Saturday, November 01, 2003

A Great Idea
Chris at Maine Catholic has a list of his favorite saints for All Saints' Day. That is such a great idea, I'm presenting my own top ten:
1) St. Joseph
2) St. John the Baptist (my confirmation name is John)
3) St. George
4) St. Thomas the Apostle
5) St. Thomas More (would that I had one tenth his firmness in doing right!)
6) St. Jude
7) St. Thomas a Kempis
8) St. Patrick
9) St. Nicholas
10) St. Benedict

Honorable Mention: Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Of course the Blessed mother is a saint, the Queen of saints).

A Recipe For Tonight/Tomorrow
I'm giving this recipe today so that interested parties can have it ready for tomorrow, though I don't suppose there is much threat of anyone coming "a'souling" at your door these days. Traditionally, feast days in Europe were celebrated as wakes, which is why we make such a big thing of New Year's Eve, Christmas Eve, All Hallow's Eve, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday Night. That was part of the justification after Vatican II, by the way, for the Saturday evening Masses every weekend.

Soul Bread
2 TBSP. Yeast (Instant)
1c. milk
5c. flour
1c. sugar
1 tsp. grated orange peel
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1/2 c. butter

You start with the yeast, and have to knead this thing three times after it rises to double its size (which is why I prefer to use a bread machine). When you think you have kneaded it enough, bake it at 350 degrees for an hour.

And if you don't want to go through the kneading process, buy some good plain or cider donuts. The round shape is supposed to put us in mind of God's infinity.

Souling Song
Just like the Wren Boys on St. Stephen's Day, and our trick-or-treaters on Hallowmas Eve, there was a set formula for what the souling luck visitors were supposed to chant as they came to the door. It varied however, from place to place. Here are two:
Soul! Soul! For a souling-cake!
I pray you, good missus, a souling-cake.

In another part of England, the children sang:

Soul! Soul! For an apple or two!
If you have no apples,
Pears will do,
If you have no pears,
Money will do.
If you have no money,
God bless you!

The Catholic Encyclopedia On The Communion of Saints

For All the Saints
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

All Saints' Day
From the fourth century, a feast to honor all the saints was established in the eastern Church, on the Sunday after Pentecost. The feast appears for the first time in the West in a little after 600. Pope Gregory III moved the feast to November 1st in the mid-700s. Pope Gregory IV in 835 applied the feast to the universal Church. It is a day for remembering and honoring all the saints, both known and unknown. In English, the title of the feast was sometimes called Hallowmas.

Friday, October 31, 2003

The Ghost's Lament
Woe's me, woe's me
The acorn's not yet fallen from the tree
That's to grow the wood
That's to make the cradle
That's to rock the baby
That's to grow a man
That's to release me.

An old English lament

Another cherished Halloween custom is trick-or-treating. This is another one with some Christian origins.

In Celtic times, the inhabitants of the British Isles believed that on the night of October 31, which was their new year's eve, the spirits of those who had died during that year could come back to visit their families. Offerings of food were left by the living for these relatives. Some donned the clothes of the dead, and begged for the treats from door to door in the village. Sometimes banquests were laid out, after which the people in the guise of the dead were escorted to the edge of town (we still send what we don't want to the edge of town-to the dump).

The Church looked somewhat askance at this custom. But, as the Church did with many pre-Christian customs that we still observe as Christmas rituals, it gave the celebration of the night of October 31st a Christian content. First All Saints' Day was imposed on November 1st, and made a day of mandatory attendance at Mass. Later, a day to honor all the faithful departed, All Souls' Day was added on November 2nd. The custom of dressing up in the clothes of the dead and going door-to-door was transformed into the "luck visit" ritual called "going a-souling." Young people would visit, and beg for soul cakes (square cakes of something like raisin bread), sometimes singing souling songs. If given a soul cake, the visitor would promise to pray for the soul of the donor, or anyone he designated. This custom was, in the 19th century revived and transformed into trick-or-treating.

You will notice a strong resemblence between trick-or-treating and Christmas "luck visits" like wassailing, and the wren boys in Ireland. They are indeed related customs. Luck or good fortune, in this case in the form of prayers for the soul, is exchanged for gifts of food or drink. Both are new year rituals, with trick-or-treating a reminder that October 31st was new year's eve for the Celts.

Today many Catholic schools have children dress up as saints, and attend Mass on All Saints Day so attired. This is another adaptation of the "luck visit" ritual that is at the root of trick-or-treating.

The Jack-O-Lantern
Many of you will be familiar with this story, but it illustrates the Christian origins of one of the most cherished Halloween customs.

