Dec 182014
 

I know this is a bit overdone, but I felt like overdoing it seeing so many “Reasons for the Season”‘s that forget we are sinners and Jesus came to us to save us from our sins. When we look at the child wrapped in swaddling clothes we should not forget Jesus wrapped in a shroud dying for our sins.

 

reasonForTheSeason

 

 

Dec 162014
 

My Advent hymn listening is about to wind down as I start listening to Christmas carols on the 4th Sunday of Advent. Since traditional Christmas carols played a part in my conversion I am really looking forward to this. Listening to Advent music only for most of Advent is only a couple year tradition for me, but partly I find for myself the delay in listening to my favorite carols lets me appreciate them even more. Plus I have found that Advent hymns are also pretty awesome especially as performed on Advent at Ephesus.

I have a fairly good collection of these carols once on a CD and now living in the cloud. Unfortunately the production values on too many of them are not very good. Especially ones involving choirs. I remember being disappointed after buying the “John Rutter Christmas Album” for the Cambridge Singers. While the hymn selection was excellent, the sound is low and just not that sharp.

So I am always on the lookout for a higher quality collection of Christmas carols that mixes the familiar with the lesser known. I received Christmas in Harvard Square for review and was happy to find it perfectly fulfilled my requirements.

The album is performed by [The Boys of St. Paul Choir School][http://stpaulchoirschool.com]. This is the only boys’ choir school in the United States of America and students attend full time between the forth and eighth grade. I just looked at the information regarding this album on Amazon and found that they used John Rutter & Sir David Willcocks arrangements and that the schools is based in Cambridge. So after I just complained about a specific album I found this a bit ironic.

Now I only gave this album one listen or else my personal Christmas carol embargo would have fallen and I would be playing them 24/7. One listen was certainly enough to make me love it as the boys voices come shining through with high production values. The majority of hymns on this album are the lesser known, or at least the lesser played. Still all of these selections should be better known. All I know if that I am going to give this specific album a listen daily just before and during Chrismastide.

Another polished well-produced piece of sacred music is O Day Of Resurrection! – Liturgy of the Hours for Sunday by the [New Camaldoli Hermitage][hermitge] a group of Benedictines located at Big Sur. These recordings of the Liturgy of the Hours in plainchant is captivating. I found it to be perfect background music while doing spiritual reading.

On another note (pun always intended) I sometimes hear complaints about Christmas carols being played early in stores and shopping centers. Now normally this is a complaint I could appreciate, but I have been thinking that perhaps we shouldn’t really grumble about it. At least Christmas carols are still being played in public and political correctness has not yet wiped it out for fear of offending the ear of the non-Christian. Sure the mix of these songs in public lean more towards the Christmassy secular songs, but actual carols slip through repetitions of “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” So I have decided to enjoy this while it lasts.

Dec 152014
 

For some book reviews I am almost tempted just to mention that some author has a new book out and that should be sufficient to pique your interest.

Case in point is Peter Kreeft’s new book Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas. This is an author always worth reading. Since he is also a rather prolific author, directing your attention to specific books of his is also worth doing.

Peter Kreeft’s books have had a positive impact on my life. His book Handbook of Christian Apologetics coauthored with Fr. Tacelli really helped me in my limbo from atheism to belief. It was the book’s format like St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae with objections and the answering of objections that helped me to get passed some of my doubts. That I didn’t have to jettison my reason for faith and in fact required fuller use of it.

In the intervening years I have found his other books to be helpful also. His latest book Practical Theology has quickly become my favorite book of his. The concept of the book is rather simple. Peter Kreeft uses St. Thomas Aquinas works and organizes them in a way beneficial as spiritual direction. As he reminds us this Doctor of the Church wrote his Summa Theologiae for “beginners” and that the same audience this book is intended for. Still it is rather hard for most people without a solid philosophical background to easily read St. Thomas’ works. I remember once picking up “The Pocket Aquinas” and being totally lost trying to read it. Fortunately that is not a problem here. Besides the saints words Mr. Kreeft provides an abundance of clarifications. Even when quoting passages he briefly interjects information to clear up St. Thomas’ meaning. After these passages he then further illuminates it.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was just how focused it was. For the most part the topics are contained to just one page with few going beyond that. Combined with Peter Kreeft’s playfulness you have a nice touch of humor that doesn’t intrude on the topic. When I first received this book I figured at 366 pages I could read it in a week and then prepare a review. That plan was quickly wrecked as I more slowly read through the book and let it marinate in my mind. This was not a book I wanted to rush through. In fact I think I will shortly read it again. Only this time I will limit myself to reading just one or two chapters a day. With 358 topics this book is a good candidate for a topic a day to read through in a year book. Flannery O’Connor use to spend at least 15 minutes with the Angelic Doctor each night.

