Thursday, July 31, 2008

Psychosomatic Symptoms

For this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend," here is Alexandra Heinen a.k.a. "MissBroadwayDork" with "Adelaide's Lament" from "Guys and Dolls":

Hat-tip: Anthony Johnson

Sweetbread and Whips

Maureen Dowd worked this great line into her latest NYT column about Senator Obama:

... it sounded like a skit with Ali G, sitting on a settee, talking to Madam Chancellor, the “Iron Frau,” about whips.

You'll have to read the column for context.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thank you, NJ!

I want to express my thanks to the West Essex Catholic Young Adults for asking me to join them last night for their Theology on Tap at the Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell, NJ.

A special thanks to their coordinator, Rosemary Azzaro, for the invitation. Congratulations on the excellent turn-out!

I was honored to speak about the presidential election, political engagement and "Faithful Citizenship" -- especially in such a relaxed, welcoming setting.

It also was great to see Sr. Loretta DeDomenicis from the Archdiocese of Newark Youth & Young Adult Ministry Office. I first met this Salesian dynamo when she was working at Mary, Help of Christians Parish in Manhattan in the '90s. Members of the Newman Club at NYU, led by Maria Shapiro, sometimes assisted with programs for Sr. Loretta's youth group at the parish.

I'm grateful, as well, to my buds Anthony and Heather for heading over from Teaneck for the occasion -- and to Tom Lauria for the lift back to the PATH station in Hoboken.

I met Tom last year on the Busted Halo retreat.

Boycott Hasbro

For the record, I'm seriously bummed about Scrabulous being blocked for Facebook users in the U.S. and Canada. I had four active games still in play!

My last "scrabble" was with LEGALESE about two weeks ago. 59 points. I believe my all-time best play was a "scrabble" with the word TRANSOM. If memory serves, that earned me 84 points.

I may boycott Hasbro over this.

The screen capture above is from here.


Back in December, 2006, I did a post on a Christmas shopping trip to the Washington Mall just outside of Washington, PA.

In the post, I mentioned the impending move of the mall's longtime J.C. Penney anchor store to a new location nearby. The move did take place.

But, in an article published Saturday, the Observer-Reporter's Mike Bradwell reported that Penney's is going home (at least for a while).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Only in God

Yesterday, Molly and her parental units came into town for a special Mass celebrated by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on East 90th Street. (Molly's Godmother is a postulant with the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal.)

At the Mass, seven of the friars professed their perpetual vows. It was a very moving thing to witness.

During the "embratio," the choir sang the beautiful song "Only in God" (based on Psalm 62).

Here is "Only in God" as sung by its composer, John Michael Talbot:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Kingdom of Heaven

In the Gospel at Mass today, Jesus explains the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven (a.k.a. the "Kingdom of God" or "Reign of God").

From Matthew Chapter 13:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.

"Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

“Do you understand all these things?”

They answered, “Yes.”

And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008


Enough to turn your stomach:

From an editorial in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer:

Meanwhile, the beauty queen continues to get paid. Bertugli - crowned Miss Rain Day 2001 at a Greene County beauty pageant - was 21 in 2004 when she met DeWeese's former chief of staff, Michael Manzo, 35, at a bar. They shared drinks and then had a tryst in a car.

The following year the beauty queen was given a state job as a researcher in a field office above a cigar store in Pittsburgh. By 2006, her salary jumped 42 percent to $30,000, plus she got a $7,000 bonus.

Bertugli remains on the state payroll, and now makes $45,344. DeWeese defended her employment because she cooperated with investigators and told the truth.

So to sum up: A beauty queen given a state job in return for sex remains on the public payroll. But Shaffer, the whistleblower who alerted prosecutors to his boss' family hires, remains out of work.

That in a nutshell sums up how a number of elected representatives conduct taxpayers' business in Harrisburg.

Aunt Rita

It turns out that the Steelers have an Aunt Rita. And she's not selling.

From Luis Fabregas' article in the Trib:

McGinley, who guards her age better than most linemen protect their quarterback, knows her name doesn't carry the clout of the Rooneys but is intent on keeping her share of the team partly controlled by her nephews. Altogether, the McGinleys own 20 percent of the team.

"I'm going to say no," McGinley said Thursday when asked if she'd consider selling her share. "I think there should be something left of what my father did. He was always very active with the team."

The Tribune-Review photo above is credited to Andrew Russell.


Tribune-Review reporter Dave Brown penned a story in Wednesday's paper with more on the dirty deeds of the PA House Democrats.