Back in the days after Saint Patrick had converted Ireland, there lived an Irishman named Jack. Now Jack was a notoriously mean, stingy, and hard-drinking reprobate. Jack wanted a drink, but could not afford one. He somehow summoned the Devil, and offered him his soul for a drink. The Devil agreed. Jack asked for hard cider, and asked the Devil to climb a tree to get apples to make cider from. The Devil climbed up, and sent down some apples. Once Jack had the apples. he quickly carved a cross in the trunk of the tree, making it impossible for the Devil to come down out of the tree. Jack and the Devil agreed that Jack would efface the cross, so that the Devil could come down, and the Devil would never accept Jack's soul into Hell. Jack went off laughing in his sleeve.

Jack continued his life of sin. When he finally died, he presented himself at the Gates of Heaven, only to be turned away for being in life too nasty, too tight, and too thirsty. "Well," Jack said, "off to Hell I go." But when he got there, the Devil reminded Jack of their bargain, and refused him. To speed him on his way, the Devil hurled a coal from the fires of Hell at Jack. Jack had been eating a turnip, and had hollowed it out fairly well. Jack defended himself from the burning coal by putting up the turnip, and caught the coal in it.

Since then, using his hollowed out turnip as a lantern, Jack has been wandering the earth in search of a drink and a refuge. He is known as Jack of the Lantern, or jack-o-lantern.

When the Irish came to America, they found turnips not particularly popular. But the Yankees used pumpkins for everything, including soup tureens, ladles, and storage pots. The Irish found that pumpkins made excellent substitues for Jack's turnip lantern. That is why we carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns to this day.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Catholics And Halloween
American Catholic has some great stuff on their site regarding the origins of Halloween and its customs, and how the Church views some of the various aspects of the day as it is celebrated today.

Irish Halloween Food
Want something to serve Halloween night that is not loaded with sugar? Before the kids gourge on trick-or-treat candy and caramel apples, get something with a little substance into them. If it is cold in your part of the country this Halloween night, they'll need something that will stick to their ribs.

Try Champ.

Champ is essentially rich-man's mashed spuds. It is traditionally served in Ireland as an alternative to Colcannon on Halloween night. Since we get so many of our Halloween customs from Ireland, why not try this?

You need:
8 large russets (I like Yukon Gold)
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 pound butter
fresh or dried chives to taste
fried or dried onions to taste
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1/4 pound butter
1 pound Irish back bacon

Cut a strip 1/2 inch wide along the circumference of the spuds. This gives them better flavor, and allows for easier peeling once they have been boiled. Then boil them in their jackets.

Fry up the Irish back bacon. Irish back bacon is more like cured pork than our smoked breakfast bacon. Once the back bacon is done, dry it off with paper towels, and cut off and remove the fat and dice up the choice pieces.

Peel the spuds, and place them in a large bowl and mash them with the cream, the 1/2 pound of butter (or more, if you like) chives, onions, salt and pepper. Mix them up and bring the spuds to a consistency you like. I prefer firm, smooth, and very creamy. Add in the back bacon and stir.

To serve, mound up the champ on each plate, and hollow out a crater at the top. Here, put in the additional butter sliced up so so that it melts. As you eat forkfuls of champ, dip them in the crater of butter. Sinfully rich and delicious!

I also like this on Saint Patrick's Day.

Maybe tomorrow, we will talk about Barm Brack.

The Tale of the Haunted Rectory
Some years before he died in 1993, my Uncle Thomas retailed circumstances that he said he had witnessed in the late 1950s. He and my grandmother were living near downtown Malden. My uncle volunteered weekends answering the phone and the door at the rectory of the parish that our family had been members of since they came to America in the early 1920s. He was on good terms with all of the priests of the parish (7, I think, at the time).

One November Saturday, he was making his way to the back door of the rectory to begin his office hours. It was a bleak, cloudy day and winter's chill could be distinctly felt.

Just before he turned the corner to the back of the building (or is the back door on the side?), he was passed by a youngish priest, probably in his early 30s. Now Uncle Thomas knew not only all the priests assigned to the parish quite well, but most of their priest friends who stopped by for visits from time to time. This priest was an utter stranger.

What was more curious was that this young priest was wearing the old-fashioned cassock and biretta that had gone out of fashion years ago. Today, some deliberately conservative priests, like members of the FSSP and some others wear that rig as a way of showing their disregard for fashion and change. But then, it was unheard of for any but the most elderly priests in Greater Boston to dress like that. The Revolution had not yet come to the Church, though it was brewing. There was nothing as yet to take a counter-revolutionary stance against.

"Good morning, Father."

No reply. Not even a glance at the person addressing him.

Perhaps he was caught up in prayer or his own thoughts.

When Uncle Thomas got into the kitchen (the back door opened into it, I think) two of the parish priests were sitting at the table talking over cups of tea.

"I didn't recognize your visitor. Has he been assigned here?"

"What visitor?"

"The young priest in the cassock and biretta."

