ANENT THE TALKING HEADS (and other fools who believe too much in themselves.)

There was no such thing as a Government Plan when I was a much, much younger person. 

One’s eyes, one’s hopes, were not directed toward the SOG wherein all hope is now supposed, perhaps soon to be required, to be placed.  No such thing was bethought as cradle to grave care from it.  It all began to change shortly before my arrival when two cars, garages, pots and chickens were first promised us, and it was hinted in speech and song that woe, worry, sickness and ignorance would give way to Heaven here at last. 

Happy Days!  But, not quite yet.  We had not that what? That purity, the “election”for the gifts to be ours ahead;  for that thing called Health Insurance, or Auto Insurance, or, for almost every family I knew in my part of The Bronx, Life Insurance. Nor were the thought to be quite needed by most.  We still had feet to walk with, hands to work with.  But, we would learn.  We would learn…and want.

Not that it matters, but I remember as a young fellow first hearing the term Life Insurance and being confused.  You may think about my reason for confusion.

Bank accounts, if they existed, rarely amounted to more than a few hundred dollars. Shoe boxes under the bed, or in your mother’s bureau was what mattered most when it came to family finance. And, as far as I knew when compared to now, problems were fewer. I wonder why, sometimes.

Now, the shrill voices of discontent and the fraudsters (and people beaters) of progress, the elevaters, the redeemers, of the race, the species, the world, the cosmos, by God (those among them who believe there is one), like wild horses in a Western (are they still made?), stampede ahead on, to take a line from a once popular Irish song, “on the road to God knows where…”  Driven by only God knows what.  Though I suspect it is the conviction that they are god.  And most of the grimy believers in the dry dust behind plod grimly on.

I read a short thing the other day, a kind of comparison between how two Englishmen thought the world might turn out: the guy who wrote 1984 and the one who wrote Brave Knew World. The one looked into the future and saw what the Soviets were doing; everything in shades of grey, way beyond 50, which has been realized in North Korea,  in China.  Other forces proceed in their own strange way to their own version of a parousia places like Afghanistan, where that strange and terrible phenomenon called islam has taken hold; and whose thousand years plan is to take over everything, or kill it.

That other was perhaps a bit more correct, seeing into a future like ours, a place where no one matters but “ME”. but with a much more invasive and evil genetic twist, which we seem to have changed into simply medically induced death at both ends of natural life. And that, for no other reason it seems than “Because”.


I am about a third of the way through a book by a little, old and frail German fellow, Joseph Ratzinger. He’s a a good fellow, sharp as a tack, who dresses funny. That may be why a lot of folks don’t take him seriously. But, despite his decidedly Medieval sense of fashion, as is said, “Good things, etc.” This book I mentioned?  This little thing is good. It’s full of stuff some people call, “Money Quotes”. Here is one. It’s near the beginning. Hell, everything is near the beginning in this book. You could take a flight across the country and you’d be finished before you reached Illinois. Anyway: “From the very beginning Christianity has understood itself to be the religion of the Logos, to be a religion in keeping with reason. When it identified its forerunners, these were primarily not in the other religions, but in that philosophical enlightenment which cleared the road from the various traditions that cluttered it in order to turn to the search for truth and to turn toward the good, toward the one God who is above all gods. “

This whole thing, this “mishegoss” which is a polite Jewish word for the madness, or better yet silliness, now going on, which most of us think is civilized behavior, began a couple of hundred years ago in France with the Enlightenment and such silliness as that very stupid little slogan about us and how many things we can measure. Every time I think of it I get a picture of five year old boys out behind the barn measuring their “dinkies”.

It is exactly the same thing as is taking place today in DC, and in every other legislative body in the country, at any level, especially the lower ones; but most publicly, and tragically in the SOG because of its influence and effect on the rest of us. And, neither do I wish to pass over the, what were once called for some too long ignored good reasons, the institutions of higher education; and our information sources, all of them which, with the exception of a few dozen Catholic schools and publishing establishments have relocated to Gommora, and are, in the very same way a totally drunk idiot may be said to be doing it, printing junk.  And teaching it..

