Monday, February 22, 2010

The Winter Wardrobe

Winter is one of my favorite seasons.. though I admit up front that I don't care for driving in the snow. If Mother Nature could manage to make the snow fall everywhere else OTHER than on the streets, I would be eternally grateful.

What I love most about the winter.. other than the absence of hot temps (I don't do heat well) is the winter wardrobe. I love my wool coats and felt hats... so much nicer than shorts and straw hats. You feel like a million bucks when walking around in a nice winter outfit sometimes.... even if at times it feels more like "cold" hard cash. Get it? Ok, maybe it was a bad pun.. but still.. I laughed.

I have a full length top coat/overcoat that I purchased when I first started teaching two years ago to wear with my professional attire. I LOVE wearing it.. it's almost like wearing a cape with sleeves. Such a classic piece to any wardrobe, and rather fun to wear. They are quite costly though, mostly because of all the wool that goes into a coat falling just below the knees. So to spare my "good coat" the wear and tear of everyday use, I decided to hit up the thrift stores to see what I could find.

I like browsing thrift stores.. you never know what you will come across. Sometimes all I find is junk, but other times I make out pretty well!! Last Saturday I went to two stores on my way home from work. I was tied, but had this nagging feeling to go. At the second store, I came across an old navy blue full length coat. I could tell it was pretty old by the style and weight of the wool.. which is pretty heavy. The coat was covered in lint and what was probably dog hair.. so I passed it by. I started to walk out of the store and decided to at least try it on. It fit like a glove! At $14.99, I figured it might clean up well, and if not.. I hadn't lost much money. I purchased it.. and then dropped it off to be dry cleaned.

Wednesday, I went to pick it up. There, on the rack waiting for me, was the most beautiful overcoat I had ever seen... full of vintage glory!! I was shocked! It looked brand new!!! It cleaned up better than I ever would have expected. I love it so much, I almost hate to wear this coat in fear that I will damage it.. I actually like it better than my "good coat". Go figure! It's so fun to wear.. not to mention warm. Talk about a find!!

Ah.. the joys of thrift store hunting... and the joys of the winter wardrobe!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An inspiring post.. from someone else.

I couldn't have said it better myself... so I didn't bother to try. So many people ask me these same questions, and this man answered them wonderfully! All emphasis are my own.

