Monday with Merton


“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.

Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

Thomas Merton


The Way Back Machine

A 7 Quick Takes Post sponsored by Jennifer Fulwiler on her Conversion Diary blog.

Way Back 2(1)

I decided to return to blogging, though on a part-time basis. I’m not sure why since I have little more to say than when I left off nearly two months ago. I’m not sure why because, in planning such a return, I would have liked to have had two or three months preparation time, time to do much more reading than I’ve done this year, and time to get a few posts put together ahead of time. In any case, I guess the spirit moveth where it listeth, so here I am back with a partial restart of the blog. In other words, I may not return to a full schedule of posts until January or thereabouts, if at all.


You will notice that the blog has a new name. A while back, I questioned how things on this site fit together and furthered some purpose. While away, it dawned on me that Hilaire Belloc had come up with the perfect title way back in 1902 or thereabouts. The Path to Rome was exactly what I was hoping to write about, my own path to Rome. My original intent was to share the experience, my own experience, of conversion, a conversion that is still very much on-going and far from completed at that Easter Vigil in 1995 when I made things official. I’m still in conversion and still on the path to Rome, so, I’m stealing a title from Old Thunder, like a thief in the night. I hope he doesn’t mind too much.


I won’t abandon projects previously started, especially having some focus on good Catholic books. I may broaden the scope a little to focus on good books in general, but I think that’s still fair. Books were an essential part of my conversion and, I think, necessary for continued conversion. The old computer slogan, GIGO, applies very much to one on the path to Rome. It’s important to have good things to feed our minds with in order not to get sidetracked.


A further development: In the next week or two, I’m hoping to try the Latin Mass again. There are a few logistical obstacles to doing so, time and distance being primary among them; the Mass isn’t offered at a great time for my wife and some meds she has to take, and the FSSP parish here is 15 miles or more away. Also, I still find Latin a daunting proposition even though I’ve begun the study of the language. However, knowledge of the Extraordinary Form seems to be a missing piece in my formation as a Catholic. I can’t help but think it’s something, on the order of the Pledge of Allegiance for American citizens, the every Catholic should know intimately. I’ll update here as appropriate.


Speaking of learning Latin, I found this little couplet that perfectly describes my feelings about it:

Latin is a language as dead as dead can be,
First it killed the Romans, now it’s killing me.


I will also be updating my clarinet studies as time goes on. There have been ups and downs but my teacher seems generally satisfied with how things are going. He made an interesting comment on Saturday last. He said he enjoyed our sessions because “(I) get it.” He was mostly referring to keeping tempo and understanding something about musical notation, not any particular virtuosity I am displaying as a clarinetist. But that wasn’t the interesting part. He told me he has students who can’t count, one who can’t even count to two. We didn’t have time to get into details, though I couldn’t help but wonder if this is a sign of the quality of education these days, or a symptom of a lack of coordination due to kids playing too many video games and not being out exploring in the woods. I found it an intriguing comment and would love to know more.


Tuesday was the feast of St. Jerome. In the readings from Vigils for the day, there is a passage from St. Jerome’s homily on Isaiah, the one where he says, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” But that wasn’t the part that struck me as most interesting. In the homily, he also describes sound waves striking a persons eardrum. It’s amazing how smart those old folks really were.

On Hearing the Greatest Hits at Mass

imageI’m pretty sure most people are aware that after Vatican II a great many changes, and some abuses, were inflicted on the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Some of these changes were more or less in accord with the documents promulgated by the Council, for instance, the development of the liturgy in the vernacular (more on that in a future post). Other things happened, though, that had nothing to do with the intentions of the council: priests dressed in clown costumes, “liturgical dance”, rubrics changed by personal whim of both liturgist and priest alike, are just a few examples. I am thankful that under the careful guidance of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict, most of these abuses were corrected.

There’s one reform instituted by the Council and fastened on to with rather more abandon than thought, that now seems impervious to correction, liturgical music. Yes, that jarring, saccharine, banal and completely bereft of any taste what so ever music played in most parishes every Sunday was, you might say, an unintended consequence of Vatican II. I believe, rather, that the Church has always desired an element of beauty in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. The Council’s document on the liturgy, Sancrosanctum Concilicium (SC) states:

“Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. But the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into divine worship.”(#112)

I would submit that without beauty, sacred music does not “add . . .delight to prayer, foster unity of minds, or confer greater solemnity”, instead it fosters distaste, mental upset and the sense of being at a folk rock concert featuring the Smothers Brothers. The music is vaguely upbeat and often performed with instrumental accompaniment, the relentless guitars of various sorts, even electric guitars, piano, fiddle, whatever comes to hand, with the odd tambourine thrown in, just to enhance the mood. For me, it does everything but promote prayer and contemplation.

As I said above, I can’t believe this cacophony was ever the intent of the Church for music at liturgical celebrations. For example, the Council also states,

“All artists who, prompted by their talents, desire to serve God’s glory in holy Church, should ever bear in mind that they are engaged in a kind of sacred imitation of God the Creator, and are concerned with works destined to be used in Catholic worship, to edify the faithful, and to foster their piety and their religious formation.”

