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Nicholas Frankovich on Several Things

At National Review Online. Like so many other writers I’ve discovered at the magazine over the years, Nicholas Frankovich has become the guy to go to for the Catholic culture overview.

On Trump’s intrusion into sports:

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. A few months later, they went to the White House for the traditional round of presidential congratulations. Manny Ramirez was a no-show. Why? He didn’t like the president, George W. Bush, a baseball man himself, a former part-owner of the Texas Rangers? Sox officials said Ramirez was visiting his sick grandmother. Boston won the Series again a few years later, and the president invited the team back to the White House. Again, no Ramirez. Bush’s response? A shrug, a teasing smirk. “I guess his grandmother died again,” he said.

On the decline in Catholic Literature:

The traditional Catholicism that is the setting of that backward-looking novel included a lot of looking backward itself, of course. That’s what made Catholicism traditional. For believers immersed in the faith, the past was alive no less than the present. They could see ghosts. A heavyweight from the Norman Mailer generation of American letters once commented on the Catholic writers of her generation. They were sure of themselves, she recalled, though not preachy. Spend time with them and it was hard to escape the impression that they knew something you didn’t. That’s gone. So the flowers in the garden aren’t what they used to be? Blame the flowers if you like, but it remains the case that the soil has been depleted.

Here he is on reasoning behind the Novus Ordo:

In the 20th century, Church leaders began to advocate an effort, more deliberate and thorough than in the past, to enculturate the faith among the various nations of the Third World: Catholic missionaries should learn, and learn to love, local customs and languages and to translate the faith into forms that would be meaningful and appealing to indigenous peoples. Implicit in their argument was the need for the Church to pour the Romanità out of Catholicism so that vessel could accommodate the new wine of non-Western cultures.

Read Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), the Vatican II blueprint for liturgical reform, and you will notice a lot of concern for the mission lands. References to them dot the document, and in their glow the reader is led to imagine that the point of the many broadly sketched recommendations is only sensible and moderate, generous but not extravagant.

In the mission lands, let bishops adapt the liturgy to local cultures. Trust their circumspection and sober judgment: “Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved; and this should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and devising rubrics.”

No sooner had Western Catholics digested and largely shrugged in agreement to the gist of this plan for liturgical reform than they discovered that Rome now counted them, too, as inhabitants of mission lands, in effect. In America, English was introduced into the Mass by increments, which meant of course that Latin was ushered out at the same pace, until the process was complete in the fall of 1970.

The movement away from the sacred, classical language and toward the vernacular was accompanied by a corresponding change in tone and style, from solemn and formal to less solemn and less formal. William F. Buckley Jr. recorded for posterity a typical reaction of many a Catholic: both a sense of loss and a glum resolve not to be sour about it. Surely some good could come of this?

Do fetuses dream of unborn sheep?

*young-philip-k-dick-600x744

An interesting and astute piece on all things “Phildickian” over at Chronicles:

But Dick also had a conservative side, represented by his strong (if heterodox) religious devotion, his distrust of large bureaucratic structures, and his longtime anti-abortion stance. In the last decade of his life, as he finally began receiving substantial amounts of money for his writing, Dick donated thousands of dollars to pro-life causes. He also wrote “The Pre-Persons,” a powerful story in which parents can abort any child under 12. Yet both the speech by Dick-the-hippie and the story by Dick-the-conservative are recognizably the work of the same man—both, in fact, were produced during the same period of his life. The first endorses rebellion, no matter how nihilistic, against a soulless apparatus of power; rebellion, at least, is human. And the story denies the government the right to define who is a human being, arguing that this will only produce a totalitarian system akin to the one the juvenile delinquents in the speech are rebelling against. One need not be pro-vandalism—or pro-life, for that matter—to approve of the underlying point.

*Dick and Percy: Separated at birth?(!)

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Uncle Walt Wrote a Novel!

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Who knew the multitudinous poet had it in him?

Apparently a grad student named Turpin did.

And apparently everyone does…now.

As noted in the New York Times, Whitman once wrote in 1882, “My serious wish were to have all those crude and boyish pieces quietly dropp’d in oblivion.” Later, when he heard someone was interested in publishing his past fiction, he said, “I should almost be tempted to shoot him if I had an opportunity.”

Clearly, Whitman hadn’t expected Turpin…

What came in the mail

Scan 1

Another cold spring again this year…

 

Two Very Short Poems about Favorite Fictional Characters of Mine

007 Escapes Again
As Bond jumped from the plane, some were stunned
to see a parachute fly out of his cumberbund.

Kinsey Millhone Moonlights as a Madame
She started a service (somewhat impolitic)
for very private investigations: “Call a Dick”.

The Last Leaf…

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The following is a longer version of a story which appears in the last issue of The Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of La Crosse, before it ceased publication with the Oct. 29, 2015 issue.

Fostering the Truth and the Word in the truth of words: A look back at The Catholic Times

The towering oak and maple trees outside my window have been all but stripped bare; a leaden sky hangs low over La Crosse this early evening as it rains intermittently with gusts of cold wind turning the landscape into a cold muddy smudge.

