Insipid Church Music: A Role in the Crisis?

As a liturgical musician I can’t help wondering to what extent the insipid and vapid music prevalent in our churches has contributed to the present crisis.

That there is more than a mere coincidental connection between the squishy feel-good liturgical music and the lax and casual atmosphere in our churches is clear to me- especially when I reflect upon what the great Philosopher Socrates had to say about the power of music.

musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated noble, or of him who is ill-educated ignoble.

It was a common saying among the Greeks that,

Like produces like

Does wimpy music produce wimpy character? Does squishy liturgical music produce squishy feelings and squishy prayer?

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Much has been written about the scourge of contemporary liturgical music. Much has been said already about how the Churches’ treasury of sacred music has simply been abandoned; Gregorian chant and the sacred polyphony handed down for centuries was jettisoned and replaced with music remarkably ‘soft’ and sentimental by contrast. I think thoughtful people may now have legitimate suspicions that the prevalent music in our churches is not wholly unconnected with the present onslaught of scandal that is rocking the Church from top to bottom.

Or at least we might suspect that the current music in our churches is something of a fitting soundtrack to the crisis.

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Now, as a liturgical musician, I might hold a somewhat exaggerated view about the importance of music. Nonetheless, shouldn’t we all be eager to find the causes that brought us to where we are? Undoubtedly, the causes are manifold.

Although it is tempting to explain every problem by a single cause, we might heed the warning of the ancient philosopher Empedocles

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when he was critical of those in his own day who attempted to explain the natural world in terms of one cause, saying,

For narrow are the means spread throughout the limbs and many are the miseries that burst in and blunt the thoughts. And having seen only a small part of life during their lives… they boast of having found the whole.

Having grasped one part of life we tend to think that perhaps we have grasped the whole.

And so, I will not claim that the sexual scandals in the Catholic church were caused solely by the vacuous and insipid church music that we have all been subjected to over the last fifty or so years. We have not just been subjected to this music, but we have been saturated and immersed in it. It fills our ears and imaginations and is seemingly inescapable. The sheer habituation to this music can’t help but to have affected and even shaped our affections and tastes as much as we try to resist. We find ourselves inadvertently humming it!

It would be a serious mistake to ignore liturgical music as a contributing cause to the scandal.

After all, as soon as the dust settles and justice is carried out, as soon as restitution is made, as soon as light expels the darkness and truth prevails…as soon as all this has happened, then we are surely going to make certain that it never happens again to whatever extent possible.

In this way, I suppose, we will make use of the saying (despite its dubious pedigree) “never let a good crisis go to waste,” difficult as it is to see anything good in the current crisis.

And so let’s gather our thoughts on the matter and reflect on the various causes, great and small, that have possibly contributed to what some are calling the “greatest crisis” to date in the American Church.  Our (non exhaustive) list of contributing causes will include things like,

  • The sexual revolution and breakdown of decency in our society especially during the later half of the twentieth century.
  • The wholesale abandonment by Catholic colleges and universities of authentic Catholic education and Catholic identity as became manifest in the Land O’ lakes Conference

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  • Lack of oversight by seminary admissions directors and vocation masters that allowed a homosexual subculture to thrive in seminaries.
  • The loss of faith and belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament by seemingly even those in the church’s hierarchy.
  • The resistance to and rejection of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae

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  • The liturgical confusion and collapse of monastic orders that ensued after the Second Vatican Council.
  • The psychological toll of the abortion and contraceptive culture.
  • The stepped- up attack on the priesthood by the devil.
  • The world and the flesh.

But somewhere on this list – and let it not be last- we ought to place as a serious and real cause of the sexual crisis in the church the insipid, trite, uninspired and tedious music that has been forced on Catholics from coast to coast.

If the causes for the sexual scandal in the church that I have listed are more important, and if there are others that I have missed that are even more significant, at least I can say that the liturgical music that we have all been subjected to for most of our lives has provided the perfect atmosphere for the scandal- music that is all at once self-centered and ego-centric, saccharine,  narcissistic, enervating, banal and silly.

From Here I am Lord to Let There be Peace on Earth, from Eagles Wings to Fly Like a Bird, from Be Not Afraid to Sing a New Song, the music in our churches is universally destructive (for the top ten worst songs see here).

Now I know what you are thinking. You are thinking,

Hey wait a second, I kinda like some of these songs.

I know, I know. So do I. But this should not surprise any of us. We have already stipulated that music is inexorably powerful in its influence. The sheer repetition and enforced familiarity with it is irresistible to the ordinary ear. That’s the whole point that Homer was making to us (nearly three thousand years ago!) in his description of the irresistible singing of the Sirens. All of Odysseus’ men would have perished had they not plugged their ears with beeswax.  Odysseus himself was only able to withstand it because his men tied him to the mast.

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In other words, as sad as it is, and I hate to say it, we are all guilty of contributing to the present crisis in so far as we have failed to plug our ears against the insipid liturgical music of our day.  I am reminded of the wit who changed Captain Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous line, “We have met the enemy and they are ours!” to “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

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Because we ourselves truly are contributing to the sexual crisis in the Catholic church by our inactivity and cooperation with the background music of this crisis.

Oh, c’mon!

you say,

That is ridiculous!

You only say that because you did not take Plato seriously in his Republic, whereas I did!

In other words, music has a tremendous impact on the soul.

Now imagine for moment a typical Catholic congregation who attend a typical mainstream Catholic parish Sunday after Sunday. Does the liturgical music that they hear week in and week out have an impact on their souls?

The answer is obvious.

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Posted in Homer, Homer Sightings, Sacred Music, Socrates, The Mass | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

What Teachers Do During the Summer: Liberal Education Works Vol. 19

Ahhhh Summer 2018!

