Nota in Brevis, November 30th

saint andrew crossToday is the feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle, brother of Saint Peter, patron of Scotland, Russia, Ukraine and Greece, for what reason are somewhat historically obscure.  Here is the Wikipedia take on the matter, whether accurate or not, it fits:

According to legend, in 832 AD, Óengus II led an army of Picts and Scots into battle against the Angles, led by Æthelstan, near modern-day AthelstanefordEast Lothian. The legend states that he was heavily outnumbered and hence whilst engaged in prayer on the eve of battle, Óengus vowed that if granted victory he would appoint Saint Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland. On the morning of battle white clouds forming an X shape in the sky were said to have appeared. Óengus and his combined force, emboldened by this apparent divine intervention, took to the field and despite being inferior in numbers were victorious. Having interpreted the cloud phenomenon as representing the crux decussata upon which Saint Andrew was crucified, Óengus honoured his pre-battle pledge and duly appointed Saint Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland.

It is historically accurate, as far as I can determine, that I was born in the bonnie land, so Saint Andrew, ora pro nobis!


james furcilloOfficer James Furcillo, yes, the man who shot Sammy Yatim eight times, five while he was lying prostrate mortally wounded on the ground, now admits that his primary motivation was to ‘get home safe and sound to his family’, and that police officers are ‘not paid to get stabbed or shot’.

Of course, it is unclear how much he has been coached by his defense team, and how much of this he actually believes.  Does he, and his fellow officers, are paid their large salaries, and offered their early retirements, partly due to the fact that they face the risk of getting ‘stabbed or shot’?  To reduce that risk to near-zero, James Furcillo should have taken up woodworking or library science.

How about a drop of remorse, Officer Furcillo?  If his is the attitude of his fellow officers, then God protect us all.  It makes me more convinced of the truism that those who have a burning desire to be police officers (or politicians, or rulers of any sort) are likely the last people who should actually be chosen


climate changeThe U.N. Climate Summit has now begun, with our Prime Minister declaring in his role as anti-global-warming-(or-is-that-climate-change?) warrior that ‘Canada is back’.  Back from what, one may ask?  From the chilly days of Conservative and eco-foe Stephen Harper?  I will post an article soon on so-called climate science, and how unscientific it has become.  For starters, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, and is in fact the ‘air’ of plants, which are necessary for life, as well as the normal exhalation of humans.  A perfect balance, one would think.  There is little evidence that it actually produces global warming, which has sort of stopped over the past generation (hence, the unfalsifiable and hence pseudoscientific thesis of ‘climate change’).  But then Trudeau would not permit his mind to dwell upon that ‘inconvenient truth’, for, as a man of slogans, his intellectual grasp of reality seems, well, slim.  Pray for the attendees, and for the truth of what they are trying to do to sink in.


*I also notice that interest rates are going up.  This, in fact, is (unlike the Syrian war connection of Prince Charles0 likely connected to climate change, at least insofar as the untold billions wasted on dead-end ‘green technologies’ have dried up real wealth and efficient, viable energy production.  Woe to those who are on the razor edge of their mortgage payments.  But maybe we can all live in igloos if Trudeau and his gang are really successful in reducing global temperatures by the time our homes are foreclosed.

Nota in Brevis November 25th, 2015

the hobbitI am not surprised: Peter Jackson now admits that he made up the Hobbit trilogy more or less as it went along.  From the very start, I was suspicious of taking a relatively small children’s book (we would say ‘young adult’ nowadays, I suppose), and making a full three two-plus hour movies out if such slender fare.  As Jackson puts it:

You’re going on to a set and you’re winging it, you’ve got these massively complicated scenes, no storyboards and you’re making it up there and then on the spot

I must admit I did try to watch the first Hobbit movie, but turned it off after about half an hour, it was so unwatchable as to defy description for such a big-budget movie.  I did more or less enjoy the first trilogy of the Lord of the Rings, based as it is on more meaty literary fare, the thousand or so dense pages penned by the great J.R.R.  But even they do not improve upon re-watching.  Much of the films is spent on lingering expressive close-ups of the faces of Frodo and Sam, with Elijah Wood’s disconcerting saucer-esque blue eyes  staring out the screen.