This ain’t a Gloomy Guss talking. Nope, it’s me who has seen and been in the middle of, for my working life, the incredible mess we are in. The only way out is what the little German guy suggests at the end of his book: “Begin with the folly of faith, and you will attain knowledge. This folly is wisdom, this folly is truth.”

The only truly happy, and wise people I have ever met are former drunks, former drug addicts and and former Democrats.  They may be best compared to the folks who made it into the lifeboats as the liner went down; or had decided on a walk in the country the day the bomb fell.  That kind of happiness is more than happiness.  Thankfulness.

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GRAB A SEAT! MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE!

Once said, not so long ago, that was done. My father’s son, I much preferred sitting to standing. Well, truth to tell, I never really “sat”. I sprawled. I was made for a sofa, but much preferred an Easy Chair, even one that might have held two of me; one that need climbing, up, into.

That we then. I notice it has become quite an undertaking to sit down recently. First I must gauge the chair’s height to determine if I can indeed sit down on, or into it; and then its depth from front to back. Or, is that not properly the length?

Is it a soft or a hard seat? These are questions of no small importance, my natural padding having gone into retirement several years ago. Sitting on my hands in some instances is the only way open for me.p

If the chair is arm less, poor thing, what are the aids nearby to assist me in a soft landing? My own aids, that is arms and legs, to assist me in a soft and safe one at not as dependable as earlier. I have in the recent past almost completely missed the target. It’s little comfort knowing I cannot miss the floor since I no longer bounce. And, if I am alone, regaining verticality, which may not be a word but you know what I mean, is no small project. I have crawled like a rubber boned infant the width of a room, the length of a hallway, to reach that dangerous posture.

It occurs to me that I should no longer attempt such daring expeditions as sitting down, on my own. That is unless I am met somewhere along my descent by a helping arm, and at its end by a soft landing. Oh, and something for my sore back between mine and the chair’s.

ALL THOSE BOATS….NO HARBOR MASTER

One of the books I am reading is written by a fellow I would love to meet, but probably never will. This is the third of his books which I have read, and I am almost finished with this one. Each of them have been both educational and enjoyable. I both learn and am entertained at the same time. Reading the books is the best thing next to sitting with him in a quiet room with a glass or two of wine, or beer or some other adult beverage, and simply asking questions and listening to his answers.

He is an old man now, the author, and might not give me the time or attention I would like. But a fellow can dream, can he not?

My author is Fr.John V. Schall, S.J.  I heard he has retired, and now he lives somewhere west of here, as far west as one can go and not get wet; somewhere in California. From his writing, I get the feeling he is the kind of man St. Ignatius had in mind when he founded the Society of Jesus, the kind of fellow whom Jesus himself might consider good company. He’s smart, and has a sense of humor; both things go together nicely. And, both of his feet are firmly on the ground; nor is his head in the clouds. I was told a long time ago that Fr. Schall taught at Fordham University for a number of years. I was accepted to Fordham, but hadn’t the money for it. Else I would have gone; and probably have had more than one chance at the conversation I want to have. Alas, I’ll have to settle for the books.

That’s not bad. Books teach a fellow how to listen, and not to keep asking questions. That might distract the guy up in front. They also leave plenty of room to stop and think. Of course, asking questions is a pretty good thing to do if one is only interested in distracting the guy up in front; a trick I learned, and probably everyone else, somewhere in the first semester of Freshman year.

In this one, “Another Sort of Learning“, he mentions what might be called the second best thing. One of his chapters, entitled “What Is A Lecture?” deals in a way, with a kind of missing the train, and reading about the trip later on. Sort of what I am doing now reading the book, consisting of essays and articles he’s written during his long career.

I have rounded the clubhouse turn and am near the end with only one or two chapters left. Presently, I am reading my way through a very interesting little thing called “On Devotion”. I started it wondering if it was the title of something written by one of the Big Three. You know Aristotle, Plato and Aquinas; or Augustine, or any number of them. Maybe, maybe not. I am not far enough into the chapter, which isn’t very long at all. But, I had to stop and pause, and think a little bit; a thing I do not do well.