If the recent mild weather in the Diocese of La Crosse was Wisconsin summer’s last resistance, today’s weather is an indication that Wisconsin autumn is most certainly here to stay…

At least for a while.

As I look out the window at the skeletal branches dripping with cold rain, I think about all my hours as a staff writer writing up the stories of the people and places of the diocese; I also think of all the miles of travel I’ve undertaken through the rich variety and dynamic faith of the 19 counties which make up the Diocese of La Crosse.

Then I watch another leaf from one of the oak trees as it is plucked by the wind and falls to the ground.

Yes, the leaf reminds me, given that this issue is the very last issue of the Catholic Times, today is an appropriate day to look back on the paper I’ve been honored to serve as writer, sometime editor, and correspondent for these last 15 years or so.

As hard as it is for me (and I imagine many readers) to acknowledge, this Oct. 29, 2015 issue of The Catholic Times represents the last “leaf” of the newspaper tradition in the Diocese of La Crosse, a tradition that began more than 80 years ago as the La Crosse Register began to serve the diocese. It was part of what was then known as the Register System of Newspapers headquartered in Denver.

Because the Denver publication owned its own printing press, it started a national issue of its paper in 1927 which we now know as the National Catholic Register (NCR).

According to a Jan. 19, 2011, NCR story on the purchase of the NCR by EWTN, the Denver paper also produced issues for a variety of dioceses around the country, including the La Crosse Register for our own diocese. Nationwide, the Register system peaked at more than 700,000 households in the 1950s across 35 diocesan editions and the national edition.

In the late 50s, the La Crosse Register became the Times Review – a name it kept until 2002 when it took on its current and final manifestation as The Catholic Times. Somewhat unique among Catholic papers in Wisconsin, The Catholic Times has prided itself on its independence – the Milwaukee, Madison and Superior dioceses all publish their paper under the Herald name, to reflect the publishing partnership of the three dioceses – while the Green Bay Compass also publishes as an independent entity.

I’ll leave it to others to explain the changing demographics and habits of consumption of the reading public (or whether a viable reading public even still exists!). Our beloved paper today holds its own at 29,000 (larger than many secular papers, dailies included) – and, if praise from within and outside the diocese is any indication, I’d like to think I speak for the newspaper’s entire team when I say that, as we put this last issue to bed, The Catholic Times is going out on top.

As press time nears for the Oct. 29 issue of The Catholic Times, the busy clicking of computer keys falls silent; the lively buzz of the Catholic Times newsroom dies away for a final time; the ringing phones and computer chimes which serve to alert the staff to incoming emails from sources, other news outlets and our readers ceases too. I’ll miss these signs of life – and I’ll also miss my readers.

Eighty years of black and white read all over will be filed away for good – along with the hundreds of thousands of stories that the diocese has delivered to the Catholic faithful to bolster their faith, inform their minds and consciences, while at the same time touching their hearts with the human tragedy and uplifting their spirits with the human comedy.

It is a bittersweet time for this newsman – and yet, I take solace in knowing I’ve executed my duties with aplomb and due diligence, faithful and obedient to the Magisterium of the Church which Jesus Christ our Savior founded, and in full confidence that Christ remains king of hearts, minds, countries and the universe…

In my office here at the Holy Crosse Diocesan Center, tacked to the bulletin board above my desk is a collection of handy phone numbers, schedules, calendars and dates to remember. I also have hanging there in large 26 point old timey typewriter font a copy of Peter Maurin’s “Easy Essays.” A founding member of the Catholic Worker and journalist, Maurin is best known for his work with Dorothy Day in establishing a Catholic alternative to the communist and socialist secular materialism which plagued (and to a large extent still plagues) the modern world.

Maurin’s “Easy Essays” were a series of free-verse poems which Maurin penned as a way to effectively cut to the chase when it came to providing the reader a concise analysis of the day’s issues from a Catholic standpoint. As Dorothy Day herself once said, “Peter [Maurin] was a revelation to me.”  So too the essay “Prostitution of the Press” was an epiphany for this freshman journalist. It is a sharp and concise definition of the need for and ideals of the Catholic press, one which served me well as a sort of verbal “vade mecum” in my travels around the diocese.

I’ve had an excellent formation as a Catholic journalist from the editors I’ve served, including Thomas Szyszkiewicz, Dan Rossini, Stan Gould and Denis Downey, and the tremendous models for journalism I found in the many writers I had the privilege to work with, especially former senior writer Patrick Slattery, and former staff writers Justin Dziowgo and Franz Klein.

No reporter is greater than the folks who make sure the paper gets to press in a timely and well-designed way and so I would also like to mention Paul Rupert, Jean James and Danelle Bjornson, the three production designers I’ve worked with here at the paper, and their excellent visual translation of the stories I’ve sought to bring to the households and parishes of the diocese. I reserve special mention, too, for Pam Willer, a 30+ year veteran of Catholic pressroom management who as much as anyone had kept the paper a dynamic and effective vehicle of catechesis from one news cycle to the next.