But perhaps it is because the books are such masterpieces of literature that  I criticize.  What film really could do justice to such beautiful and intricate tapestries of the English language?

Unlike, of course, Harry Potter, which seems as though written to be turned into a movie, as are many modern novels, with predictable results.  Maybe Jackson, former schlock-horror director, should have done a remake of that, instead of mangling the Hobbit.

So, people, young and old, forget the movies, and back to the books!


*A curious tidbit from my own area:  The Madawaska Valley receives 1 million dollars to help run, well, everything, as a province-to-municipality transfer payment.  The curious bit is that $938,000 of that lump sum goes straight into the wide pockets of the Ontario Provincial Police who patrol the area, an amount base on a ‘complicated formula’.  Yes, I’m sure it is. This is a small window (if a million bucks is ‘small’) into the publicly-funded boondoggle bankrupting the civilized world, not just economically, but morally and spiritually.

The debt load we are piling up must hit a limit someday.  We are already technically ‘bankrupt’ but are still kicking the can down the road, hoping something happens to fix the problem, besides economic and societal collapse, that is.  Watch the story in Alberta, as oil revenues dry up, and ‘real’ wealth disappears.  The headline in the National Post today read:

Ontario is $298 billion in the debt – that’s $21,000 for every Canadian.  Time to get real, Mr. DeSousa. 

But it will be a long time before ivory-towered politicians such as Mr. DeSousa ‘gets real’.  So I am in debt, even though I am not in debt, and don’t in fact believe much in the scandalous practice of going into debt.  Just watch what the largely-publicly-funded Syrian refugee boondoggle does for our finances.

The good news for the Madawaska valley is that at least we still have $62,000 for ‘everything else’.


*Prince Charles now thinks that ‘climate change’ is responsible for the rise of ISIS, and terrorism in general.  I am not sure what to say in response to this.  Climate change may also be responsible for my indigestion and sleep disruption too, I suppose, along with my car’s problems, and the fact that my students have trouble concentrating sometimes, or make that all the time.

Gullible trust in pseudoscience, especially by cosseted royals, or royal-esque politicians such as Trudeau, knows no bounds…


**Today is the feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a young female scholar, patron saint of philosophers, put to death in 305 under the persecution of Diocletian.  So a blessed feast to all philosophers, male or female, and to our diocese in southern Ontario which hails her as their patron.

Reasonable Force?

sammyWe will soon learn the fate of Constable James Forcillo, the Toronto police officer currently on trial for murder, who, shortly after midnight on July 18 2013 fired  nine rounds from his 9 mm service pistol at 18 year= old Sammy Yatin, who was high on ecstasy (and perhaps marijuana and cocaine), semi-incoherent brandishing a switchblade in an empty streetcar.  Officer Forcillo, after commanding Sammy to drop the knife, fired three shots, the first two entering Sammy chest, damaging his heart and severing his spine, the third shattered his arm.  Sammy collapsed (only in the movies are people ‘blown back’ by bullets), and as he writhed on the floor, still clutching the knife, Forcillo fired six more bullets, five of which hit Sammy in the groin, buttocks and abdomen.  He was then Tasered, after which he was handcuffed, and an officer administered CPR, of course, to no avail.


There is a clear doctrine in the moral principle of self-defense, and especially for those charged with defending others, to use reasonable and proportionate force.  This trial is to determine whether Officer Forcillo went far beyond that, into the realm of homicide, deliberately taking the life of a young man who at the time he was shot posed no immediate and lethal threat to those in his vicinity, at least not one that required such force.


Here is part of the recent exchange during the trial between Robert Warshaw, one of the Crown expert witnesses and a former American police chief who now specializes in reforming police departments, and Peter Brauti, the defense lawyer for Forcillo, with Warshaw claiming that Forcillo failed to use several reasonable alternatives to lethal force that night, including various de-escalation techniques.


I think police officers recognize this can be a dangerous job. There are risk factors that run concurrent with a police officer’s responsibility,” Warshaw said. “This is the job police officers sign up for. This is how they preserve life and how they protect the public.


Brauti: What they don’t have to do is put themselves in situations knowing it could end their own lives.


Warshaw responded: “I’m not suggesting any police officer put themselves in a situation knowing with certainty it could put an end to their own life. That’s a little bit different from police officers risking their lives or police officers executing tactical operations to get a certain outcome.