You see, Father is talking about devotion, on one page, as being centered on the higher, the Highest?, things, where our “being is directed out of ourselves”. He even mentions God somewhere along the line, the Highest thing. I get that about devotion and being other directed. Even if it’s only “Puppy Love”. But that’s not what he’s talking about, you know. And it certainly isn’t what those fellows in the paragraph above mean. I figure it is devotion in the sense of being devoted to finding and knowing the truth; not sort of like being devoted to climbing Everest. Or, like being devoted to having the biggest biceps.

Here is the sentence: “The nature of devotion, then, implied not merely our awareness of our powers and capacities, but also the fact that our own very being is directed out of ourselves, that our own being is insufficient for the sort of reality that we are constituted for and directed to by what we are.”

Well, what’s wrong with that..if you’re a Catholic, and about my age. Sit back and figure out whether it will be steak or something else tonight. BUT DON’T TURN THE PAGE!

I did. And this is what I read:

“The modern notion of pluralism has come to mean not nearly the fact that there is a wide variety of ways to embody the real virtues we can incorporate within ourselves, but that there are no “ends” no “happinesses”, other than the ones we choose on the basis of, ultimately, the love of ourselves.”

I stop there and can’t help thinking of that Greek guy staring into the water in the pond. And, all of the ponds I can remember and think of are shallow, slimy, bug covered things. Shaking my head to get rid of that horrible truth, I continue…

“Modern society is an arrangement, an order, whose very purpose is to declare the impossibility of arriving at any morally or metaphysically binding truth.”

As I read this I am thinking of a guy I know who tells me one day he has left the third wife. “Are you looking for another one now?” “No,” he says, ” I feel like being a bee; me and all of those flowers out there.” We have parted company. Anyway… back to the nice Jesuit:

“This means that society becomes an area of ultimate indifferences, where each “life-style”, each sort of “choice” plays, plays itself out with right and dignity just because it is chosen. The modern idea is that “You have your end and I have mine and, in the end isn’t all that variety nice?”

Me again.. Pardon the interruption. I am about finished. But here I couldn’t help thinking of the first time I heard the phrase, “Whatever makes your boat float.” We were just finishing a case involving a bunch of fools who were spending most of their waking moments selling drugs of one sort or another to bunches of other fools who spent most of their time using them, or taking money from other folks to buy the drugs they used. I made the mistake of asking one of them, “Why???” and received that as an answer. As an “apologia por vita mea” it falls far short of the mark I thought. But, I suppose it beats spending years in school, trying to find out “Why?”

Anyway, “Back to the text!” as the saying goes:

“Truth, in fact, has come to be looked upon as an enemy of modern society because it hints that there is something wrong in our world if truth does in fact exist, something that we can define and act for or against.”

The rest of the bit I am currently chewing on in Fr. Schall’s book talks about Aristotle, a Greek who probably never looked into a filthy pond and thought he had found truth, beauty and a life led in searching for them. Nope! He also mentions Thomas Aquinas:

“Thomas Aquinas often spoke of activities such as holiness, meditation, religion, and devotion. (Gasp!!!) Clearly these in some sense were intended to imply some relation between ourselves and the highest things.”

And then comes the most comforting two sentences, and perhaps the kindest and most reassuring ones I have read in no little while; so gentle and smiling does the good priest make them:

“Aquinas held that there was much in Aristotle that could be legitimately accepted by a believer once he recognized that this “truth” is somehow active in regard to each of us.”

You may, if you wish, imagine bold letters and capitals between the parentheses surrounding that word.

“Indeed, our own highest activities, which we should learn are within us by self-reflection, ought to be related to this truth or reality revealing itself to us through the world to which we are somehow open in our very being and knowledge.”

So sweet, isn’t it?

I remember some sentences from the Catechism I was given in the First Grade at St. John’s School in the Bronx…not far from Fordham where Fr. Schall taught. They were the first two questions and answers in the book:

Who made me? God made me.
Why did God make me? God made me to know Him, love Him and serve Him here on earth and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.

There is a Harbor Master.

He will see you home. Safely.

