Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Fix your Church Music Program, in a Few Easy Steps

Jeffrey Tucker offers some simple and practical suggestions regarding how to turn the new Mass translation into a reforming experience for your Parish music program:


Monday, March 21, 2011

Freedom vs. Fate - The Theology of Hollywood

In this video blog, Fr. Barron discusses the opposition of divine freedom vs. divine fate, as expressed in the film The Adjustment Bureau.  Are we truly free, or are we hampered by predestination?  Or can both be true at the same time?

The Bad Theology of the Adjustment Bureau.

This is a nice quick example of the sort of Catholic thinking that I found so intriguing and refreshing when I first began to consider returning to the Church.  One of the most incredible things about Catholic thought is that it moves you past our dictatorship of relativism - past the world of opinions - and into a worldview where thoughts are measured against an objective standard.

When Hollywood makes a film like The Adjustment Bureau, they are doing more than providing us with entertainment.  Engaging as the film may be, it is yet another in a long list of works that demonstrate one consistent thing:  that Hollywood has no idea what it is talking about.  In other words, the men and women in Hollywood lack the philosophical and theological formation to consistently be able to say anything of worth.  Their love of human freedom may occasionally lead them to say something true or beautiful (as even a blind horse may find water), but on the whole they have little of worth to share with us.

Compare this film to the thought and heart found in Bella or The Human Experience, and you will gain a clearer understanding of what I am claiming.  Movies can be more than just movies.

Of course this is yet another type of thinking which is peculiar to the culture at large: that entertainment can be more than entertainment, and that entertainment should never sacrifice meaning.  It's really quite simple: the people who work in the entertainment business want you to buy their product.  They want you to see a movie and tell all your friends that it was "awesome" or "really sad" or "totally dope," or "it was worth seeing the hot chick in it" (why else do you think that Monica Belluci was dressed as she was in the Matrix sequels?  Because it curbed every man's potential critique of the terrible plot by resorting to our natural reaction to excessive cleavage.)

They want you to buy it because "it was hilarious," or because "it has good beats."  They certainly don't want you to sit around and discuss whether or nor the Matrix sequels betrayed their initial philosophical assumptions, whether Monica Belluci really is a good actress or not, or whether the "beats" in rap music are good or interesting when compared with just about anything else (they're not.)  They certainly don't want you to start expecting intellectual value in your media consumption, or anything which can ennoble or inspire your character.  (That takes more work to produce.)  They simply want for you to consume, and it's exactly what you've been trained to do.

Being Catholic has - in a sense - ruined popular culture for me, because most if it simply "doesn't do it for me anymore."  I can't "just watch it" or "just feel it" - my mind cannot be divorced from the process, and my soul has begun to give reactions to everything I encounter that I cannot ignore.  The simple truth is that we cannot live or consume media in a moral vacuum:  everything we watch, read, or listen to has a deep and abiding affect on us.  The difference is that some people realize it, while others don't want to realize it, while some have become so desensitized that they cannot (yet) realize it.

Aside from the media consumerist mentality, there is another sinister idea that you've been sold: that popular culture and Hollywood are the only places from which to get your entertainment.  This is as false as saying that Walmart is the only place where you can buy good steak.  There is an entire world - literally centuries worth - of works which were meant to bring you beauty, ennoble your character, and edify your mind.  In the end, the choice is simple: do I simply kill time (and myself) with questionable entertainment, or do I take my entertainment with a healthy helping of actual meaning?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Synthesis of Eternal Truths

Please take a moment to read this wonderful article about the fall of culture, the kerygma, and reculturation through the Theology of the Body, by Sister Helena Burns, FSP.

A Synthesis of Eternal Truths.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Elena Kagan Mistake

In the initial days following the nomination of Elena Kagan, I found something deeply unsettling about the woman.  It had nothing to do with her own person, but rather the seeming lack of a substantive paper-trail for such a purported high-level intellectual.  How is it possible for a person to spend so many years in both academia and politics without having formulated a public opinion regarding the great issues of our times?  How is it possible to remain nothing more than an arbiter and a logic-box for the policies of other men?  It all seems so downright contrived as to be disturbing to no small degree.

Without being able to demonstrate any modicum of wisdom or substantive policy opinion, we're supposed to accept Elena Kagan to the most powerful post in the land because -- as liberals keep repeating -- "she's really smart."

Now, after days of questioning, we finally have the bombshell statement which should blow the hearing wide open.  In response to Sen. Tom Colburn's question regarding the fundamental right to bear arms, Ms. Kagan replied: "I don't have a view of what are natural rights, independent of the Constitution."

Yet is it the bombshell that nobody will notice?  While Kagan's statement should automatically disqualify her, we've come to a sad state in our society where 'Natural Law' - the very foundation of the American experiment - is no longer openly discussed.  Never mind that our "inalienable rights" proceed from Natural Law, and that Natural Law proceeds from our Creator.  When I recently asked a gay rights activist how he can possibly justify his silly arguments in the face of natural law, he responded: "if you like Natural Law so much, then go live in the jungle."