Another opportunity to manifest the diversity of powers that lie latent in the liberally educated soul. Another opportunity to demonstrate the dominance of the immaterial spirit over the merely material realm in which the liberally educated soul happens to dwell in his own peculiar time.

Peculiar times indeed! But for the liberally educated soul, one time is much like another. He who has immersed himself in the immemorial, has soaked his soul in the eternal, has winded his way over the the wine dark sea, has traversed the transcendent and timeless truths….for such a one, I say, one time is much like another.

As it is written in Ecclesiastes, Nihil sub sole novum!

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What is it that hath been? the same thing that shall be. What is it that hath been done? the same that shall be done.

Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us.

Nonetheless, for the soul that has “traversed the timeless,” it can be something of a jolt to descend …down to the very lowest levels of being. To descend to elemental things that are seemingly furthest removed from the realm of the immaterial. To brick and stone and sand and dirt!

But ahhh! Nothing fortifies the soaring soul so much as to regain its ground, so to speak, in its own humble origins.  For me summer is sort of like an extended Ash Wednesday.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris!

And so my summer began with brick pavers.

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Fortunately my philosopher son-in-law, who also appreciates such things, did all the planning and heavy lifting and digging. He began the project and provided the all-important proper sandy stony base. He also provided the initial enthusiasm without which I never would have made the attempt.

I can’t help but to think of the many enterprises great and small, noble and heroic, or mundane and humble that were never accomplished. Why? Well… simply for lack of the initial enthusiasm that set them in motion. I increasingly find that the largest obstacle in fulfilling my home improvement ambitions is merely in making a start. A man needs friends to get going!

Two going together’-for with friends men are more able both to think and to act,

As the Philosopher says.

Anyone who has worked with pavers knows that it is the unseen and unappreciated base- the ground-work, that ensures a successful job! The initial planning, digging, spade-work…the careful sloping and leveling required to encourage proper runoff, the establishment of rocks and pebbles upon which to pour the sand…all of these things are the foundation of a proper paver program.

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Of course, the same goes for the formation and education of the soul! I sometimes resent those college and university professors who don’t realize, as they gloat over their successful students,  that they are simply reaping the fruit of the seeds sewn by that student’s teachers in primary and secondary school- the unseen ground-work in education, the reading of Beowulf and A Tale of two Cities, the memorization of Latin and Greek vocabulary, the recitation of Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade,

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singing Gaudeamus Igitur, the British Grenadiers…all ground-work for reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics and St Thomas Treatise on the Trinity!

Back to those pavers.

Now after all that foundation work the job is relatively simple. It becomes simply a matter of setting the pavers in an appropriate pattern. Take my advice- just stick with the tried and true ‘herringbone’ pattern.  Although once again I was indebted to my daughter and son- in- law for starting it out. I have taught Geometry for years but I struggled to understand it.

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Perhaps the Psalmist was pondering something similar when he said

Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
Lead me by your truth and teach me,

Although undoubtedly he was contemplating a much more profound path! Nonetheless, I would still think that the soul benefits from the raw experience of piecing together a path of pavers.

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Once I discovered that my circular saw, equipped with an eight inch carbide blade, would cut right through those pavers the job became much easier. My son then washed all of the dust and debris away so that we could apply the final coat of sand between the pavers.

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Now it is done and looks like it has been there forever.

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Meanwhile, my fence has been (and still is) falling to pieces. Finally the door fell off. This was a much simpler project since I had the remnants of the old fence and could simply follow the same design- and even reuse some of the same lumber.

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It makes one wonder whether one has done any work at all since it seems to be the same door. It has the same form,  and practically the same matter. Is it the same door? What about the human body? Doesn’t every cell replace itself after a matter of seven of so years? But we still maintain that we have the same bodies that we had when we were children, do we not?

The difficult thing was to dig out the old concrete footer for the post. Digging the concrete out of the ground took a whole day. Renovation always requires a prior destruction. I seriously considered not pouring a new one after extensive research. But finally opted for one of these new “Quikrete  tubes.”

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Meanwhile, our two rabbits, Benjamin and Socks, were not getting along. It was time for Socks to move out and so the next item on our summer project list was a new bunny hutch. “Even the sparrow has found a home.” But I think our Mini-Rexes missed the memo on that.

My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God.

For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones: Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God.

I suppose domestic rabbits know all to well that they will be taken care of. Fortunately I had the lumber from parts of the fence and an old picnic table that collapsed……

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…….as well as some nice oaken pallets that served well for the doors.

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Now Benjamin and Socks live separately, but at least they can stare at each other when they want to.

I have never replaced a double pane picture window before. But the one in my living became intolerably cloudy and misty for the last several years. Finally, we took it out and replaced it with this plastic painting sheet from Home Depot. I enjoyed the plastic sheet more than the misty window- actually the visibility was almost identical, but the plastic sheet gave me a better sense of what the weather was outside.

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A week later, and with help from the professionals over at Supreme Windows,  I was able to order a replacement pane and install it in a mere matter of minutes. This was a far easier task than I had expected. Just a matter of caulking neatly around the whole thing with a high quality clear silicone.

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When I was in high school my family formed a friendship with the late spiritual author Dom Hubert Van Zeller. Perhaps in my next post I will write something about my own brief acquaintance  with Dom Hubert during the last year of his life, but, relevant to my present point, I do remember one day when he visited our home in Massachusetts and my mother took considerable pains to wash the windows. She said “Fr. Van Zeller loves clean windows”

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I immediately suspected that Dom Hubert must have seen the obvious spiritual parallel between clean windows and a pure soul. I thought that perhaps Van Zeller was thinking that the soul should be so clean that nothing in it obstructs the light of God’s grace.

