Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Zadok the Priest.

In recent days, George Frideric Handel's Zadok the Priest has come up a couple of times in conversations in person and online, which led me to recall its use as an offertory anthem at my ordination last June. One of four anthems written by Handel for the coronation of King George II in 1727, Zadok the Priest may seem an incongruous choice of music for an ordination; as one of my friends pointed out, the only mention of priesthood in the words of the anthem comes in the first line ("Zadok the Priest, and Nathan the Prophet anointed Solomon King"), after which the focus turns to the king himself and his subjects' joyful reaction to his coronation. Nevertheless, the anthem's neat linking of the roles of priest, prophet, and king as well as its emphasis on the priest's role in the anointing of a new monarch are perhaps salutary reminders for a newly-ordained priest of the responsibilities that come with his office. I didn't expect to hear Zadok the Priest at my ordination, but now the piece is indelibly associated in my mind with the day I was ordained a priest, and that's not a bad thing.

Of course, the idea of hearing Zadok the Priest at a Roman Catholic ordination Mass is a bit less strange when one remembers that the piece has been used in sundry and various contexts far from its original setting; living in Canada, I can't help but recall Zadok's appearance in a milk commercial that got a lot of play here a couple of years ago. Some purists may balk at hearing Zadok the Priest used to sell milk, but I suppose that one should be grateful to hear Handel wherever he may be heard, even in the unlikeliest places. AMDG.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Scalia on Sundays.

In recent days, I've been pondering whether or not to say anything here about last week's meeting in Havana between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. I finally decided not to say anything on my own about the Havana meeting, but if you want to read something good on point, the best responses I've read come from Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk and from Father Andriy Chirovsky in First Things (with a follow-up at Catholic World Report).

Today's post was occasioned not by the Havana meeting but by the passing of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, whose funeral took place this morning in Washington. The news of Justice Scalia's death as well as the various public tributes and reminiscences of his life offered over the past week have given me occasion to wax nostalgic about my life before entering the Society. I saw Justice Scalia a number of times when I was in college and law school, and we once shook hands and chatted briefly during a reception at Notre Dame; of those various encounters, the most memorable remains the first, which took place not in a courtroom or a lecture hall but rather at Mass, on a Sunday morning at Old St. Mary's Church in Washington. Before I went to the nine o' clock Mass at Old St. Mary's for the first time, I had been told that I could expect to see Antonin Scalia in the pews, and those reports proved accurate. Many were the Sundays when I saw Justice Scalia kneeling in his usual place, a well-thumbed pocket missal in hand, edifyingly discreet and unassuming in spite of his fame and influence. As it seemed to me then (and still seems to me now), Antonin Scalia was a man who understood that great human accomplishments and worldly renown loom very small when compared with the greatness of God.

For another appreciation of Scalia on Sundays, it's worth reading what Kenneth Wolfe wrote a couple of days ago in the Wall Street Journal. Most of Wolfe's tribute is trapped behind the WSJ paywall, but the first few paragraphs provide a good idea of the content:
Antonin Scalia attended the traditional Latin Mass nearly every Sunday, at St. John the Beloved church near his home in McLean, Va., or at St. Mary Mother of God church in the Chinatown section of Washington, D.C. When he went to the latter location, it was usually followed by a day of reading in his nearby Supreme Court office, which he did for decades on certain Sundays during the court's term.

In the 20 years I saw him at Mass, not once was he protected by Supreme Court police or by U.S. Marshals. The associate justice with his home number still listed in the telephone book was surprisingly down to earth, true to his New Jersey roots. It was not uncommon to see him park his BMW on G Street in the District before Mass and put on his necktie using the car's mirror. He would walk into St. Mary's with his pre-Vatican II hand missal, always sitting in the same general area, near Patrick Buchanan, about halfway up the aisle on the far left side of the nave.

Justice Scalia loved music, especially opera. So when I was the director of an amateur choir at St. Mary's in the late 1990s (in a Verizon Center-less neighborhood far different from today), we were under increased pressure during the Sundays when he attended High Mass. Our choir was admittedly awful, and even though we rehearsed every Thursday night and Sunday morning, it didn't seem to help much.
Wolfe goes on to explain that Scalia's critical comments about the quality of the choir at Old St. Mary's later led to great improvements in the music program, such that the Justice's initially lonely musical "dissent" made life better for the entire congregation. That strikes me as an excellent way to be remembered, and on this, the day of Justice Scalia's funeral, that is how I remember him. AMDG.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Manoussakis on prayer.

As a sort of Ash Wednesday item, here is an interview on prayer given last February by Archimandrite John Panteleimon Manoussakis, a friend whose work has been featured on this blog before. Though I read the interview when it was first published, it's on my mind again today because another friend of ours shared it yesterday on the one-year anniversary of its publication. Here is a sample:
What is your prayer routine for an average day?

One could perhaps object to the conjunction of these two words, "prayer" and "routine." Yet this objection springs from our romantic ideas that fancy prayer to be some kind of "event." In reality, judged externally, when we pray nothing happens. In the eyes of the world that evaluates everything in terms of production and consumption, the time of prayer is a "dead" time, a waste even of time that could have been used more productively. It is precisely because we fight against such a perception that a “prayer routine” is essential. What is most difficult in prayer is persevering in it. Ideally, I would like to maintain a schedule of praying daily the liturgy of the hours, beginning with matins and concluding the day with compline. This practice bestows one's life with a rhythm that is transformative.