One aspect of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings that really spoke to me was not just the answers he gave to questions, but the questions he asked. This really brought to my mind this comment from G.K. Chesterton.

Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. – Orthodoxy, Chapter 9

I have no doubt the saint would have totally agreed to this comment as his theological output was a playing in this playground. There are many who can’t see the forest for the trees and can’t see the playground because of the boundaries. There were questions he asked that I times I had wondered about, but figured nobody would have giving them any serious attention. So the best thing about “Practical Theology” is that it helped me to play in this playground and to remember that spiritual direction and spiritual reading can really fill you with joy.

Dec 152014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 20 November – 13 December 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Note: The Vatican has translated very few documents into English for the month of December.

Messages

Speeches

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

Dec 132014
 

When I first started seeing headlines about Pope Francis saying animals go to Heaven I pretty much ignored the headlines and their supposed content. I doesn’t take much intelligence to know that this would be either total fabrication or something close to that. The headlines have had staying power and have continued throughout the week in various forms of media.

Thus I figured it wouldn’t be long until Jimmy Akin had a post refuting the whole thing. Today he published Did Pope Francis say animals go to heaven? in which he summarizes at the start “But the thing is … the whole story is false.”

Now Pope Francis speeches are not known for their exactness and are prone to generalities over precision. So in the back of my mind I thought there was a possibility that this tendency lead to this story in the typical distorted amplification of his words. Wow not only did they invent Pope Francis’s words for the story but came up with some new ones for St. Paul. Must have been from the lost Gospel of Fido.

Now even if all animals went to Heaven I would have serious questions about the salvation of journalists and editors and members of news agencies. This is just another case in a long line of cases where journalists have no love for the truth or any concern regarding the truth. Maybe Pontius Pilate is the patron of journalists. This case being even more egregious than normal. No fact checking just passed along from one news agency to another. The false quote of St. Paul should have been a major tipoff. It is so obvious that zero attempt was made to acquire even the most basic facts or even spending 5 minutes on Google.

So how does such a story get passed on? No doubt there are multiple reasons. When it comes to reporting on the Church any stick will do to beat the Church including one used to play fetch with their pet dog. Page views and driving traffic for advertising dollars is probably another aspect. Sensationalism in journalism is nothing new, but click-bait headlines and stories low or totally barren of facts bring this to a new level and a declining one at that. Sure such stories are gist for the mill of headline writers.

I found CNN’s Did Pope Francis open a doggy door to heaven? to be the funniest of the lot. The story itself tried to update itself but failed even at that.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story, citing a newspaper, attributed a quote to Pope Francis. The quote actually comes from Pope Paul VI.

The problem with that is we have no evidence that Pope Paul VI said it either. As Jimmy Akin points out:

7) Did Pope Paul VI say to a bereaved boy what is attributed to him?

Who knows?

If you search the Vatican web site for the relevant quote, you get nothing.

At this point, I don’t see why anyone should trust anything attributed to a pope about animals going to heaven—not without a solid reference to a checkable, primary source document.

I have heard several attempts to try to side step this understanding especially when talking with children. A lot of people really want the idea of their pets going to Heaven. So it seems strange to me that if Blessed Paul VI ever said this that the quote would be in use in a larger circulation. C.S. Lewis also speculated on this in his book “The Problem of Pain.” Still it seems to me there is often more an emotional appeal to a theological appeal.

The CNN article goes on.

While Catholic teachings don’t reject the notion that animals have souls, traditional dogma has long held that animals don’t go to heaven.

Well Catholic teaching has long held distinctions between, plant souls, sensitive souls (such as animals), and the rational soul such as we have. All living things have souls as the soul is the form of the body. St. Thomas Aquinas detailed the thrust of the distinctions as we currently understand them. Still as far as I know there is no magisterial teaching on this as to the classes of souls. Much less a dogmatic (hey that’s pretty funny in context) teaching that animals don’t go to heaven. The CNN articles tries to be somewhat skeptical of the story, but still totally blunders in its corrections. As Mark Shea says about reporting on the Church is that you can take off 50 IQ points.