One particularly disgusting graph:

In 2006, Manzo sent Angela Bertugli, a part-time caucus employee, to work in the campaign of Democrat Chelsa Wagner, who won the House seat from Diven, the grand jury report states. Bertugli, allegedly hired because she agreed to have sex with Manzo, went off the state payroll while working in the campaign but retained her benefits, the report adds. Bertugli received $7,065 in state bonuses for 2006.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On Jupiter and Mars

How about an old Sinatra hit for this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend"?

Here's Anthony Johnson with "Fly Me to the Moon."


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Picture it: Sicily…"

In memory of Estelle Getty, a.k.a. Sophia Petrillo, who died yesterday a few days shy of her 85th birthday:

Mamma Mia!

I have been remiss in mentioning that, Saturday night, we checked out the new film adaptation of the Broadway musical "Mamma Mia!".

It's the one with the ABBA songs.

Check out this smart New York Times review of the movie by A.O. Scott. He sums it up well:

You can have a perfectly nice time watching this spirited adaptation of the popular stage musical and, once the hangover wears off, acknowledge just how bad it is.

I do disagree with one part of Scott's review. This wasn't the worst performance of Meryl Streep's career. That was "She Devil." Streep is actually a pretty good vocalist.

Pierce Brosnan, on the other hand, was a poor casting choice. U.N. conventions should be passed assuring he will never again sing in a major motion picture.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is Anti-Catholicism Dead?

This evening, I attended an interesting panel discussion at the Museum of the City of New York on the topic: "Is Anti-Catholicism Dead?". The event was held in conjunction with the museum's special exhibit "Catholics in New York 1808 - 1946."

The panel included moderator Paul Baumann, the editor of Commonweal; Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things; Peter Steinfels, writer of the "Beliefs" column in The New York Times; author and politico George Marlin; and two professors: Sr. Mary C. Boys of Union Theological Seminary and James McCartin of Seton Hall University.

I give the museum a great deal of credit for bringing together a panel that bridged what could perhaps be called the liberal - conservative divide in American Catholicsm: Baumann and Steinfels being leading liberal or "progressive" Catholics and Neuhaus and Marlin being noted "conservative" Catholics. I say this while acknowledging that these labels are neither helpful nor accurate in all contexts.

The panelists agreed that Anti-Catholicism is not dead but certainly less a presence in American life than it was during the era of the Know Nothing Party or even the 1960 Presidential Election. They explored the roots of Anti-Catholicism in the United States that stem from the religious wars and philosophical debates of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The panelists also discussed the clerical sexual abuse scandal and its impact on how Americans view Catholicism today.

The photo above is featured in "Catholics in New York 1808 - 1946." Caption: Sachems of Tammany Hall, 1929, including Mayor James J. Walker and Governor Alfred E. Smith.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Your Tax Dollars At Work

While we're on the subject of the misdeeds of the Democratic caucus in the PA House of Representatives, it's important to note this article that ran in Sunday's Post-Gazette.

From Dennis Roddy and Tracie Mauriello:

As the pivotal 2006 legislative election season began, top Democratic House aides, using state resources, undertook a wide-ranging opposition research campaign into both Democratic and Republican office seekers, e-mails show.

The project was spearheaded by Eric Webb, director of the Democratic Office of Member Services, who, on Jan. 31, sent e-mails to state employees advising them to begin digging up information on 35 declared and potential candidates for the state House.

The Democrats spent tax dollars to dig up dirt on their political opponents, notably the candidates endorsed by PA CleanSweep. Yours truly was one of those 2006 opponents.

I wonder if I can see their "Snatchko" file. It likely contains some of the dirt the Democrats threw in October of that year after I had taken a clean campaign pledge.

Confidential memo to all my Democratic friends: You know I love ya. But, remember, when it comes to down-ticket races, many of the local Democratic politicians are not the kind of people you want anywhere near public office. Check them out thoroughly before you give them your vote just because they have a D next to their names.

Cowardly Lion

Observer-Reporter Night Editor Brant Newman has a post at his blog on the calls for PA House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese to resign his leadership position in the wake of "Bonus-gate."

Brant specifically addresses that apparent lack of guts on the part of one state representative from Washington County.

Money quote:

If our state legislators ever do a dinner-theater performance of "The Wizard of Oz," I'd like to suggest our own Rep. Jesse White for the role of the Cowardly Lion.

Hat-tip: Cousin Luke

The image above is from

Morning Has Broken

I think we might need a little something to get the gears moving on this mid-summer Monday morning.

Here via YouTube is "Morning Has Broken":

Or, perhaps, a version with bells from Scotland ...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pennsylvania Oil Town

Below is a video clip that I randomly found on YouTube this weekend. It claims to be the text of an 1892 magazine article about a year or so in the early history of my hometown of McDonald, PA. The article looked at the discovery of oil in the town and the ensuing melee.