Does the music you hear on Sunday do any of that? Does it edify, foster piety or your religious formation? I can’t say, based on my own experience, that it does.

So, you may ask, what does the Council recommend?

Well, the choice given “pride of place” among liturgical music is Gregorian Chant.

“The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.” (SC #116)

Other forms may be used, “so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action.” To my mind, music such as Gather Us In fails this test miserably. Chant, on the other hand, offers the multiple advantages of being simple, dignified, reverent, and beautiful. I know that many of our liturgists would argue that people today wouldn’t take to chant because it’s antiquated and they’re unfamiliar with its notation, etc. It’s so passé don’t you know? In response, I’d ask, did you ever hear of the hit album Chant — Music for the Soul, by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heilegenkreuz? According to Amazon, this is still the #11 best selling album in the category of Sacred & Religious classical music; pretty good for an album released in 2008. So much for acceptance; it’s obvious a lot of people are quite willing to pay good money to hear chant. It turns out, the greatest hits of the 6th century are still among the greatest hits of the 21st.

If you were attending Mass, wouldn’t you rather listen to some of the best selling, most beautiful, music of our time, or second hand stuff that no one would sit still for, much less pay for, unless forced to by the parish music director? The answer seems like a no-brainer to me.





Bad Habits

A 7 Quick Takes Post


It’s still taking some effort for me to get back into the routine of writing and posting here. I have come across a lot of interesting things to write about but can’t seem to get myself to sit down and write about them.

Habits are strange things and the experts agree they take some time and effort to form. I was in the habit of writing here on a fairly regular basis, but stopped for some three or for weeks. I guess I formed the habit of not writing by not actually doing anything. Who knew?


imageIt appears that a New Zealand band, The Naked and the Famous, is a popular band here in Colorado, i.e. it’s more popular here than in any other state. Also, there were 56 new permitted breweries here in Colorado last year. Colorado, together with California and Washington, accounted for one-third of all new permitted breweries in the country. Maybe that accounts for the popularity of The Naked and the Famous. As for myself, I never heard of them; I’m so out of touch.


Lent is upon on and I’m going to make a greater effort to follow the observances I set out for myself; a little stricter on the fasting, more disciplined about the Lenten reading and such. I’m not bragging, I’m a terrible wimp, but it seems every year there’s greater need for prayer and penance for the old world we live in.


Terry of the Abbey-Roads blog had a good post this week on the Mass and the Reform of the Reform. One salient point he made is that, if celebrated in accordance with the rubrics, the Mass in the Ordinary Form is a valid Mass; it is a mistake to think that the Extraordinary Form is somehow better or more valid than the OF liturgy. Such thinking is, it seems to me, only a source of further division within the Church.

On the other hand, there is this from Fr Mark of Silverstream Priory:

“I respect those priests and layfolk who continue to believe in “the reform of the reform”. I honour their devotion and perseverance but, from where I stand and at this point in my life, I think their energy misplaced. Life is short. I can no longer advise others to devote the most productive years of their life to patching up a building that was, manifestly, put up with haste during a boom in frenzied construction; it has shifting foundations, poor insulation, defective fixtures, and a leaky roof. Right next door, there is another old house, comely, solidly built, and in good repair. It may need a minor adjustment here or there, but it is a house in which one feels at home and in which it is good to live, and it is there that I choose to live out my days. If others choose to live in the “fix–up” next door, I can only wish them well, confident that we can live as good neighbours all the same, with frequent chats over the fence in the back garden, exchanging insights, and perhaps even learning something from one another.”

In the face of such views, those of us unable to easily participate in the Latin Mass must somehow carry on the best we can.


On the third hand, maybe there is only one thing that is important. St John Chrysostom sums it up nicely:

“He came also into the house of the publican Matthew. What then did this man also do? He first adorned himself by his readiness, and by his leaving all, and following Christ.

So also Cornelius adorned his house with prayers and alms; wherefore even unto this day it shines above the very palace. For the vile state of a house is not in vessels lying in disorder, nor in an untidy bed, nor in walls covered with smoke, but in the wickedness of them that dwell therein. And Christ showeth it, for into such a house, if the inhabitant be virtuous, He is not ashamed to enter; but into that other, though it have a golden roof, He will never enter. So that while this one is more gorgeous than the palace, receiving the Lord of all, that with its golden roof and columns is like filthy drains and sewers, for it contains the vessels of the devil.”


“The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”

― Julian of Norwich


I am now suffering from a cold, the first I’ve had this winter season and it comes on just when I was beginning to feel a bit smug about not getting sick this year. I was convinced I was being especially smart and careful about avoiding germs. Perhaps it came to remind me the trap of pride is an easy one to fall into. I’ve started with the Cold-Eze, an essential for me when I feel one of these things coming on, but I’m not sure I got to it in time.

I hope you stay healthy and enjoy reading other Quick Takes posts at the Conversion Diary blog.