Of course there was always the possibility that he just liked clean windows. He also loved old movies and I don’t really see any spiritual significance in that.

Now I confess that I am a bit reluctant to enter upon the next subject. But let us take it as a further opportunity to demonstrate that liberal education does not only deal with the lofty and sublime, but also extends to the humble and mundane. I suppose we need to be reminded that the liberally educated soul while his chief interest and aspirations lie in an upward direction, he nonetheless does not shirk the lessons to be gained from lower matters. Indeed Aristotle himself comments on this when he says,

Having already treated of the celestial world, as far as our conjectures could reach, we proceed to treat of animals, without omitting, to the best of our ability, any member of the kingdom, however ignoble. For if some have no graces to charm the sense, yet even these, by disclosing to intellectual perception the artistic spirit that designed them, give immense pleasure to all who can trace links of causation, and are inclined to philosophy.

Isn’t that great?! And so it is not beneath us to turn our mind to some of the lower matters with respect to home renovation! Even though Aristotle is talking specifically about the humbler animals (I am thinking some of the ugliest), it is clear to me that Heraclitus’ reference to the kitchen makes this whole passage equally applicable to home renovation!

We therefore must not recoil with childish aversion from the examination of the humbler animals. Every realm of nature is marvelous: and as Heraclitus, when the strangers who came to visit him found him warming himself at the furnace in the kitchen and hesitated to go in, reported to have bidden them not to be afraid to enter, as even in that kitchen divinities were present, so we should venture on the study of every kind of animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful.

I think this last passage provides us with the perfect segue into the final and humblest of my summer projects- the first floor under-the-staircase bathroom renovation!

It occurred to me that the time had come to replace the floor in our first floor bathroom. As you may see, despite various tile projects on the second floor of the home, the first floor lavatory still retained the vinyl floor and base molding that was original to the home when we moved in. It can be a little difficult engaging in a project for such a small room. After all, what does it really matter whether an under the stairs 24 foot closet has a vinyl floor or not?

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Well, naturally, after I pulled the sink out and other plumbing fixtures common to such areas, I immediately found myself attending to the plumbing in the basement. Descendimus ad inferos!

There were no working water-feed shut off valves! The old valves had simply rusted and it was useless to work with them any further. And so after shutting down water to the whole house my son Peter and I replaced the copper pipes under the bathroom with some shiny new fixtures. We first cut out the old stuff and after equipping ourselves with some new solder, solder paste, pipe cleaners, new copper and a propane torch we went to work.

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As I have already mentioned, it makes all the difference to have two professionals working together. “Two going together” as Aristotle says.

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Remind me to separate those copper pipes. They really should not be touching. A good plumber would probably have made those connections much cleaner. I had trouble with this one because I could not get all the water out of the pipe. It kept dripping- and everyone knows one just can’t solder a copper pipe with water in it!

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Finally it was time to put down the cement board over the plywood sub-floor. My old Milwaukee corded drill is a good friend.

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Had to replace the old lead soil pipe with some new PVC. Heraclitus was so right that fire is at the heart of everything (or is it water?).

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Peter spread the netting between the joints of the cement board.

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And helped me to cut the tile for a “dry fit”!

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This little marble threshold gave me some trouble. But finally it went in and seemed like a natural fit with the hexagonal marble tile.

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We opted for some dark gray grout. Anyone who has attempted to clean lighter grout will understand. Still it seemed such a shame to spread this stuff over my nice new white marble tiles.

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After a little clean up.

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And now everything needs a fresh coat of paint. So much for simply replacing the floor. But isn’t that always the case? One thinks “well I can just do this one thing” or,  “I can just adjust this or that” and “it shouldn’t be difficult!” But then the matter turns out quite differently and one realizes that adjusting one thing involves adjusting and replacing a host of other things that were never originally imagined.

I suppose there is some parallel with the formation of the mind and the soul here. Genuine learning very often requires something very similar. No wonder learning can be so painful!

Posted in bathroom restoration, Heraclitus, liberal education works, summer vacation, Work | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Most Important Virtues That No One Talks About.

Sometimes I wonder if the stories that we have all heard concerning saints who did not appear to be intellectually gifted might mislead many people into thinking that sanctity does not require any special focus on the development of the mind.

For example, how many Catholics out there might think something like the following:

Well, education is very important, but, thankfully, it is not required for sanctity. I mean, look at me, I was a below average Geometry student and I seem to be OK. Or take dear Saint Bernadette. She was a poor learner and could barely read and write. Yet what a marvelous saint!

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Perhaps someone hoping to rationalize his choice way back in high school to study Spanish instead of Latin, or Graphic Design instead of Great Books, might say,

Look at those simple fishermen that Our Lord used to build His Church. The brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree? No sir! The sharpest knives in the drawer? I don’t think so! But did they have faith? Yes they did. And that is what is important!

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How many Catholics have appealed to Saint Joan of Arc and Saint Joseph Cupertino to argue that the development of the intellectual virtues is not of prime importance? They might say,

Thank goodness that holiness does not depend on being smart! Good-ole Saint Joseph Cupertino knew that. He was so ignorant that even the Franciscans turned him away! But did that stop him from levitating? Did that stop him from bringing many others into Christ’s fold? No!

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Another might assert that while the study of Latin and Ancient Greek is laudable for those who might be attracted to these historical and obsolete intellectual artifacts, the serious pursuit of these dead languages is, nonetheless, not really incumbent upon the ordinary Christian. To exemplify his position, he might say,

Take good St Joan, for heaven’s sake! She was the illiterate daughter of a farmer. She was a mere uneducated peasant. Did she know Latin? No! Did she know Greek! No! And yet did this stop her from becoming the heroine of France and one of the greatest among the pantheon of canonized saints! No!

