31 October, 2007

Happy All Hallow's Eve!

The eldest daughter has decided to dress up as Miss Hermione Granger this year. Through the skillful modification of an existing Tigger costume the youngest will be masquerading as Hermione's cat, Crookshanks. I'll be spicing the cider as soon as I get home and we'll attempt to engage in some "well-mannered frivolity".

I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day as well. If you can't manage to find a good requiem mass near you for All Souls on Friday, at least listen to a good one! I can certainly recommend Faure and Durufle, as well as Brahms for a gorgeous German version.

30 October, 2007

The Catholic Brain

I know there are some readers out there who knew me very well before I joined the Catholic Church, and many of you probably haven't recieved a really good defense of that admittedly major shift. I still intend to chronicle the journey in depth over the next few months, but I found a great link that might be helpful. Check out this site for a nice, simple, and often humorous parallel to my own journey. It's not the same, but there is a very similar sort of path at work. The questions he asks were the ones I asked, though under different circumstances. Check it out and feel free to pepper me with questions should you have them.

26 October, 2007

Politically Incorrect Orthodox Cookbooks

I'm trying to reign in my desire to go ahead and order The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song and wait until Christmas. I'm not sure I'm going to make it. After reading through the original Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living I fell in love with the witty, though decidedly orthodox, humor these authors bring to the table. Here is one of the user reviews from Amazon:

After describing the German Kaiser's reconquest of Alsace-Loraine from France in the Franco-Prussian War and his persecution of the region's Catholics, which occurred while the forces of the Kingdom of Italy kept the Pope a prisoner in the Vatican, and which was followed by the Paris Commune's murder of dozens of French clergy and religious, author John Zmirnak writes, "All in all, the 1870s may have been even worse for the Church than the 1970s ... hard as that might be to believe." (From the entry "Gewurztraminer: The Alsacians Need Better Neighbors.") If the idea of combining libations, cuisine, history, orthodoxy, humor, and political incorrectness appeals to you, then this is your book. Highly recommended.

Just thought I'd close out this week on a lighter note and encourage you all to grab a copy to get the giggles out for a while.

The New Iconoclasts

After thinking about the last post for a while I came upon my real critique of contemporary Christianity: it is iconoclastic. The pictorial representations of our faith - the prayers wrought in many different materials - have become wasteful fancies in the post-modern world. Even the most simple and venerable cross has gone missing lately, displaced by the video screen.

In a rare occurrence, I’ll allow Mr. Luther himself to speak to the basic issue here:

“I am not of the opinion” said Luther, “that through the Gospel all the arts should be banished and driven away, as some zealots want to make us believe; but I wish to see them all, especially music, in the service of Him Who gave and created them.” Again he says: “I have myself heard those who oppose pictures, read from my German Bible. … But this contains many pictures of God, of the angels, of men, and of animals, especially in the Revelation of St. John, in the books of Moses, and in the book of Joshua. We therefore kindly beg these fanatics to permit us also to paint these pictures on the wall that they may be remembered and better understood, inasmuch as they can harm as little on the walls as in books. Would to God that I could persuade those who can afford it to paint the whole Bible on their houses, inside and outside, so that all might see; this would indeed be a Christian work. For I am convinced that it is God’s will that we should hear and learn what He has done, especially what Christ suffered. But when I hear these things and meditate upon them, I find it impossible not to picture them in my heart. Whether I want to or not, when I hear, of Christ, a human form hanging upon a cross rises up in my heart: just as I see my natural face reflected when I look into water. Now if it is not sinful for me to have Christ’s picture in my heart, why should it be sinful to have it before my eyes?”

Financial considerations aside, I agree wholeheartedly with Luther that the visual expression of the gospel is vital to the spread of the faith as well as the spiritual nourishment of the faithful. To put faith to image is to paint windows into heaven, just as sacred music accomplishes. Why then would we condemn the building to background when it can just as easily shout praise to God along with the choirs and instruments within? Why has music become the only widely acceptable artistic sacrifice, while sacred art and architecture languish in the realm of the unnecessary?