"No one has been in. We've been sitting over our tea for the last 15 minutes. The bell didn't ring, either."

"You say a young priest in a cassock and biretta? How odd. Even old Father Jack goes out in a fedora these days."

"How odd that a strange priest would walk along the edge of the building and not stop in."

Well, the parish is in an urban area, and it is possible that the young priest has some business at the school and was merely passing the rectory as a familiar landmark on his way to the train station. My uncle thought nothing more about the incident. As it happened, he had a busy day with the phones, and several people came to the door to meet with one or another of the priests.

About 4 weeks later, on another Saturday morning, Uncle Thomas was back at the rectory. This morning, there was only one priest at home, a retired priest living at the rectory. He was well enough to say Mass, make a few local sick calls if necessary and generally help out. In fact, he was saying noon Mass, and was in the study across the hall from the office looking over the Epistle and Gospel for the day and making notes for his sermon.

Saturday being the day off for the rectory's staff, and the other six priests being off on various errands, Uncle Thomas and the elderly priest were alone in the house. The phones were quiet. The doorbell did not ring until after noon Mass, when two parishioners brought in Christmas gifts for the priests. People must have been busy with their Christmas shopping.

Uncle Thomas was in the office after 10:00 am with a cup of tea and some cookies before him. After a short while, he heard what sounded like footsteps in the room above him. That room, he knew, was occupied by one of the two priests who were on their way to help with Advent confessions at the Cathedral (confessions at the parish were to be held that afternoon). He listened for a long time, trying to convince himself that what he heard was, in fact, water being carried through pipes to the radiator. But the more he listened, the more convinced he became that he was hearing footsteps pacing back and forth in the room above the office.

None of the priests who were out could have come back to the rectory without him seeing them pass the front door, or hearing them come in the back, unless they were trying to be very quiet for some reason. Again, the only other person in the building should have been the elderly priest in the study across the hall.

After about 15 minutes, the sound of the footsteps stopped. A few minutes later. The elderly priest was in the doorway of the office and looking in.

"Hi, Father, need anything?

"No. Was wondering if you'd just been upstairs."

"No. I've been in here all the time. You havn't been upstairs, have you?

"I've been in the study writing."

Just then, the pacing began again.

"Ya hear that?"

"I'd thought it was something you were doing."

"Not I."

The pacing sound continued. Uncle Thomas and the elderly priest decided to go upstairs and see if someone had somehow got past them. As they were on the stairs, the pacing stopped.

They looked in all the second floor rooms, and found them vacant. The third floor was similarly unoccupied. No one else was in the rectory. After they had been downstairs for a few minutes, and were about to go their separate ways, it started again; back and forth apparently in the room above the office.

"Strange. Have you heard that before, Father?"

"No. But then the house is not usually as quiet as it is today."

Throughout his years of volunteering at the parish on weekends, Uncle Thomas heard the pacing sound from time to time, but learned to chalk it up to the category of "sounds you hear in an old house that is probably settling on its foundation." As the 1960s progressed, TV tended to drown out the sounds, if they continued.

In 1974, my uncle and grandmother moved across town, and began attending another parish (my uncle attended, my grandmother had been virtually bedridden since about 1968). A few years later, a priest who had been particularly friendly with my uncle, after years in other parishes in other towns, was assigned back in Malden to my uncle's new parish. One day in the comfortable modern living room of the rectory of the other parish, they were talking about the old days.

My uncle ventured, "You know, I've never mentioned this to anyone, but on some of those Saturday mornings in the office at the old place, I could have sworn that I heard footsteps pacing in the room above the office when I knew that room was empty."

"You know about the ghost, then?"

"What ghost? Are you kidding me?"

The priest's story was roughly as follows. Just before the US entered World War I, a priest just out of seminary had been assigned to that parish and was living in the room above the office. Many young priests had been given their first assignment in parishes like this. There would be plenty of company, and a decent reception from the community. But his young priest, though devout, was troubled. Perhaps he questioned whether his vocation was a true one. Perhaps other circumstances in his life conspired to make him unhappy. Anguish was, in any case the result. The pastor was on the verge of having him re-assigned after only a few months, thinking that perhaps a change of scenery might be best.

Whatever the cause, the young priest committed suicide in the room above the room that, in the 1950s was the parish office. At the order of Cardinal O'Connell, the incident was never openly discussed. The other priests there at the time were told never to speak of it. Parishioners were only told that Father X had died suddenly and unexpectedly in the rectory. It was probably something to do with his heart.

But with Vatican II and the coming of two later cardinals, (Cushing and Medieros) the need for secrecy in this matter abated. Uncle Thomas' friend had heard the story in the 1960s from a very elderly priest who had been at the parish at the time, a year ahead of the unfortunate Father X in the seminary. Apparently, Uncle Thomas was not the only person to hear the pacing in the rectory.