Check it out:

The clip is overly dramatic but generally accurate, I think. McDonald was an "oil town" for a very brief period of time. But, this period did put the community on the map and is responsible for some of the stately buildings and homes that still exist today along Lincoln Avenue.

Grassroots Movement

I am humbled by this out-pouring of support:

Hat-tip: Deacon Greg

A New Upper Room

Below are two snips from Pope Benedict XVI's homily at the final Mass of World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia.

... I have come to confirm you, my young brothers and sisters, in your faith and to encourage you to open your hearts to the power of Christ's Spirit and the richness of his gifts. I pray that this great assembly, which unites young people "from every nation under heaven" (cf. Acts 2:5), will be a new Upper Room. May the fire of God's love descend to fill your hearts, unite you ever more fully to the Lord and his Church, and send you forth, a new generation of apostles, to bring the world to Christ! ...

... Dear young people, let me now ask you a question. What will you leave to the next generation? Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure? Are you living your lives in a way that opens up space for the Spirit in the midst of a world that wants to forget God, or even rejects him in the name of a falsely-conceived freedom? How are you using the gifts you have been given, the "power" which the Holy Spirit is even now prepared to release within you? What legacy will you leave to young people yet to come? What difference will you make? ...

Today's New York Times has a report on WYD.

Hat-tip: Whispers for the text and photo. Rocco credits the photo to AP/Mark Baker.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

More from Down Under

Here is a video clip of Mike at the World Youth Day vigil in Australia:


I have been reading today about the "Bonus-gate" scandal back in Pennsylvania and State Rep. Matt Smith's call for the resignation of House Leader Bill DeWeese (D - 50) from his leadership post.

I am tempted to weigh in on the question -- notably on the apparent lack of guts by a certain member of the PA House from Washington County.

But, I hesitate as there may be parts of the story that I don't know since I am not on the scene.

So, I'll leave it at this. Voters in Pennsylvania's 50th Legislative District:

Throw that arrogant bum out this November! You can make a better choice!

Vote for Greg Hopkins:

The Communion of Saints

It is the very model of a modern YouTube video:

Hat-tip: A Concord Pastor

Brews & Fellowship

And, very much in the spirit of World Youth Day ...

The West Essex Young Adults are doing some promotions for their upcoming Theology on Tap. It's slated for Monday evening, July 28, at Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell, N.J.

I'm very honored to be speaking that night, opining on those two things you are supposed to avoid in polite conversation: religion and politics.

Please join us that night if you're in northern Joisey and in the mood for some brews and fellowship.

WYD '08: Wish I was there!

I regret not posting more this week about everything taking place in Australia for World Youth Day. I certainly wish I was there!

It looks like Mike has been having a great week covering the scene for Busted Halo. In one of his posts, he talked about his discernment of a call to be a permanent deacon (like Deacon Greg).

I also have been impressed with the Love and Life Site sponsored by the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus.

For full coverage of the WYD '08 happenings and the text of B16's homilies and remarks, head over to Whispers in the Loggia.

I think it is very cool that the pope has been texting the pilgrims! According to a Zenit News Service report, one of the text messages read:

"The spirit impels us 4ward 2wards others; the fire of his love makes us missionaries of God's charity. See u tomorrow nite - BXVI."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Glenn Gould

Per the request of FOP* Heidi Price (in the comments of the previous post), this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend" will take a decidedly classical turn with a performance by the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982).

The most "peaceful" part begins at the 5:50 mark.


* Friend 'o Paul

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Centennial

In my lifetime, I have been blessed to have three living great-grandparents. But, only one of the three was a great-grandfather: Joseph Martin Vincenti. He was the father of my maternal grandmother, Dolores Hoag.

Today, July 17, 2008, is the centennial of Joe Vincenti's birth.

It's a milestone of sorts as "Pap Pap Vincenti" was the first member of my grandmother's family to be born in the United States. He came into the world on July 17, 1908, the son of Dominick and Catherine Vicari Vincenti, immigrants from northern Italy / southern Austria. (He was the first of their five children.)

While Joe died in October, 1983, when I was just seven-years-old, I do have some foggy memories of him as a friendly and generous old man.

Many of these memories involve his small business, Vincenti's Service Station, which he operated with his wife, Mary, and later with their son, Donald. It was the place to get gasoline in the small village of Primrose, on the road between the boroughs of McDonald and Midway, PA.

The service station sold Mobil Oil products so that company's distinctive red Pegasus emblem (shown here) prominently adorned the building's facade for decades.

