Thursday, April 30, 2009

Woodward: Vern Gosdin

Back in our courting days, my wife and I two-stepped to Vern Gosdin -- both live and on the jukebox -- many many times. He died on Tuesday. But here's why he will live forever.

They didn't call him "The Voice" for nothing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Woodward: April 23

In what is perhaps history's greatest display of advance planning, William Shakespeare arranged to get himself born on April 23, the feast day of St. George, the patron saint of England. That's a feat more or less equivalent to Abraham Lincoln having being born on the Fourth of July (which, of course, he wasn't).

It makes April 23 pretty much the greatest day on the English calendar. And it gives all of us -- Englishmen or not -- a chance to cleanse ourselves spiritually and intellectually from the neo-pagan slime of "Earth Day." (For the record, there was no singing of "earth songs" in the Woodward household today.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Woodward: "Lift High the Cross..."

...unless, of course, Barack Obama asks you not to.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fr. Ronald Knox: The Risen Christ

There are so many occasions in life, aren't there, when we say to ourselves, "Now I really shall be able to make a new start"? We leave school; of course, all our troubles will disappear now. We go into business; now the world shall see what we are made of. We get married; that, evidently, is going to be the turning point of our lives. We rise to a position of responsibility; now, our chance has come. We grow rich, and have more opportunities for leisure; at last our true nature will have the opportunity to develop. We retire from active work; now, with old age to mellow us, we can live as we would wish to die. Yes, but tell me, is there really all that difference between one stage and the next?

But in the life of grace, ah, if we could only see it, there is a perpetual burgeoning of new life, not merely from one Easter to another, from one retreat to another, but with every worthy reception of the sacraments. Perpetual spring, perpetual renovation of our natures, if we could only catch the hour of grace, utilize it, make it our own. Whatever you are, and at whatever time of life you are, that possibility of spiritual renewal is with you no less surely than if you were a boy at school again, or just leaving school to make your way in the world. Christ is risen; those tidings can neither lose their force with age, nor be staled by repetition; Christ is risen, and life, for the Christian, is always new.

--Pastoral Sermons: Feasts and Seasons of the Year, 12

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus: Good Friday

Jesus does not reject any who turn to him. At times we turn to him with little faith, at times with a mix of faith and doubt when we are more sure of the doubt than of the faith. Jesus is not fastidious about the quality of faith. He takes what he can get, so to speak, and gives immeasurably more than he receives. He takes our faith more seriously than we do and makes of it more than we ever could.

--Death on a Friday Afternoon

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Woodward: The Last Supper

It's always fun to try and spot Judas in artistic representations of the Last Supper. One convention dictates that he be the lone disciple who is looking away from Jesus. In some other paintings, he is depicted as already on his way out of the room.

The great Spanish Renaissance artist Juan de Juanes, in his La Ultima Cena, makes it pretty easy to play this game. Here (click the picture for a better view) we see the group, with Judas about "to go to his own place" [Acts 1:25]. Not only are the disciples labeled for our convenience, but Judas (far right) is easily identifiable as the only one without a halo. What's more, look at where that knife is pointing.

O Son of God, bring me into communion today with your mystical supper. I shall not tell your enemies the secret, nor kiss you with Judas' kiss. But like the good thief I cry, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

--Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Woodward: Palm Sunday Poetry

What element in the story of Christ's entry into Jerusalem would most attract the attention of a poet? Why, that donkey, of course. The image of the King of the Universe riding the humblest (and most unglamorous) of beasts is surefire material for any writer with even a smidgen of irony in his soul.

Last year on Palm Sunday I posted G. K. Chesterton's "The Donkey." Nobody does paradox better than Chesterton, although the seventeenth-century Metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw comes pretty close. Much of Crashaw's religious poetry was written in Latin (which is a problem for modern readers) or Greek (which is an even bigger problem). And many of the English poems are built on images and figurative language that, frankly, a lot of people nowadays will find overly graphic and repulsive. (Try Crashaw's epigram "Upon the Infant Martyrs" if you want a poem with a high "yuk" factor.)

Crashaw wrote two "donkey" poems about Palm Sunday. Or it might be more accurate to say that he wrote the same poem twice -- once in English, once in Latin. Here they are (with Crashaw's own spelling). If you don't read Latin, no problem. The English poem is just a slightly more elaborate working out of exactly the same ironic point -- that if there's going to be a talking donkey in the Bible, then Christ's deserved the gift of speech more than Balaam's.

In Asinum Christi vectorem.

Ille suum didicit quondam obiurgare magistrum:
Et quid ni discas tu celebrare tuum?
Mirum non minus est, te iam potuisse tacere,
Illum quam fuerat tum potuisse loqui.

Upon the Asse that bore our Saviour.

Hath onely Anger an Omnipotence
In Eloquence?
Within the lips of Love and Joy doth Dwell
No miracle?
Why else had Baalams Asse a tongue to chide
His Masters pride?
And thou (Heaven-burthen'd Beast) hast ne're a word
To praise thy Lord?
That he should find a Tongue and vocall Thunder,
Was a great wonder.
But o me thinkes 'tis a farre greater one
That thou find'st none.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Woodward: "We Are Too Many"

Thomas Hardy's tragic novel Jude the Obscure is the story of a man who struggles through poverty and disappointed ambitions, only to have his young stepson kill all the family's children and then himself, leaving a note that explains the reason for his action: "Because we are too many."

There are still plenty of people today who think that we (i.e., human beings) are too many, although the "science" underlying that claim has been repeatedly refuted and exposed as little more than culture-of-death ideology tarted up with spurious "statistics." Read some of Paul Ehrlich's serially revised predictions about what life would be like in the 1970s -- and then the 1980s -- and then the 1990s -- because of "overpopulation," if you want an idea of just how respectable the population alarmists' theories are.

And yet, because there are some ideas so preposterous that only an intellectual could believe them (was that George Orwell?), the notion that the world is in imminent danger from too many people is still alive and well -- and flourishing right now at the highest levels of the United States government. Dr. Nina Federoff, science and technology advisor first to Condoleeza Rice and now to Hillary Clinton, has announced in an interview with the BBC that "there are probably already too many people on the planet." (I for one would like the names of those people, wouldn't you?)

It's a bit disturbing that this woman, whose academic credentials, by the way, are in the field of molecular biology, not any discipline related to demographics or population studies -- so don't be intimidated by the "Dr." -- is giving advice to Secretary of State Clinton. Mrs. Clinton, you may have heard, was the proud recipient last week of Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger Award. That's Margaret Sanger as in "stop the procreation of the pauper element"; "more children from the fit, less from the unfit"; "eliminate human weeds." So one can assume that Dr. Federoff is getting an attentive and sympathetic hearing. Foggy Bottom has never been foggier.