be more right by being both Catholic and also prudent and informed when it comes to vaccines.  

This presents practical difficulties.  People often say that the only way to send a message to an organization is by refusing to support them at all, which with a college I would assume means not attending or donating.  I suppose the "shake the dust from your sandals" approach does send a clear message, but it's also a relationship ending move.  I'm less sure how to go about urging an organization to do better without presenting some consequences for failing to do so, but then that's the difficulty that we face in human relationships all the time: how to urge people we care about to do better without totally cutting them off even if they do not in fact choose to do better.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Two Steps Back

 One effect of pandemic at our house is that it moved many children into more online activities, whether it be classes or socializing, while impeding the use of the family desktop in the library where Darwin now needs to be closeted working from home. As a result, my laptop has become the primary family computer, not just during business hours, but for people doing homework in their bedrooms in the evening, or chatting with chums after school. I do not see my computer for days on end, and when I see I am generally not the one using it. 

In related news, my writing output has dropped to only what I can tap out with a thumb on my phone. And my motivation to compose any more than that has similarly plummeted.

This is not solely, I think, assignable to the upheaval of the past year, although that time of change has opened a door. For the past while, I have had a very direct sense -- perhaps I would even go so far as to say that it is a divinely infused message -- that I need to put myself forward less. This cuts across many forums. Put my opinions forward less on social media. Put myself forward less in volunteering to take over some function because I think I can do it better than someone else. Put myself forward less in solving other people's problems. 

Not only this, but on the occasions lately when I have chosen to put myself forward, often against the direct prompting of my conscience, I have had the grace of being almost instantly mortified by discovering that I've misunderstood a situation or have made things worse by my interference. I call this a grace because it leads to instant change. How often in life do we bumble along, going even years without realizing that some behavior or other is destructive until the cumulative effects of it are well beyond our repair? To be able to change instantly, to back down right away instead of becoming entrenched, to make amends as soon as possible -- this is a grace, and must be received with gratitude.

This does not mean that I don't pitch in when I'm asked to help out with something, or to give my opinion if I'm asked for it, or refuse to step up to do the work that needs to be done without a formal invitation or schedule. But there is a difference between these basic elements of maturity, and putting oneself forward. And I'm working on discerning that boundary, every day.

One incentive to develop this basic humility is the behavior of public (or aspirationally public) Catholics, who are devoted to selling the image of a particular lifestyle for which Catholicism is a kind of spiritual window dressing and mental furniture, without laying a true foundation of dying to self. This "putting forward" -- when the product being sold, at root, is oneself -- has underscored my sense of being called to move away from this behavior. It is a hypocrisy that can bear only the most ephemeral kind of fruit, as if Jesus needed us to build him a brand or sell him to souls. 

Jesus, in fact, needs nothing from us, and all that we have from him will go back to him, for nothing the Father has given him will be lost. But whether we will cooperate with that grace enough to build on the talents he has given us -- that is indeed the challenge of the Christian life, and that building is not done so much by adopting the trappings of some kind of professional Catholicism as it is by stripping away everything that inhibits our cooperation with his grace. And this growth is often painful -- not necessarily a cruel painful, but the kind of stretching that comes with exercise or any change. 

The question, then, becomes how to build without laying a false foundation of self. There is no question that we are called to build. The parables insist on it. But they are also equally clear that he is the vine and we are the branches and we bear no fruit apart from him, and unless the Lord builds a house, in vain do the laborers labor. (That's the psalms, not the parables, but it's all the word of the Lord.) And I do not want to spend my limited human energies laboring in vain. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

Sense and Sensibility, Streamed!

 Gentle readers, one silver lining of the pandemic is the rise in live-streamed theater. And this is a very direct benefit to us this weekend and next because Franciscan University is broadcasting its production of Sense and Sensibility, (in Kate Hamill's acclaimed production, late of Broadway), featuring Eleanor Hodge as Mrs. Jennings, the nosy neighbor. And you can watch it with us, this weekend and next!

STEUBENVILLE, OHIO— Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Anathan Theatre will perform Sense and Sensibility as its mainstage student production April 9-18.

The play is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel by Kate Hamill and will be performed in Anathan Theatre, ground floor, Egan Hall. Performances are open to the public. Seating is limited and mask-wearing by audience members is required. Accommodations to maintain proper social distancing will be followed.

