Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Blessed Sacrament Church, Seattle.

I know I've mentioned this before, but if you are in the Seattle area, do make sure to attend liturgy at Blessed Sacrament.

The Western Province of Dominicans have done something amazing there, something exceptionally good in a secular city and a model for parish life.

The schola recently performed Handel's Messiah. You can find photos of the event, and parish life, on their Facebook page.

I won't lie to you, I wish I was still there!

Again, if you're in the Seattle area, you'll find a gem in the emerald city. It was a defining experience in my life, sadly unequaled to this day.


Russia, Turkey, and Wars and Rumors of Wars

The news that Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 has predictably raised tensions, if not fears. Rightly or wrongly, the scene of Turkish citizens booing during the moment of silence for the Paris attack victims (and allegedly chanting Allahu Akbar) raises questions about the reliability of Turkey in the region. At the very least, one wonders how a political regime can commit its country to an operation against ISIS is the citizenry seems to sympathize.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding the downed Russian jet (both Russia and Turkey offer disputed allegations over where the jet was, what happened leading up, and where and how the fighter jet was shot down), Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet. One pilot waa then allegedly killed in Syria by the Turkmen (one of the US' "approved" rebel groups) as he parachuted to the ground.

Turkey may well have acted in haste. Whether in Turkish airspace or not, there is no indication Russia has planned a military operation on Turkey. If the expectation by Turkey was that they would then draw the rest of NATO into open opposition of Russia, then Turkey may not have been entirely thorough in their "pre-game" analysis. If reports from BBC News are credible, neither Britain or Germany (the two major European players in NATO) are particularly interested in coming to a blistering defense of Turkey - their response is non-committal at best. Thus far, the only response remotely affirmative of Turkey's action is coming from the US. One can speculate as to the reason why. Fear of war with Russia? Or perhaps a growing sense that Russia is a more reliable military partner for Europe in relation to Islamic extremism than the US? Again, reading between the lines, one does have to wonder.

The incident is likely to feed the quietly growing anxiety that this situation creeping closer to getting out of control and lead to a much larger conflagration. Last year, during the the centennial anniversary of World War I, there were numerous commentaries noting how, in almost poetic terms, the situation of the world today bears an eerie similarity to the world as it was just prior to the breakout of the Great War. Historical comparisons always have degrees of inadequacy. Yet, the factual parallels (and whether or not they exist) are often dwarfed by the psychic sense that those parallels indeed do exist or that some greater conflagration looms ominously on the horizon.

There are those who would argue (usually anecdotal) that there is a growing anxiety that the situation in the Middle East will eventually prove to be the impetus of a larger war. The controversy over Iran's nuclear program, the instability in Iraq, the rise of ISIS, the spread of Islamic extremism across the West, and now the gradually gathering of the world's military powers into a concentrated geographic area in the midst of conflict like so many dark storm clouds, all of these contribute to the sense that the situation is about to get out of control. The major players in the game that have averted such massive conflicts since the conclusion of World War II seem to be pushed to the limits of their efficacy - this is make or break time for the post-World War II geo-political order. The system is in the middle of its defining moment and a failure to both avert a major conflict and resolve the issues already at hand will likely lead to considerable questions regarding the efficacy of the system. All of this being considered, is the growing anxiety a portent of something coming?

It is said that Jung's notion of the collective unconscious reached greater maturity in the years leading up to World War II. The story goes that Jung noticed that more his patients were relating dreams of blood, fire, iron and open conflict, leading Jung to privately conclude that all this was pointing to a collective psychic sense that war was coming. Is this story apocryphal? Perhaps, although it poses the question in a most powerful way: is it simple anxiety, or is it predictive? Can the human mind, individually or collectively, connect into some other side of reality and sense the coming of major events? Certainly, the feeling is there. Setting aside questions of church governance, Pope Francis has recently invoked the shadow of a global war, alleging that the world is in the midst of a third worldwide conflict fought in stages. In a instance that recalls some of the speeches of Pius XII, Francis recently juxtaposed the season of Christmas (the second holiest in Christianity, and the most beloved in the secular West) with a world at war, the idea being that the celebration of the birth of God Incarnate (an event that should inspire life) is being eclipsed by the delivery of death. While some Roman Traditionalist have lambasted him for these remarks, the Bishop of Rome is another example of how the sense of foreboding has spread, finding sure footing in our collective psyche.