It was then that my uncle recalled being passed that November morning by the strange young priest and connected him to the suicide of 1916.

I have only my uncle's account for the veracity of this story. The priest who told him about the suicide died some years ago. I don't know whether that rectory ever was truly haunted, or whether he and the others just heard sounds natural to an old house. But it is a jolly good tale for the day before Halloween.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Nastier Side of Halloween
Domenico Bettinelli has a good post up on the negative side of Halloween as it is celebrated today: the New Age flakes and worse, Black Masses, vandalism, and large drunken crowds in Salem.

It is a problem. And the problem stems from the city's insistence on marketing itself as "The Witch City" and "The Halloween Center of the Universe." This year, I anticipate it being a pretty bad problem, as Halloween falls on a Friday night, what has become the night for letting off steam anyway.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Oak Hill
Time for some tales with a Halloween feeling.

I spent the predominant portion of my life living hard by a spot known in colonial times as Oak Hill in what is now West Peabody, but was Salem Village in 1692, and South Danvers from 1758-c. 1870. I don't think I have ever mentioned the fact, but, yes, I grew up in the confines of what was old Salem Village, and lived there for 30 years. I only found out that the hilltop graveyard was known as Oak Hill a few years ago, when i checked out a USGS map. In fact, if begs confusion with the other Oak Hill, the federal mansion built by Samuel McIntyre for Elias Hasket Derby's daughter, Elizabeth Derby West which stood on what is now the site of the North Shore Shopping Center (a few rooms' interiors are preserved at the Museum of Fine Arts).

As the name implies, Oak Hill is a small hillock, probably a drumlin (but I am no expert), that at one time was well planted with tall majestic oaks. One of them was on the corner of my parents' yard, and annually deposited tens of thousands of leaves there.

Oak Hill was a graveyard. The earliest grave I could ever find was dated 1755, and contained the mortal remains of a man who died in his seventies. So the fellow had possibly lived through the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. That stone was of the thin slate type we often see in old graveyards. Regrettably, it was broken into several pieces by teenage vandals back in the 1960s. The graveyard was encased in a old New England dry-laid stone wall, the old stones turned grey with two centuries of Yankee weather and green with two centuries of Yankee moss.

But Oak Hill may have been a burial place long before the English settlers of the southwestern portion of Salem Village started to bury their dead there. Indian artifacts have been found there including arrow heads. It had a reputation in the 19th century as an unpleasant place to spend a night.

The hill had a well-earned reputation as a place for lightning strikes to occur. I was astonished to read this in an account of the place, and recalled that, in my 30 years there, I had seen 3 tall trees brought down by lightning. Not so surprising. A hill rising up out of the coastal plain and planted with many tall oaks (though really tall pines were replacing them when I lived there) might very well attract lightning.

Three men are buried there whose names and dates match members of Danvers militia companies that took part in the April 19, 1775 fighting in what is now Arlington, but then was called by its Indian name, Menotomy. Two of them, young men of the same family, perhaps opf the same household, appear to have died in an outbreak of some disease in 1778.

The most famous inhabitant of the graveyard is Amos Pope, a slightly younger contemporary of the militiamen. In the 1790s, while the Old Farmer's Almanac was getting its start, Pope, a young cousin of Benjamin Franklin, produced his own almanac, which had a considerable circulation in the Boston area. Pope and his family lived in a house only about 60-80 yards from Oak Hill that burned to the ground around 1970s. My childhood dog Flash used to enjoyt chasing rabbits near the old house before it burned. Pope was said to have been an accomplished mathematician. Perhaps some enterprising writer might craft some gothic romance about the almanac maker Pope and his life.

Oak Hill graveyard has regrettably turned into what historical graveyard preservationists call the "worst case scenario" of such places. The title to the place seems to be vested in the Pope family. I recall once or twice an old man coming and asking permission to cut through our yard to look at the graves of his family. But there was no one to care for the graveyard. Mr. Pope apparently lived at a great distance, and his relatives did not know what to do with the hillock. They knew they could not develop it, and apparently lost interest. It became overgrown, badly overgrown. Teenagers in the 1960s and early 1970s partied there, overturning stones, wreaking parts of the wall, even apparently trying to dig up one grave.

Well, I lived there for 30 years and never had anything particularly startling happen there. But one thing did happen there that I today take as a sign of hope.

The area had been in agricultural use from the days when it was known as part of Salem Village. Apple orchards, now long-neglected, had stood in what became in the early 1970s, my neighborhood. Meadow stood to the south, swamp to the northwest. My father and I had each, at different times, tried our hands at gardening.

Dad had much more success than I had. He grew bushels and bushels of tomatoes. When he lost interest in gardening, I tried pumpkins, without any great success, and with lasting unfruitful pumpkin vines gone to weed in the back yard. I had strawberries in a small patch, but lacked sufficient sunshine because of all the tall trees. I planted a few dwarf apple trees. They produced some few apples each year, except for one tree. It never produced a single blossom. Except one year.