A letter I wrote a while ago

It was about a typical New England day, and at almost any time of year, too.  I like to write letters:

Dear ————,

I spent a little time today thinking about yesterday, re-living the day. Granted the weather could have been more accommodating, but even that we accepted and got through.  And you made me happy that things were the way they were for them being so. Not that things weren’t already perfect as far as I was concerned, and, it seemed, every last person there; from the oldest, who might have been me, down to the tiny babies. You were just the right gravy for the roast.

I was happy though that it did not snow; although I suspect that would have been just fine. Everything combined to make it a very Catholic event in the middle of a very Irish day. We lacked only a wandering sheep or two, and a dog welcoming itself among us during Mass to make it a perfect Irish day…a thought which kept running through my mind. Having been there I know such things are not unusual.

The truth is Mariellen and I are in no little way in love with the place and its people, those who come and go, and those who are part of the scenery. There is a balm at Thomas More, don’t you know.

So, please accept our thanks for the wonder of your place, and the people in it, and the Spirit that resides there.

Your mention of your coming upon a flower on a cold day during one of your walks made me think of several similar experiences I’ve had, and the promise those sighting made. I had written little things about them, but alas, they are lost, somewhere. After a long search today I found only this:

The Easy Grace of Flowers

I wonder if they would grow in my yard;
Giant Sequoia trees whose dark green tops
Would pierce a passing cloud
And cause a rain full wind to stop.

But no, they’d stand too tall with trunks too round
And their roots would find no room
In New Hampshire’s granite growing ground.
Where, too, in their deep shade would flowers bloom?

What land is here open to caressing sun
Must receive the grace full gift of flowers
So all who walk or wander by each one
Will join the simple office of their hours.

Each single one a memory and prayer
Is meant, and work by living to that end
Proclaiming themselves and you being there.
And to such ordinary work I bend.

The easy grace of flowers at my feet
Easily brings me to my weathered knees.

peg
10-18-08

Thank you,

Peter

PS: A little more than twenty years ago I was following my first grandchild, Mary Catherine, around the yard. She was about two years old. At one point she stopped in her wandering and bent over close to the ground, looking closely at something before her. I stood off and listened as she said, “Oh, little blue flower, I’m so glad you’re here.”

Imagine This!

Some folks may not like this.  So what.

IMAGINE THIS!

I sit here, now, imagining

That nothing was or is.

That nothing ever  mattered

Nor nothing ever will.


Imagine there’s no people

Nor light, nor darkness too,

No time or anything to do.

 

Imagine if there’s never

Nor ever will be you!

Just kill yourself then, Brother

And make it all come true!

 

Oh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhh!

 

It’s just a dream that’s all

And we’re all imagined

Shadows on some wall.

A wall that’s just a shadow

At the bottom of some cave

Where no light’s ever entered

Nor nothing’s made or saved.

 

Oh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhh!

 

Imagine what you cannot do,

Nor never thought, nor never will:

No God, no stars, no planets

No one to love or kill.

 

It’s just the perfect answer

For all the things we love.

Or hate if that’s your fancy.

Below or high above.

 

No heaven high or hell below,

No safe earth in between.

Simply nothing!  That’s the riddle

And the answer, don’t you see,

The Cheshire’s smile does mean.

 

Oh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhh!

 

My song’s about now over;

Well, really not begun.

Never really warbled

And never really sung.

Like a rainstorm in the desert

Or sunshine in the night

Drowning burning devils

In new agonies of fright.

 

Ah, ahhh, ahhh, Hahhh!

 

peg 06/11/2018

 

 

 

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

For a long time I have wondered about her: Mary of Nazareth, Mary the Mother of God.

We were in Nazareth a couple of years ago and I saw the church built over the stream from which she drew water when a young girl, and probably helped her mother with the washing.  That stream running briskly through the church is still a healthy , and clear and clean, and happy swift flowing  thing.  It sings, one might say.

Within two hundred yards down the hillside, on a plaza near a few restaurants, next to an open square near a busy road is a square concrete building; a lumpy thing.  It’s a public building, gated and fenced.  Closed.  Inside the gate, inside the fences, there is a hollow space a few feet below the level of the ground outside.  There’s a sign outside which identifies the gated, closed, barren space as part of the City of Nazareth’s water supply.