Well said, Mr. Warshaw.  Those charged with the defense of society are called to use force to ensure the law is kept, especially when the harm of others is at stake.  This is part of the coercive dimension of law, which, as Saint Thomas says, must not only teach us the right thing to do, but, should we disagree, force us to obey.


Force, of course, is a spectrum, from the fines for parking illegally, to Tasers, batons and, yes, the lethal force of the gun which, as we likely all agree, should be the last resort.


It is a curious development, according to Forcillo’s defense, that police officers now consider as one of  their primary duties to protect themselves first, and the public, it seems, second, and never put themselves in any situation that ‘could end their own lives’.  Should we not expect that those charged with the use of lethal force, or indeed force of any kind, use it primarily to protect us?  Imagine a soldier going to battle who considers his primary duty is his own self-preservation, and that it should never be demanded of him to put himself in a life-threatening situation. ‘Screw you, Sarge, I ain’t goin’ over that hill…I might get mysel’ killed’!”


We have seen such scenes in movies.  I will not call such soldiers ‘cowards’, for who of us would not blanch at the prospect of death, but should they turn and run, they will be called deserters, and treated as such.


Now, police officers are not soldiers, and their task is different, in keeping the peace amongst their own fellow citizens.  They are not, or should be, ‘at war’ with us (although sometimes, one wonders…).  That is part of the reason that, until recently, police officers in Britain did not carry guns.  I am not sure what Constable Forcillo’s intentions were, and I know not all the specifics of the case, but I find his lawyer’s defense curious.  Are police really to avoid putting themselves in any danger at all costs, even the cost of one of their own citizen’s lives?  Did not the police in that situation have some duty to spare Sammy’s life?  From the reports that have come out of that fateful July evening, it appears that no one, including the numerous officers in their Kevlar vests with pistols drawn, standing 12 to 15 feet away outside a streetcar in which Sammy was contained, was in immediate grave danger from Yatim, high on drugs, brandishing a three-inch switchblade.  The streetcar driver himself remained alone with Sammy for some time, and the boy (for, being 18, he was a ‘boy’ in our Canadian law, illegal for him even to buy cigarettes or consume a beer) asked if he could call his father.  The driver, eventually, calmly exited the vehicle, leaving the doors open.


As the Crown reasonably argues, could not the situation have been defused in any number of ways?  Taser, batons, even conversation?  Why was the first coercive response gunfire, and nine bullets at that?  Forcillo’s lawyer argues that they were not entirely sure whether there was someone still on the streetcar, whom Sammy could have ‘taken hostage’.  That seems a stretch, as Sammy was in no condition to take anyone hostage, the driver ensured all were off the vehicle (as the video shows), and, even so, as Warshaw rightly retorted, was not the officer recklessly endangering such putative ‘hostages’ by firing nine rounds, any number of which could have missed their intended target, and/or ricocheted into an unintended innocent bystander?  Whom are our police really defending?  Is this how they are trained?


abelmahidSpeaking of ‘reasonable force’, we may contrast the streetcar incident with yesterday’s police action in Belgium, where they cornered the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, Abelhamid Abaaoud.  As police approached, a woman in the apartment detonated herself (do these guys, or girls, all wear suicide bomb vests?), and police, to put it mildly, opened fire, pummelling 5000 rounds into the semi-collapsed dwelling.  The body of the jihadi ‘mastermind’ was so mangled, identification required forensic analysis.


Reasonable force?  Well, unlike Sammy, these guys will actually kill you, calmly and surely, simmering with religious zeal, with state-of-the-art weapons, fully automatic machine guns, high-end explosives, grenades.  I suppose in such cases, force for force.  I pray that it will be some time, or hopefully never, that we require such ‘police action’ in our neck of the woods (and, where I live, it really is the woods, so we may be free from attempted Islamic conquest for the near future, God willing).


As our world descends into ever-greater violent chaos, we have to discern where the real threat lies.  And if our police are not willing to put themselves on the line to protect their fellow citizens while defending law and order, or get trigger-happy in the midst of such violence, well then, let the law be applied, and let us find someone who will step into harm’s way to defend those who cannot.