Another aspect of the ridiculous coverage of the Church that I have notice growing in the last year is how often so-called traditionalists fall for them. Most serious Catholics are highly skeptical of Church reporting for good reason. Yet I keep seeing more and more stories on “traditionalist” sites that take these stories as Gospel. Instead of any stick to beat the Church it is any stick that can beat Pope Francis. There not skeptical of the stories because they are skeptical of Pope Francis and see even bad reporting via confirmation bias. This annoys me since I have common cause with many of the liturgical complaints of “traditionalists”, but this hatred or loathing of Pope Francis makes them as agenda driven as most secular journalists.

On the lighter side the brilliant “Eye of the Tiber” presents Pope Francis confirms casts still going to Hell. I have a couple of cats, but that is still pretty funny. Surely the Cat-echism say otherwise.

Dec 072014
 

John C. Wright’s latest SF short story collection is called The Book of Feasts & Seasons.

Stories are arranged from the Liturgical Calendar starting with “The Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God.” This provides a thematic presentation of the stories although many of the stories would only generally fit into specific feasts and seasons. All of them are SF stories and include time traveling, contacts with aliens, and even a ghost story. The first story “The Meaning of Life as Told Me by an Inebriated Science Fiction Writer in New Jersey” is really rather fun.

While I enjoyed all the stories, some of them were exceptionally good. Short stories are not my favorite medium, yet I found several stories I want to revisit later. Two of the stories I had read before. “The Ideal Machine” was one I read in volume 1 of the “Sci Phy Journal” not that long ago. Still I enjoyed it even more on the second time around as a unique alien visitation story that takes place in a parish with a priest and two military men. The other one I had read before was “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus” which was posted on his blog. A very powerful story perfect for Christmas or really the Feast of St. Nicholas”. A story that brought tears to my eyes again as did another story in the collection.

The rather unique ghost story “Pale Realms of Shade” was one of these and one that fit with the theme of the book. One of other themes of this book was marriage and sacrifice and surprisingly by the title “Queen of the Tyrant Lizards” fit in there. His explorations of the consequences of time travel as in his other short story collection are really fresh and unique as in this specific story. The one titled “Nativity” is another time travel story going into a territory explored before regarding going back into the time of Christ. In “Nativity” we a presented with a husband’s grief over the death of his wife and his travel into the past seeking answers to his questions. The question of evil and whether anything ultimately matters. I hadn’t found time traveling stories into the time of Christ very worthwhile in the past. Some were much better than others such as Brandon Sanderson’s novella “Legion”, but none of them really made contact with me; much less contact with the premise. “Nativiy” presented in the Advent section of the book is great Advent reading which contains both the wonder of good SF along with the wonder of Christ and was the other story that brought tears to my eyes.

As the theme of this collection suggests these are stories that have a philosophical and theological dimension. Yet this is not pious SF that sacrifices storytelling for piety. These are excellent stories that happen to have a deeper dimension. His description of crucifixion in “Nativiy” was especially vivid to me and strangely I would love a set of reflections on the Rosary from his hands. There was a realism in the movie “The Passion of the Christ” that I liked, yet some sentences in this story brought the horror of crucifixion fuller to my understanding, especially some very unglamorous aspects. Well done Mr. Wright.

Dec 042014
 

Leave it to LarryD of Acts of the Apostasy to come up with a hilarious post titled Star Wars Characters in the Confessional. Quite fun.

Although he left me some low-hanging fruit to add on in reaction to his post.

Ja Ja Binks

Ja Ja: “Father forgive missa for my sinn.”

Priest: “Sorry you can not be forgiven as a character and considering your horrible accent I am quite sure you have commited the sin against the Holy Spirit or at least against all Star Wars fans.”

R2-D2

R2: “twerp beep crang blurp dwing.”

Priest: What?

R2: “twerp beep crang blurp dwing.”

Priest: “One more time please.”

R2: “twerp beep crang blurp dwing.”

Priest: “Hmm, well if you are repentant of your sins beep out a series of binary coded Hail Marys and next time bring C–3PO with you to translate.”

Dec 032014
 

Ever since I abandoned the 4-Volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours for mobile app versions I am still always on the prowl for newer apps and updates. The original entry in this field was iBreviary by Fr. Padrini. While good enough I was never happy with the daily update mechanism and the app itself has not been updated for a year and a half.