My Dad died on December 31, 1989. The following April, that one dwarf tree, that he had told me I should cut down, bore a single apple blossom, for the first and only time in its life. I think the blossom was a sign that Dad had at least reached Purgatory, and was destined for eternal happiness. I like to hope so.

Evelyn Waugh
On this date in 1903, author and Catholic convert Evelyn Waugh was born. It was once said that Hobbes had some sort of vision of Waugh, when he described the life of man without civil society as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." When you strip away the rudeness, the sometimes obnoxious behavior, and the collegiate experimentation with homosexuality, you are left with a great writer. He produced the beautiful Brideshead Revisited, perhaps the best novel in English about the Faith in the last century. I read once a description of Brideshead that made me shake my head in despair. It was said to be "about two gays at Oxford, and one of them had a teddy bear." We have eyes, but do not see.

But there is much to like about old Waugh. He was a short stocky fellow who liked cigars, and worked in a book-lined study, rather like a certain blogger. Waugh was a Tridentine Catholic who died before the deluge in 1966. His letters to a local bishop regarding his horror at the prospect of liturgical reform have recently been published. They reflect a conservative trying to come to terms with a revolution in an institution he had come to embrace and love.

He won my respect forever by writing, in Men At Arms, which I read while in college and just re-read last month, of the Nazi-Soviet Alliance of 1939 thus:

News that had shook the politicians and young poets of a dozen capital cities brought deep peace to one English heart....The German Nazis he knew to be mad and bad. Their participation had dishonoured the cause of Spain....He expected his country to go to war in a panic, for the wrong reasons, or for no reason at all, with the wrong allies, in pitiful weakness. But now, splendidly, everything had become clear. The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms. Whatever the outcome there was a place for him in that battle.

Saints Simon & Jude
Today the Church honors two of the Lord's Apostles, Simon the Zealot and Jude. As his name implies, Simon the Zealot came to our Lord from a background in radical nationalistic politics. Jude was actually known as Judas, but is called Jude to avoid confusion with Judas Iscariot. He is also known as Thaddeus. Both slipped almost immediately into the anonymity of the Apostolic College after joining the Lord's followers. Legend tells us that they exercised their ministry in Persia after the Ascension, and were martyred there. Jude is the well known patron of lost causes. Simon has become the patron of curriers and pit sawyers.

Abigail Adams: First Lady of American Conservatism
Abigail Adams has been saddled with a terrible reputation by feminist historians. Her playful teasing of husband John about not forgetting the ladies while founding a new nation has been taken at face value and has transposed this first female icon of American conservatism into an avatar of feminism. Historian David McCullough implied in his recent biography of John Adams that the admonition was part of a private joke between the two. But feminists don't want to hear that.

The reality of Abigail Adams' political views is rather different from what the feminists would have you believe. She held a conservative world view throughout her life. Her views on then-current political controversies, as expressed in letters to her sisters, were more consistently conservative then her husband's.

It takes a rigid determination to not see the real Abigail Adams to paint her as some sort of feminist precursor. She was the daughter of a Congregationalist minister and was accepted into that church in 1759. Her greatest intellectual influence seems to have been Alexander Pope's Essay On Man, and Samuel Richardson, who believed that the purpose of educating women was to produce better wives and mothers. She showed an instinct for order, duty, subordination, religion, and respect for vested rights and property throughout her life.

During the twelve years of the Washington and Adams Administrations, Abigail's conservatism found its fullest expression. She railed against the Jacobins, both at home and abroad. On all the issues she recorded her opinion on, she was on the side of the hardline Federalists. Often, her sentiments could be taken for those of Fisher Ames.

Hearing of the fate of Queen Marie Antoinette, she wrote, "Would to heaven that the destroying Angel would put up his sword."

Writing of the Jeffersonian press in early 1797:

You will see by the Chronical, I presume, that
the Tone of the Jacobins is turnd, and that the president
has committed with them the unpardonable sin "by
saying, that he was convinced that the conduct of the
Government had been just and impartial to foreign
Nations." Bache opend his batterys of abuse and
scurility the very next day, and has in every paper
continued them, extracts of which I dout not the Faithfull
Chronical will detail...The Antis want to qualify. They
dare not openly countanance the conduct of France,
but they want to court and coax her. With Barra's
insolent speech before their eyes and Pinkney's dispatches,
which fully prove the unbecoming and indignant conduct
of France toward the United States, these degraded
beings would still have their Country men "lick the Hand
just raised to shed their blood." Amongst that number
is Freeman of our state, who yesterday appeared a full
blood Jacobin in his speech in the House. Landgon in
the Senate is more bitter than...any Virginian. Mr.
Otis I am told appeared to great advantage...