Nota in Brevis, November 20th

Masked, armed Muslims stormed the Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali, taking 170 hostages.  As I write, there is an operation underway to free them, but I suppose we should get used to this, and not just in Islamic countries like Mali.  The tentacles of the ideology of ISIS, a virulent form of Islam, which bears many similarities to the early days of the ‘religion of peace’, spread pretty much all over the world, even in our own ‘peace-keeping’ Canada.  It may be a while before this happens to your local Holiday Inn, but, as the Parisians sipping Bordeaux on a cafe terrace so recently and tragically found out, one never knows the day nor the hour, does one?


Justin Trudeau is already in over his head, at least financially.  The young-ish man brought up on wealth and privilege has apparently little idea of economics.  The Greek term oikonomia is literally the art of running a household, and, one may presume, it is one of the primary tasks of our leaders to ensure that our financial house is in reasonable order.  For nearly the past century, our dear leaders have failed to a greater or lesser extent in this fundamental task, resulting in our current, and growing exponentially, unmanageable debt, but I fear Trudeau Jr. will put them all to shame with his financial extravagance, especially should he actually keep all the election promises he made.   A report from the Canadian Press calculates that bringing over the proposed 25,000 Syrian refugees will cost an estimated 1.2 billion dollars.  They have also spent $500,000 on advertisement trying to convince the public of the wisdom of this endeavour (after promising to cease such ads).  And they are still talking about Mike Duffy’s 64,000 dollar cheque.  We have only seen the beginning, I fear, of what the Liberal majority will do.


Finally:  Feminist backlash against transgender men.  Germaine Greer, noted feminist activist, has come out, so to speak, against such mutilated sideshows as ‘Caitlin’ Jenner, claiming that such men have no right to usurp her gender.  I cannot print in this family-friendly magazine how Ms. Greer so eloquently put it, but let us just say that removing part(s) of one’s anatomy does not a woman make.  Rather, I would add, what it does make one is a eunuch, but not the way Christ euphemistically intended, as in ‘putting to death’, or, more properly, sublimating, one’ s sexual desires for the sake of the kingdom.


Most Reverend Marcel Damphousse, until now bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall, has been appointed bishop of Sault-Sainte Marie, after the resignation of Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe.   Bishop-elect Damphousse received his theological training at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, after completing a degree in psychology.  Let us pray for our bishops, that they truly implement the teaching of Vatican II, liturgically and spiritually, as it stands within the whole history and tradition of the Catholic Church.  I will have more to write on this in the future.




Nota in Brevis November 18th

There is a new craze, of all things, for adult colouring books.  I know much has been written on the infantilization of our culture, the Boomers regressing to their earlier years, trying to find their lost youth, and the Millenials striving mightily to hold on to a youth quickly slipping away.  But colouring books?  Whatever happened to sketching, drawing, painting, creativity in general?  G.K. Chesterton would doodle (quite well, as it turns out) as he wrote (difficult on a laptop, alas), as would his contemporary Hilaire Belloc.  Why cannot our modern adults draw and colour?  Too much work?  I don’t think colouring in-between the lines was what Christ meant when he called for us to be as little children.  But who am I to say?  Well, I just did.


Most Canadians oppose the quixotic and imprudent attempt to bring over 25,000 Syrian ‘refugees’ by the end of this calendar year, especially after it was discovered that two of the murderers in the Paris attacks apparently had Syrian passports, and had come in under the cloak of ‘refugeeism’, as ISIS warned they would.  All it takes is a few such fanatics to create a whole lot of mayhem, and change things forever.  But Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Wynne seem quite literally, as my Mum would say, ‘hell-bent and determined’ on their course of action.  I always puzzle over the faux-moral stances of liberal-moral-progressives.  Perhaps their soft heart for the refugees is displaced guilt for their hard heart on almost every other, more grave and serious, moral issue?


tears-of-joy-emojiThe Oxford Dictionary’s (the standard for all other dictionaries) ‘word of the year’ is, yes, an ’emoji’, one of those symbols that we modern adults (see above) place within our written texts.  Is it a word?  Well, it is a symbol, and signifies meaning, so perhaps it is.  But I would consider it more a doodle, and would rather it were drawn, than just stuck in there from an array of three hundred and one choices of ’emojis’.  Alas, our child-like age.