Even a simple shelter can offer praise to God. Money buys the materials and labor, it is the worshipful designer that arranges them to point to God. The house of the Church should always be a gospel in whatever material it consists of, regardless of the relative cost. This gospel is not ritualistic at heart, but symbolic. It is not a gospel for the rich and it’s not a gospel for the powerful. If I’m building one church for a million dollars or ten churches for a million dollars, I’m going to make sure that they all intrinsically point to God no matter what.

22 October, 2007

Just a quick note to let you know I'll be back to posting soon - work has had me swamped for a while now. Look for updates this week...

Or jump in on the post below this one and help flesh out the merits (or lack thereof) of church architecture.

10 October, 2007

Heavenly Worship

The note of a church should be, not that of novelty, but of eternity. Like the Liturgy celebrated within, the measure of its greatness will be the measure in which it succeeds in eliminating time and producing the atmosphere of heavenly worship.

- Sir Ninian Comper (1864-1960)

If I could sum up my thoughts on ecclesiastical Architecture as well as Sir Comper I would be busy writing a book now. I think this one sentence should be watermarked in the tracing paper of every single designer tasked with putting form to the sacred. We are currently mired in an age where sacred space is solely an armature for the experience of worship or liturgy. While we continually trumpet the ability of music to help us enter the heavenly realm, we have reduced the building to mere scenery, a bland backdrop upon which to paint the worship experience. The trouble with this is that never in the history of mankind has there existed a bland backdrop of a building. The useful mental construct of neutral architecture is a farce, impossible and unwarranted.

Take as an example the recent glut of ascetic, pristine white rectangular rooms constructed for the housing of fine art. Popular architectural opinion would hold that these rooms constitute a blank slate upon which to view the objet d’art. This is nothing less than patently absurd coming from the same design professionals who claim the same pristine boxes epitomize the triumph of Information Age, IBM clean-room-esque, media-centered architecture in the brave new world of post-modernism. Architecture has never been, and never will be, neutral. Why would we wish it so? While we used to demand artful neutrality from our journalists, we never required it of our artists. The very act of putting form to space necessitates a viewpoint, an objective feeling we wish to create in the inhabitants. We set a psychological scene before the first object is ever encountered in a given space. While a Rothko painting might happily inhabit and dialog with a clean white box, it would set up a tangible dissonance in any room of the Vatican Museum’s Pinacoteca.

The obvious subsequent observation when confronted with the glut of supposedly neutral worship venues is to condemn them all as a thinly-veiled appeal to the theatrical, performance-minded culture of our age. While the churches claim to provide (and may in fact succeed in providing) an experience of heavenly worship apart from the visual, they do so against the clamorous backdrop of an architecture firmly rooted in our present societal avarice and pleasure. Whether it is the converted strip mall or the unmodified theatrical arena, we are deliberately housing God in a timely box. There are situations when this practical necessity is laudable as a stop-gap measure to get the church to the people – fast and efficient. We have, however, elevated this convenient practicality to the realm of the desirable and fashionable, condemning the urge to properly house our worship as worldly, sinful excess. We have abrogated our interest in eliminating time from the House of God and have shackled our worship firmly to the aesthetic spirit of our age. St. Barbara, help us!

09 October, 2007

Slow Blogging

I apologize for the slow blogging lately, work is pretty busy at the moment and the family has been busy too. I'm hoping to work on a few things for this week soon...keep checking in every once in a while.

05 October, 2007

First We Kill the Architects

The New York Times publishes a counter-cultural method of city-building - in the interest of self-preservation I would substitute Developers for Architects in step one.

Friday Daydreaming

In any case we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen's guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.

Thus wrote Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. I hope to post a few thoughts on this encyclical in the coming weeks, but I certainly encourage everyone out there to give it a read and introduce themselves to the wealth of wisdom that is Catholic social doctrine. If there is one great awakening that I’ve experienced on the last few months, it is that Capitalism is intrinsically wrong-headed. I’ve always known that aspects and symptoms of our capitalist culture were amoral and even evil, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to recognize the flaws in the foundations of capitalist thought. Economists have endeavored to isolate economics from morality as a true independent science, with laws and constructs existing completely outside the sphere of moral influence. If there is to be any improvement in our capitalist culture, we must again assert the primacy of morality and bind the system to morality rather than bending our morality to the system.