I have a suspicion that the relative scarcity of good Catholics that choose to send their children to schools which are devoted to Catholic liberal education has something to do with this. That is to say, that for most Catholics, liberal education is something of a superfluity, an extra, and given the time and expense of obtaining one, it is easily dismissed as being non essential for the formation of virtue. Liberal education is a privilege only for those who have the time and inclination.

In other words, I wonder if many Catholics think  about sanctity as having not much to do with a person’s intellectual life, but rather with his moral life? This unspoken and, I hesitate to say, even anti-intellectual philosophy would go far to explain why Catholic liberal education is not a primary concern for many Catholics.

I could be wrong, but at least this theory has substantial explaining power for why the majority of Catholics, perhaps unwittingly,  avoid demanding that their children be formed in intellectual virtue (which is the defining feature of a liberal education).

But isn’t each person called to holiness? And doesn’t this call to holiness mean being called to be like Christ? Are we not all called to be ‘another Christ’? Christ, however, had all of the human virtues. Therefore, in order to be like Him, in a way that respects our nature, we must try to at least have all of the human virtues.

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What precisely were the kinds of human virtues that Christ had? St. Thomas provides an accessible answer to this question,

Human virtue is a habit perfecting man in view of his doing good deeds. Now, in man there are but two principles of human actions, viz. the intellect or reason and the appetite: for these are the two principles of movement in man… Consequently every human virtue must needs be a perfection of one of these principles. Accordingly if it perfects man’s speculative or practical intellect in order that his deed may be good, it will be an intellectual virtue: whereas if it perfects his appetite, it will be a moral virtue. It follows therefore that every human virtue is either intellectual or moral.

In other words, there are precisely two kinds of human virtue: intellectual and moral. Therefore if Christ had all virtue then he too obviously possessed both moral and intellectual virtue. Q.E.D.

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So what are the moral virtues? Simply put, they are all the virtues contained under the four general cardinal virtues: prudence justice, temperance and fortitude. ‘Cardinal’ of course comes from the latin word ‘cardo, cardinis’ which means hinge.

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The cardinal virtues might be thought of as the four hinges upon which the entire gate of moral virtue hangs, or rather, each cardinal virtue appears to be the genus of many subsidiary virtues (which, I suppose, are thought of as hanging upon the cardinal virtues.) For example, the virtues of chastity and sobriety hang on the virtue of temperance; they are forms of temperance. Image result for hinge beautiful medieval

The intellectual virtues, on the other hand are five in number: the two practical intellectual virtues art and prudence. And the three speculative intellectual virtues Natural Understanding, Science and Wisdom.

Now if man is distinguished from everything else in the world by his reason, wouldn’t it make sense that the acts of reason are distinctively human? And remember, virtue is, broadly speaking, nothing more than a quality of a thing which makes it excellent in its own act.

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A virtue is an excellence of the thing. So for example if one were to take a knife, we might ask,

What is it that makes a knife excellent? What is the virtue of a knife?

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We might ask ourselves,

What is it that makes a knife excellent? What is a knife supposed to do?

to which the obvious and spontaneous reply is,

A knife is supposed to cut. And it is sharpness that allows a knife to cut well.

Voila! we have the virtue of a knife. Sharpness allows a knife to perform its own act well and therefore sharpness is the virtue of a knife.

And now we ask ourselves what is it that makes a human being excellent? What is it that enables a human being to perform his own act, his distinctive act, well?

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Now all of the virtues enable the person to perform his actions well. But it is the intellectual virtues,  most especially the three speculative intellectual virtues, that enable a person to perform his distinctively human act well.

And so we might say with special enthusiasm that of all the virtues, understanding, science and wisdom should be held in highest esteem because these virtues are especially related to the human person in the performance of his own distinctively human act; the intellectual virtues appear to hold a chief position among human virtues.

Now, my dear reader, ask yourself: why doesn’t anyone ever talk about these virtues if they are so important?

And further, what precisely are these virtues?

If these are the chief human virtues oughtn’t we to know what they are? How can we develop them in ourselves if we do not even know what they are and how they are distinguished from one another?

Well, I suppose we could try to give an unsatisfactory answer in a nut shell. But we might ask ourselves why Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote extensively about the virtues well into his Summa (e.g. see Prima Secundae questions 49-67).

Perhaps to understand the virtues requires a lengthy discussion. And who has time for that?!

Yet, surely we would like our children to know what virtue is and what are the chief human virtues. Maybe one day they will also even develop these virtues!

Perhaps we need to provide our children with a genuine Catholic liberal education?

Posted in Aquinas, catholic education, liberal education, truth for its own sake, virtue | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Classical Catholic Education and Sacred Music!

The Catholic classical school is the proper place for the formation of students in sacred music. Every student should sing. Every student can sing. No exceptions. The Church depends on it.

Lyceum students demonstrated the truth of this once again!

(The students sang from the prelude during the vesting ceremony from about 5:00-19:00)

Posted in beauty, classical education, liberal education, Sacred Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Ever Ancient Ever New: Feasting at Easter!

Happy Easter!

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Now some of you might be thinking,

“hmmm….this photo looks suspiciously familiar.”

Or

“Haven’t I seen this before?”

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Well, my response is “yes and no!”

Although these photos are all brand new, they are, nonetheless, the same in their essential content.

And isn’t this just what Easter is all about? Isn’t Easter all about celebrating Christ’s Resurrection every year in precisely the same way?

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I think this answer should be pleasing, especially to all of the stodgy conservatives out there among the lionandox.com readership.

I mean, when you went to the Easter Vigil were you expecting to see something new?

Or were you, rather, hoping to see all of those same old dear traditions that you remembered from years past?

As a parish music director, I, of course, get an expansive loft-view of the relatively massive Easter Sunday turnout,  which is a well-known Catholic phenomenon. Churches are packed on Christmas and Easter.