Today is the memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul, two of the four major basilicas in Rome (the others being Saint John Lateran, the Pope’s own cathedral, and Saint Mary Major).  So let us pray for the Holy Father, as he continues to guide the Church Universal in the midst of these, as the Chinese proverb has it, ‘interesting times’.


Terrorism in France: The Enemy in their Midst

terrorism in franceThe massacre in Paris yesterday marks the beginning, alas, of other tragedies to come.  Well over one hundred dead, hundreds more injured, with a bomb going off in the Stade de France where President Hollande himself was taking in the French-German football (soccer) match.


Our first response is to pray for the victims and their families, but there must also be a practical, this-side-of-eternity response also.  Mr. Hollande’s promise to ‘wage a war without compromise’ sort of misses the point:  This is not a ‘war’ in any traditional sense of the word, for there is no ‘nation’ attacking France, unless one includes the vague and indeterminate ‘nation of Islam’.  But that is just the point:  The enemy himself is ‘vague and indeterminate’.  He does not wear a uniform, he may be from any nation, indeed, he may be born on the very soil of France, he may even swear allegiance to all that France (or name your country) holds dear.  For in Islam, lying to the infidel is no crime or sin at all.


Whom does Mr. Hollande plan to capture and jail?  It is illegal in France to take a census  based on religious affiliation, but the estimates are that 5-7% of France identifies as Muslim, which translates to about 3-5 million people.  Of these, one poll estimates that one in six supports the aims of the ‘Islamic State’, otherwise known as ISIS:  Here is the Washington Post earlier this year:


And when it comes to levels of extremism within France’s Islamic community, attitudes are again hard to ascertain. One recent poll suggested that 1 in 6 French citizens supported the Islamic State militant organization.


If true, that is about 640,000, more than half a million, Muslims who may be supporters of the radical, no-holds-barred, torture-as-you-may, throat-cutting barbarians of ISIS.  As the articles warns, we must take all such polls with a large grain of salt, and very few Muslims are terrorists, but a number of them seem to sympathize, and are open to ‘radicalization’.  Even if it is only 1%, that amounts to thousands of would-be terrorists in your very midst, who are already citizens and have full rights thereof. How many unemployed, disaffected, even angry, young Muslims are there in the vast, bleak, impoverished, concrete wasteland bainlieues of the Parisian suburb just waiting for some ideology to guide their lives, to give them a purpose, a plan?


Even the majority of ‘moderate’ Muslims who disdain any connection with terrorism and live quiet lives as good citizens still venerate their founder, a man who spread his religion by sword and by coercion, whatever the Qur’an might advocate of modern ‘jihad’ one way or the other.


If this is a war, it is a war of ideology, of culture and ultimately of religion, and can only be won on those grounds.  But France, once the ‘eldest daughter of the Church’ has by and large lost her faith.  In a curious irony, the concertgoers who comprised most of the dead and wounded were there to hear the band ‘Eagles of Death Metal’.  Likely the ISIS terrorists (presuming it was indeed them) knew and planned this, as part of their war against the ‘Great Satan’ of what they perceive to be decadent Western culture.  So much, at least, for ‘death metal’ culture in France; who is going to attend one of their concerts now?


What really is holding France (or Germany, or Canada) together?  For what is she fighting, and what is she defending?  French cuisine and art?  The ‘freedom’ to do whatever it is one wants?  Who is at war with whom?  Back in the days of Charles Martel, who defeated the Islamic hordes invading from the south in the great battle of Tours in October of 732, France was a united country under the Catholic faith and the cohesive culture to which that faith gave rise.  She knew for what she fought.


But now, in November of 2015?  France, along with most of Europe, is in a demographic and cultural death spiral, and they are allowing Islam, in its multifold forms, to fill the vacuum.  Germany is even further down the road to dissolution, as Chancellor Merkel seems intent on allowing an unending stream of vigorous, young male ‘refugees’ through the borders with scarcely a security check.  At least one of the suicide bombers in France was found with a Syrian passport on his mangled body.


I know not what the future holds, but, from the looks of things today, not good for France, nor for Europe.  On a minor but significant note, the Irish band U2 has already cancelled a planned concert in France, and Paris, the number one tourist destination in the world (up until now) will likely see many more such ‘cancellations’ in the near future.  France has closed her borders, imposed a curfew, and is under martial law, with ten thousand army troops deployed to ‘walk the streets’, an unprecedented move since the darkest days of World War II.  The terrorists have already won by fear.


In the meantime, we pray for the dead, the wounded and their families and, yes, for the perpetrators of this carnage.  May God have mercy on all.


And Sainte Jean D’Arc, patroness of France, priez pour nous!


The Salvific Power of Beauty

beautiful cathedralDostoyevsky wrote, through the voice of Prince Myskin in his novel, The Idiot, that ‘beauty would save the world’.


I have often wondered about that quotation, and whether it be true.  A month or so ago, our Schola choir traveled to a parish 2 hours from where I live, to sing Schubert’s Mass in E flat minor, at an old rite ceremony, in honour of the parish’s 75th anniversary.  A glorious occasion, with music to suit, but the crowd was thin on the ground.


Then again, the parish may have thinned out ever since they rebuilt the new church after a fire in 1959. The old church, from photographs and paintings I saw, was gloriously beautiful, a small replica of Saint Anne de Beaupre in Quebec.


The new structure?  A vast A-frame, built to look like a tee-pee, with a huge back window with a design that appeared like nothing else but splattered paint, reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock ‘painting’.  There was little statuary in the vast, cavernous nave, just one of Our Lady placed there high in the sanctuary by the new parish priest (to replace a rather hideous previous version).


Beauty and ugliness in the same space.  But what we find in most spaces, liturgical or otherwise, is just plain ugliness, or at least mediocrity.  We have become used to such, wallowing in what is objectively not beautiful, and this ugliness has become connatural to us, part of the very fibre of our being.  This, as I will explain, makes us inured, quite literally anaesthetic, to beauty.


Beauty has three basic criteria, which Saint Thomas describes briefly in his description of God in the Summa Contra Gentiles (his ‘other’ Summa besides the Summa Theologica).   They are integrity, proportion and clarity.


Integrity:  Is everything necessary for the thing to be what it is, present?   Is it missing a nose, eyes?  Are things chipped off, or paint peeling?


Proportion:  Presuming all is present, are all the parts or elements duly proportioned?  Is one part too dominant or large, and another too small?


Clarity:  Does the thing signify what it truly is?  Or does it try to play false, or is it in a strange environment and out of place?  A car that looks ‘beautiful’ on a freeway may not look so good in a swimming pool.  And an attractive woman does not appear so attractive in army gear, or in manly attire.


love mozartThese are more or less objective criteria for beauty, which we can measure and judge.  We know a ‘beautiful’ person when we see one, and the same goes for houses and landscapes, art and literature.  Who does not recognize a Mozart piano sonata as beautiful, as perfectly proportionate, integral and clear?  One sees a hint of such an appreciation of beauty in the following exchange in the 1984 film Amadeus, between Mozart and the Emperor Joseph II, after Mozart plays one of his new pieces for him:
MOZART: So then you like it? You really like it, Your Majesty? 

EMPEROR: Of course I do. It’s very good. Of course now and then – just now and then – it gets a touch elaborate.

MOZART: What do you mean, Sire?

EMPEROR: Well, I mean occasionally it seems to have, how shall one say? [he stops in difficulty; turning to Orsini-Rosenberg] How shall one say, Director?

ORSINI-ROSENBERG: Too many notes, Your Majesty?

EMPEROR: Exactly. Very well put. Too many notes.

MOZART: I don’t understand. There are just as many notes, Majesty, as are required. Neither more nor less. 


Just so.


Yet, and yet, why do so many people like the Emperor not appreciate beauty?  Why are orchestras and choirs, art centres and museums, struggling even to survive?  Why does ugliness in art and music flourish?


The answer may lie in two other related principles from the thought of Saint Thomas: that beauty is also what he describes as id quod visum placet, that which pleases upon being seen.  Following upon this, we tend to love those things that are connatural to us, those things that are like us, that correspond to our nature.


These two principles imply that there is also a strong subjective dimension to beauty.  It is not just about things being in due proportion, whole and  fitting to their nature.  Rather, beauty is also to some degree in the eye of the beholder.


This is why some love Bach, other Mozart, still others Debussy, and why some are drawn in visual art to the realists, the impressionists, Rembrandt or Caravaggio.  Some things accord more (or less) with who we are, our own histories, our memories, our likes and dislikes, our loves and our own passions.   Most are drawn to physical material beauty.  Few can see the moral and spiritual beauty beneath an unpleasing facade.


Even further:  Besides the ‘good’ side of various kinds of beauty, we may consider, as has happened especially in our age, that many are drawn to what is in fact downright ‘ugly’.  They find such things ‘beautiful’ because their own nature has become deformed, and thus is connatural to such discord.  What is objectively unpleasing they find subjectively pleasing.  One need not stray far in one’s imagination to consider examples:  Misogynistic rap music, sappy modern church music, discordant symphonies, much of modern abstract art, all the way to pornography and the gratuitous uber-violence of modern video gaming.


Such as these find true beauty repulsive, for it is, to them, contrary to their (deformed) nature.   We may have heard the reports of corner stores playing Mozart over their speakers to keep loitering teenagers away.  They hear beauty, they run.  Play rap or Eminem, they congregate.


How I wish I could hear more classical music in repair shops, department stores and elevators, but, sappy is what sappy sells.  Comfort music for comfortable shoppers.


So what to do?  Separate into two camps, the appreciators of true beauty on one side, and the modern philistines and morlocks who disdain such art?  That is effectively what has happened, but it should not be so.  The objective nature of beauty takes precedence, for it does indeed accord with and even elevate man’s nature, as made in the image of God, who is the ‘most beautiful’ , the cause and exemplar of all beauty.   As the Book of Wisdom declares,


For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator


Thus, we should not despair, for even those most distant from true beauty are always somewhat drawn to it.  We need only witness the popularity of stories, movies, novels that signify such beauty, whether on the moral, visual or other aesthetic levels.   For all true beauty is but a window into God Himself.


I just watched the recent Cindarella film, a sumptuous tale filled with resplendent beauty, not just physical, but, more to the point, moral.  There is no real ‘religion’ in the movie, but we do see the triumph of good over evil, humility over pride, generosity over selfishness, and the rewards of a life well-lived.


We all know this deep down, which is why rebellion against true beauty always ends ultimately in failure.  Likely one of the many causes of the downfall of Communism was the sheer ugliness of its architecture and art. We may soon see the same occur for Islam, which, in its ‘orthodox’ interpretation, disdains, even revolts against, any art or music, since, ironically, they claim it derogates from the pure worship of God.  Witness ISIS and its destruction of ancient monuments in Syria and Iraq.


Au contraire.  Beautiful art and music lead us to God, and one of the primary attractions of the Catholic Church, and the Christian civilization which she inspired, is the beauty of her music, liturgy and architecture (sadly, now in danger of being lost in our own iconoclastic era in love with mediocrity).  As the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, put it


Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.


Amongst all the artistic treasures of the Church, the greatest of them all is her musical heritage, in her chant, polyphony and untold beautiful melodies and harmonies:


The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value (pretii inaestimabilis), greater even than that of any other art.


We will have much more to write on art and music in these pages, but, for now, we return to our Schola choir, and the small but worthy efforts to present and keep this treasure alive and well, even in, or perhaps especially in, a not-so-beautiful church.  Eventually, such beauty may pierce even the most hardened souls, and will certainly elevate those souls already close to God.


For to appreciate, and especially to create, true beauty requires some level of education, discipline and patience, a mind and soul that are refined and educated, instead of wallowing in its passions, always eager for the next quick fix of emotional adrenaline.  For aesthetic ugliness is easy.  It is beauty that requires work.


But we need such true beauty more than ever in our chaotic world filled with so many ugly images, so that we see beyond such distortions, and be led one step closer to God and His infinite beauty.  I can end this reflection with no more fitting words that those from the great Saint John Paul II in his 1999 Letter to Artists:


…my hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration. May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.

From this wonder there can come that enthusiasm of which Norwid spoke in the poem to which I referred earlier. People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that “beauty will save the world”.(25)

Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!”

Captain Philips

captain philipsI just took in the new American-everyman Tom Hank’s movie, Captain Philips which, surprisingly from its limited quality, has made over $218 million so far, and won six Academy awards.  Directed in shaky-realistic-video by Paul Greengrass, who also oversaw two of the Bourne movies, the film has a stark realism.  The problem, I think, is that it is too realistic.  No one in this movie is portrayed as a ‘hero’, although they sort of try to make Captain Philips/Tom Hanks one.  Philips is the captain of the ocean-going cargo vessel the Maersk Alabama, which is sailing around the coast of African near Somalia.  Sure enough, as they were warned, the boat is attacked by a trio of Somali pirates in a motorboat.  The only defense Captain Philips and his crew can offer are a stream of fire hoses, which the pirates easily avoid, and clamber aboard with a ladder.


What follows is a supposedly tense situation wherein the pirates take over the ship then, mysteriously, just as quickly abandon the ship, kidnap the captain and flee to the Somali coast on one of the lifeboats.  They are soon cornered by two U.S. Navy warships and, if that is not enough to deal with three malnourished Somalis, a whole team of uber-buff and heavily armed Navy Seals.


All this could have been avoided had the initial crew been even lightly armed.  As one of the crewmembers declared as the pirates approached, ‘if only we had a rifle’.  Indeed.  What I got from the movie, as I do from many of the few movies I watch, was the emasculation of the modern male.  Whatever happened to the moral principle of self-defense?  One well-aimed rifle indeed could have fended off the trio of pirateers in a glorified rowboat with an outboard motor.


But no.  The all-male crew huddle helplessly in the engine compartment, shushing each other to keep quiet; they do eventually ‘take down’ one of the pathetic pirates, but let him go when the Somalians agree to a swap for the captain, whom they, of course, kidnap onto the lifeboat.


Forgive me if I am becoming rather jaded, but I found the whole situation rather ridiculous and, well, boring.  The three Somalis, who together seemed to weigh less than one of the Navy Seals’ rifles, do not intimidating enemies make.  This diminishes, even removes, the whole tension of the film.  The action slows way down when things move off the Alabama to the small lifeboat, with but Captain Philips and three skinny Somalians shouting at each other.


Another principle of self-defense is that it should be proportionate to the threat.  I don’t need an automatic rifle to take down a ten year old trying to steal my mountain bike, and the crew members of the Alabama did not need two heavily-armed warships of the U.S. Navy travelling hundreds of miles (at what expense, one may only wonder morosely) to rescue one captain.  Even if I did not know the story from ‘real life’, I knew the kidnappers were doomed from the get-go.


It was, really, much ado about nothing.  The only ‘tension’ was whether the captain would live or not, but even that got old after a few minutes. At any moment, the good captain could have been killed a dozen times, yet the Navy soldiers delay in good bureaucratic, by-the-rule procedure, until, in a sudden anti-climactic denouement, the Somali pirates are killed in a brief volley of gunfire.  After this, the head pirate, whom the Navy managed to bring on board a U.S. Navy vessel, standing amidst the towering military personnel who make him look like a dark-skinned, underfed hobbit, is thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested for trial in America.  We are told in the credits that he is currently serving a 33 year sentence in a U.S. prison.


Captain Philips is rescued, understandably blubbering and covered in his kidnapers’ blood as he is brought back aboard, suffering from shock; a snappy female medic (of course), all business, tells him to get it together as she cuts off his shirt.  I get that this may well be what actually happened, and no offense to the good captain, for we all have our private moments, but do we really need to see such emasculation and humiliation in the film?


I ponder:  What would John Wayne have done in Captain Philip’s role?


I think the film was trying to portray this story ‘based on true events’ as faithfully as possible (although there is much dispute about how true the events in the film really are, and a lawsuit from the crew members is pending), as well to glory in the strength and efficiency of the U.S. military.  Rather, I found the whole enterprise rather pathetic and downlifting. All I could think of was how our twitchy cell-phone addicted fingers fly to call upon the whole might of the State to defend us in every even-remotely life-threatening, or even ‘life-disturbing’, situation.   A loud party?  A bothersome neighbour?  Call 911!  Get the police!  No, forget that, send in the Army!  Or, at least, the Navy…At least in Captain Philip’s case, I kept thinking how things would have turned out quite differently with a few simple policies and procedures and a bit more training and weaponry for the crew.  Even if they had a pistol or two hidden somewhere in the ‘engine compartment’…


That would also have made, I think, for a far better movie.