Some water supply, filled as it was when we were there with cigarette butts, empty plastic drink cups, bottles and wrappers and the odd pigeon scraping the dust.

I payed no attention to that place when I walked up the hill to the old church to see the well where Mary, the Mother of God and my mother, too, drew water when she was a young girl.  But, I certainly gave it a long look on the way back down the slope; and since.  The day I remember vividly, and I could walk to the place with no difficulty I am sure, since scarcely a day goes by that that whole trip to The Holy Land doesn’t repeat itself in my mind.

And, I wonder.

Here’s why.

Once a week for most of the year Mariellen, my young wife, and I gather here with a few friends to pray, read and speak about matters spiritual, and how they affect our lives.  We read the “lessons” from the previous Sunday’s liturgy, read some paragraphs from a spiritual book written by a good person and reflect on where the two things meet in our minds and hearts, and souls.  We gather under the aegis of a group we all belong to called The Families of Nazareth.  (Ask me sometime!)

Anyway, part of the time spent during this meeting is used to reflect on what we have read, and share our reaction to it; sometime in the form of answers to questions we all get, questions which are really meant as hints or props to help us think; or simply what we have, in fact, had occur to us as we went along.  It’s always interesting, and often very enlightening.  We love the folks who join us.

One thing, though; there is always a question, a prompt if you will, to think about Mary, the Mother of God, as we Catholics and other “un-reformed” Christians refer to her, and how she “fits” into the scheme, the subject, the matter we happen to be considering each week.  How does Mary matter, more or less in this instance or situation?  How may her life, her character, her role in salvation history (or just plain history) make a difference for each one of us, or everyone for that matter?

Tough questions, right?  You bet.  Because almost every week, almost everyone there mumbles their way through something remembered from Mother Mary Holy Picture’s disquisitions about Mary while in the sixth grade, or simply glides over the thing with a whisper and a cough.

Me, too.

Until this morning.

My lovely wife and I were saying our prayers, early.  Well, actually we were together “doing” the Office of Readings, the first of the prayers each day in that thing called the Divine Office.

And today, the light went on.  I read this:

O Lord, my heart is not proud *
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great *
nor marvels beyond me.

Truly I have set my soul *
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother’s arms, *
even so my soul.

It’s from Psalm 131.  I’ve read the thing a hundred times, if not more; and mostly had a “Yadda, yadda, yadda” reaction to it.  Not today, though.

I had two reactions….

The first was this.  I watched the young girl in Nazareth long ago walking up the hill to the stream and it’s cool silver waters.  As she walked she was having that conversation with God, her Father.  Sometimes, I can remember having such conversations the better part of a century ago when I was a simple kid.  But, you know, I outgrew them. It’s only Kid stuff that grownups never need to continue.  That’s what they are: toys for the mind, that should be put away.

But, as I completed those eight lines something changed inside.  I was listening to my “Mother” speaking to me, telling em to repeat the lines…not as a prayer, but simply as a statement of fact.  And I understood, at last, who she was/is, and what she wants of me.

The second strophe spelled it out clearly for me:

I will not enter the house where I live *
nor go to the bed where I rest.
I will give no sleep to my eyes, *
to my eyelids I will give no slumber
till I find a place for the Lord, *
a dwelling for the Strong One of Jacob.

After all, isn’t it only what she did?

And, look what that led to?

Do yourself a favor and go and find the Office of Readings for today, the feast day of Mary, The Mother of God.

That’s one of the places where you can find it.  But, there’s others.  You can even find it in Latin, and about every other language there is, maybe even Eskimo.

Anyway, when you get there, pay special attention to the reading, the excerpt from The Book of Job.  It practically brought a tear to my eye.  Job’s ending is a bit like Scrooge’s ending I sometimes think.

And don’t forget the Second of the two readings, an excerpt from a sermon by a bishop named St. Laurence Justinian.  It’s all good, as they like to say these days, but the last sentence is especially good.