Here Mrs. Adams sounds like Claire Booth Luce denouncing the Communist menace in the 1970s:

I am at a loss to know how the people who were
formerly so much alive to the usurpation of one Nation
can croach so tamely to a much more dangerous and
dareing [sic] one, to one which aims not only at our
independence and liber[t]y but a total annihilation of the
Christian Religion...In short no crime however black or
Horrid to which they have not become familiar. America
must be punished, punished for having amongst her
legislatures Men who sanction these crimes, who justify
France in all her measures, and who would rejoice to see
fire, sword, and Massacre carried into the Island of Great
Britain untill [sic] she became as miserable, as France is
Oh my native state, wash ye, make yourselves
clean from these abominations. You are guilty of sending
three such men, Varnum, Freeman, Skinner...can we
expect such measures to be adopted as the safety and
security of the Country require? Every Man who sees
the danger may toil and toil; like [Sisyphus]...the weight

And again, what conservative has not had this suspicion:

That we are sinking into a state of Languor,
of Supineness, of Effeminancy and Luxury is but too
evident from our standing in need of such severe and
repeated scourging to arouse us to a sense of Danger,
and to compell us to rise in defense of our Religion,
our Liberties and independence [sic].

She recommended to her sister John Robinson's book, Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, noting that "to destroy and undermine Religion has been the cheif [sic] engine in the accomplishment of this mighty Revolution throughout Europe. We have felt no small share of the balefull influence of the Age of Reason, but to have a thorough Idea of the deep laid system".

And here is Mrs. Adams on Thomas Jefferson, who was once considered a friend by the Adamses:

Yet when I reflect upon the visionary system of
Government which will undoubtably be adapted, the
Evils which must result from it to the Country...What a
lesson upon Elective Government have we in our young
Republic of 12 years old? What is the difference in
character between a Prince of Wales & a Burr? Have
we any claim to the favour or protection of Providence,
when we have against warning admonition and advise
Chosen as our chief Magistrate a man who makes no
pretentions to the belief of an all wise Suprem Governour
of the World...? I do not mean that he is an Atheist, for
I do not think that he is-but he believes Religion only
usefull as it may be made a pollitical Engine,
and that the outward forms are only, as I once
heard him express himself-mere mummery. In
short, he is not a believer in the Christian system-
The other [Burr] if he is more of a believer, has
more to answer for, because he has grosely offended
against those doctrines by his practise.
Such are the men whom we are like to have
as our Rulers. Whether they are given to us in wrath
to punish us for our sins and transgressions, the Events
will disclose.-But if ever we saw a day of darkness, I
fear this is one which will be visible untill Kindled into flames

In the domestic scene, she was never an advocate of "emancipation", or women's suffrage but rather thought women ought to be educated to exercise their "proper sphere" in rearing and educating an informed republican electorate.

No other woman of her time and of her prominence recorded her views on the political issues of the day as Mrs. Adams did. It is easy to call her the Claire Booth Luce or Jeane Kirkpatrick of her day.

I think American conservatives have ample reason to celebrate Abigail Adams as one of their own, if they only knew it. Mrs. Adams died on this date in 1818.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Praying For the Souls In Purgatory
Modern society does not like to think about death. We use euphemisms like "passing over" or "fallen asleep" or even "cemetery" (its Greek root means "resting place"). We don't make much of death. Most people don't die at home, surrounded by loved ones, but instead alone at a hospital or nursing home, with only professional attendants. We have shortened and simplified the mourning process. The beautiful Requiem Mass of the lod liturgy has been replaced by an utterly inadequate liturgy that borrows heavily from Protestant practices. Once someone has died, we tend to reduce them to happy memories and an assurance that they are in Heaven already.

It has become fashionable, even in some "conservative" Catholic circles to think that God's mercy is infinite, and that just about everybody, with the possible exceptions of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and a few others who have murdered on a truly gigantic scale, will wind up in Heaven. People thinking that tend also to gloss over the need for purgation before entering Heaven. So their cosmology of the life after this one tends to end up as a Heaven with just about every human being in it, and Hell inhabited only by a handful of the truly evil.

But that is not what the Church has ever taught. There has always been a third alternative, Purgatory. In fact, we do not know how broad God's mercy on Judgment Day will be. We know that Jesus, our judge on that terrible day (if the concept of "day" has any meaning) will be merciful, but just as well. Those hoping for infinite mercy for their transgressions may be terribly disappointed by finding that justice has more to do with their final disposition for eternity than they thought it would. So Hell may have a lot more inhabitants than we want to think. It may well be that people like us, small sinners who are perfectly nice in other ways, will end up there if we are not careful.