The service station also sold milk, bread and some other food staples (and I think candy, too). It was another one of those places where the old men of the neighborhood would gather on a bench and visit.

Joe was originally a coal miner like so many others in that part of Western Pennsylvania in the 1920s and '30s. He went into the service station business after his father was killed in a mining accident in 1937. When the management refused to make safety improvements, Joe got out of the mines.

He also later served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was in his early 30s when the call up came -- considered to be an old age for military service at that time. (About the age yours truly is today.)

An aside: One of the garages at Vincenti's Service Station served for many years as the polling place for the residents of Mt. Pleasant Township's 2nd precinct. Perhaps that is one of the ancestral sources of my political bug.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Their Jesus?

Sully has posted another great passage from Merton:

What about the men who run around the countryside painting signs that say "Jesus saves" and "Prepare to meet God"? Have you ever seen one of them? I have not, but I often try to imagine them, and I wonder what goes on in their minds. Strangely, their signs do not make me think of Jesus, but of them. Or perhaps it is "their Jesus" who gets in the way and makes all thought of Jesus impossible. They wish to force their Jesus upon us, and He is perhaps only a projection of themselves. They seem to be at times threatening the world with judgement and at other times promising it mercy. But are they asking simply to be loved and recognized and valued, for themselves?

In any case, their Jesus is quite different from mine. But because their concept is different, should I reject it with horror, with distaste? If I do, perhaps I reject something in my own self that I no longer recognize to be there. And in any case, if I can tolerate their Jesus then I can accept and love them. Or I can at least conceive of doing so.

Let not their Jesus be a barrier between us, or they will be a barrier between us and Jesus.

I often wonder about this same question as I walk through Union Square Park and pass by the Christian preachers trying to convert the skater kids and others milling about the south end of the park at 14th Street. Last Friday, one of them was using a megaphone. On previous occasions, they have been miked.

It's not how I evangelize. But, does that make it bad?

(I do not know the creator of the Merton painting above. It's on-line in a few different places, including here.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In Memoriam: Bob Clark, 1926 - 2008

I received word yesterday of the death last week of Bob Clark, another one of the great old-timers from my hometown of McDonald, PA. He was 81.

Bob was one of two brothers who operated Clark's Barber Shop for half a century on South McDonald Street. Bob was a kind and soft-spoken man known for giving short haircuts. His brother, Harry, would leave it a little longer.

Their shop was a friendly place where men of all ages talked about golf, hunting, fishing and current events both local and national.

I went to Clark's for haircuts from the time I was a kid through my college years. My late grandfather, John Hoag, went there, too.

Clark's is closed now. It is my understanding that the new barber who took over the shop has moved to another location in town. The shop is now just another empty storefront (at least it was the last time I drove by in June).

End of an era.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Sower

The Gospel at Mass this Sunday showed us Christ explaining the purpose of parables and, in particular, the Parable of the Sower.

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.

Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore.

And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached him and said,“Why do you speak to them in parables?”

He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

The painting above is "The Sower" by Vincent Van Gogh. I spied it at A Concord Pastor.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shakespeare in Jersey

Saturday, after the parish picnic at Mount Paul in Oak Ridge, NJ, I stayed in the Garden State for the evening.

I joined Rosemary Azzaro and the crew from the West Essex Young Adult Ministry for a picnic followed by a performance of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)," a comical summary of The Bard's works performed at an outdoor Greek theater at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown.

I joked my attendance was a "pre-screening" of sorts. The West Essex group has invited me to be their speaker on Monday, July 28, for a Theology on Tap presentation entitled: "Faith in Politics?" I'll be speaking about political engagement and the presidential race in the context of the U.S. Bishops' document "Faithful Citizenship." The TOT will be held at the Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell beginning around 7 p.m. (If you are in that part of the world and you're free that night, please join us!)

The play was fun -- and it was certainly enjoyable in an outdoor amphitheater built into a hillside (despite noise from fireworks in the distance and that of planes overhead going to and from a nearby airport).

Here are some promotional shots from The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey:

Discord in the Family

I don't know what rock I have been living under the past week but I somehow missed the news that there is discord among the Rooney family, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I only heard the bad news yesterday while eating lunch at the Mount Paul Retreat Center in Oak Ridge, NJ, during St. Paul the Apostle Church's parish picnic there. It came up when, in conversation, one of the Paulist Fathers heard I was from the Pittsburgh area.

Robert Dvorchak has the story in today's Post-Gazette. His lead:

When a tight-knit Catholic clan like the Rooneys generates headlines related to the family business, which happens to be the highest profile venture in town and one of the most storied franchises in sports, an Irish sense of humor helps to keep things in perspective.