WHITE HEAT

One of my enduring movie memories is of the last scene of White Heat, a Cagney crime epic about an evil little monster; a guy who doesn’t care about anything except getting his, whatever he may think his is, or ought to be his, no matter how he gets it.  I grew up with, went to school with, worked with and arrested guys like the Cagney character.  Is Trua Mor!  The world is full of them.  They come in all sizes and shapes, appearing in the oddest of places, at the strangest of times; and professing, quite often, their friendship and good will.

The Cagney character was not like that.  You knew him for what he was, a bad fellow through and through.  But, it was a piece of fiction, that thing, and Cagney was playing the villain.

I haven’t much more memory of the film than the scene of Cagney atop a huge gas tank screaming out, “Look, Ma, I’m on top of the world!”  He empties his gun into it, and then the thing goes off.  The film ends.  And, I suppose, the world is a much better place.  At least, that’s what we are supposed to conclude.

If my memory is correct, his mother was a foul thing, too, who supported the beast she had borne in all he did. Yes, some mothers are like that, in so many different ways.

This was what I was thinking of while reading an article that appeared today, yesterday, last month, it doesn’t matter, really, in the New York Times.  That rag’s like Poor Johnny One-Note; and Cagney’s character type, an obviously sick and twisted man, rarely appears in it’s many pages; at least not so crudely displayed.  Nevertheless, it appeared to me as I read what I read.  How odd, I remember thinking, I should be thinking of an evil thing destroying himself and the world he was atop.

How odd.

The “gala” in question, which occasions what follows, was something at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City called Heavenly Bodies – Fashion and The Catholic Imagination

Anyway, Ross Douthat wrote the article that The Times printed. He’s a Catholic, and a kind of conservative fellow, if you have never heard of him before; so you would be right in thinking that the article I read was about some bad things being done by good people, and them finally getting a clue that what they were doing was, well, as my Aunt Violet, may she rest in peace, would say, not in good taste.

You would be wrong.  Dreher doesn’t hit them with a forty gun broadside, as he might have. Maybe it’s because he’s writing a piece for the New York Times.  You know the folks who run that thing, and the kind of folks who read it.  They’re like the thing itself, paper, fragile, thin, good mannered and delicate. But, very good for wrapping gifts, or fish; both paper and people.

He does throw a tomato…sort of.  Here, you read it, and tell me what you think.

Cardinal Dolan (Big Tim) was at the “Gala” Dreher writes about, along with a bunch of other swells and usual suspects fiddling while Rome burned right before their eyes.  You can bet Timmy was as hearty and ebullient as ever.  So too was the famous Jesuit James Martin, the twitterer of note, there, mixing with the swells at the orgy.  I imagine him as a butterfly before the flame.  I’ll bet he’s a good dancer, and a “safe” one, too.  He’d probably make a bundle on a cruise ship in the Carib; Mass in the morning and a fox trot with the old babes at night; all good clean fun, ad majoram Dei gloriam, don’t you know.

One other guy had a few words about the whole bloody thing, this Ross Douthat guy who does not write for the NYT.  His reaction to the whole matter is here.

He’s not as sweet on Catholic chic as his colleague, and definitely not as sweet as  the Jesuit journal America, whose reporter gave the event a Vogue treatment.  Of course, what would you want?  It was fashion, really, and culture!  And, fashion and culture in this instance and many another of similar meaning and purpose resemble, for me at least, and a lot of guys I grew up with, nothing so much as Necrotizing Fasciitis.  Faith? Religion? Prayer?

Well, not here.  Not now. Well, possibly with the possible exception of and exclamation about the color of the fabric, the silhouette of the gown, the eyes of the model and how such things got started way long ago; and, well, were really from another more simple age.  So, maybe never.


Many years ago I attended an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in DC.  There was a rare appearance of some painting or other by a Dutch Master, the real painter not the cigar.  Thousands of people lined up to see the thing.  And after a long wait, they did.  So did I, from a distance like the song says.  It was in a big room, and far away; a little thing surrounded by the true believers in beauty, and art and stuff.

I looked, but mostly at the “swells”, and left.  There was a low, almost prayerful murmur from them, and some ever so reverent pushing to get near the “icon”.  But, it was near noon, and I was hungry, and I knew this crowd wasn’t breaking for lunch soon, or possibly anytime when they could huddle, massively, reverently, before a little painting of a young girl, and whisper prayerfully about beauty, talent and genius.

