Solemn High Mass in Rome Marks 10th Anniversary of Summorum Pontificum

Edward Pentin shared photos of the Solemn High Mass in Rome to commemorate the 10th anniversary (9/14/07) implementation of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

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The Mass took place at the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome and was packed. From the photos, it appears that Monsignor Wach, the prior general to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP).

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It’s hard to argue that Summorum Pontificum has been anything other than the greatest and most fruitful contribution to St. JPII’s call to the New Evangelization. ☩

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Smartphones and The “Undoing” of Society

In the American Conservative today Rod Dreher shares a post from one of his readers. It is about how he or she views the connection children have to smart phones in a small town in Germany:

Smart Phones & The Invisible Cord

A reader who lives in a small town in Germany writes:

Children nowadays are connected to an invisible cord that is yanked once in a while. It is terrible to see how completely normal children change once they have access to smart phones. Not all of them but quite a few. The ones that don’t have any (like my son) are relentlessly bullied. I have been seriously thinking about sending my son to a catholic private school but it is to far away. I also don´t know whether it would help. As you write many Christians don´t understand the menace that smart phones pose and therefore don´t restrict the usage. Especially the less educated think having smart phones will help their kids navigate the future world. Sometimes I could cry so sad is all that.

Take a family I know. The father is a good mechanic who will always find a job.The mother is a simple sales woman. Their son will be none of that. He has a smart phone since he is 9 and completely glued to it. His thumb is probably able to do amazing swipe gestures but that is all he learns. Academically he is a disaster. The worst is that when he grows up he will not be able to do anything with his hands except swiping as he never does anything else. He will be totally useless in every sense of the world. What makes my blood boil is that there are thousands and thousands out there like that. And nobody telling people the truth.

What the parent states is not off the mark. Children who are not allowed to have their own phone or tablet at a very young age are seen as outsiders. Parents who don’t want to enable an this powerful attachment in children have to constantly fend off a subtle, nagging pressure from society around them too. Your kid is squirming and making noise at a restaurant? Why not sedate them with the glow of your phone, right? Counter-cultural parents would answer “because we have a much bigger goal for these kids than simply keeping them still and quiet while peace and comfort is being met for the adults”.

“Aw, cute! Look, Zander is becoming more indifferent to everything and every person around him!”

Coincidentally, it is also Rod Dreher who states in his book Crunchy Cons that too often our society is focused on what technology can do, but rarely contemplates what technology “un-does”. This is a great point. There are unintended consequences to everything. Of course, some downsides are obviously worth the benefit or can be mitigated through adjusting other habits. For instance, having automobiles and public transportation obviously helps people get around quickly. We are able to do more things in less time and more comfortably–this is a clear upside. However, this also means we get less natural exercise than humans did many generations ago. The benefit of cars is widely considered, however, to outweigh this side effect. Also, people are able to mitigate the effects by jogging or joining a gym. This is an obvious unintended consequence. There is no debating the physical change to our collective lifestyle from automobiles. Not all side effects are obvious, physical ones though. Some are mental, emotional, or spiritual.

Today we have smart phones which can accomplish an amazing array of tasks and have an endless amount of options to satisfy our craving for entertainment. With my iPhone, I can deposit checks, send messages, get news updates, see photos, listen to music, set my thermostat, lock my doors, and much more. But what do these devices undo? I think it’s more clear what these devices undo in children and teenagers than adults who were not raised on them (although some adults seem to have entirely adopted a lifestyle of digital device attachment).

Indeed the destructive content internet-enabled devices can deliver to the senses of a young child is problematic but even more devastating (as the person above goes on to state) is the effect of technology on the formation of the brain and social skills. That is, the immoderate use is an even larger risk than the possible content that one could be viewed on that very device. People are increasingly becoming detached not only from the people around them but of the natural world they live in. A good number of people are making the decision to stop living in ‘3D’ in order to experience the world artificially through a two-dimensional screen. When all children know is the screen in front of them, they set out, day-by-day (with the help of their parents), to circumvent their God-given talents which correlate with the world around them. It’s no wonder why, as we have technology that can do more and more, people can do less and less. When the main avenue (by far) for correspondence is text message and social media, children, in their formative most years, never learn how to properly speak to one another or socialize in a meaningful way. This is one of the reasons I find so funny the main argument against homeschooling children, that they won’t be properly socialized. Aside from the many examples of how well socialized most home-schooled children are, the idea that the mainstream school system full of kids who cannot socialize outside of a digital world (or even well or virtuously within the digital world) will be better for social integration is comical. The New York Times equates technology substituting for drug use among teens. CBS reports on how psychologists are connecting the addiction of smartphones and Snapchat (for teens) to the hormones the brain releases which make people anxious when they are not checking their devices. The articles coming out on the science of what is going on are endless.