"My brother ordered me not to say anything," said Art Rooney Jr. as news cycles churned out story after story last week about internal issues and brother Dan's role in restructuring the Steelers' ownership. "So what do you want to know?"

It was his way of saying that none of the five strong-willed sons of a street-savvy NFL pioneer had to be reminded of the line in "The Godfather" about never going against the family in public, but that anything less than a fair resolution would be unacceptable, for the sake of their children and their children's children.

This is sad news for Western Pennsylvania's economic future and sports scene. A long-time source of stability is no longer stable.

An aside: It wasn't until I started working in Yonkers last year that I learned the Rooney Family owned the racetrack and slots parlor here.

The chart above is from the Post-Gazette.

Mike in Sydney

Mike Hayes, a friend from St. Paul the Apostle Church, has arrived in Australia to cover World Youth Day for Busted Halo. Check out his blog, Googling God, for all the latest.

Here's Mike in a great shot overlooking the opera house in the Sydney harbor:

Haze has some coverage, too.


As much as I want to support the pro-life candidate in this year's race for the White House, a stupid quote like this one from today's New York Times makes it difficult:

“I don’t e-mail, I’ve never felt the particular need to e-mail,” Mr. McCain said.

Sully wonders if Senator McCain is an alien. Caveman might be more accurate.

Meghan, can you please have a talk with your father?

Business Mistake & Spiritual Error

I am incredibly disappointed to report that the YouTube videos featuring Thomas Merton that I have uploaded to this blog will no longer be functional for readers who go to those posts in the archives.

The creator of the videos, Chad from Journeys 2008, provides an explanation here.

As the marketing manager for a publishing house, I fully understand the importance of protecting a copyright. Permissions need to be formally obtained, licensing fees paid when appropriate, etc.

But, in this case, I believe Credence Communications is making a both business mistake and a spiritual error (dare I say a sin?).

They are making it difficult for a wider audience to hear Thomas Merton's insights on how we can come more fully into a life with God. Instead of asking Chad to remove the videos from Journeys2008, they should have asked him to credit them, promote their Website and make more videos -- probably increasing their business.

Don't threaten the guy. Put him on your payroll!

If you check out Chad's video, you'll see that he's pretty hard on himself. In time, I hope he realizes all the good that he has done.

My hunch? From a viewpoint in heaven, Thomas Merton loves Chad's YouTube videos. I bet he loves them for being engaging, at times fun and for bringing to life so many themes on the nature of man and his relationship with God.

Chad, thank you for introducing Thomas Merton on YouTube and to a new generation. I will pray for the people who want to put him back in their old-media box.

The image above is from the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University.

UPDATE (Tuesday, July 15, 12:37 a.m.): Looks like I may have jumped the gun on this one. The head of Credence Communications has posted a comment at Journeys2008 indicating that they did not authorize the cease and desist letter. He indicates that it may have been a third party that works with them that had the letter sent. They are looking into it. The best part of his post: "... as long as you were not selling the audio, we would have not had any issue. We may have even suggested a link to our site."

UPDATE (Saturday, July 19, 3:14 p.m.):
Looks like that letter was a hoax altogether. My apologies to Credence Communications for being critical before I did further investigation. The good news is that Chad says he is going to restore the clips.

Ave Maria

I have been remiss this weekend in promptly posting a "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend."

So, since it's already Sunday morning, here is a clip on the religious side: the beautiful "Ave Maria" by the German composer Franz Biebl (1906 - 2001) as performed by Chanticleer.


Hat-tip: A Concord Pastor

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New Seeds

Andrew Sullivan has been reading Thomas Merton on the beach.

Merton from "New Seeds of Contemplation":

A man cannot be a perfect Christian - that is, a saint - unless he is also a communist. That means that he must either give up all right to possess anything at all, or else only use what he himself needs, of the goods that belong to him, and administer the rest for other men and for the poor: and in his determination of what he needs he must be governed to a great extent by the gravity of the needs of others. ...

If Christians had lived up to the Church's teaching about property and poverty there would never have been any occasion for the spurious communism of the Marxists and all the rest - whose communism starts out by denying other men the right to own property.


... this is why the cooptation of Christianity for various forms of socialism and redistributionism - Obama's tendency - is worrying to me. Because it isn't about encouraging charity; it is about the enforcement of "charity" by the strong hand of the state. And in so far as it forcibly takes people's property from them, it also diminishes their capacity for real charity.

Now, saints are very rare.