Whatever comes next, world powers keep congregating in Syria, some of whom are ostensibly on opposing sides in the world political landscape. The events of November 24th, 2015 genuinely did not need to be added to this mix. For now though, we hear of war and fear rumors of wars.

Update from CNN

Update from BBC News - as BCC News presents, the data seems to show the plane was fired upon after entering back into Syria.

Map based on radar image published by Turkish armed forces purportedly showing track Russian Su-24 crossed into Turkish airspace before being shot down on 24 November 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Divine Worship - The Missal

With recent events still fresh in mind, other things have fallen behind. A number of book reviews are delayed, although they should be posted in due time.

I would be nearly negligent if mention was not made of publication of Divine Worship - The Missal. This is the missal featuring the liturgical observance of the Anglican Ordinariate. To say this missal collects the premiere elements English liturgical patrimony may be a stretch. Divine Worship, however, delivers by re-introducing classical liturgy into the Roman Church by way of the vernacular.

I have to state that I am not now nor have ever been involved with any of the controversies surrounding either a) the proper rite of a restored Catholicism in England nor b) the difficulties leading up to the promulgation of Anglicanorum coetibus.

I confess to have a cursory knowledge of the liturgical patrimony of England and I am often prone to see it through rose colored glasses. I have furthermore never been involved with the Anglican Church outside of attending liturgies here and there in Boston and Providence. My impression then as now was that this should have functioned as some sort of template when the Roman Liturgy was translated (thrice over) into English.

There are controversies on both points and, plainly, this post will not pretend to address any such concerns. This "preview" reflects the perspective of someone who spent the better part of his life in the Roman Church and devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort (some would say undue time and effort) to study it and earn the credentials for having done so.

The immediate concern, therefore, has little grounding in the preservation of the English liturgical patrimony as such, but rather the application of the English liturgical tradition to a larger context. In this respect, the "event" quality of Divine Worship is that it if the first credible offering of a liturgical book in English under the umbrella of the Roman Church. This is from the perspective of the quality of English utilized and the contents of the liturgy itself. While we can quibble with points of the missal's contents, it stands as a break of silver lining in the at times dark clouds of liturgical renewal, most especially at the parish level. This missal is evidence that genuinely elevated English and a classically Western liturgy CAN in fact function under the aegis of Rome in the current climate.

Praise has been coming in from the corners of the web that one would expect:

http://www.chantcafe.com/2015/11/why-divine-worship-missal-is-so.html

http://thineownservice.com/2015/11/10/divine-worship-anglican-patrimony/

The CTS blog has more information and a host of photographs of the volume's interior. CTS knows how books ought to be bound and its liturgical editions have been the best in recent memory.You can get a good look at some of the texts - enough to make anyone familiar with the old liturgy long for the liturgy according to this book. In accordance with the "English" character of this liturgy, contents reflect the Latin liturgical tradition as it developed in England - this is not a mere translation of the so-called Tridentine liturgy.

What the future holds for this missal is any one's guess. The desire of any party to frame this liturgy as proper to Anglican groups only seems self limiting at best, or imposed isolation at worst. There is an argument to made that English speaking Catholicism ought to avail itself to the Ango-Catholic liturgical tradition. Where we hear so much talk of "inculturation," culturally speaking, the Anglo-Catholic tradition set the tone and terms for the liturgical expression of the English language. To that extent, one could argue the liturgy reflected in the contents of the Divine Worship ought to be a normative expression in the English speaking world.

In brief, this is probably the single liturgical book I would most like to review. I suspect review copies will be scarce to non-existent, which would be a shame. Latin Christianity desperately needs a vernacular liturgical expression of this quality. Realistically speaking, this ought to be the template if not the actual model for moving forward with a sensible vernacular liturgy in English speaking countries. Furthermore, it provides a canonical outlet for Roman Catholics to retrieve pieces of the Latin liturgical tradition from which they have been estranged since the Reformation.