All Your Church Are Belong to Us
by John Zmirak
"Why do you people care so much about externals?" my non-Trad friends sometimes ask me. And they deserve an answer. A few weeks back, my delightfully contentious colleague here, Mark Shea, waded into the conflict between those who describe themselves simply as "orthodox" Catholics, and those who consider themselves "traditionalists." (Just to save space in the comments box, I mean by this term people who favor the traditional liturgy -- not those who associate with organizations under ecclesiastical suspension.)This line has begun to blur more and more in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum, which we Trads greeted as a kind of Emancipation Proclamation -- even as many of our bishops answered it with liturgical Jim Crow.
Still, the division is palpable. It was lying right there on the table, for any who cared to palpate it, last week when I went to dinner with a Trad-minded colleague and a visiting author who'd come to speak at our college on G. K. Chesterton. (The presentation was riveting, and I highly recommend Dale Ahlquist's talks and books.) Like the good Mr. Shea, our speaker is a convert, and he shared with Mark a puzzlement at the apparent fixation traditionalists have on restoring former elements of the liturgy and other Catholic practices that are not essential, and resisting innovations that are not inherently evil. Having come from churches that didn't have the Eucharist, and remaining through God's grace flush with gratitude for the sacraments, many converts really don't understand what the rest of us are nattering on about. We who grew up privileged may seem like sulky, spoiled kids. We owe these good people an explanation.
Sometimes they think we just care about aesthetics. One visit to a Sunday Latin Low Mass without music, recited soundlessly into a marble altar, should put that idea to flight. Compared to a Novus Ordo liturgy in the vernacular, and from a purely human point of view, attending Low Mass can be dull. You feel like you are eavesdropping. If you follow along in the missal, you can feel that you are watching a very solemn foreign film without any subtitles, except that you have the screenplay. There's a reason the old rubrics relegated Low Mass to weekdays, and called (though they were rarely answered) for sung Solemn Mass on Sundays and holy days. Pope Pius X wasn't kidding when he asked for parishes to revive Gregorian chant and teach it to the laity. Nor is there any good reason why Latin Mass congregations don't give the responses along with the servers -- except perhaps the fear that this is somehow the first step down a long road that leads to clown Mass. Get over it, fratres.
Other people think that we are a band of Latin scholars, desperate to put our dusty declensions to practical use. Again, one conversation with the congregants at the coffee hour will dash that infant theory against the rocks. Most of us studied Latin, if at all, as part of vocabulary practice for the SATs, and follow the English side of the missal. I don't know a single Traditionalist who wouldn't prefer the old Mass, facing the altar, said in English, to the Novus Ordo chanted in Latin facing the people. While the universal language of the Church is still to be revered for all the reasons that Vatican II prescribed in Sacrosanctum Concilium, it isn't Why We Fight.
Still more people think that we cling to the ancient liturgy as a piece of nostalgia for a Church that we vaguely remember, or heard about from our parents, whose schools drummed a stark, simplistic orthodoxy into hordes of dutiful children; whose religious orders and seminaries weren't riddled with rank heresy and extensive networks of secret homosexuals; whose bishops manfully echoed the traditional teachings of centuries without constant goading from Rome; whose buildings and services at least strove for dignity and austerity, even if they sometimes descended into tedium and kitsch.
I'm tempted to say at this point: That's right. That's exactly what we want. Or at least what we'd settle for. What faithful Catholic wouldn't, if he could right now, wave a magic wand and swap the American church of 2010 for that of 1940 -- with all its acknowledged abuses and hidden worldliness? I'll take the blustering Cardinal Spellman over the scheming Archbishop Weakland any day.
But, of course, things never work like that. You can't bring back the Habsburgs by hanging their banners in your apartment (trust me, I've tried), and we cannot undo the catastrophic "renewal" launched in the name of the Second Vatican Council (often in plain defiance of its documents) by clicking our heels and reciting, "There's no place like Rome" -- even in ecclesiastical Latin. Some confrontation between the Church and late Western modernity was inevitable, and if it hadn't happened at the Council, it would have occurred some other way. The Eastern churches didn't vandalize their liturgy; have they been spared the ravages of secularization? Not according to my Greek Orthodox friends, who show up for the last ten minutes of liturgy each week to pick up blessed bread and join their friends for baklava and gossip. The liturgy is miraculous, but it doesn't work like magic: Rev. Teilhard de Chardin had said the Tridentine Mass for decades even as he invented Catholic Scientology; conversely, his sometime housemate at New York’s St. Ignatius Loyola, the holy Rev. John Hardon, obediently switched missals with every tinkering that came to him from the bishops.
Of course, there's something to be said for a liturgy whose very nature resists and defeats abuses. The Ordinary Form can be extraordinarily reverent when said by a holy priest. I've been to such liturgies hundreds of times, and I'm grateful for every one. On the other hand, the new liturgy, with all its Build-a-Bear options, is terribly easy to abuse. The old Mass reminds me of what they used to say about the Catholic Church and the U.S. Navy: "It's a machine built by geniuses so it can be operated safely by idiots." The old liturgy was crafted by saints, and can be said by schlubs without risk of sacrilege. The new rite was patched together by bureaucrats, and should only be safely celebrated by the saintly.