And the kind of voluntary communism of which Merton speaks likely only in monasteries and religious orders. In the world as it is, there should be some mandatory public provision for the poor, the sick and the indigent. But it should be a safety-net to avoid specific social evils, not a system of redistribution to construct some notion of "social justice" ... In the end, the social Gospel can make Christianity less, rather than more, likely. The state cannot experience faith; and it cannot express charity. Only individuals can. One by one.

The drawing of Merton above is from here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Wackness

Sunday night, I headed down to the Angelika Film Center to check out "The Wackness." It's a new movie about the summer of 1994 in the life of a young man living in Manhattan who just graduated from high school.

I mostly checked it out because I too was once a young man who had just graduated from high school in that beautiful, hazy summer of '94.

Hear that fellow 30-somethings? It's a nostalgia movie just for us. With a soundtrack largely of early rap, "The Wackness" takes us back to the days of mixed tapes and bangs.

"The Wackness," written and directed by Jonathan Levine, isn't going to win any Academy Awards but it was decent. Check out this New York Times review for background.

The film's biggest name actor is the great Ben Kingsley who plays a pot-smoking psychiatrist in the midst of a mid-life crisis. I can't decide whether he was an asset or a liability -- mostly because of his constantly shifting accent. (Was he supposed to be a New Yorker or a Brit?)

But, Kingsley was quite good in his scenes with the aforementioned high school graduate played by Josh Peck (who is both his patient and pot dealer). The growth of their relationship is the best part of the movie. (Although, we've seen the psychiatrist - young patient relationship done better before. Think "Good Will Hunting.")

Olivia Thirlby (probably best known as the friend in "Juno") plays the female love interest. She ably pulls off the role of the teenage ice queen who briefly hangs out with the class outcast.

In fact, she provides the vocabulary for the movie's title when she tells Peck's character (comparing their outlooks on life):

“I look at the dopeness. You look at the wackness.”

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Two Black Communities

Coming back on the A train from Queens this afternoon, after the final Mass at St. Benedict Joseph Labre Church, I read Yale Law Professor Stephen L. Carter's op-ed in today's New York Times.

Carter's topic is affirmative action in college admissions. The piece is headlined "Affirmative Distraction."

Some interesting graphs:

It’s true that, nowadays, some of the data on racial progress are rosy, and deserving of celebration. In the past decade alone, according to the Census Bureau, the number of black adults with advanced degrees has nearly doubled. More than half a million more black students are in college today than in the early 1990s. Since 1989, the median income of black families has increased more than 16 percent in constant dollars. In the years since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, the black-white gap in test scores has narrowed, and is now smaller than it has ever been. The black middle class has never been larger.

For the first time, a major party is going to nominate an African-American candidate for president.

But it’s also true that income stratification among African-Americans has increased, and the gap between the well-off and the poor is growing. One in three black students fails to finish high school, and nearly all of those who don’t graduate are poor. Rates of violent crime are falling nationally, but the murder rate among young black men has risen sharply. America has two black communities, really, and one of them is falling further and further behind.

NYTimes graphic above credited to Oliver Munday.

Find Rest

This weekend, it's my honor to be giving the annual mission appeal at the Masses at St. Benedict Joseph Labre Church in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens. The mission I'm appealing for is the International Movement of Catholic Students.

I had never been to Richmond Hill before. It's a last stop (Lefferts Blvd.) on the NYC Subway's A train. It's a very diverse neighborhood, notably home to many Sikhs.

According to its acting pastor, Fr. Thomas Gilbert, the Catholic parish in Richmond Hill is the only one in the country under the patronage of St. Benedict Joseph Labre (pictured above). He was a French mendicant who lived from 1748 to 1783.

The Gospel at Mass today is about the nature of the Holy Trinity and the reassurance of life in Christ.

From Matthew Chapter 11:

At that time Jesus exclaimed:

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Saturday, July 05, 2008

36 Hours in the 'Burgh

The New York Times spent 36 hours in Pittsburgh. Writer Jeff Schlegel's money quote:

... this city of 89 distinct neighborhoods is a cool and — dare I say, hip—city. There are great restaurants, excellent shopping, breakthrough galleries and prestigious museums. The convergence of three rivers and surrounding green hills also make it a surprisingly pretty urban setting. And if the Pirates are in town, head over to PNC Park. Besides the game, the ballpark offers a great excuse to explore downtown Pittsburgh and the river views.

The photo above is by Jeff Swensen.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Happy Independence Day!

In celebration, here are some clips from "1776":

Flashback: President's Day.


So, while I am missing the festivities back in my old Western PA stomping grounds, tonight was eventful here in NYC.

Maria T. Shapiro Brown, another old friend from the NYU Newman Club, was in town Thursday competing in the Manhattan DanceSport Championships. They are being held this week at the "Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge" in Downtown Brooklyn.