Given that reality, I find the concept of Purgatory comforting. If the alternative for those who are not ready for Heaven is Hell, then I'd take the sufferings of Purgatory any time.

We don't know what those sufferings are. It may be a more limited (in duration, if in nothing else though time has no meaning after death) physical punishment like those imposed in Hell everlastingly. It may just be a huge waiting room in which we wait for our number to be called for the next available spot in Heaven, in which case the absence of God's immediate presence, along with the ennui, is the primary suffering. We just don't know.

As Russell Kirk pointed out in his novel Lord of the Hollow Dark, it may well be that there are many different kinds of purgatory, and that it is not a uniform experience for all souls. Some have speculated that, when a notoroiusly holy person undergoes tremendous suffering before death, they are getting their purgatorial sufferings through with on earth, expiating their relatively minor sins and faults so that their souls' passages to Heaven may be speedier. Could it be that some souls endure their purgatory in some earth-bound manner? Could that account for the universal human phenomonon of ghosts?

The Church does employ priests in the form of exorcists (though not so many now) in order to deal with souls that seem to remain here below when they ought not.

But we do know, because the Church has consistently taught us so, that we can lessen the sufferings of those in Purgatory by prayer. By prayer and good works, and the endurance without complaint of hardship ("offering up") we can speed the process of release of those in Purgatory. Using the waiting room analogy again, every prayer we offer for a poor soul in Purgatory, we advance the line a little bit. It may very well not be that every prayer moves one soul automatically into Heaven. But in some manner, we believe that they draw closer to that goal with each prayer. And we can also pray for ourselves, for the remission of our own purgatorial punishment for our sins. I won't get into the issue of indulgences, though I believe that they are effective in remitting punishment for sin as well.

It is a system of exchange. We offer prayers for our own dead relatives, and for the souls in purgatory in general. When we have died, those we leave behind (hopefully) will pray for us as well as those who have no one left here to pray for them. We believe that the prayers we offer are a material help for the souls in Purgatory.

The prayer most often uttered is from the old Requiem Mass. "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen." But it is perfectly acceptable to substitute words of your own choosing. After all your prayer is a deeply personal matter. Some of us, however, find the formula comforting and continue with it, just as we do with grace before meals.

This is worth trying for those with too much on their plates to pray for already. Do what the Irish have traditionally have done. Add to the simple formulaic prayer of grace before meals the prayer for the souls of the departed. It adds only a few seconds to grace, and is just as effective as praying it by itself. And it reminds us all, as we eat our meal, that we, too, shall die someday.

My own custom is to pray daily for the souls of my family's dead, and to pray for all the faithful departed at grace, and as I remember it. When told that so-and-so has died, whether I ever knew them or not, I always try to say a quick prayer for them. And when I pass a funeral on the street, or hear church bells tolling for one, I try to remember to pray for that soul whose body is being laid to rest.

Make prayers for the dead a part of your daily life. Then, when All Souls comes along, redouble those prayers, or at least be particularly mindful of the dead on that day and the days leading up to it.

A Great Sports Weekend
BC defeated arch-rival Notre Dame for the third straight time, though they were a little careless. The Patriots won a defensive classic 9-3 over the Cleveland Browns. And the Yankees did not win the World Series. On a more sombre note, the Red Sox are showing the door to the manager who got them almost to the World Series. I guess close only counts with horseshoes, hand grenades, and thermonuclear weapons, not in the tenure of baseball managers.

Is Halloween Safe?
Halloween almost faded from the local scene in the mid-late 1970s and 1980s due to exaggerated concerns about safety. We heard a lot about razor blades in apples and tainted candy. What you probably won't find out unless you pay close attention is that most of the horror stories we had heard about were hoaxes. Historian Jack Santino has tracked down most of the stories, and traced their outcomes.

One of the earliest was a much-publicized incident in the 1960s of a woman giving out rat poison to trick-or-treaters. What actually happened was that a couple somewhere in the mid-west got tired of so many older teenagers coming to the door. In their mind, these kids were too old for trick-or-treating. So one year, the wife made up transparent baggies with clearly marked packages of rat poison and other inappropriate treats for inappropriate trick-or-treaters. A little kid would ring her bell, and he got perfectly normal Hershey bars. If a 16 year old rang the bell, he got one of the rat poison bags, with a verbal warning to look carefully at his "treat." Well the woman was arrested and the story hugely publicized, leading to a huge scare about the safety of trick-or-treating

There was another incident in which a child died from poisoned candy. But what most people did not hear was that he child's own uncle, after taking out life insurance policies on the child and his sister, poisoned their candy himself. So the poor child was not a victim of random Halloween evil.