There are plenty of theological arguments by men more learned than I -- such as Michael Davies and, er, the current pope -- for the superiority of various elements in the traditional liturgy, such as the priest facing the altar instead of the audience. (I use that word advisedly, given the theatrical quality that took over so many parishes since the 1970s.) There are serious objections to many of the changes made in the prayers of the Novus Ordo -- and they were made by the man who used to hold the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's job at the Vatican, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, who presented them to Pope Paul VI, begging him not to issue the Novus Ordo. (Imagine Cardinal Ratzinger begging Pope John Paul II not to impose altar girls. Who knows -- maybe he did!) Although I recommend reading these arguments, I won't rehearse them here, since all of them are prudential. Adopting Lutheran or Anglican language in the Mass probably didn't cause the current crisis of belief in the Real Presence, and cutting such language by eliminating all but the First Eucharistic Prayer might not do much to resolve it. (Still, it's worth a try!)
So what is the practical motivation that drives us Trads to schlep to distant or dangerous parishes, to irritate our spouses and incommode our pastors, to detach from local churches our grandparents scrimped to build? Why insist on external things, like kneeling for communion on the tongue, male altar servers, and the priest facing the altar? None of these, I'll admit for the 5,000th time, is essential for sacramental validity or credal orthodoxy; isn't being a stickler on such issues a wee bit pharisaical, even prissy? (I have encountered the odd Trad activist with an unnatural attachment to silk and lace -- pastors wearily call them "daughters of Trent" -- but they aren't the norm. Weary fathers of six or seven pack most Latin Mass pews.)
Here's what we Trads have realized, that the merely orthodox haven’t: Inessential things have power (We teach through symbols!!!), which is why we bother with them in the first place. In every revolution, the first thing you change is the flag. Once that has been replaced, in the public mind all bets are off -- which is why the Commies and Nazis filled every available space with their Satanic banners. Imagine, for a moment, that a newly elected president replaced the Stars and Stripes with the Confederate battle flag. Or that he replaced our 50 stars with the flag of Mexico. Let's say he got away with doing this, and wasn't carried off by the Secret Service to an "undisclosed location." What would that signify for his administration? If people accepted the change, what else would they be likely to accept?
It's no accident that the incessant tinkerings with the liturgy came at the same time as the chaos surrounding the Church's teaching on birth control. As Anne Roche Muggeridge pointed out in her indispensable history The Desolate City, the Church's position on contraception was "under consideration" for almost a decade -- which led pastors to tell troubled couples that they could follow their consciences. If the Church could change the Mass, ordinary Catholics concluded, the nuances of marital theology were surely up for grabs. No wonder that when Paul VI reluctantly issued Humanae Vitae, people felt betrayed. (It didn't help when the Vatican refused to back a cardinal who tried to enforce the document, which made it seem like the pope was winking.)
The perception that the Church was in a constant state of doctrinal flux was confirmed by the reality that her most central, sacred mystery was being monkeyed with -- almost every year. I remember being in grammar school when they told us, "The pope wants us to receive Communion in the hand now." (He didn't; it was an abuse that was forced on the Vatican through relentless disobedience until it became a local norm, but never mind.) Then, a few years later, "The pope wants us to stand for Communion." A few more grades, and we heard, "The pope wants us to go to Confession face to face." What had seemed a solid bulwark of formality and seriousness was suddenly shifting with every year's hemlines -- which is precisely what the heretics conspiring to change the Church's teaching had in mind. That is why they pushed for these futile, pastorally destructive changes of "inessentials" -- as a way of beating down resistance to changing essentials. And, in a worldly sense, they almost succeeded.
The campaign of dissenting priests, nuns, and (let's be honest) bishops culminated, in America, with the Call to Action Conference, which its leading advocate John Francis Cardinal Dearden described in 1977 as "an assembly of the American Catholic community ." This gathering of 2,400 radical Catholic activists was composed of "people deeply involved with the life of the institutional Church and appointed by their bishops" (emphasis added). The Conference approved "progressive resolutions, ones calling for, among other things, the ordination of women and married men, female altar servers, and the right and responsibility of married couples to form their own consciences on the issue of artificial birth control." This is the mess made by the bishops appointed by the author of Humanae Vitae, which his rightly beloved successor John Paul II spent much of his pontificate trying to clean up. What we Trads feel compelled to point out is that he couldn't quite finish the job, and that the deformations of the Roman liturgy enacted by (you guessed it) appointees of Paul VI helped enable all these doctrinal abuses. They changed the flag.
At this point in my discussion of the gravest theological issues that threatened the faith of Catholics in this country, I wish to call your attention to a stupid YouTube video, which gave this essay its willfully illiterate title: "All Your Base Are Belong to Us."
For those of you too young to have experienced the incessant assault upon the sacred that was the liturgical "reform," or grateful converts who don't understand all the fuss, I beg of you: Please watch this video. In fact, stop reading and watch the video first, then come back to finish this essay. I can wait.
The film takes the Pidgin English from a cheesy Japanese computer game and places it everywhere: on street signs, in Budweiser ads, on cigarette packs. At first, the effect is funny, and you wonder about the geeks who spent their time doing all this Photoshop. But keep watching. Savor the effect as the same mindless, meaningless slogan is plastered everywhere, on every blessed thing. Pretty quickly, it starts to be creepy. By the end, you might feel like Japanese anime aliens have in fact taken over. You can see their fingerprints everywhere . . .
That is how it felt to be young and Catholic in the 1970s. Every sacred thing had to be changed, every old thing replaced with a new one, every complicated beauty plastered over by the cheap and the easy. The message was almost subliminal, but by that means all the more powerful: All Your Church Are Belong to Us.
And by changing back the flag, by taking back our Mass, we are saying: Go back to Hell. Our Church belongs to Christ.