I had the chance to watch Maria and her dancing partner, Jonathan, compete in a pro/am round that included four Latin dances (cha cha, samba, rumba and jive). They were awesome.

In 2003, Maria (a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts), and her husband, Dave, opened Paper Moon Dance Center in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

I haven't had the chance to visit yet but, from all I hear and see on its Website, it seems to be an amazing place.

Missing McSummerfest

I wasn't able to make it back to my hometown of McDonald, PA, this week for "McSummerfest," the McDonald Volunteer Fire Department's annual week-long festival held around Independence Day. I'm sorry to be missing it. McSummerfest is always a great place to reconnect with old friends and neighbors.

I have it on good authority that earlier tonight (Thursday) a large crowd gathered in Heritage Park around the McSummerfest stage for a concert by the great Pittsburgh band The Clarks.

So, for this week's "YouTube clip for a peaceful weekend," here are The Clarks with "Shimmy Low" and "Maybe."


Thursday, July 03, 2008

McCain at Guadalupe

Senator John McCain is in Mexico today. Luis Acosta of AFP/Getty captured this image of him visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe:

To see a larger version of this photo, go to Andrew Sullivan.

I wonder if Senator McCain appreciates the significance of Guadalupe for the Mexican people and for all Catholics in the Western Hemisphere. I hope so. I hope this was more for him than just another stop on the day's campaign itinerary.

From the Arizona Republic report on the visit:

At the Basilica he was accompanied by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Behind the basilica's massive altar, McCain laid a wreath of roses below an Indian tunic upon which Mary's image was miraculously imprinted during one of the visions.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Scud Missile to Secularism

Speaking of The Anchoress, my gig received two hat-tips from her today in a thought-provoking post on how belief in the Incarnation changes your life.

Key graphs:

It is hard to move out of our comfort zones and let go of our own illusion (or delusion) that we have a great deal of control over things, that we are masters of our own little universes, accountable to no one and nothing. We don’t want anyone or anything getting between us and what we want, or messing up our perceptions of individual omnipotence and autonomy. And we certainly do hate the idea of having to answer to anyone, especially to One who is perfect.

So, the woman I knew could not allow “doubt” to enter into her secularist comfort zone and risk it being blown all to pieces. To accept the notion that a Creator God would do the unthinkable and actually join his Creation, in flesh, in poverty, in helplessness - not as a mighty ruler, but as a vulnerable baby, to accept only that part the Christian narrative would act as a scud missile to secularism, leaving a sizable crater of doubt.

The secularist/relativistic view has a surprising disdain for doubt. Surprising because ‘doubt’ is part and parcel of relativism. Everything is to be doubted, then, except doubt, itself. Don’t doubt secularism.

Overmanaged and Overhandled

The Anchoress had a smart observation in a post yesterday:

I’m getting a sense that both candidates - but Barack Obama, much more so - are being overmanaged and overhandled. Barack Obama seems to spend a part of every day either distancing himself from seals and supporters ... while McCain is so busy playing everything down he seems almost moribund.

I agree. Authenticity, please!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Lead a Peace March, Lead the Rosary

John Allen, the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, focused his column last Friday on the Paulist Fathers' recent 150th Anniversary convocation in Washington, D.C.

Allen reports the on-target advice that Father Ron Rolheiser, O.M.I., gave to the Paulists.

It's a much-need call to move beyond intra-Church divisions:

... Rolheiser’s presentation to the Paulists was devoted to what he called “setting our ecclesial gauges” correctly in the new century now dawning. Specifically, he offered a list of “Ten Commandments” for Catholic life today, with a bit of commentary on each.

(1) Be Beyond Ideology

Rolheiser urged his audience to position themselves “beyond liberal, beyond conservative” -- in other words, to “have an unlisted number” with respect to the ideological infighting in Catholicism that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Instead, Rolheiser advised being “women and men of faith and compassion,” going wherever those instincts may lead.

In that regard, Rolheiser noted the irony that two of the most popular, and most controversial, movies of 2004 were both from filmmakers with a Catholic background: Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” It’s remarkable, Rolheiser said, that Catholicism can contain both of these ways of seeing the world, “though not often in the same person.”

Setting one’s gauges correctly, Rolheiser suggested, involves being able to see both the wisdom and the defects of each of the Catholic sensibilities expressed in those two movies -- and many others beyond them.

(2) Incarnate both the Kenotic and the Triumphant Christ

The “kenotic” Christ, Rolheiser explained, is the Christ of humility and suffering (from the Greek word kenosis, for “emptiness”), while the triumphant Christ is the Christ of glory. The contrast between these two images, he said, forms “one of the great archetypal tensions in the church today.”