One remarks to oneself,

“Wow, I had no idea that there were so many people in this parish!’

And then one is struck with the simultaneous realization that,

“Yes, everyone has come back to celebrate Easter and they all expect to see something very similar to the celebration that they saw last year, and the year before that, and hopefully even something similar to the Easter celebrations in the golden memories of their own childhood!”

Ever ancient, ever new!

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After the Sacred Triduum (which seems to be evolving into the Sacred Quadruum for those parishes which are adding Tenebrae Services on “Spy Wednesday”) we celebrated Easter Brunch at 1:30 pm!

I really don’t mind that parishes are celebrating their vigil Masses a little earlier these days. This sort of thing used to annoy me-I admit it. I used to be a staunch defender of the 11:30 pm Easter Vigil start time. But for those of us who have to attend three more Easter Masses the next morning, a 7:30 PM vigil does have an appeal.

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We mixed our Proseco with some cold orange juice.

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Easter is also about Hollandaise Sauce on a bed of asparagus!

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I have to say these sticky cinnamon rolls were scrumptious. Stephanie baked them just right. Chewy, soft and buttery. I think she followed a Paula Deen recipe.

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Five hours later, after a nap and a three-mile walk, we tucked into Easter dinner. This year we took the Spiral-Sliced Ham option. Together with scalloped potatoes and a buttery roasted multi- colored carrot medley, the day was complete.

It’s always tough for me to know just what to pair with ham. I chose a 2016 Mark West Pinot Noir and a bottle of 2015 Franciscan Estate Chardonnay from Napa Valley. We enjoyed both! I am not so sure that I am ready to defend the ham and Pinot pairing, nonetheless I did enjoy the Mark West (especially for the modest price – although at the very top of my wine budget).

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Happy Easter!

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Posted in beauty, breakfast, Dinner, Easter, Feasts | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Today, Sing “Ubi Caritas!”

Today, Holy Thursday, is the day for singing the ancient chant Ubi Caritas!

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Which I translate freely,

Where charity and love are, there is God. The love of Christ has gathered us into one. Let us exult, and let us take delight in Him. Let us fear and let us love the living God. Let us love out of a sincere heart.

This of course is only the first verse. But it is beautiful! And totally appropriate for today’s feast!

Apparently this chant was composed sometime between the fourth century and the twelfth century. Now how is that for historical precision?

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According to one, Mr. Aaron Green,

What began as a Gregorian chant that some music scholars believe originated before the formation of the Catholic Mass, “Ubi Caritas” (“Where Charity Is”) has evolved into many iterations and compositions. The actual origin of the chant is unknown and ambiguous, although musicologists and researchers believe it was written between 300 and 1100 CE

I am not sure what Mr. Green means by “before the formation of the Catholic Mass,” given that Our Lord formed and instituted the “Catholic Mass” on the Thursday before he died.

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In Sacrosanctum Concilium we read,

47. At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity [36], a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us [37].

Nonetheless, when I open my Liber Usualis (“The Usual Book” which contains all the normative and usual Gregorian chant that anyone would ever need- except of course in unusual times and circumstances!)

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I find Ubi Caritas, on page 664, as the last antiphon offered to be sung during the washing of the feet ritual. There appear to be at least nine (yes, count’em, nine!) different antiphons that can be sung during this ceremony.

Now it seems ambiguous to me (are we really supposed to sing them all?), but the instructions in my Liber says,

After the Gospel, whilst the Priest performs the ceremony of the washing of the feet, the following chants are sung.

I have always admired the choir that can sing all nine antiphons before the priest washes twelve feet. Perhaps this is an indication of how much time the priest should spend washing each foot. Or, speaking as a choirmaster with nine antiphons and psalm versicles to sing, maybe there should be mandatory policy that requires washing both feet! With twenty-four feet to be washed, I think we could squeeze in all those antiphons and maybe even repeat a couple.

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Who composed the prayer? Who composed the music? When precisely was it composed?

Although Ubi Caritas is certainly among the most beautiful hymns in the chant repertoire, this side of heaven we will never know the answers.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

Posted in beauty, Easter, Feasts, Sacred Music, Sacrosanctum Consilium, The Mass, The Passion | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Liberal Education Works Vol:18

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Wall Street Journal.

Why?

Well it’s simple. Some decision maker at the Journal has a predilection for classical studies. There is a calendar on the wall in their editorial headquarters on which they have scheduled semiannual columns that promote the study of the liberal arts.

Or at least that’s the way it seems.

For example take a look at Michael Zimm’s article entitled,

If You Want Your Child to Succeed, Don’t Sell Liberal Arts Short.

Now that is just fantastic isn’t it?

I liked it so much that it took me several minutes to recover from my initial confusion about just who the author was. Did I write it?

I do not remember submitting this article to the Journal, nor have I employed “Michael Zimm” as my nom de plume when I have submitted this or that article to this or that prestigious print publication.

So Mr. Zimm begins,

It’s college admissions season, and every parent is mulling the perennial question: “What major will help my child get a good job?”

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Yes Precisely! He’s got that right! He continues,

Standard answers today invariably center on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, often referred to as STEM. Given the skyrocketing costs of higher education, parents and students alike can be forgiven for viewing a college degree as a passport into the professional world, and STEM majors are seen as the best route to professional success.

Yup! I live a mile from Case Western Reserve University which is famous for its engineering program. And with the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital around the corner, one can’t throw a dead cat in Cleveland without hitting a doctor or nurse or medical student.

But my advice is to let your child know that a liberal-arts degree can be a great launching pad for a career in just about any industry. Majoring in philosophy, history or English literature will not consign a graduate to a fate of perpetual unemployment. Far from it. I say this as a trained classicist—yes, you can still study ancient Greek and Latin—who decided to make a transition into the tech world.