How well do you achieve it, and how do you handle those moments when you don’t?

Worldly cares and the old enemy of every life of prayer, acedia, always interfere with our best intentions and efforts. This should not discourage us (and I say this as one who has often been discouraged and frustrated). Prayer knows of other ways — it can, in fact, transform this very frustration into a prayerful cry. What I am trying to say is that carrying on with one's daily humble duties, attending to those same worldly cares that seem to be the stumbling block to our devotions might be itself a form of prayer. After all, our goal is not to carve out from our days a few hours dedicated to God, but to offer our whole life and all of our actions as a prayer to Him. The distinction between sacred time and secular time—a time for the world and a time for God — that this mentality presupposes is ultimately false and even dangerous.

. . .

What is your current spiritual or devotional reading?

Literature, especially Dostoyevsky’s works. There is little that any devotional book could add to The Brothers Karamazov. I'm currently reading The Idiot. Speaking of spiritual or devotional practices, we should not forget that not all such practices need to involve "reading." Of equal importance, if not more, in the spiritual formation is the role played by music. Johann Sebastian Bach’s music is the pinnacle of Christianity’s expression in that medium. A similar observation can be made for the works of Arvo Pärt. Here, too, once could say a great deal about music's indispensable role in worship. We don't imagine angels reading thick volumes and with good reason. They sing.
To read the rest, click here. Prayers for all who are beginning the spiritual combat of Lent today. AMDG.

Bernie Sanders [and Ron Paul] and Millennials, again.

In my two most recent posts, I suggested that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders's apparent success in connecting with young voters during the current Democratic primary race has some parallels with the popularity that Ron Paul enjoyed among Millennials during his Republican presidential campaign four years ago. Now, I see that Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has offered some analysis and stats on this very phenomenon. Here is a bit of what Silver has to say:
Just as "socialism" is becoming more popular with young Americans, so is another label that implies a highly different set of economic policies. Americans aged 18-29 are much more likely than older generations to have a favorable view of the term "libertarian," referring to a philosophy that favors free markets and small government. Indeed, the demographics of Sanders's support now and Ron Paul's support four years ago are not all that different: Both candidates got much more support from younger voters than from older ones, from men than from women, from white voters than from nonwhite ones, and from secular voters than from religious ones. Like Sanders, Paul drew more support from poorer voters than from wealthier ones in 2012, although that's not true of libertarianism more generally.

. . .

What’s distinctive about both the Sanders and Ron Paul coalitions is that they consist mostly of people who do not feel fully at home in the two-party system but are not part of historically underprivileged groups. On the whole, young voters lack political influence. But a young black voter might feel more comfortable within the Democratic coalition, which black political leaders have embraced, while a young evangelical voter might see herself as part of a wave of religious conservatives who long ago found a place within the GOP.
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Millennials and Bernie Sanders, continued.

Following up on Sunday's post on Millennials and Bernie Sanders and the apparent outcome of last night's Iowa Caucus in a "virtual tie" between Sanders and rival Hillary Clinton, here is some more data on the generational divide between supporters of the two Democratic candidates, as reported today by John Cassidy of The New Yorker:
The age gap between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters was huge. According to the entrance polls, which wrongly predicted a Clinton victory, Sanders got eighty-six per cent of the Democratic vote in the seventeen-to-twenty-four age group, eighty-one per cent in the twenty-five-to-twenty-nine group, and sixty-five per cent in the thirty-to-thirty-nine age group. Clinton, by contrast, was largely reliant on the middle-aged and the elderly. Among forty-something voters, she won by five percentage points. Among the over-fifties, she won by more than twenty per cent.

When you are so heavily reliant on support from older voters, it is tricky to project yourself as the voice of the future....
As I mused on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether the fact that younger voters skew so heavily toward Sanders reflects a generational shift in political attitudes or simply affirms well-worn clichés regarding the passing idealism of youth. Four year ago, at around the same time I was writing about Ron Paul's popularity among young voters in the Republican primaries and caucuses, I quipped to friends that Paul might be described as the Pied Piper of American politics, capturing the imagination of a generation of activists uninspired by the cautious platitudes of candidates favored by party elites. In his own way, Bernie Sanders might be on his way to becoming the Pied Piper of the Democratic Party.

Given shifts in the American political landscape in the last four years and the fragmentation of the Republican primary field, it's hard to know what has happened to the Millennials who backed the 'Ron Paul Revolution' the last time around; I'd love to see some pollsters ask young voters who backed Ron Paul in 2012 who they're supporting in 2016 (at the very least, it seems safe to say that a lot of them have chosen not to back Rand Paul, who hasn't achieved anything the near the level of support his father enjoyed four years ago). I look forward to finding out how securely the Pied Piper mantle rests on Bernie Sanders' shoulders as the 2016 presidential primary season runs its course, but I look forward with even greater curiosity to seeing what becomes of this new youth movement in American politics in the years to come. AMDG.