I had been interested in the Universalis app, but at almost $30 dollars at the time I stuck with iBreviary. This changed when I got the first iPad and Universalis was the only Liturgy of the Hours iPad app at the time. So for some years I have been fairly happy with Universalis as no daily text update is required. It was also superior since instead of just scrolling the text you turned pages which was much more convenient. It also had options such as what translation of the Psalms to use. My only annoyance with the app is that the text used is not the same text as in the official 4-Volume set and the selection of hymns is repetitive. On the plus side the app has been continually updated with changes made on phone software updates to match the user interface. Very well designed with some attention to detail. At $13.99 now it is still a solid choice and is available on iOS and Android.

During my year using an Android phone I start looking at apps again and at the time the Divine Office app was semi-affordable and so I bought it. It was much like iBreviary as it used scrolling text and also used the official text. The daily experience was rather seamless where you are not concerned about downloading the texts for the day. It has a very unique feature in that in addition it has audio versions for all the hours. I mainly used this feature at times when driving and it was nice to hear a community of people singing the psalms along with professional recordings of the hymns. Still mainly I used Universalis for my daily reading and switching off to the Divine Office app for a change of pace or during octaves when Universalis got repetitive.

The main reason I am writing this post is that recently they have released a new version of the app Divine Office 2. It is now a much better app and one that I will probably now use daily as they have really added some nice new features.

The user interface is familiar as it follows the skeuomorphic design pattern of mimicking a physical book along with giving a patina of an old book. I think the design is a little overblown as I am preferring the more flat design pattern as in iOS7/8. What I like most is that on the iPad you now have regular pages that you turn instead of the continual scroll. I am not sure why they didn’t do this before since Apple has APIs to fairly easily access the same libraries as used in their iBooks app. Regardless it make the app easier to use. Unfortunately the iPhone version still scrolls the page. It has also been updated to fit the new larger iPhones.

divineoffice2ipad-resized

Playing back the audio versions of the various hours has been totally revamped. For example now you can change the playback speed along with skipping forward and back easily. While I did enjoy the audio versions the length of them could be quite lengthy at times. Adjusting the playback speed corrects this for me. Since this audio must be downloaded there is a setting for how many days you want downloaded at a time. A default of seven days which can be decreased or increased up to 21 days. This is important if you are on travel when you less likely to have access to a reliable WiFi connection. You can also select to have this download on WiFi only. Unfortunately it defaults to using both your cellular connection and WiFi. WiFi only should be the default and since this is buried in a setting some people might get a nasty surprise regarding their cellular download cap. Oh and just because I am rather picky app-wise I was also annoyed that the title of the apps as it appears on iOS is the same icon and title as the previous version.

divineoffice2iphone-resized

There are some other features for the Divine Office app that are more interesting than really useful. It has a status telling you how many people are praying the Divine Office using this app. Along with a turning globe that can be viewed showing around the world who is using this app. There is also a liturgical calendar. Still I would have preferred having the daily Mass readings like Universalis instead of the spinning globe. They also have sharing capabilities but it is rather crippled. Instead of using the iOS 8 share sheet it has a custom one that will only send a link to and About Today page via Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. Just not very useful. Plus there is no way to copy or highlight text displayed. I especially find that the Office of Readings sometimes contains something I want to copy for future reference. Universalis allows you to copy a column on a page, but not much else.

For those who bought the original version there is an upgrade package where you can buy the new version for $4.99. Otherwise their pricing is currently five dollars off at $14.99. So overall I found this to be worthwhile upgrade and it is finely nice to have page turns with the official text. If you ever pray the Divine Office with others this is quite important.

No doubt I will still be switching back and forth at times between Divine Office 2 and Universalis, but I just like the change off. I am still waiting for the perfect Liturgy of the Hours app, well perfect for my use. Until then still we have some good choices.

I don’t know what the status is for an Android version of Divine Office 2 since there is no new information on their page and the original app does not include the new changes. The Android version for the tablet like many Android tablet apps is just scaled up without putting the larger form factor to use.

Dec 032014
 

After listening to Tim Staples for many years on Catholic Answers I was always hoping he would finally get around to writing a book. He has produced lots of audio CDs along with one book containing a collection of his excellent columns in This Rock (now renamed) magazine. So I finally got my wish with Behold Your Mother – A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines.