Directed by theatre professor Dr. Monica Anderson, Sense and Sensibility is the story of the Dashwood sisters, sensible Elinor and her romantic sister Marianne, as they pursue love and dodge gossip in 18th-century England.

For the first time ever, in collaboration with Franciscan University’s Communication Arts Department, the play can be viewed April 9 as a livestream event and on-demand via the University’s website April 10-11 and 16-18.

Performances will be about 2 hours long with one intermission. They will be held over two weekends: Friday, April 9, and Saturday, April 10, at 7:00 p.m., and Sunday, April 11, at 2:00 p.m.; and Friday, April 16, and Saturday, April 17, at 7:00 p.m., and Sunday, April 18, at 2:00 p.m.

All times are EST.

Here's the direct link to the show. The password is Sense.

And if you watch and enjoy the show, the Communications Arts department is accepting donations for making the livestream possible. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

The Pride & Prejudice Sequel We Need

 There have been plenty of attempts to satisfy readers who wish they could know more of what happens to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy beyond the brief closing notes which Austen provided for her readers.  While in other areas, what might be called "fan fiction" is confined to the web, there have been numerous published novels in the Austen Extended Universe.  But as we were taking our walk the other night, we were realizing that all of these we were aware of simply give us more of the same: more of Lizzy as a fairly young woman, happily married perhaps but still essentially the same type of story that we have in the literary classic.  

But really, short of silliness like zombies or murder mysteries at Pemberley, we already have the story of Elizabeth nee Bennet the young woman.  If there's going to be another story, it should address a point where the characters have changed.  And, as MrsDarwin and I decided during our walk the other evening, the interesting thing to do in terms of seeing these characters at a different point in life would be see them again 20-25 years later as the Bingleys and Darcys.

In the original novel, the activity of being a mother of marriage-age children is made humorous by the shallowness of Mrs Bennet herself.  The fact that the only really sensible people we see that age are Mr and Mrs Gardiner can make it seem like it's an inherently silly set of concerns.  But of course, it isn't.  In Austen's society in particular, it was by far the most important hinge point on people's lives: career and family rolled into one.

So in counterpoint to the original story, it would be fascinating to see an older Elizabeth and Jane going through the same stage of life that we last saw in their mother.  Not only is that interesting from a character point of view, but it opens up fascinating options in terms of history.  Although the (lost) first draft of Pride and Prejudice was written in the late 1790s, the novel was actually publishes in 1813.  Let us take it that this means that it takes places in 1813, because that provides more interesting scope for this sequel.  Why?  Because we could set this sequel twenty-four years later in 1837 and thus have it take place the year that Queen Victoria ascended to the throne.

Let's give Lizzy a break and take it that with her first child she laid to rest any fears about inheritance in the Darcy family by having a boy, young Fitzwilliam.  After that, however, she had three girls in a row, followed up by young Edward.  As the story opens, Lizzy's daughters are 20, 19, and 17 and none of them are as yet married.  Georgiana Darcy did, in the end, marry, but being of more delicate stock she has only one child, though the Darcy girls all love their frail cousin dearly.

Jane on the other hand, has four boys.  With the eldest splitting his time between learning to manage the Bingley family money and learning to manage the London season debutants, Jane could wish that she had her mother's problems.  The second eldest is up at Oxford and may pursue a career in the church.  

Indeed, one of the great things about this timing is that we can both play with Anthony Trollope style ecclesiastical politics, but the Oxford Movement is beginning to cause waves through the Anglican Church.  John Henry Newman and other young clergymen began to publish Tracts For Our Times in 1833, and Newman's scandalous decision to join the Church of Rome would occur in 1845.

The Bennet family has its own window into ecclesiastical politics because Mary Bennet surprised all the family by contracting a late marriage to the most reverend Archbishop Westcott.  Pedantic, imperious, and given to odd hobbies such as building model churches with meticulously leaded real stained glass windows, the archbishop was attracted to Mary's seriousness and her obvious attraction to him.  He also hoped that, after the death of his first wife, Mary would keep his children in order.  And they are in much need of keeping in order as his eldest son (less than ten years younger than Mary herself) has spent rather too long on the Grand Tour soaking up the splendors of Italy, and he is now showing dangerous signs of aligning with Newman and the Tractarians.