Equally troubling and sad is that society is raising a generation who aren’t aware of the natural beauty (or human suffering) around them. When one is always looking down at a screen, they cannot look up to all that is around, let alone God. Children need to play outside. They need to touch worms and get on their hands and knees to push toys through the grass in their yard. They need to look up at birds scattering from a tree against the background of clouds in the sky and think about it before they even have the words to describe what they are seeing. They need to hear thunder rolling in and smell the rain as it fills the street. These experiences are a few of nearly infinite are extremely important. Not only are experiences like this what good childhood memories are made of (who has great memories of a game they played on an iPad) it makes them aware of the tangible world surrounding themselves. It helps them put themselves into the proper context of creation, illustrating to them both their priceless dignity and the fact that they are part of a world much larger than themselves. These children are more likely to appreciate the mountains and oceans on vacation.

Children with these experiences are more likely to grow up with a desire to use our natural resources responsibly, in a truly conservative manner. They are more likely to create beautiful things: art, architecture, literature, crafts and more. They are more likely to have a healthy attitude towards animals and where they fit in in the natural order. These children are more likely to grow up loving fresh food and the joy which accompanies cooking with their own hands, perhaps even raising or growing the food themselves. These young people are more likely to grow up knowing what they are able to accomplish with their hands (along with their own limitations) around the house when something needs to be fixed. Pretty much, these children will be more likely able to understand the big picture: what it means to live a good life.

Are you a parent who is dismayed by the state of the prevailing culture? If so, commit to nurturing a truly counter-cultural household. Revolt against how popular culture expects you to raise children. Don’t allow for digital devices until a certain age and then have rules on how these devices can and cannot be used. Expect more from your children in how they interact with other people and the world around them. Not only will true joy and beauty begin to flourish in your household and beyond, but the future of society depends on it. ☩

Update: There is a follow up post on The American Conservative about smartphone use contributing to drastic changes among the post-Millennial generation.

New Icon of Bl. Fr. Jacques Hamel

This is going around online and is worthy of sharing:

Blessed Fr. Jacques Hamel, now considered a martyr by the pope, was the French priest who was murdered during Mass by two men who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Before having his throat cut by a large knife, Fr. Hamel is reported saying “Go away Satan!” which is written in French on the beautiful icon above, “SATAN VA!”

Bl. Jacques Hamel, ora pro nobis! ☩

Photographs of the “Underground” Catholic Church in China

I recently came across the following photos of something I had only read about before: China’s ‘Underground’ Catholic Church. Since the State is hostile to Roman Catholicism, China’s Roman Catholics must receive the sacraments and attend Mass in hiding. The photos are captivating. The photos come from photographer Lu-Nan who risked his life by shooting a photo documentary on the Underground Church.

Let the following photos remind you of how good we have it…and what we are allowing slip from our grasp in many Western countries.

Quoting Gretchen Filz:

Persecution against Christians in China is now at a new high. This month news hit that Chinese authorities arrested a Vatican-appointed bishop, and this week the Chinese government issued new regulations aimed “to suppress all unofficial religious activities via dispersing Christian house churches, silencing Tibetan and Xinjiang separatists and undermining the Vatican’s influence on Chinese Catholics.” Read more from ChinaAid.

There is, of course, a history of tension between the Vatican and the Chinese government, between the underground Catholic Church in China and the state-approved “Catholic Patriotic” churches. Yet, the atheistic Communist country continues to explode with enormous numbers of practicing Catholics.

Despite the intense crackdown by the totalitarian goverment, Christianity is growing tremendously. It is estimated that there are 12 million Catholics in China, and soon there will be more practicing Christians in China than there are in the United States. It is predicted that Christianity is growing so rapidly in the country that China is on course to become the ‘world’s most Christian nation’ within 15 years.