As an act of pure fanciful thought and daydreaming, I ask you all on this fine Friday afternoon (or whenever you read this) to imagine a world A.) without advertising and B.) where quality was rampant. Just think about such a world. Can you really see a world without advertising? Is it less desirable to you than our own?

More on this and related topics in the coming weeks. Have a wonderful weekend and everyone read Lepanto this Sunday!

03 October, 2007

Who Says Catholics are Superstitious?

Just a quick note, if you read this earlier post on the Lepanto Novena you would know that the Blessed Mother has shown herself to be a true Auburn football fan. I don't know what that says about poor Notre Dame, but it certainly casts doubts on the relative merit of a certain school in Florida. That being said, I have picked Notre Dame out of principle in every game in the office pool and have still won twice - they must not be entirely cursed...

Liturgical Warfare

I’ve been following the liturgy wars with some interest since swimming the Tiber and I’m finding it difficult to formulate a position on the whole mess.

My own liturgical tastes certainly gravitate towards a more traditional Mass. While I would much rather hear the organ, Palestrina and chant than banal praise choruses, I find it hard to denounce the latter on any sort of firm theological footing. I can criticize them for being campy, overly emotional and saccharine, but I certainly don’t think they rise to the realm of heretical. The venom with which I’ve seen both sides inject this issue of liturgical purity is disturbing and seemingly genocidal. It would seem that both sides wish to win this war by means of magisterial fiat, wiping away the opposition with one firm papal proclamation. While certainly effective, this tactic would seemingly do little to heal the fractures experienced in the wake of Vatican II.

I have, however, been pleasantly surprised at the tact and pastoral care applied to this issue by Benedict XVI. With Summorum Pontificum the Pope succeeded in bringing the Tridentine Mass back from the Gulag, placing it firmly in the Novus Ordo universe as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I hope that Novus Ordo devotees will realize the reverence and dignity of the Tridentine Mass and that Tridentine devotees will realize that a mass need not be in Latin to be reverent, beautiful, and spiritually fulfilling (not to mention valid!). What I hope both sides discover concurrently is that there is not a liturgical war to be won, decisively, with the utter defeat of their brothers and sisters on the other side of the liturgical chasm.

In the current state of affairs, the world can ill afford to be burdened by a Church increasingly burdened largely by its own internal struggles, divisions, and fractures. I pray for the formation and training of our young priests, that the leadership they display in this generation would restore the mass as a reverent and beautiful sign of our solidarity. Mass is our window into heaven, not the window into the boisterously divided Catholic kitchen table.

02 October, 2007

Beer Cheese Soup

Cool weather is coming and it's hearty soup time in the Christopher household. In college I fell in love with a local alehouse that made a wicked beer cheese soup. This is as close as I can get at the moment, just a simple internet recipe that I've modified a little to my taste. It's quite easy and very tasty if you're a beer and cheese nut like me. It does wonders paired with a good steak in the autumn months.

Beer Cheese Soup


- 6 strips of bacon, chopped
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 (12 fluid ounce) bottles of beer (Amber Ale recommended)
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
- Sliced green onion for garnish


1. Pour 1 bottle of beer into a separate container and sit it on the counter to flatten and come to room temperature. Open up the second bottle and consume it while following the remaining steps.
2. Cook bacon in a heavy soup pot until browned and crispy, remove and set aside for garnish.
3. Add the butter, onion, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce to the bacon fat and sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent.
4. Add the beer and raise the heat to high and boil for 3 minutes to evaporate the alcohol.
5. Add the chicken broth and bring the soup back to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer while preparing the corn starch mixture.
6. Combine the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water and stir until smooth. Set aside.
7. Add the half-and-half and shredded cheese to the soup. Stir constantly until the cheese melts. Then stir in the cornstarch mixture. Stir constantly until the soup is thick, about 2 minutes.
8. Serve garnished with bacon and sliced green onion.