Back in the corridor I struck out for the cafeteria, walking almost alone in that general direction, following my nose, a few other folks, and wondering about what I had just seen, and why I let things like this make me want to throw rotten eggs.  Along the way something caught my eye.  It was behind glass, a small piece just to my left.  I stopped because it was unusual, a cup, a chalice to be exact; a gold chalice covered with jewels.  It was beautiful..  According to the sign it was the chalice of the Abbot Suger, he of the Abbey of Sant Denis over in France.  You’re not sure you recognize the name?  Here, let me help.


Abbot Suger comes to us via 12th century France.  He is responsible for the beginning of Gothic architecture, was Regent of France for a few years when the king, a guy he went to school with at the Abbe of St. Denis, just outside Paris, where he was named the abbot and started the Gothic style while remodling the crumbled old abbey church.  Along with that, he instituted a number of clerical and monastic reforms, bringing them back to a better observance and understanding of what their work as clerics was all about, and why it mattered.  Stuff I have no doubt the Cardinal and the dancing Jesuit I mention above are, no doubt, much better able to discuss than I will ever be.

I thought about Suger, his chalice imprisoned now in a little niche in a museum filled with trinkets, baubles, stuff and well dressed gawkers.  I felt sorry, really, for that lovely chalice behind the glass then, somewhat in the same way that sorrow came over me when reading about the “dress up” at the other museum in New York.  And, I wondered most recently if that fellow whose sacramental blood that imprisoned chalice once held would have schmoozed with all the “big players”, or would he have done something like he did in His “Father’s House” long ago.

I have been thinking about that chalice imprisoned behind glass in a cell along a corridor in Washington; thinking about it and crowds swirling around a tiny painting only yards away, and the other crowds, the ones playing “dress up”, and smiling, glad handing Cardinals, and slithering priests in a well organized and very, very expensive mockery of the good, true and beautiful; all of it in the name of that most frivolous and ephemeral and essentially useless thing: Fashion.


Back to Cagney and gas tanks, and suicidal explosions…  I can’t get over the fact that there is a connection in my mind among the White Heat scene, the violent, spectacular suicide…the anti-hero’s chosen reward, the pinnacle of his career…the humbling imprisonment in what is literally a hole in the wall of a sacred work of art from the age which gave birth to the beauty of Catholic worship, and the beauty of gothic art and architecture….and the parody of faith, art, and worship at that “thing” in the museum.  

One museum reduces a beautiful instrument of faith to an afterthought, a comma in its story of civilization, when it is actually the vessel of salvation, more precious for its use, and beauty, more sacred to memory than every museum in every place.  

The other fills itself with fools, and their foolish pastimes.

Well, there are museums, and there are museums.  In one sense they might be thought of as very classy garbage dumps, or attics where are stored things like the cup Grandma Squonk kept her uppers in every night.  That’s right alongside Uncle George’s old Victrola, and the bell clapper from Berry Lane Methodist; all that was left after the fire.

And, then there is the other kind: daring, edgy, popular, filled with all of the things that have altered and illuminated, or will, the tired, the bored and the blind; things like a jeroboam of urine containing a Crucifix, or “The Holy Virgin Mary” , the real title of an ugly eight fool tall horror covered in elephant dung worth somewhere in the millions.  

Of things like this are such evenings made which capture the presence and approval of our high and popular clergy, all the right people and the madding crowd ever in search of something new, something fascinating.

No wonder, then, the churches are empty, while the dance floor is filled, while the cocktails never run dry; nor does the wine steward need ever worry.

Perhaps the only true thing is found in the fiction of the film, the only honest thing. There we learn again the rewards of frivolity, of “chic” and eventually of sin and evil; in the end death, always.

Memento mori. Vita brevis breviter in brevi finietur.

ps: By the way, one can get a pretty good knockoff of the chalice for $62.73 from Walmart.  I might just send one to His Eminence Timmy, The Cardinal Archbishop of The Big Apple. He could use it while doing that thing Catholics do.