Here are some photos:

CHINA. Shaanxi Province. 1992. In China, the number of the ordained is far smaller than to the Catholic population. Sometimes a Father must hear nearly a thousand confessions.
“In China, the number of the ordained is far smaller than to the Catholic population. Sometimes a Father must hear nearly a thousand confessions.”

 

CHINA. Shaanxi Province. 1995. Mass is given in a member's residence in a village with no local church. Mass in a family house is officially prohibited by the Government, but the 'unofficial' churches take the risk.
“Mass is given in a member’s residence in a village with no local church. Mass in a family house is officially prohibited by the Government, but the ‘unofficial’ churches take the risk.”

 

CHINA. Yunnan Province. 1996. A priest consecrated bread signifying the body of Jesus Christ. Behind him are members of the church.
“A priest [carries] consecrated bread signifying the body of Jesus Christ. Behind him are members of the church.”
“All 20 families in this remote village are Catholic, but as there is no Father in their village they gather every Sunday and chant and pray together.”

 

“Sister Maria with an orphan, whom she has adopted. The baby must have been a “Chaoshengzi”, the second child of a ‘one child family’ policy. In this village, if a “Chaoshengzi” is found, the parents are fined 3000 Yuan. Those who have adopted “Chaoshengzi” are also fined. Sister Maria helplessly hid the babies in a sheep barn, or left them in the care of distant families, but authorities still came to investigate her upon hearing a rumour. The Sister insisted that the babies had died, and she was finally released. Sister Maria is a Sister in laity, and she looks after the villagers who are ill, baptizes villagers and devotes herself to other religious activities voluntarily.”
“A Father gives a ceremony to the ill, who are bedridden.”

 

An 81 year old believer, Ren-Zhongzin, became paralysed on one side. She begged the village Father to give her a “final blessing” because she was close to death. Chinese Catholics are less afraid of death than other Chinese; they regard death not as the end of life, but the turning point, and they believe that the soul remains eternal. What they are truly afraid of is not death itself, but when the soul does not reach heaven.

 

An 8-day-old baby is baptised. Under government law, it is forbidden to baptise anyone who is under 18 years old. This law is upheld in urban parishes, but in rural villages, the rule is ignored both by the ‘official’ and the ‘unofficial’ church.

 

An old woman saying a prayer before her meal.”

 

A Catholic family eats dinner

 

A Catholic couple prays before going to sleep.”

 

Catholic priest doing confession before the mass at home”

 

Bishop Fan Yu Fei is considered by the State a bishop of an “Unofficial Church”. Here he is blessing a man who is ill. Because he belongs to a church not sanctioned by the government, “he was always under government surveillance”. He was “suddenly and arbitrarily” locked up for five months and eventually died from a “sudden heart problem”.

 

“Praying for an illegal priest who just died.”

See all the photos here. ☩

In Defense of Beauty

It’s said that the three marks of the divine–that which is transcendent–is beauty, goodness, and truth. That which is beautiful, good, or truthful points towards God. This is why Catholic churches have traditionally been built with rich artwork and soaring architecture.

Modern society is at battle with these marks of transcendence. Not only is popular culture seeking to make goodness and truth relative, it also seeks to destroy beauty in favor of efficiency. We see examples of this with the literal destruction of beauty in Catholic churches across the country: high altars ripped down, intricate altar rails thrown away, detailed stained glass imagery replaced by abstract colors, beautiful vestments replaced by schlocky polyester sheets, and many more examples. Secular life has many examples too; most modern buildings favor high-efficiency materials to produce cookie-cutter strip malls dotting our roads, deep and meaningful music, artwork, and literature exists but seems to be harder and harder to find. Gone are the days when someone who cherished authentic beauty in society is to be regarded civilized.