Christians often appear divided between these two poles, Rolheiser said, as if it’s a matter of choosing one or the other. Instead, he said, Christian life needs both.

“Don’t be afraid to be everything,” he counseled, “and don’t be afraid to be nothing.”

(3) Be for the Marginalized without being Marginalized Yourself

Sometimes, Rolheiser said, Christians who emphasize service to those on the margins -- the poor, those alienated from the church, and so on -- tend to end up marginalized themselves, stressing the need to “speak truth to power” to such an extent that they drift out of the mainstream.

In the end, he argued, doing so undercuts the effectiveness of one’s ministry. The trick, he suggested, is to be an effective voice for the margins but from the heart of one’s own community.

(4) Be Leaders without being Elitist

Rolheiser said leadership is badly needed in today’s world, and Christians with a clear vision shouldn’t be afraid to strike out in bold new directions. At the same time, however, he suggested it’s important not to lose contact with the grass roots.

“Be led by the artists, but listen to the street,” he advised.

Later, a member of the audience asked Rolheiser how to strike the right balance. His advice was rather than seeking to construct abstract theories about leadership, the best thing to do is to observe effective leaders in action. In virtually every case, he said, you’ll see a deft combination of personal vision and yet deep sensitivity to the rhythms and perspectives of the community.

(5) Be Iconoclastic and Pious at the Same Time

Rolheiser quoted the great German scripture scholar Ernst Kasemann to the effect that the problem with modern Christianity is that, “the liberals are impious, and the pious aren’t liberal.” The trick, Rolheiser said, is having the capacity both to “smash idols” and to “kneel in reverence,” depending upon what the moment demands.

“It’s the two together that make the great heart,” Rolheiser said.

(6) Be Equally Committed to Social Justice and Intimacy with Jesus

A balanced Catholic, Rolheiser argued, should be ready both “to lead a peace march and to lead the rosary.” As an example, Rolheiser offered Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Too often, Rolheiser suggested, Catholics tend to choose between social activism and a deep spiritual life, when in fact the two belong together.

(7) Be Thoroughly in the World, even as You are Rooted Elsewhere

Quoting the life of a saint Rolheiser said he’d once come across, he called upon his audience to accept a life of “tortured complexity.” In part, he said, this means a thorough immersion in modern culture, and yet a capacity to allow one’s deepest sense of belonging and identity to be shaped by sources outside that culture.

(8) Ponder as Mary Did

Another way of putting this bit of counsel, Rolheiser said, is to “eat the tension that’s around you.”

Rolheiser warned that sometimes the Mary of popular Catholic devotion threatens to obscure the Mary of Scripture. He noted that Mary is the only figure in the New Testament described as “pondering” the words and deeds of Christ; typically, his disciples and the crowds are said to have been “amazed.”

“Amazement,” Rolheiser said, is akin to an electrical current -- all it does is transmit energy. “Ponder,” on the other hand, he compared to a water purifier. It “carries, holds and transforms” what enters it, so that it comes out more pure.

At the foot of the cross, Rolheiser said, Mary wasn’t simply “amazed” by the suffering of her son, a response that might have led to a lust for vengeance. Instead, she “pondered” it, so that hate was transformed into grace and love.

“We need ponderers at every level of the church,” Rolheiser said.

(9) Incarnate a Deeper Maturity

One of the modern world’s most urgent needs, Rolhesier said, is for models of responsible freedom. Christians should never seek to limit human freedom, he argued, but they also understand that real freedom does not mean license to do anything at all. Christians today ought to be “pioneers” in illustrating a life of true freedom.

Applying the point to Catholicism, Rolheiser noted the irony that questions of Catholic identity somehow seemed less pressing in North America in an age in which most Catholics were poor, immigrants, and living in various forms of a socio-ethnic ghetto -- in other words, in a world in which their freedom often chafed under both de jure and de facto restraints.

What we seem to be less clear about, he said, is how to be solidly Catholic in a world in which we’re “affluent, educated, and culturally mainstream.”

(10) “Make Love to the Song”

Quoting a friend in a rock band, Rolheiser said that real artistry is not about trying to inflate oneself, or even to appeal to the audience. Art begins, he said, when everything else falls away and the focus is exclusively on the song.

“That’s ultimately what ministry is,” Rolheiser said. If ministers are caught up either in trying to impress others with their skills, or playing to the sensitivities of their audiences, they have not yet “got it.”

The trick, Rolheiser said, is to become so caught up in the ministry that doing it well, according to its own inner logic, becomes an end in itself. Once that happens, he said, everything else will usually take care of itself.

Hat-tip: Gashwin