To no one's great surprise, it took only a few years for George Wickham abandon Lydia, though in typically improvident fashion they had two children during those short years.  They are not technically separated.  Wickham went abroad to pursue a venture with a friend from the army in the West Indies, and although his infrequent letters promise that he is always on the verge of making a fortune it does not take much imagination to realize that he has no intention of returning or sending real support to his wife.  He works as the foreman on a friend's sugar planation and lives with a series of dusky beauties seized from among his charges.  Lydia seems to thrive, in her way, on having the basic respectability of a husband without the limitations of having him actually present, and she cheerfully sponges off her sisters.

Kitty never did marry, and she and Mrs Bennet spend much of their time visiting Jane, where Mrs Bennet can enjoy the reflected glow of her rich son in law.  (Mr Darcy is too intimidating to be so easily used.)  Still, although Mrs Bennet spent so much time about what would become of them when Mr Bennet died, he remains hale in his early 70s, splitting his time between his own library and that of his favorite daughter Lizzy.

This, of course, leaves the unfortunate Mr Collins still without an inheritance.  He is also without a patron, as Lady Catherine shuffled off this mortal coil before she could see England's second ruling queen.  Aside from his natural and verbose mourning at Lady Catherine's passing, this puts Mr Collins in a delicate position as it is only after the death of her mother that it becomes clear that her daughter Anne de Bourgh, who inherits, never liked Mr Collins.  She cannot remove him from his living, but she can get her own chaplain and ignore Mr Collins, which is a crushing blow to his pride.  Mr Collins wishes that he might receive some position at the cathedral, but that of course would be in the gift of Archbishop Westcott, thus awkwardly making Mr Collins dependent upon the good will of Mary's husband.

And so, you see, there is any amount of fascinating drama to play out in this sequel, a passel of interesting characters of various ages to follow, and even the possibility of crossover characters from Middlemarch (set in 1829-1832, though it was written in the 1870s.)

Sunday, April 04, 2021

The Friendship of Christ: Christ our Friend Vindicated (Easter Day)

 I thought I was going to write this last post on Friendship of Christ a few weeks ago, before members of our reading club begged a grace period to allow them to catch up. I'm glad I didn't try to compose anything then; I must have been reading in a dry period, and somehow the chapter didn't resonate with me, reminding me instead of the more dated elements of Benson's fiction. In preparation for an Easter post, I sat down with the book again, and this time I was in a more receptive frame of mind, and the chapter was much more alive for me -- like Christ on this Easter day!

Benson begins by laying out the pageantry that leads up to the Triduum: a vast panorama in which each character takes his or her part in what Hans Urs von Balthasar termed the "theo-drama". Not every character chooses wisely, although God takes every choice and turns it to the accomplishment of his will. One translation of John 19:1 that has always seemed apt to me is, "Pilate's next move was to take Jesus and have him scourged." What a perfect encapsulation of the desperate worldly calculation Pilate makes to salvage a situation quickly going downhill -- doing something awful he doesn't want to do, and doesn't believe is warranted, to mollify the crowd. And the crowd will not be mollified, and Pilate orders the death of an innocent man to buy peace. 

But we are not talking about the sordid human motivations in the Passion, Benson says. "From the Divine side the story is one of triumph; from the human side one of failure..." It does not matter if our human plans fail. We are not failures in God's eyes if our human plans fail. Our model, and our focus in this chapter, should be Mary Magdalene, who despite her sufferings and failures on earth, exemplified both halves of the Greatest Commandment: she "loved much" (You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind), and she "did what she could" (You shall love your neighbor as yourself).

This is a book on friendship with Christ, and so Benson draws out the ways that Mary related to Jesus -- ways in which he seemed to fail her through by his death.

1. He was her Absolver, and then he became sin itself.

2. He was her Savior, but he could not save himself.

3. He was her Friend, and he abandoned her, not only by his death, but by vanishing after his death so she could not even mourn him in peace.

Everything was taken away from Mary. By earthly standards, she was completely barren, with nothing to show for her love. But "no soul can weep that has not still some capacity for joy." (Or, to borrow the one good line from WandaVision: "What is grief but love persevering?") Mary's earthly friendship with Jesus was only a faint copy of the true model. Her friendship with Christ will be transformed by his Vindication, just as our earthly friendships -- even with Jesus himself --will finally be conformed to the reality of Heaven. 