Wonderful!

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Zimm recites a brief but compelling litany of successful people who based their success on their initial pursuit of wisdom,

I am far from alone. There are plenty of entrepreneurs, techies and private-equity managers with liberal-arts degrees. Damon Horowitz, a cofounder of the search engine Aardvark, holds a doctorate in philosophy. Slack founder Stewart Butterfield and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman both earned master’s degrees in philosophy. The startup where I work employs computer programmers who studied musical composition and philosophy as undergraduates.

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Everybody’s favorite Ice Cream shop in Cleveland for that matter, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, was founded by a couple of philosophy majors.

Zimm further established his credibility with me when he referenced the Latin word itself from which the word liberal comes,

Throughout history it has been common for people to study subjects with no immediate relationship to their intended professions. In antiquity, education was intended to enrich students’ lives. Pragmatic benefits such as rhetorical ability, logical reasoning and business skills were welcome byproducts of a good education. The phrase “liberal arts” comes from the Latin word liberalis, meaning “worthy of a free person.” A liberal-arts education gives someone the freedom to participate fully in civic life.

After explaining the value of a liberal education at some length, he brings in Einstein. Always a good idea when proving a point!

“The value of an education in a liberal arts college,” said Albert Einstein, “is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

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Read the article for yourself – and think kindly on the WSJ for printing it.

Zimm concludes,

So when parents ask themselves “What course of study will help my child get a job?” they shouldn’t think only about how the workforce operates today but how it will operate 10 or 20 years down the road. Though no one knows for sure exactly what the landscape will look like, we can be certain that critical thinking will still have value. And in that world, so will a liberal-arts degree.

Posted in classical education, Liberal Arts, liberal education, liberal education works, philosophy, Work | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Get Those Animals Out of My House!

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According to the Evangelists, Our Lord cleansed the Temple on at least two occasions. St. John describes the first cleansing as having occurred directly after the remarkable miracle in which He saved the day at the wedding reception at Cana. The other Evangelists do not record this cleansing, but they tell us about another time when Our Lord cleansed the Temple approximately three years later-just after He entered Jerusalem with palms bestrewed in His path and hailed with Hosannas – shortly after that, He was crucified.

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In this first cleansing, Our Lord seems particularly harsh on the animals. John says that “Jesus went up to Jerusalem,”

and found in the Temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the Temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;  And said to them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not My Father’s house a house of merchandise.

Now, doesn’t that seem a little harsh? On the one hand, I can see why Our Lord might fashion a “scourge of small cords” to drive out men who were apparently swindlers. Who can’t feel a little anger against men who are making a profit from the piety of those who come to the Temple to offer sacrifice? I am imagining the disadvantaged, the widows and the poor, the blind and the lame, having traveled a great distance on foot to offer a humble sacrifice of praise to the Lord, only to be cheated and swindled out of the little money they had at the very Temple entrance.

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On the other hand, I am not a big fan of animals in church either. Maybe I am wrong, but I have always imagined that the doves, oxen and sheep were probably in the Temple vestibule and not actually milling about in the Temple itself. In any case, that the animals were somewhere in the Temple is clear. Not a good idea.

But Our Lord who was born in a stable has always seemed to have been sympathetic to animals. Doesn’t it seem a little harsh that He would take his scourge to them?

He drove them all out of the Temple, and the sheep, and the oxen…..

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Now, I do notice that He did not try to scourge the doves, and that would be a little difficult anyway. But He displays none of His righteous anger to the doves beyond speaking to the dove sellers themselves saying,

Take these things hence.

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Aside from the literal signification of this passage, I am inclined to think that the naming of these animals, these three species in particular; oxen, sheep, and doves are meant for our edification in an even deeper way.

And, of course, we should be looking for something deeper here because Scripture is replete with wisdom and profound meaning if we just scratch, or perhaps graze, or even till beneath the surface!

I have to confess that I never would have thought anything more about this passage if it wasn’t for my favorite ‘go to’ book about the Gospel. What is that book?

The glorious Catena Aurea, or the ‘Golden Chain’ of St Thomas Aquinas! If I was a regular homilist, would I consult the Catena Aurea as a regular form of homily-prep?

You bet I would!

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The Catena Aurea is a great way to become familiar with the very best things that any Father or Doctor or great Theologian or Scriptural Exegete (prior to St Thomas of course!) had to say about any and every line in the four Gospels. St. Thomas (without the aid of Google mind you!), in his seemingly omniscient and encyclopedic grasp of everything that was ever said by anybody worth listening to, has simply gathered up all of the best and brightest thoughts and strung them together as a sort of chain-like commentary. Voila! The Catena Aurea!

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So what do we find in the Catena Aurea concerning this Sunday’s Gospel concerning the Lord’s first cleansing of the Temple?

Well, among many fascinating comments by Chrysostom, Augustine, Bede, and Alcuin, we also find this exquisite insight from Origen:

By the Temple we may understand, too, the soul wherein the Word of God dwells; in which, before the teaching of Christ, earthly and bestial affections had prevailed. The ox being the tiller of the soil, is the symbol of earthly affections: the sheep, being the most irrational of all animals, of dull ones; the dove is the type of light and volatile thoughts.

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In other words, the oxen, the sheep, and the doves could very well represent our affections or our emotions.

I am not completely certain that I am understanding Origen correctly, but his remark certainly does inspire me with the thought that this Gospel passage really does have everything to do with the right ordering of our passions or affections.

First, which scriptural exegete do you know who does not take the opportunity to speak about the passions when he talks about Christ driving the money changers from the temple with righteous anger? They ask,

Is it ever justifiable to be angry even to the point of using aggressive force or even some sort of violence?