In sum, I would like to see this book succeed on all accounts, both in terms of sales figures and in terms of the number of parishes using it as a legitimate option for liturgical observance.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

War Is Hell

War is Hell. It is absolute Hell. Anyone who tells you anything otherwise is either a liar or simply deluding themselves.

War is Hell.

The situation we have in Middle East is the result of many co-factors. There are the long histories of Christianity-Islam relations and Arab-Jewish relations to be sure.  But in our time, it is the modern history that seems most pivotal to understand. When all is said and done, the Western orchestrated overthrow of the Iranian regime in 1953 probably is the historical beginning of the chain of dominoes that most recently fell in Paris. For the better part of seven decades, the West has pursued policies in the Middle East that were either driven by the ambition for global hegemony or by overly academic abstractions that failed to see the reality on the ground for what it was - the rise of ISIS being the most recent example.

War is Hell and the past is prologue. The West, with the US leading the charge, prosecuted an unprovoked war in Iraq. From the ashes of what was once the fourth largest army in the world (and one of the most efficient killing machines in the upper echelons of the Baath party), rose the entity known as ISIS. Behind the propaganda that lights fires in the minds of men, it seems the hidden power in this same Baath party are ultimately guiding ISIS.

If the press conference in Vienna is any indication, the events of the last two weeks have alarmed Russia and the United States enough to consider setting aside the ideological feud that has been raging the last few years and co-ordinate a response to the events in Syria. The fact that is was explicitly stated that the Syrian government has ostensibly agreed to negotiate with the opposition and that aggressively dismantling ISIS is a top priority seems to suggest that the realization has set in that we cannot expend energy chasing after political agendas. ISIS will in theory be the direct target. Even France has said as much.

Yet the above only serves to re-enforce how hellish war really is; not only hell, war is more often than not the prime example of the most cynical manipulation of people. The constant victims of war are the people who had no say in the matter. The conflict wasn't their choice and they had little to no opportunity to reject it. The images of these victims are almost always fleeting. The girl who was gang raped in the midst of the bedlam. The parent who holds the lifeless mangled body of his son in his arms, crying for the little boy who will never come back. Or the exchange student eating at a restaurant while studying abroad. A musician working the leg of tour for a major American band. A journalist covering the venue. Or a woman who just happened to head for a soccer match.The victims of war, the people whose lives are held accountable by fate, are almost always ordinary people. Even if we factor soldiers in as victims, the story is still the same. The victims are almost always the people who had no say in the matter. The powers that bring us to war are rarely held accountable. True, we may have our Nuremberg moment where we bring surviving heads of a defeated army to trial, but how often to the men whose political maneuverings set the stage for a conflagration find themselves having to give account for what they have done and failed to do? Will Bush or Obama or any of the complicit EU statesmen be brought before some juridical authority to make some atonement for the horribly misguided policies that brought us to this point? Highly unlikely. What will happen should we eventually fight ISIS head on is that the casualties will be massive. The people who had no say in the matter will be the most brutalized by the fighting. We may or may not get our man, but the statesmen who facilitated the situations that lead ordinary people to ruin (with no choice of their own in the matter) will likely never be held accountable. Will the French hold accountable the politicians who advocated for a refugee policy that could not possibly vet all of the incoming flux migrants? Probably not. Meanwhile, the innocent people who had no say in the matter, who couldn't care for global politics, they will continue to be war's victims.

War is Hell. In fact, it is such hell that we had to think of rules for it, less we devolve into a beast of our more violent impulses. There is nothing good or humane about it, though eventually it may always be identified as the only option left. But after the dust has cleared and the enemy defeated, where is the justice for the innocents who had no say in the matter. Where is the justice for the father holding the mangled remains of his son, or the parents of a college student who was gunned down at a Paris cafe`? When do they get to see the political leaders whose action or inaction brought things to this point held accountable for what they have done or failed to do? It is then that one hopes that there is someone who will hold us all accountable on the other side of the eschaton. Maybe that will be the day the powerless who are herded into wars not of their own choosing are finally vindicated.

War is Hell, but it is the evil that must be done when it is the only means of preserving the greater good. After the deed is done, a question emerges that requires an answer and be acted upon with more fervor than war is fought: who will reach out to the victims of war and provide them with a vision of their dignity and restoration?