"We have considered throughout Jesus Christ as our Friend," says Benson, in his final summation. "Let us on this day of His Vindication once more remind ourselves of a little of what this means."

Where are you finding Jesus right now? Where are you not finding him? In his presence in your soul? In the sacraments, especially the Eucharist? In the Church? In the saints? In his mother? In sinners? In ordinary people? In the suffering? 

Where in creation is Christ visible to you? Where is he hidden from you? Where do you wish he would reveal himself? Where don't you want to find him? 

So, then, He asserts His domination from strength to strength; claiming one by one those powers that we had thought to be most our own. To our knowledge He is the Most Perfect; to our imagination He is our dream; to our hopes their Reward.

Until at last, following His grace towards glory, we pass to be utterly His. No thought is ours unsanctioned by the Divine Wisdom; no love is ours save that of the Sacred Heart; no will save his.


Thank you, dear friends, for reading along with me, and may the joy of our risen Friend fill your hearts to overflowing.

Friday, April 02, 2021

The Sacraments in Psalm 51, Color-coded

 Psalm 51, the great penitential psalm of David, makes recurring appearances in the Liturgy of the Hours, including Good Friday's morning prayer. As I wrote it out in Adoration as form of meditation, I was struck by how many sacramental references there were in the psalm. I set myself to find allusions to all seven sacraments. They're noted here in different colors; readers may feel free to quibble or find more apt reference.

Holy Orders 
Anointing of the Sick

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge.
O see, in guilt I was born,
a sinner was I conceived.

Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me hear rejoicing and gladness.
that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.

O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.

In your goodness, show favor to Zion;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice,
holocausts offered on your altar.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Fast Supper

 I always have it in my head that we should have a nice family dinner on Holy Thursday.  It is, after all, the day on which we recall the Last Supper which Jesus ate with the apostles and at which He instituted the Eucharist.  And, of course, Jesus and the apostles were in turn celebrating an important meal, in that they were eating the Passover meal in remembrance of the delivery of Israel from slavery in Egypt.  So it seems like a good time to slow down and have a good meal together.

Of course, there's also a directly conflict with trying to do this, which is that we're also invariably hurrying to get to mass, at which MrsDarwin typically has some kind of musical duties.

So in the end, what we often find ourselves doing is rushing through a nice dinner and then desperately trying to get everyone out the door to church.  

This year was no different.  Via the wonders pandemic-working from home I'd told myself that it would be no problem to knock off work by 4:30, make paneer masala and rice and naan, and have everything on the table by 5:30 so we could be out the door by 6:30 for 7:00 mass.  How I still have these fits of optimism after twenty years of familial experience I don't know.  

The difficulty with a tight timeline is that the accumulation of five and ten minutes delays which would be no problem at a normal time quickly accumulates and so once again we had our nice dinner in fifteen minutes (with an additional five minutes for desert!) and then did the mad dashing around the house to get people into church clothes and locate all the shoes which had mysteriously wandered off.  

You can see why God told the Israelites to have their sandals on before they had the Passover in Exodus, because otherwise Moses would have been chasing everyone around saying, "I just saw that shoe?  What did you do with it?" while Pharaoh was busy changing his mind and saddling up the chariots.

I suppose the secret to all this is not to be juggling a work day for one spouse and errands for the other while trying to have an early meal.  Or maybe my memories from when I was growing up of having a leisurely dinner on Holy Thursday and going to evening mass are actually from different years and we didn't try to pull off both in the same night.  

But it's of a piece with the overall Triduum experience was we tend to live it.  Celebrating these days with younger children always seems to be a balance of the devotions you want to do versus the reality of managing small people who may have a devotional sense but can only maintain it for five minutes at a time.  The older kids, of course, are different.  Indeed, as I write this the fifteen and seventeen year olds are driving off to do adoration for the last hour and a half until midnight.  But you can't expect that from the younger children so we saw the older ones out the door and are engaged in our own more prosaic tasks here.  The day will come for us, but not for another seven to ten years.

Though I suppose there's a scriptural echo to each of these complaints.  One can feel like a bit of a failure that the younger kids aren't those rare angelic creatures who reportedly want to sit quietly in adoration for long periods from a young age, but then Jesus couldn't get his followers to sit in prayer for an hour at a time either.  If even the apostles took more years of experience before they could sit in prayer for hours, there's probably for the younger offspring to develop the ability as well.