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The soul’s longing for beauty may be hard to easily satisfy in today’s world but those who seek to live a counter-cultural, authentic, better and joyful life need to try. One must ask of everything surrounding their life, “does this reflect goodness, truth, or beauty”? It’s not the most efficient way of living, but it does produce better results. This point is reflected over and over by Rod Dreher in his book Crunchy Cons, “beauty is more important than efficiency”:

Appreciation of aesthetic quality–that is, beauty–is not a luxury, but key to the good life

In my now-heightened awareness of the lack of beauty plaguing both our churches and culture, I found the recent article by Paul Krause particularly edifying. He more eloquently states the same point while citing ancient thinkers such as Cicero and Platinus and their impact on classic Christian philosophy. These notions were once obvious to Christians. This unfortunately is no longer.

What’s hopeful, however, is the recent “re-renovations” of previously destroyed churches, the formation of architectural firms specializing in traditional beauty, and priests interested in offering reverent Masses (especially the TLM).

Quoting only parts from A Defense of Beauty and Excellence from the Classical Tradition (emphases mine):

There are many serious problems facing moderns, but one of the most troubling—and worrying—is the loss and degradation of beauty, not just in the arts, but in society as a whole. Classical Greek philosophy, to which Catholic philosophy largely inherited and preserved, maintained that beauty and morality were intertwined with one another. When Christianity began to spread, the Christian encounter with Greek philosophy was largely positive. However, over the last two centuries, the widening chasm between aesthetics and virtue, and the postmodern assertion that aesthetics is oppressive (and therefore needing deconstruction), has brought immeasurable harm to culture and society.

Culture means life. And for life to be truly flourishing in a teleological sense, Greek, Roman, traditional Jewish and Christian philosophy, always affirmed beauty as an integral aspect of the good life. In his masterpiece, Enneads, Plotinus opened his most famous section—on beauty—by writing, “Beauty addresses itself chiefly to sight; but there is a beauty for the hearing too, as in certain combinations of words and in all kinds of music, for melodies and cadences are beautiful; and minds that lift themselves above the realm of sense to a higher order are aware of beauty in the conduct of life, in actions, in character, in the pursuits of the intellect; and there is the beauty of the virtues. What loftier beauty there may be, yet, our argument will bring to light.”

More…

[Plotinus stated] “Then again, all the virtues are a beauty of the soul, a beauty authentic beyond any of these others.”… As Plotinus explains, the ugly lacks a proper cultivation of reason, torn by lust and discord, lashes out and destroys beauty in the process—which also destroys harmony. It is interesting to note that Plotinus associated the ugly soul with the person preoccupied with only material things.

Catholics, best of all, understand the importance of the union of aesthetics with arête. Beauty, itself, demands a value judgement. There is nothing harsh or unfair with proclaiming this truth. That which is beautiful is good, and that which is ugly, as Plotinus recognized, is neither beautiful nor good. There are natural gradations of beauty. As Augustine explained, the gradations of beauty lift one up closer to Heaven and the Supreme Beauty that is God. This follows the insights of both Plato and Plotinus who recognized that the experience of even low beauty awakens an innate desire for greater beauty that drives one to greater excellence in search for beauty.

Cicero equally noted that people in their folly, are prone to destroy things beautiful and admirable. Nihilism is the end result of anti-intellectualism and relativism, not just the mere absence of values but the abject negation—destruction—of beauty and values.

The quote above is great. Relativism of beauty, truth, and goodness has an end result of not just the simple absence of each mark but a destruction of each. What did we see bishops and priests do in the 70’s? They didn’t just simply start making ugly new churches, they quite literally destroyed the beauty of old churches. The “art” that replaced traditional sacred art in many suburban parishes are kitschy felt banners and horrendously cheesy guitar music. Gross.

It is the inheritance of the classical marriage of aesthetics and moral excellence that had historically been a cornerstone of not just Catholic philosophy, but Western philosophy more generally—inspiring all aspects of culture: art, music, engineering, and literature, to reflect the highest excellence demanded of beauty itself. And in that beauty there exists an irresistible draw for the virtuous to defend all that is beautiful. The compulsion to defend the beautiful, itself, reflects the moral excellence of the person.

…in Confessions, Augustine stated that reading Virgil and Cicero had brought him to belief in God. Beauty is the brilliance of truth, and as Augustine said, “All truth belongs to God.” And we know where that road ultimately ends.

We all should start discerning what is beautiful in our homes and lives. Then we should slowly start surrounding our minds, bodies, and souls not only with what is truthful and good but also is beautiful. ☩