Update: See Fr. Chadwick's very poignant "What Would We Die For?" In words both elegant and insightful, he provides a window to the complexity and, to be blatant, horror of the situation we find ourselves in.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris: ISIS in the city of lights.

The narrative for the weekend news cycle seemed like it was set by early Friday morning. News outlets reported that US and UK intelligence were reasonably certain that Jihadi John was dead, killed in a hellfire missile drone strike. During the late morning/early afternoon hours in the United States, President Obama declared that ISIS was not decapitated, but "contained." A few hours later, ISIS, possibly in response to the US air strike that killed its PR man, launch an attack on Paris that would suggest those words were ill chosen. Indeed, I suspect if Obama could reply Friday morning and afternoon, he would like a do-over. Simply put, his statements raise serious questions regarding the competency of current Western leadership in the area of global Islamic extremism.

The narrative changed. Despite a massive drone warfare program and intelligence network, the narrative changed. We are not spending the weekend reassuring ourselves of the triumph of the West over ISIS and Islamic extremism nor are we being washed in publicity spots disguised as new reports and intending to cultivate a sense that justice was done and freedom defended. The story of our small victory that should have dominated the weekend news cycle has instead been replaced, and the technological edifice we constructed that was supposed to assure us of our victory was overwhelmed by an attack marked by cunning and almost simplistic savagery. The words of Darth Vader are only too appropriate: "don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed."

The attacks in Paris establish a precedent that is justifiably terrifying. ISIS has demonstrated the ability to engage in same-day retaliation. What is more, they have raised the stakes. The US killed four of their own. They responded with mass civilian casualties, achieved through simple brutality.

President Hollande said this was an act of war on the part of ISIS. When a nation says it was on the receiving end of an act of war, said nation typically intends to declare war on the aggressor. The natural question arises: what will be Hollande's aim? The last Western president to declare and engage in war was thoroughly ridiculed by the majority of the EU nations. His own army used a tactical method that was not designed to "fight a war to win a war," rather, it was designed to suspended the conflict as soon as possible with limited casualties. This method proved unable to cope with the essentially prolonged nature of the conflict in the region and lead to a war weary public pivoting to the opposite ideological spectrum.

After his presidency was completed, Anglo-American and EU powers took a firmly left turn. The US, for its part, followed its committed ideology and pulled back troops and ground operations, trusting future events to local governments and an increasingly expansive drone warfare program. A power vacuum emerged leading to a re-engineered Islamic extremism taking over local governments (the Arab). Out of this, ISIS was born. The West, averse to engage in a ground war, has attempted to play the cards of Arab unrest, trying to separate the acceptable Islamicists from the unacceptable. It has tried reading the tea leaves and taking sides, funneling weapons an eventually supporting those it thinks are the "good" Islamicists. In so doing, it betrayed one of our allies (Egypt) and double crossed a man who only a few years before finally capitulated to Western pressure and decided to "play ball" on our terms (Ghadafi).

So what does Hollande intend behind his comment that this was an act of war? Does he mean to say France will fully engage in the same tactics the US has used for almost 8 years and with which has created no discernible impact, save for building up the mythos of ISIS? Or does he intend to engage a war and fight a war to win it, not merely bring a cessation to conflict?

We are at war with an idea. Truth be told, being at war with an idea puts one against an enemy more fearsome than merely an opposing army. Armies and nations can be conquered and vanquished. Ideas have consequences and often find ways of reproducing themselves. To make war against an idea (or an ideal) one must have a counter idea (or ideal ) of your own, a principle that is capable of arousing the passion of the public to fight for it and persevere until the end. What idea, ideal, or principle does the contemporary Western world have to offer? We have subjected the classic ideas, ideals and principles of the West in favor of political correctness, consumerism, and absolute relativism. Are these three categories strong enough to ignite the fire in the minds and passion in the hearts of men, thereby gritting us for the long haul? Or are these symptoms of a culture whose excess has brought it to the point of exhaustion? Have we indeed primed ourselves for the fall? In an instance of historical irony, France, the country that did so much to set the West on the trajectory to its current state, is now in the position of having to demonstrate what type of response the West is capable of. To put it another way, was the Greatest Generation the last great generation? Is it the case that the generation the fought its way out of a global depression and triumphed over Nazism was the last generation of Westerners with sufficient numbers who had the ingrained ideas, ideals, and principles of the classic Western tradition to combat a fearsome ideology?