I can think of no better way to salute these folks as I end my time here as a Catholic Times reporter than by typing out Maurin’s essay in full:

The Prostitution of the Press

Modern newspapermen
try to give people
what they want.
Newspapermen
ought to give people
what they need.
To give people
what they want
but should not have
is to pander.
To give people
what they need.
or in other terms,
to make them want
what they ought to want,
is to foster.
To pander
to the bad in men
is to make men
inhuman to men.
To foster the good in men
is to make men
human to men
.

It is my hope that for these past 16 years I have done my best, from byline to dateline, lede to clincher, first word and last, to uphold Maurin’s ideal.

A special thanks to you, too, dear readers. As your man in the field, I am grateful and honored to be able to help foster the Good News of Christ as a regular part of your news cycle.

Thank you and God be with you!

Save the date

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Three Very Short Poems about Authors Who Wrote about the Sea

Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski
After years at sea, he adapted a nom
de plume
for English language readers,
still recognized as a Polish phenom,
among the very best of modern writers.

Had He Caught Moby Dick
Ahab would have had to buy a pan
to fry up all that leviathan.

The Man Who Swallowed an Ocean
The flesh eaten right off Santiago’s skeleton
became the villager’s favorite feuilleton,
but who knows what monsters from the deep
swam back to reappear in Papa’s sleep.

Maybe next year, Cormac…

This year belongs to a Belarussian – that is, a bella Belarussian

Svetlana Alexievich

And I have no doubt that Fables of the Dead will soon be up for nomination as well – as soon as it appears in print…

Stalin and Urine

In his new novel, The Festival of Ignorance, Milan Kundera has a character named Charles tell a story about one of Stalin’s closest comrades, Mikhail Kalinin, whose name was later bequeathed to the Prussian city of Königsberg (famous for the Bridge Problem devised by Immanuel Kant, who lived there in what were surely happier times).

“To this day all of Russia recalls a great ceremony to inaugurate an opera house in some city in Ukraine, during which Kalinin was giving a long, solemn speech. He had to break off every two minutes and, each time, as he left the rostrum, the orchestra would strike up some folk music, and lovely blond Ukrainian ballerinas would leap onto the stage and begin dancing. Each time he returned to the dais Kalinin was greeted with great applause; when he left again, the applause was still louder, to greet the advent of the blond ballerinas——and as his goings and comings grew more frequent, the applause grew longer and stronger, more heartfelt, so that the official celebration s=was transformed into a joyful mad orgiastic riot whose like the Soviet state had never seen or known.

“But alas, between times when Kalinin was back in the little group of his comrades, no one was interested in applauding his urine. Stalin would recite his anecdotes, and Kalinin was too disciplined to gather the courage to annoy him by his goings and comings from the toilet. The more so since, as he talked, Stalin would fix his gaze on Kalinin’s face growing paler and paler and tensing into a grimace. That would incite Stalin to slow his storytelling further, to insert new descriptions and digressions, and to drag out the climax till suddenly the contorted face before him would relax, the grimace vanished, the expression grew calm, and the head was wreathed in an aureole of peace; only then, knowing that Kalinin had once again lost his great struggle, Stalin would move swiftly to the denouement, rise from the table and, with a bright, friendly smile, bring the meeting to an end. All the other men would stand too, and stare cruelly at their comrade, who positioned himself behind the table, or behind a chair, to hide his wet trousers.”

from The Festival of Ignorance by Milan Kundera, pp 26-27

I was taken by Kundera’s descriptions of Stalin, here and throughout the novel, that I checked a new biography of the dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk to find out if this or any of the other anecdotes Kundera offers are true. I didn’t find the answer to that particular question (although Khlevniuk’s book is excellent—I was riveted for three or four days), but I did come across this story about some of Stalin’s final hours:

The bodyguard entered Stalin’s apartments with the packet of mail and started looking for him. After walking through several rooms, he finally found the vozhd [Вождь; Russian for “Leader”] in the small dining room. The sight must have been extremely disturbing. Stalin was lying helpless on the floor, which was wet beneath him. This last point is important not for reasons of schadenfreude or as an evocative detail but because it affected subsequent events. It appeared to the bodyguard that Stalin was unable to speak, but he did make a small hand gesture, beckoning him to approach. The bodyguard summoned his colleagues, who helped him lift Stalin onto the couch. They then rushed to telephone their immediate superior, State Security Minister Semen Ignatiev. According to the bodyguards’ later accounts, Ignatiev refused to make any decisions and told them to call members of the top leadership: Beria and Malenkov.

Perhaps out of fear, or perhaps out of unspoken ambivalence toward his recovery, Stalin’s comrades rejected the idea that they were facing a medical emergency. After Malenkov and Beria checked on the vozhd and found him sleeping, they proceeded to dismiss what the bodyguards had told them about his symptoms. Had he really had some sort of fit? The bodyguards were not doctors. Their imaginations could have been playing tricks on them. His colleagues probably also remembered that Stalin had recently accused his own doctors of being murderers. Who would take responsibility for call a doctor (or summoning a murderer, as the vozhd might see it) unless he were absolutely sure one was needed? A simple need for emergency medical care was transformed into a multidimensional political problem.

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator, by Oleg V Khlevniuk