John Zmirak is the author, most recently, of the graphic novel The Grand Inquisitor and is Writer-in-Residence at Thomas More College in New Hampshire. He writes weekly for

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mardi Gras

Yes.. I made these posts in reverse order. I should have mentioned Mardi Gras BEFORE commenting on Ash Wednesday... but I beg your forgiveness for my chronological error.

Mardi Gras never pulled me to go out and party... unless I was in New Orleans. Now THERE would be something to enjoy!! This year though, I decided to venture out and give it a try.

I went to Q for a drink or two hoping to meet some friends along the way. I did run into a few people I know, and had some good conversations, but mostly I was bored. I've been going out on traditionally big drinking nights figuring I would meet people who perhaps only go out for these big occasions (like the night before Thanksgiving). I'm finding this to be a mistake. All I find are crowds of drunken people... and conversations are not plentiful. Buffalo crowds tend to be cliquey... so when they all gather together like they do for Mardi Gras the odd man out.. stays the odd man out.

So, if you didn't venture out this Fat Tuesday, in my opinion, you didn't miss much. Shame we don't have the New Orleans "King Cake" here in Buffalo... now that in itself is reason to celebrate!

Ashes to Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday... the start of the Lenten season. I've always loved Lent.. not because I love sea food, but because I love the symbolism. For people who observe Lent the correct way, it's a time of deep reflection and making sacrifices to remind ourselves of the ultimate sacrifice made for us on the cross.

Because of the bad weather here in Buffalo today, I couldn't make the drive out to my parish of St. Anthony's to attend Mass in the "older" form.. now referred to as the "Extraordinary form". I went to a local Church here in NT, Our Lady of Czestochtowa. It's a pretty Church, built in the first decade of the 20th century. Something about the "newer" liturgy just seems to leaving me wanting a little more... I miss the solemnity that comes with every pre-Vatican II Mass, and am not a fan of all the ad-libbing that creeps into the modern form of the Mass.

The custom of receiving ashes is quite old. It is a reminder of our own mortality. God created Adam out of the dust of the Earth, and eventually, our own bodies will become dust once again after we die. It is only our souls which are immortal. It's a sobering thought... especially in a society where the emphasis is "all about me". I was saddened to hear that the priest's response when imposing the ashes was different than it has traditionally been. In the "older" rite, the says (in Latin) "Remember man, that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return". At this Mass, the priest said "Turn away from sin and have faith in the Gospel". Still an important message, but not exactly in sinc with the meaning of the ashes.

I am often asked, or even ridiculed about, the custom of not eating meat on Fridays, or giving something up during Lent. We give up meat because meat was originally a luxury. Meat is now a staple in western diet.. and regardless of prices of either meat or fish, it is commonly more difficult to eat meals while consciously avoiding meat all together. Note to vegetarians... find some other staple in your diet to give up... maybe tofu? We abstain from meat on Fridays... quite simply.. because Christ died on Friday.

As for the giving up of something for Lent... usually people tend to give up their favorite snack foods... it's just simply another small sacrifice we make to remind us of the ultimate sacrifice Christ made of Himself on the cross. It's not mandatory, but it some what defeats the purpose of the Lenten season if we don't sacrifice our own comforts. Let's be happy we are not asked to fast and sacrifice how Christ did... 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. Yikes!!