And then of course, they answer,

Look at our Lord in the Temple when He fashioned a scourge, and then He forcefully drove the money changers out of the Temple! This is sure a case of righteous and justifiable anger. Yes, it is good to sometimes use our passions – such as anger- to get things done. Especially if we are directing our passions to the service of the Lord!

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So when our Lord cleansed the Temple, He certainly was illustrating a proper use of the passions, especially the irascible passions!

When we think about it, doesn’t Origen’s comment seem right on the money?

  • Oxen are sort of lugubrious slow tillers of the soil. They are plodders and difficult to move. They rarely demonstrate enthusiasm.
  • Sheep are …well just sheepish. They appear to lack self-confidence and are easily led by others.
  • Doves are light, flighty, and “volatile.”

If oxen are heavy-set and phlegmatic to a fault, Doves are just the opposite. They are light and superficially sanguine.

The Lord is demonstrating to us in a forceful way that His disciples, those who are in His service, those who worship at His Temple, are not to be

  • like oxen who are earthly and slow-moving. They are slothful and caught up in the dirt of the world.
  • like sheep who lack confidence and do nothing but follow the one in front of them. They are easily swayed to follow whatever the fashions and passions are of the moment.
  • like doves which become frightened at the first sight of danger. They quickly alight on this or that surface (or doctrine) which they find attractive but are just as easily put to flight.

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On the contrary, authentic disciples of the Lord are anchored in the truth which is Jesus Christ. They serve His will unwaveringly and eagerly, because they have set their hearts on Him. They are filled with love for Him and are moved towards His service with consuming passion,  but passion under the direction of reason.

His disciples are filled with rightly ordered affections, even zeal, for His service and for His Temple!

And thus, just as His disciples remembered the words of the Psalmist when Our Lord cleansed the Temple, so may others remember these words,

For zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up.

when they witness the behavior of Our Lord’s true disciples now consumed by no less zeal for the house of God.

Posted in Catena Aurea, Origen, passions | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Don’t Follow Your Passions

As the Israelites wandered forty years in the desert before entering the promised land, so Christians traverse the forty days of Lent (which might seem like 40 years to some of us!).

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God led the The Israelites out of Egypt through his servant Moses. Now, any good student of Latin knows that the Latin word for leading out is educere, from which, of course we derive the word education. Thus education is a sort of leading out. When a student is led out of his sleepy intellectual state, the foggy state of youthful ignorance, and is awoken and led into the warm light of the comforting truth, we may say that he is being educated.

When the Israelites were led forth from Egypt we may justly think of this period as their education. The desert was their school.

Deserts are unique environments with much to teach students.

Depending on how stubborn or “stiff-necked” a student is, it is not difficult to see why an education might take forty years or longer. On the other hand, perhaps their lengthy schooling serves as a reminder to us that education is a long-term project.

So just because, say, you have a high school or college diploma, don’t for one moment think that you have completed your education!

On the contrary the process of being led out of ignorance into the light of truth is precisely what life is all about!

That is, at least, what I try to tell my students.

But we also need to take this lesson from God’s education of the Israelites. Their education consisted largely in leading them out from slavery. And this is true of all education. All genuine education is an emancipation.

Now Catholic education, which at its maximum is liberal education, is also  concerned with leading us out of slavery.  That liberal education emancipates students should come as no surprise.  It is called liberal for a reason. No matter how you look at the word, liberal has something to do with the Latin liber which means free.

In particular, liberal education leads students out of three kinds of slavery.

The Slavery To Fashion

Those who do something simply because it is fashionable are slaves to fashion. Likewise, those who cease to do something simply because it is no longer fashionable are slaves to fashion.

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It is not necessarily wrong to read books which are on the New York Times Best Sellers list. But if this list were the sole principle, the overarching and determinative guide for making one’s reading selections, then we would have to say that for such a one, he is, indeed, a slave to fashion.

St Paul says (Philippians 4:8),

For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things.

He does not say,

….whatsoever is contained in the New York Times Best Sellers list…think on these things.

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The fashionable has something to do with what is new. We tend to be interested in “the latest,” the latest fashions, the latest trends, the latest thinking.

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But liberal education proposes the very opposite.

Liberal education suggests that we read what is old. It tells us to follow the tried and true. It advises us to follow those things which have passed “the test of time.”

But, mind you, genuine education does not propose that the student simply eschew anything that is new.  As is recorded in Exodus, the Israelites “stole” the gold from the Egyptians:

And the Lord gave favour to the people in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them: and they stripped the Egyptians.

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So too, the Catholic student needs to develop the vision for what is of true value in his own time and place.

But it is precisely by honing and exercising his vision on the treasures of the past that he is able to develop this vision.

That is why Liberal education suggests that we read The Great Books of the Western World for starters.

Thus Catholic education provides us with a significant key for unlocking the chains of fashion: Develop the power to distinguish things of worth from the transient worthless, yet alluring things that are often fashionable.

2. The Slavery to Passion

Aristotle makes reference to this kind of slavery in his Ethics.  He says that it is of no use teaching Politics to the young because of the influence of their passions.

Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life…and further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable… and it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the defect does not depend on time, but on his living and pursuing each successive object as passion directs.

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Now, given the effects of original sin, the Christian needs lots of grace – lots of penance and a great deal of mortification to finally gain mastery of his unruly passions.  But liberal education can also make a significant contribution in this regard.

Liberal education proposes that every human being should make an attempt to live his life in accord with reason. Virtue consists in allowing reason, rather than something else, like the passions, to direct our actions. Thus, liberal education teaches that we should attempt to bring all our passions under the influence of reason. This is an important contribution- namely that reason should rule, not the passions.