Razor blades in apples? There have been a dozen or so authenticated instances in the last 4 decades in the US. No child has died as a result of one, and less than five have been injured. Altogether, the number of young children injured in genuine Halloween mayhem inflicted on them deliberatly by strangers has been less than 20 over the last 40 years. The number that died as a result is considerably less than five. How many children have died in the same period in fires caused by Christmas candles or electrical problems from Christmas lights on the tree? That number far surpasses the number injured intentionally by strangers on Halloween.

The safety nazis of our society really do latch onto stories like this to try to frighten us all into not having a good time. What a terrible, soulless, grey, sterile world they want us to inhabit!

Be reasonable. Take precautions. Parents should accompany kids (even as old as 10 or 11) as they make the rounds. Kids should not eat any of their Halloween loot until they get home and the parents have achance to go through the bag carefully. Make sure that the kids wear costumes that allow them to see where they are going. Carry flashlights with new batteries. Be careful when crossing streets. Have something reflective on somewhere. Stay within familiar surroundings. Go only to houses that appear to be expecting Halloween visitors. Be careful walking on wet leaves. And dress appropriately for the weather.

If parents make sure that the kids follow such rudimentary precautions, they should be able to enjoy Halloween fun in great safety.

Have some Halloween fun, and in doing so you will give one in the eye to the safety nazis who want to cramp the celebration of anything traditional.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Loved Today's Psalm at Mass
It was one of the the few I have by heart. It is based on the return of the exiles from Babylon. I have always seen that Psalm as a sign of hope.

Hallowmas Week
There is nothing like the end of October for a ramble through an old graveyard. I much prefer the term graveyard to the euphemisms like "cemetery," or "resting place," or (much worse) "memorial park."

I find the gravestone carvings of the colonial and early republic periods, so well respresented in New England, fascinating. The old cemetery near downtown Wakefield has an excellent standing exhibit on the evolution of gravestone carving between 1670-1830. The skull gave place to an angel, which gave place to an urn, which was further embellished with a weeping willow.

And it is a good reminder of our own mortality to see so many graves that begin "Here lie the mortal remains of Mr. X who departed this life 11 June, 1795 aged 37 years."

We ought to be mindful of the dead at this time of year. The Church created All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day to remind us of the many saints whose feast days are not noted in the calendar, and to recall all the faithful departed. This is a good time to begin a novena for the millions of poor souls in Purgatory, especially those with no one left on earth to pray for them specifically.

It used to be the custom to toll bells until midnight on All Souls morning to remind us to pray for the departed.

The year is dying, though we no longer mark the passage into a new year with the start of November. But from a natural point of view, with the end of the harvest and the leaves dropping off the trees, the cold coming on and the declining afternoon light (tonight, the sun sets around 4:40), the year seems to be at an end.

The Celts celebrated October 31/November 1 as the new year. In fact, they propitiated the spirits of the dead with offerings of food and drink, which were distributed to villagers dressed in the clothes of those who had died during the year. This was the origin of our custom of trick-or-treating.

In essence, trick-or-treating is a new year's custom that is akin to wassailing/carolling/mumming/wren boys/John Canoe/Plough Monday visits at Chrstimas/New Year in our present calendar. These are all, at their base, what are now being called by historians "luck visits" in which costumed locals go from house to house and offer their blessings (especially for a happy new year, in exchange for a small present, usually of food or drink. In fact, much of our Halloween celebration comes from the Celts, the Romans, and the Church. Everything from telling ghost stories to bobbing for apples and carving jack-o-lanterns comes from these antecedents.

The Church and the Christianization of the British Isles prompted the transformation of the old Celtic Hallowmas visits into "going souling" in which the visitors would go from house to house begging soul bread (recipe to follow later this week) and other offerings in exchange for prayers for the household and its recently departed.

There are those who oppose Halloween celebration as un-Christian. They are the folks who are scandalized at Harry Potter. They overlook the fact that the day has been Christianized, and that mumming in costume on Halloween and going a'souling a day or two later has gone hand-in-hand with the healthy practice of Christianity for centuries in the British Isles.

True, I don't have much sympathy with the creation of the 1960s known as the Wiccan/pagan/New Age movement, and true that that element has tried to lay claim to our time for thinking about death and our own dead. But they are just the tail trying to wag the Halloween dog. Halloween has evolved into the second most-celebrated holiday in the United States. The modern "witches" have very little to do with how most people think about Halloween. They are a curious self-appointed appendage to the celebration of Halloween. What they can themselves appoint, we can ignore. But a full-blown takedown of Wicca needs more research than i can devote to the topic now, though it is richly deserved.

So, allow yourself a little scare this Halloween. There is nothing wrong with recalling old stories about ghosts and so on at this time of year. It is not the same as worshipping Satan. Not even close. Death is very much on our minds now. But recall also the Christian meaning of Hallowmas, and remember to pray for the dead, especially your own departed loved ones.

I Don't Root Against Teams As A Rule
But it was sure nice to see some team other than the New York Yankees win the World Series.

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