It always makes me laugh how these small sacrifices seem to bother people. You'd think they were being asked to give up a limb or bleed themselves dry. Like one priest used to say, "there is no Easter Sunday without the carrying of the cross". So let's do what we can... and like to old nuns used to say "offer it up!" :)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Candles - Not just for setting the mood

Ever since I was a wee lad I have always loved the glow of candle light. Something about it is so much nicer and more relaxing than the standard electric bulb. Maybe it's the taming of a potentially violent and destructive element of nature in order to use it for light and decoration, maybe it's the mystery and romance of a simpler time gone by.. maybe I'm just a nut who likes to play with matches.

Growing up Catholic, I always loved to light candles for prayer intentions at Church... and I still do. When remembering a special prayer intention for a person or petition, I usually light a candle before or after Mass to burn in my absence. I jokingly refer to this practice as sending up a smoke signal to God.. you know, just in case he didn't hear me shouting earlier. I think it's a beautiful and ancient tradition.. and I like the idea of giving something to God... a flame... signifying that He is the light of the world.. our light in the darkness.

As I get older.. creeping closer towards 30... I have become more sensitive to artificial light, and as the hours progress, turn off the electric lights, I replace them with the soft glow of candle light. I have a small "collection" of what are referred to as Fairy Lamps. I have them scattered around the sitting room and bedroom to cast enough light to illuminate the darkness so I don't run into furniture. Oh.. they're pretty too! Can't forget that.

I sometimes use even these little lamps as "smoke signals to God". Each time I light one of the tea lights, which I know will be consumed by the time I go to bed, I offer a prayer with that candle. I might be asking for God's help.. I may be thanking him. I even have lamps which are designated for offering prayers for specific people and their intentions. The purple lamp is for my Grandparents (my one grandmother's birthstone was Amethyst), and the milk glass lamp is for my Mom.. who always had a few pieces of milk glass in the cupboard growing up. Odd how little things imprint themselves on my memory... but then again.. I'm an odd person.

Below, I have copied a nice explanation for the Catholic custom of lighting candles. Why re-invent the wheel after all? This person did a good job explaining the custom.. if you still need more answers, GOOGLE IT! :)

Oh... and so I don't get sued for plagiarism... Special thanks and a shout out to a fellow blogger over at "A Catholic Life"... from whose blog I poached this from.

The Sight of burning votive candles -real or electronic - is common in most Catholic churches. The candles are usually placed before statues of saints or at shrines. But how did this tradition get its start?

According to A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, by Ann Ball (Our Sunday Visitor Books), the practice of lighting candles in order to obtain some favor probably has its origins in the custom of burning lights at the tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs. The lights burned as a sign of solidarity with Christians still on earth. Because the lights continually burned as a silent vigil, they became known as vigil lights.

Vigil Lights (from the Latin vigilia, which means "waiting" or "watching") are traditionally accompanied by prayers of attention or waiting. Another common type of candle offering is the votive light. Such an offering is indicative of seeking some favor from the Lord or the saint before which the votive is placed.

Lighting a candle is a way of extending one's prayer and showing solidarity with the person on whose behalf the prayer is offered.

After the 9/11 tragedy, lit candles figured prominently in a televised concert affirming the power of goodness over the darkness of evil. The symbolism was similar to the Catholic custom of lighting candles as a form of prayer.

Source: "St. Anthony Messenger" Septmber 2003, Page 26

In the lighting of candles we remember and truly live the words of Our Lord: "I am the Light of the World." In the lighting of candles we not only pray, but our prayers become smaller symbols of the One Light of Christ. In burning candles, our prayers rise up to Heaven day and night; prayers for the saint's intercession are also common because of their friendship with God in Heaven. Saints are powerful intercessors. The lighting of candles has been observed since the early the time of the early martyrs.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Drinks with the girls!

Last night I had three friends from work over for snacks and drinks. It's always nice when I can have some company over for a few laughs... well, we certainly had plenty of laughs!!

We played the game "Catch Phrase"... look it up if you've never heard of it.. it's a blast at parties and get togethers!! Two of us had played it before, including myself... two of the girls hadn't. Well, they didn't catch on quickly either. We had some hilarious moments, and then put the game away... their brains needed a time out! :)

It's always a nice break out of the drudgery of the everyday to get together with some friends, and just laugh your ass off!! I needed that!!

Good times.. good friends.. makes life.. well, good!