No, sir, I like Natural Law a great deal, which is why I live in the United States of America.  My free will and the right to express and defend it are given by God.  The defense of the Natural Law is America's unique role and purpose in history; it is our greatest justification to exist as a nation.  It matters little whether women like Elena Kagan see fit to uphold our inalienable rights, because they are absolutes, not "opinions."  No law can usurp what is objectively true and not cause irreparable social harm.  In America, we cannot deny the terrible legacy of legalized slavery or the holocaust of legalized abortion.  Both are examples of what happens when Natural Law is not fully considered.  Yet most of our elected officials remain either too clueless to make the correlation between Natural Law and inalienable rights, or too cowardly to press the point.

It seems that in Elena Kagan's world, the constitution is the only absolute under consideration in the American experiment.  In making such an assumption, she shows herself to be out of line with the American experiment, and completely unqualified to defend our inalienable rights as expressed -- not defined -- in the Constitution.

Somewhere out there, Joseph Stalin is giving a dusty, heartfelt cackle.  History has already shown us what happens to nations which ignore the mandates of natural law, and it is not a pretty fate.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Pursuit of Beauty

There was a time when Irish monks and clerics held on to the last vestiges of Western culture in their monasteries, waiting for a time when people would once again be able to understand and cultivate their cultural and spiritual heritage.  What level of degeneracy forced these men into a social cocoon?  Are such times upon us again?

The times are so thickly dark that your critical spoon can stand straight up in them.  Engaging in social criticism becomes a more personally weighty affair when you cannot find anything positive to write about.  Recent months have brought me to the question:  On the macro-social level, are we really doing everything wrong?  It certainly appears that way.

I am starting to believe that many individuals choose to live in ignorance in order to protect their hearts.  When your eyes are open and your heart is attuned to truth, then just going into the world can be a heart-rending experience.  True love -- rather than being a vehicle for blind acceptance -- causes us to desire the ideal for each person.  We want men to live informed, beautiful, faithful, and inspired lives, and at the end we want their souls to peacefully drift into an ecstatic meeting with their Creator.  Certainly this isn't too much to ask?  Why can't every man be lead to the truths of his origin, potential, and destiny?

Yet with the sheer difficulty of life -- just dealing with administrative tasks alone can be spiritually crippling -- the urge for escapism can be great.  When what you escape to dwells in the lowest reaches beneath human dignity, the large scale social effects are soon to follow.


As a lifelong hockey fan, I journeyed joyfully into the streets of Chicago, happy to be here to celebrate the long-awaited Stanley Cup.  I came to celebrate and soak up the joy.  What I came away with was a sour feeling in my stomach.  While the parade was a joyous affair, it all degenerated from there.  As the masses pressed upon themselves and the alcohol flowed freely, joy was the last thing that people were feeling.  You could see it on people's faces as we inched closer to the main stage -- there was a real tension present.  People pushed and shoved and nearly stampeded at one point.  Many who did not show up already drunk struggled to catch-up to their belligerent compatriots.  One man joyfully climbed and defaced public property, while ten yards away from him some drunken college girls clambered upon a city vehicle, beginning a mock strip-tease.  The shirtless young men next to me yelled "take it off," while I couldn't help but marvel at their shallow, sunken, and clueless eyes.  These people weren't fans, and they were hardly people.  Through it all, the sheer joy of victory was forgotten, the greater spiritual lesson lost before it could even be considered.

Such mass gatherings of people are a good place to gauge the state of a society.  Where do our general values lie?  What is our capacity to experience beauty, victory, and joy?  Can anything be done to reverse our cultural degeneration, or has it reached a terminal velocity on the path to social collapse?

At such times, I am reaffirmed in my mission as an artist.  I cannot be certain whether my music shall find mass appeal or a small niche audience, or whether it will ever be counted worthy of remembrance.  Yet the sheer audacity to follow the certain call of Beauty inspires me.  Beauty has been rejected by the modernists and twisted by popular culture, yet it still desires to be manifested truthfully.

What is Beauty, you say?  It is not subjective in the least.  It is not an opinion.  Beauty is Truth.  Truth is Love, and Love is God.  Beauty cannot be represented unless one is turned in the direction of God.  Some artists do this purposefully, while others -- in imitating nature -- do so inadvertently.  Yet there is no other way to Beauty, because Beauty is the person of divinity.

The creation and cultivation of Beauty is my part to play in this game.  Perhaps we are the vanguard of a revolution in Truth, where beauty, faith, and reason will once again be the ruling pillars of Western society.  Yet if these pillars erode entirely, our society will collapse.  The trial and cleansing by fire will come, as it has throughout history whenever man forgets his place.

The Irish monks truly did save civilization, preserving the blueprints to the pillars of western society.  The world around them was drunken, brutal, and indifferent.  Yet these men retained their sanity, preserved what was good, and prayed for a better day.  Regardless of what happens, we must do the same.