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Catholic education helps the student bring his passions under the control of reason by proposing that his primary pursuits should be: the True the Good and the Beautiful. These three things demand discipline, measure, restraint, humility, reverence and love.

We become like the things that we pursue. If we pursue the true the good and the beautiful we become like them. And these things are all measured by reason – ultimately by Divine Reason. They are not approximated by passion.

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How do we bring our passions under control?

In a word “catharsis.” Catharsis first signifies some kind of bodily cleansing or purgation. Such a physical catharsis might be brought about through exercise or perhaps through medicine. Education offers a more spiritual cleansing, a cleansing for our passions. It proposes that we purge our passions through reading great works of fiction. Liberal education proposes that we cleanse our passions and imagination through exercising our minds and hearts on works of beauty, works of goodness, and works of truth!

We cannot simply repress or sublimate our passions. We need to feed our souls on the wholesome nourishment of good literature and the fine arts. We need to exercise our passions on objects that will allow them to operate in a measure which is eminently reasonable.

How?

Well, among other things, we should read The Iliad.

We should sing Palestrina.

We should dance waltzes, act in Shakespearean plays and recite beautiful poetry.

Now it might take other things as well to bring the passions under the control of reason, but Liberal education does make a significant contribution towards this freedom.

3. The Slavery to Custom

A slave to ‘custom’ is one who has as his principal reason for thinking a certain way, or acting a certain way. nothing more than that he thinks and acts this or that way because this is the way of thinking or acting to which he is accustomed.

Catholic education proposes the examined life that Socrates proposes. The emancipated person acts and thinks the way he does as a result of an examination.

At some point we all need to examine our lives and our thinking. We need to examine our ideas and ask of each one of them “Do I think this because it is true, or do I think this because it is what I have always thought?”

Liberal education requires us to read and discuss the ideas and governments and thoughts of those who lived in other lands, and in other times and who lived under different political systems. This kind of investigation cannot help but to allow us to engage in a critique of our own ideas and customs. This kind of investigation allows us to think and act the way we do not only because it is our customary way of thinking and acting – but because we have considered it in light of different customs.

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The Israelites were educated for forty years in the desert. Through their education they were brought by the hand of God to the promised land. This is the goal of all education in some way or another.

Liberal Education Makes us Free

Liberal education is the education appropriate to free men and is a source of that freedom. Liberal education, this encounter with and conformity to the truth, frees man from enslavement to unruly passions, ignorance, current intellectual trends and public opinion. Once freed from these bonds, we might choose to live a good life, hold to the truth, and delight in beauty – not to please others or gain some practical reward, but simply because these things are good, or true, or beautiful.

Posted in catholic education, classical education, fashion, liberal education, slavery, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Christmas 2017: Feast Edition!

Although Christmas day itself has passed, nonetheless the Church insists that we keep up the celebration! As obedient sons and daughters, ours is the task to celebrate the feast as heartily as possible for as long as we can – or at least until Epiphany and even to the Baptism of The Lord. I do not think I will keep up the tree until February 2nd (i.e. the Feast of the Purification of Mary). The pine needles just get too dry and the city has long ceased its free curbside collection of trees by then.

Part of my celebration includes reflecting on Christmas day itself which again flew by too quickly!

This year we opted for a somewhat slimmer tree.

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As I am a church organist, my family graciously agreed to wait for brunch until all the Masses were complete for the day. But the wait was worth it!

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I have no idea how my daughter made this. Or what it is called. But this photo should demonstrate to everyone, once again, that liberal education works!

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This year’s fruit salad was better than ever. For some reason, every blueberry was sweet but not mushy, and yet ever so tart. The pineapple was plump and juicy and the strawberries were luscious.

 

The photos make everything seem just a little more peaceful than I remember- they certainly do not reveal how excited I was nor how ravenous was my appetite!

 

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Eggs Blackstone! (on sourdough)

 

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As a sort of culmination to breakfast, my chefs made the annual Baby Jesus rolls. A soft roll swaddling the Christ Child with a sweet cream cheese filling.  Our Lord who said, “I am the bread of life” certainly would not object to such a breakfast roll!

Taste and see how sweet the Lord is! (and make certain to listen to the Cambridge Singers while eating!)

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Brunch completed, I had to take a two-hour nap, but when I awoke, my daughters Mary and Anna had already long since begun dinner preparations.

After “butterflying” the roast and submitting it to the tenderizing process for what seemed like a full forty-five minutes, Anna somehow magically wrapped it around a special stuffing that included mushrooms and a pound of Gorgonzola. Then she lovingly wrapped it in bacon.

After several unsuccessful attempts to locate cooking twine, I finally asked a helpful butcher at Zagara’s Marketplace. He promptly went to his loom and cut off two or three feet which I immediately and gratefully pocketed.

On Friday, my daughter Mary and I spent a wonderful hour at Cleveland’s famous Italian Supermarket on Euclid Boulevard, Gallucci’s! This is where I obtained my Gorgonzola as well as a half pound of Pancetta to mix with the Brussells Sprouts. Gallucci’s also has an incredible array of every other Italian food – and a fantastic sandwich and pizza bar.  Mary and I each chose the Italian sausage sub of the day!

Now for the twice baked potatoes! No photo is able to capture twice baked potatoes properly. But imagine a mixture of Gruyère, chives, bacon, sour-cream, salt and pepper.

Then, of course no dinner is complete with out the soft over-night buttery rolls.

Every year, my father sends each of his children a box of Enstrom’s Almond Toffee. In my opinion, Enstrom’s Toffee is simply the best toffee that money can buy. But that might be an opinion based on custom which the Poet Pindar says “is king.”

Merry Christmas!

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Posted in beauty, breakfast, Christmas, Custom, Dinner, Feasts, Fine Arts, liberal education works, Music | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments