Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Canadian Churches and the First World War.

Here is some good news for Remembrance Day: Yesterday I received a copy of Canadian Churches and the First World War, a newly-published collection of scholarly essays on the impact of the Great War on various religious groups in Canada. I mention this here because the British edition of the book has one of my photos on the cover, duly credited in a blurb on the back. The photo in question first appeared in a Remembrance Day post published here two years ago, and I was both surprised and moved when a representative of the publisher contacted me a few months ago and asked for my permission to use the image; as you can see from the results, I readily agreed.

For me, one of the strange things about keeping a blog is the unpredictable results generated (and not generated) by one's work. Oftentimes, posts that took considerable time and effort to produce and reflect a great deal of personal commitment seem to receive little or no response, while other posts that were quickly and less carefully assembled generate positive comments. In some cases, the most gratifying response comes long after the post was published - such was the case with the Remembrance Day post mentioned above, and such was also the case with a 2011 Holy Thursday post discussing Rudolf Mauersberger's motet Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst, on which account I later received appreciative mention in the liner notes of a CD featuring a new recording of the same motet. It's all a bit of a mystery to me, and rather than seek to provide an explanation I'll rest content to note the phenomenon and to give thanks. As I do each year on Remembrance Day, I also give thanks for all those who have sacrificed their lives so that others might live. AMDG.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Dies irae, dies illa.

As is now my annual custom, I am marking All Souls' Day by reposting a translation of the Latin sequence for All Souls that I made a few years ago. The translation below as well as my commentary are identical with what I have provided in years past; I now chuckle a bit at my line about the hastiness of the translation and its need for improvement, as I have yet to find the time to actually sit down and do the serious work of revising the text. In any event, I hope that my annual reposting of this text is helpful and edifying to some readers.

Attributed to the thirteenth-century Franciscan Thomas of Celano and long prescribed as part of the Latin Requiem Mass, the Dies Irae enjoys a special place in Western musical culture thanks to the memorable settings of the Requiem text by composers ranging from Mozart to Verdi to Britten, among many others. For All Souls, I typically avoid any 'classical' setting of the Dies Irae in favor of the traditional Gregorian setting, because some days when only chant will do - and for me this is one of those days.

Below you can find the Latin text of the Dies Irae followed by my own English translation. I decided to translate the text myself out of a sense of dissatisfaction with the various translations that I found online, as a spiritual exercise for All Souls' Day - and, finally, to practice my Latin. The translation was made in haste and could certainly be improved - indeed, I have sometimes thought of starting from scratch and doing a new one - and I welcome comments and criticism; my goal was to convey the sense of the original faithfully and in a style that flows well in English without trying to reproduce the poetic meter of the original. So here goes:

Dies irae! Dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla!

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando iudex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.

Mors stupebit, et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Iudicanti responsura.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus iudicetur.

Iudex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix iustus sit securus?

Rex tremendae maiestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.

Recordare, Iesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuae viae:
Ne me perdas illa die.

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.

Iuste iudex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis.

Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.

Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Preces meae non sunt dignae:
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.

Inter oves locum praesta,
Et ab haedis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.

Confutatis maledictis,
Flammis acribus addictis:
Voca me cum benedictis.

Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis:
Gere curam mei finis.

Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:

Pie Iesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.


O day of wrath, that day
when the earth will be reduced to ashes,
as David and the Sibyl both testify!

What great fear there will be,
when the judge comes
to judge all things strictly.

A trumpet casts a wondrous sound
into the realm of the tombs,
calling all [to come] before the throne.

Death and nature will both marvel
as the [human] creature rises
to answer its judge.

A book will be brought forth
in which all things are recorded –
all that for which the world will be judged.

When, therefore, the judge appears,
all that is hidden will appear,
and no ills will remain unavenged.

As miserable as I am, what am I say?
whose protection may I invoke,
when even the just lack security?

O most majestic King,
who freely saves those to be saved,
save me, source of mercy!

Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the one for whom you came:
may I not be lost on that day!

Seeking me, you sat down tired:
to redeem me, you suffered the Cross –
may your toil not be in vain!

Just and avenging judge,
may you grant remission [of sins]
before the day of reckoning.

Guilty, now I sigh,
my face red with shame:
save thy petitioner, o God!

Having absolved Mary [Magdalene],
and heard the plea of the thief,
may you give me hope as well.

Though my prayers are not worthy,
be kind to me, o Good One,
that I may be spared the eternal fire!

Place me among the sheep,
and separate me from the goats,
setting me at your right hand.

When the wicked are confounded
and given over to bitter flames:
call me among the blessed.

Meek and humble, I pray,
with a heart contrite as ashes:
Help me reach my final end.

How tearful that day will be,
when from the ashes will arise
the guilty man for judgment.
Therefore spare him, O God!

Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.

To some modern ears, some of the above lines may seem a bit harsh; the familiarity of the Latin text and the beauty of its poetic form can easily distract us from the admonitory content of the Dies Irae. As stern as these words may be, though, they also remind us that God is merciful - indeed, the very source of mercy - and they call on us to pray: first for our beloved dead and for our own repentance, but also that we may offer to others the same mercy that we seek for ourselves. May all of us who celebrate this Feast of All Souls take these words in the right way, and take them to heart. AMDG.

Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Exorcist" on Halloween.

I have had a fairly busy month, one that has made it difficult to spare much time for this blog. There have been things that I would have liked to have written about here (like the outcome of this week's Toronto mayoral election), but I simply couldn't find the time to do so. That being said, I would find it difficult to let this month end without saying something about The Exorcist, a great Georgetown and Jesuit Halloween tradition, so here are some reflections adapted from a post first shared here in 2008.

Georgetown has at least two great Halloween traditions. One of these is the "Healy Howl," a midnight gathering of undergraduate students for the purpose of howling at the moon like wolves. When I was on the Hilltop, the Healy Howl took place at the gates of the Jesuit cemetery on campus, an appropriately spooky setting under the circumstances. As an undergrad, I used to wonder what the Jesuit priests, brothers and scholastics buried in Georgetown's cemetery would make of this yearly ritual. I finally came to suspect that, given their centuries of accumulated experience teaching undergraduates, most of the Jesuits buried at Georgetown probably had good senses of humor and would chuckle amusedly at a superficially transgressive but ultimately harmless ritual like the Healy Howl.

Georgetown's second great Halloween tradition is the screening of The Exorcist in Gaston Hall. Scripted by Georgetown alumnus William Peter Blatty and shot on and around the university campus, The Exorcist is the Georgetown movie - and in my experience, Gaston Hall viewings of The Exorcist could take on a sort of Rocky Horror Picture Show quality, with many students applauding whenever the Georgetown campus appears in the film and some coming in costume and offering shouted responses to the film's dialogue. Hoyas viewing The Exorcist would respond to the film as only Hoyas could: for example, a scene in the film in which dialogue between two characters is drowned out by the sound of plane flying overhead was greeted with uproarious laughter by the Gaston Hall audience for the simple reason that Georgetown students could relate to the experience given that their university sat below the flight path for airliners taking off and landing at Washington National Airport.

The Exorcist is also a quintessentially Catholic film that takes a sober look at the reality of evil and offers a challenging representation of sacrificial love. The heart of the film's message comes in a quiet scene between Jesuit priests Damien Karras (Jason Miller) and Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), who have been called upon to perform an exorcism on twelve-year-old Regan McNeil (Linda Blair). Having wrestled throughout the film with a deepset crisis of faith, Father Karras ponders a profound question and gets a sage answer from Father Merrin:
KARRAS: Why this girl? It makes no sense.

MERRIN: I think the point is to make us despair - to see ourselves as animal and ugly, to reject the possibility that God could love us.
This exchange was cut from the film's 1973 theatricial release by director William Friedkin, who regarded it as "a commercial for the Catholic Church." Restored to the film nearly thirty years later, this brief bit of dialogue gives The Exorcist a crucial context that is missing from most contemporary horror films. The possession of Regan McNeil isn't a random event, but a contest in a larger battle between good and evil. As Father Merrin realizes, the presence of evil in the world tempts us to deny the essential truth about ourselves - that we are human beings with a transcendent destiny, made in the image and likeness of the loving God who desires eternal union with us. The Christian response to despair is to reaffirm our belief in the loving God and to follow the example of self-sacrificing love offered by Jesus Christ. Father Karras does this in a particularly striking (and even shocking) way, giving up his life to save Regan's.

Faithful to Georgetown tradition, I will watch The Exorcist again this evening at home in Toronto. Though I'm viewing the film on Halloween, I'm conscious that the struggle between good and evil reflected in the film isn't limited to this or any other single day. Though the evils we encounter in the world may tempt us to despair, we must always be mindful of the joy and love offered by the God who is with us even in the darkest hours of night. AMDG.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Penrose Fish and Chips closes after 64 years.

Today's Toronto Star brings the sad news regarding a venerable city eatery, Penrose Fish and Chips, which closes this week after 64 years in business:
"You've gotten good at that," Tim Johnston tells the takeout girl, as she wraps his French fries in newspaper.

Without pausing, she quips back: "A couple thousand times and you’ll get good at anything."

That may be the secret to success at Penrose Fish and Chips, which has been deep-frying filets and thick-cut potatoes in more or less the same way for 64 years. It is now considered the city's best.

And now, it is closing. The north Toronto institution will shut its doors for good on Wednesday afternoon.

The place has been packed since early September when the owner announced it was closing; they keep running out of fish before the day’s out. A visitor’s book near the checkout is filled with handwritten dismay.

"Can't believe it’s my last visit! Thanks for being a big part of my life!" read one message. Another, more pithy: "DON'T CLOSE!!!!!"

But close it must, says owner Dave Johnston. "Forty years of sixty-hour weeks," he says. "It takes its toll."

Johnston inherited the business from his father, a Second World War tank driver who fell in love with fish and chips while stationed in England. His first storefront was at Dundas and Gladstone; the current location, on Mount Pleasant Rd. just south of Eglinton Ave., opened in 1950.


It has been consuming. A police officer bidding Johnston farewell looked incredulous. "You ready for this?" the cop asked.

"Absolutely not," Johnston replied.

However, at 59, standing behind a deep-fryer all day is too much for his bum knee. He plans to sail and travel in his spare time.

There are parts of the job he will miss, though. "It grows on you and wears you away at the same time," Johnston said.

His favourite part? "The people." Well, he adds, laughing, "most of the people."

"You see them grow up and you see them bring their kids in," he said, his eyes moistening. "It's really quite neat."
To read the rest, click here. A bit like Steven Temple Books, Penrose Fish and Chips was a Toronto fixture that I never experienced firsthand. I nurtured hopes of visiting Penrose for a long while, having learned of the place shortly after I moved here and putting the restaurant on my list of places to visit; I never quite got around to it, and I regret that. Having eaten fish and chips just about every week when I was growing up in Southeastern Massachusetts, I still seek them out from time to time and I have a very specific idea of what I like (particularly with respect to the batter, which ought to be brown and crunchy). I have been generally satisfied with the fish and chips that I've had in Toronto - perhaps there is just enough lingering British influence here to ensure authenticity - but I usually get them in pubs and not at old-school fish-and-chip places like the Penrose, which are getting to be hard to find. That being said, the closing of this local institution may strengthen my resolve to visit similar places on my 'to do' list before they ride off into the sunset. AMDG.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September in Toronto.

This blog has been very silent this month, mainly because I've been sufficiently occupied as a deacon, student, and human being that I haven't had much time to devote to posting here. I imagine that some might have expected me to comment on the mid-September electoral switcheroo between Toronto's pugnacious chief magistrate, Mayor Rob Ford, and his brother and close political adviser Councillor Doug Ford. After weathering several political crises that individually could have ended a less-resilient politician's career - including admitted drug use and a stint in rehab - this month Rob Ford abruptly ended his bid for a second term as mayor after doctors discovered a malignant tumor in his abdomen. Doug Ford immediately jumped into the mayor's race, despite having earlier declined to run for reelection to his own council seat in order to manage his brother's campaign; meanwhile, Rob Ford is now seeking Doug's council seat - a seat he once held himself - and appears likely to triumph even though his ongoing health problems are expected to keep him from campaigning much between now and the election on October 27. As of now, it seems likely that Rob will be the only one of the two brothers to return to City Hall after the election: the latest poll shows mayoral frontrunner John Tory with a twenty-two-point lead over Doug Ford and the other major candidate, former MP Olivia Chow. Though I doubt that the dynamics of the race will change much over the next month, perhaps I will write more about it in the coming weeks.

There is much more to Toronto than rambunctious municipal politics, notably including a vibrant cultural life. Among the city's great culture treasures is the Art Gallery of Ontario, which I visit several times a year. The AGO is home to the world's largest collection of Canadian art, containing many of the best-known works of the iconic 'Group of Seven' landscape painters of the early twentieth century together with canvases by such idiosyncratic (and indelibly Canadian) artists as William Kurelek and Norval Morrisseau as well as works by scores of others. The AGO's building is also a work of art in itself, all the more so since a 2008 renovation led by Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry, who sought both to harmonize older sections of the building designed by other architects and to give the AGO a distinctive new profile. Perhaps the most striking architectural element of the AGO is Gehry's Galleria Italia, a bright wood and glass gallery fronting on Dundas Street West that happens to be one of my favorite spaces in the city.

I last visited the AGO two Sundays ago, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, in the company of my good friend and housemate Matt Dunch. Matt suggested that our experience at the AGO was something that I should blog about, so here he is enjoying a cup of coffee in Frank Gehry's Galleria Italia.

Here I am in the Galleria Italia, espresso in hand.

This sculpture by Henry Moore reminded Matt and me of the sort of character one might encounter in a book by Edward Gorey.

The AGO is currently hosting a landmark exhibition devoted to the work of Alex Colville, a major Canadian painter who died last year at 92. Colville spent much of his life in small towns in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and devoted much of his art to exploring the rhythms of rural existence. Though he had deep roots in Atlantic Canada, in some sense Colville got his start as a war painter: serving in the Canadian Army in Europe during World War II, Colville developed his craft by producing canvases such as the one seen here, Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland (1946).

Arguably more typical of Colville's mature style, Main Street (1979) is interesting to me for the way in which it weaves the memory of war into an evocation of everyday life in a small town. The scene in the foreground is probably familiar to anyone who has lived in the wintry parts of North America: bundled warmly to guard against the chill, a woman loads groceries into a car, the windows of which are either frosted on account of the cold or fogged up because the heat is on full-blast inside; seen from behind, the woman closest to the viewer may be a shopping companion of the one loading groceries in the car. In the midst of unexceptional surroundings, the soldier of the Great War looming in the background serves to remind us that the past is always present - a thought that may occur to the woman whose back is turned to us, as she seems to have paused in her walk across a slushy street to look up at the statue in the distance, and probably not for the first (or last) time.

Though Colville's paintings tend to focus upon seemingly unexceptional slices of life, many of them do so in ways that are rather unsettling; Stanley Kubrick picked up on this aspect of Colville's work when he chose to feature four of the artist's paintings in The Shining. To get a sense of how the ordinary and the ominous coexist in Colville's work, take a look at Family and Rainstorm (1955). The mother and children seen here are in no hurry to get into the car; they seem not to be panicked by the dark clouds and heavy rain seen in the distance, yet the threat remains palpable enough to compel a retreat.

Lest you think that all of Alex Colville's work deals with dark and weighty themes, here is one of his lighter and more whimsical painting, simply titled Child Skipping (1958). What strikes me most about this image is the pure sense of joy that it evokes: eternally caught in midair, the child skipping rope reminds us of those fleeting moments when life seems effortless and uncomplicated.

To complete this post, here is one more image of Frank Gehry's Galleria Italia - a reminder of a very pleasant afternoon spent in a beautiful space, in a city that I have come to love. AMDG.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Tim Hortons and the Canadian soul.

Today is a holiday in both Canada and the United States, so it seems an auspicious time to comment on the impending merger between Tim Hortons and Burger King, a deal that has some Canadians expressing concerns over potential changes to a chain that many have come to regard as an iconic national institution, while some Americans grouse that Miami-based Burger King is effectively moving offshore to avoid paying taxes in the United States. What interests me about all of this is the reflection that the merger/buyout has prompted regarding the place of Tim Hortons in many Canadians' collective self-understanding. The best thing I've read on point comes from Toronto Star writer Amy Dempsey, who begins her consideration of the particular place of Tim Hortons in the national psyche with a childhood memory:
My little brother stood in the middle of the kitchen swinging a giant box of Timbits by its flimsy cardboard handle.

Danny was 7, skinny and, to me, annoying. He would get away with things I couldn't, like messing around with a 40-pack of itty-bitty doughnuts while my mother did the dishes, my father put away leftovers and I did my homework at the kitchen table.

One minute my brother was swinging the box with a big smirk on his face. Then the handle ripped and the Timbits sailed high above his head and somersaulted across our Cape Breton kitchen, landing with a cannonball splash in the dishwater.

"Jesus!" my mother screamed. She was covered in Palmolive suds. There was a moment of silence, then we all laughed for a long time.

. . .

My family's flying doughnuts story may not be as wholesome as the ubiquitous great Canadian hockey road-trip tale, but the story itself, and the way it leaves me with a nostalgic lump in my throat and a hankering for a honey-glazed Timbit, is exactly what has made the company so successful. Tim Hortons has quietly inserted itself into our history. It has become a part of our daily-life stories, but more importantly our collective national story. It has succeeded in making Canadians believe that Tim Hortons is Who We Are, and that we are duty-bound to hold it dear.

"To say you don't like Tim Hortons is blasphemous," says Peter Hodgins, an assistant professor of Canadian studies at Carleton University.

No one wants to hear from the silent minority of citizens who believe Tim Hortons coffee tastes like boiled tap water strained through a handful of soil from a garden that has recently been sprayed by a skunk. Or from those who argue the brew requires heavy doses of sugar and cream to make it even remotely palatable, and then isn't it just a hot milkshake? Only a traitor would dare to suggest Tim Hortons is the Nickelback of Canadian coffee shops — popular with the masses, but ughhhhhh, really?
As Dempsey suggests, Tim Hortons has been so successful because the company has deftly branded itself as an important part of the Canada's social and cultural fabric, finding ways to link itself with enduring values and presenting a distinctively Canadian image at a time when globalization seems to augur an erosion of national identity:
The identity crisis Canadians have suffered since Confederation has helped Tim Hortons achieved its emblematic status. We are keen to latch on to anything that helps define us, particularly in a post-1980s globalized world in which our feelings of national culture have become entwined with our acts of consumption. Tim Hortons has seized on that, but not in an aggressive way. It has become a part of us without making demands.

. . .

"There are other companies that try to attach themselves to Canadian nationalism, but I've never seen a company do it as well," says Patricia Cormack, a professor of sociology at St. Francis Xavier University whose book, Desiring Canada, written with James Cosgrave, includes a chapter devoted to Tim Hortons.

"They're extremely careful about how to link the everyday with real deep emotional feelings that connect at some level with the nation, the idea of being a Canadian," she says. "It's not just throwing around a bunch of stupid signifiers like hockey sticks and beavers."

So while one company might slap a puck on a T-shirt, Tim Hortons has aligned itself not only with the game of hockey but with bigger ideas attached to it — community, sacrifice, childhood. The "True Stories" commercials were full of pathos and ambiguity. Remember the one where the immigrant family is welcomed to Canada by the dad at the airport? Remember the one about the golden retriever, Sammi, who went to Tim Hortons for her owner and carried the bag back in her mouth?

The same emotional strings are tugged with the company's charitable work, most notably the Timbits youth sports program, a community initiative that has furthered the company’s brand association with hockey. Who can resist the sight of a 5-year-old stumbling across the ice in a Tim Bits jersey? Not me. Tears are pooling in my eyes right now, and I am not being sarcastic.
For an example of one of those Tim Hortons "True Stories," take a look at the below commercial featuring three generations of a Chinese-Canadian family - a commercial in which Tim Hortons coffee plays an apparently incidental role, even though that product is ostensibly what is being promoted:

Is this an example of shameless tugging at the heartstrings by a large corporation out to make a buck? Undoubtedly, but by my lights it's also brilliantly well-done. For more on the underlying issues, read the rest of Amy Dempsey's piece in the Star. AMDG.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Windsor's historic Assumption Church slated to close.

This morning I read some devastating news regarding a place dear to my heart: Assumption Church in Windsor, Ontario is slated to close in November after the failure of a four-year effort to raise $10 million for needed structural repairs to the 169-year-old edifice. Churches close their doors all the time, including old ones, but this proposed closing is shocking on a number of fronts: Assumption Church is home to the oldest Catholic parish in Canada west of Montreal, founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1767, and the beauty of the current church building and its prominent location beside the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit made Assumption an iconic landmark and an internationally-recognized historic site. The closing of Assumption Church means something to me personally because, as I noted in a post from a few years ago, I used to attend Mass there regularly when I was a Jesuit novice living across the river in Metro Detroit.

As the Windsor Star's reporting of the story seems to make clear, the decision to close Assumption Church comes down to money. The parish itself remains vibrant, with consistently high attendance at weekend Masses and various forms of outreach to the surrounding community. From the time that it became clear that the church needed extensive repairs costing millions of dollars, the parish and the local diocese have made concerted efforts to raise the required funds by appealing to the broader public. Initial efforts to raise money for the project with the help of a professional fundraising firm hired by the diocese collapsed on account of apparent mismanagement and potential malfeasance by the firm in question, and a subsequent fundraising campaign coordinated by the parish was also mired in controversy. Both campaigns seem to have been ill-starred in different ways, but I also have to imagine that any effort to raise $10 million would have faced considerable challenges given the economic downturn of the last decade and the relatively tiny base of financial support available in a smaller manufacturing city like Windsor.

Though the situation seems rather dire, I noticed a small glimmer of hope in the Windsor Star report on the proposed closing of Assumption Church. According to the local ordinary, Bishop Ronald Fabbro, the decision to close the church could be reversed if the money needed for repairs can be raised in the next couple of months - an admittedly daunting prospect that apparently consoles some parishioners. From the Windsor Star:
Fabbro did leave the door ajar for the church to be saved if somehow huge donations come rolling in and the $10-million target gets reached in short order.

"We will work with the bishop to resolve this so that it can be used again as a Catholic parish," [parish council chairman Kevin] Alexander said.

. . .

. . . [T]he chairman of the parish's finance committee the last two years indicated despite any pledges [to the restoration fund], the only thing that matters is "cash in hand" and right now the account for the church's renovations sits at about $1.1 million.

"It's pretty simple at this point," said Jason Grech, a local accountant. "The only thing we can do to save the church is come up with $10 million in two months. That's really easy to say, but it will be hard to accomplish."

Grech expressed some relief Friday because at least Fabbro's decision provides "a line that can be drawn" on the church’s fate.

"The reality is the church really will close unless we come up with the money," he said. "Call it a miracle that is needed, but who knows what can happen if some prominent people support the endeavour."
Assumption needs a miracle, and I will certainly be praying that, against the odds, the decision to close the church can be reversed. If you are interested in knowing more - and if you are in a situation to make a donation, however small - I urge you to take a look at the parish website. AMDG.