The Marian doctrines and the high place Mary occupies for Catholics was never really a problem with me during my conversion. Once I got over the “Yes there is a God” and accepted the authority of the Catholic Church I was in the wanting to learn more mode. Still Catholic radio has certainly demonstrated that this is very often a stumbling block for Protestants. Whether they are heading towards the Church or just dumbfounded by this it is an obvious problem to address in the area of apologetics.

With Tim Staples bing an ex-Assembly of God Youth Pastor he has experienced this reaction personally. The focus of this book is largely of an apologetics nature in working with Protestants, but can also be useful for Catholics not quite sure what the big deal is about Mary.

As a one volume work in popular apologetics it really packs a punch. As the subtitle suggests it looks at all the Marian Doctrines along with a lot of the titles associated with the Blessed Mother. I really enjoyed the tone of the book which was instructional without being dry. Common and other objections are dealt with during each chapter along with later chapters and appendixes providing deeper information.

Tim really did his homework and there are a wealth of footnotes. These footnotes go beyond just references, but also contain further information along with fuller quotes. For a change instead of just skipping over the footnotes, I actually read many of them. As you would expect there is also plenty of Patristic references matched up to the chapters in the book.

Al Kresta on his radio show when talking about this book said that he wished such a work was available in his Protestant days as he would have returned to the Church much sooner. This illustrates exactly why a book like this is so important since there are so many objections to Catholicism based on our special veneration due to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Dec 022014
 

I’ve read some books on the history of the Crusades and it is a rather fascinating chapter of Church history. It is kind of like the Facebook relationship status “It’s complicated.” Yet as interesting as the history of the Crusades is, it is usually a history that was filtered and altered down to us as a synonym of evil. In a Robert Heinlein book I recently read the Crusades were put on the same par as the Holocaust.

So when I first heard mention of a new book put out by Catholic Answers on the subject I was of course intrigued. Especially since it has the provocative title of The Glory of the Crusades. So I was very happy to get a review copy.

The author Steve Weidenkopf is a lecturer of Church History at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. As with other books on the history of the Crusades I have read there is a robust debunking of the various myths associated with them. I really enjoyed getting a much broader look at the historical context especially all the events that lead up to them. These events make it more understandable to see why Pope Urban II called for what became known as the first Crusade. In the past I had thought that it was the case that pilgrims to the Holy Lands were harassed or killed. I had no idea the scope of this such as when a group of 12,000 pilgrims were massacred by the Seljuk Turks. At the same time there were incursions on the Byzantine Empire as the Seljuk Turks took over Nicea and were in range of Constantinople. This caused Emperor Alexius I Comnenus to send ambassadors to the pope seeking help in a rescue effort. An irony of history considering the tragic events of the Fourth Crusade.

One of the problems with reviewing this book is that I learned so much from it along with the book being chock-full of surprising tidbits. It would be so easy to want to fill the review with all this information. I was totally absorbed in his relating of this history the good and the bad. While called The Glory of the Crusades this book does not shy off from the shame of some of the actions during them such as the despicable Sack of Constantinople. Lots of contrasts between men like Godfrey who rejected the title of king and his brother Baldwin who had no qualms about being named King in Jerusalem. Contrasts between St. Louis IX and Frederick II. The retelling of this history is such that at times I felt frustration over the stupidity of how the Crusades were managed from a logistical point of view and how they seemed to learn no lessons from previous Crusades. Along with anger regarding the evil done during the Crusades. This history became bright in my mind like it was a recent event. In modern times we think of national armies like the wars in the last 100 years and how different this was from the reality concerning the centuries the Crusades occurred in. The picturesque phrase “herding cats” seems to be an apt comparison to the loose associations of the men signed with the cross.

The term Crusades is a modern word as the author notes.

“Crusading contemporaries used the term passagia, among others, meaning an “exceptionally large military expedition declared against unbelievers.” Those who undertook the passagia were known as crucesignati, or “those signed with the cross.”

One final aspect of this book that I enjoyed is it also went into a more detailed history of how the well-known myths became the accepted history for many. It is easy to see how this was done as we have experienced in recent history regarding Pius XII. A history retold through through anti-Catholic bias by first Protestants and then secularists, Communists, and eventually Muslims. There was enough evil in the Crusades that it didn’t need to be embellished, yet still it was recast as if the Crusaders were the invading armies bent only on riches. At least modern Crusades scholarship is now more focused on studying this history through the perspective of the participants instead of simply projecting on them their motives.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read with close to 700 footnotes. Usually a large number of footnotes is inversely proportional to how enjoyable something is to read.