When fighting a war, one must fight it to win it. The West is fond of combat operations that avoid boots on the ground and incurring any casualties. Western press and academics are pre-progammed to lambaste civilian casualties in an conflict. Casualties are a part of war, civilian or between armies. In the current context, a declaration of war is defied by the nebulous nature of the enemy. ISIS has its demarcated territory, but throughout the Middle East and into parts of Africa, you are not dealing with chunks of territory pledged to ISIS. Rather, you dealing with a massive geopolitical area marred by political instability where groups allied to ISIS or other Islamic extremists are vying to destabilize localities and then assume the local governorship. When faced with this, it will be observed that, aside from ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq, it is impossible to declare a war on a precise entity. Engage in a war would necessitate eventual involvement in these other countries that have fallen into instability. The whole scenario eventually brings up the problem of non-combative civilian casualties in the region. Although this is a noble concern, the attacks in Paris and the bombing of the Russian airliner on October 31st reveals a layer to the discussion that the West has failed to appreciate: we are being forced to choose between our own civilians and theirs. While the civilian casualties in Syria or elsewhere may be collateral damage, we must, to a certain extent, be willing to accept the culpability for such actions, otherwise we are willing accept that our own civilians will be subject to casualties by explicitly targeted attacks on our own soil. This is not an ideal scenario, but it is the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

In part, the fixation upon the just war theory has lead us to this point of paralysis, where the West is unable to enact the solemn decision of will and acceptance of grave responsibility for what must done. We are obsessed with finding the good war, the right war, the just war, and being able to say we are blameless in all of our actions. But this is not the case - no one is innocent in war. War is evil, always and on all sides. Sometimes, however, war and all of its evils are the only option left to preserve a greater good. Sometimes it is the only option a state has to protect its citizens. This will never make a war just - it will make it a necessity, or a fact of human existence, never just, never something we should feel especially proud of. We think of all the humane ways of conducting warfare in the abstract. We seldom realize the brutal nature of it, and we are especially averse to accepting that war is never humane or good. War is evil, war is hell, it is sometimes the only option, a necessary part of human existence, evidence of a fallen humanity. Perhaps that is the really reason fighting a war to win a war paralyzes us these days; it questions the integrity of the myth of progress and forces us to re-examine the myth of the Creation and Fall and reflect upon a fallen world.

There will likely be more security measures put in place on both sides of the Atlantic. The fear expressed by most every analyst is that, officially, the game has changed with ISIS. We have any entity that is global in scope, capable of retaliation, and following an ideal. The world has changed. The West must ask itself if it is capable of adapting to this change. A negative answer ensures a prolonged conflict that will span generations. A positive answer, however, poses an unknown risk. After determining the path required by necessity, will we be able to put back into that Pandora's Box whatever it is we released?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Great Expectations

There are such things as reasonable demands one may make upon a parish or religious community. One may demand the parish or religious community of one's association reflects one's theology, offers suitable worship, upholds an acceptable moral code, etc.

Demands become unreasonable when, after having core elements met, one has any expectation that a given parish or religious community will suspend its long standing customs, its traditions, its identity or liturgical praxis to accommodate ones wishes and whims.

For those migrating from the Western Church to the Orthodox Church, there are legitimate expectations one can have. It must not be supposed, however, that the Orthodox Church has a duty to assimilate Western Christian liturgy or observance. Joining any community is a mutual exchange. One seeks ABC and receives ABC. One is expected to observe XYZ as these are the tenets of the community. One should not expect that one will be able to observe EFG, nor, more importantly, that the community will observe EFG. One cannot expect a community to abate its "natural" praxis in favor of adopting something new an eccentric to satiate one's tastes.

The Latin Church has no duty to have its parishes offer the Divine Liturgy or adopt other typically Byzantine modes of prayer or worship. In point of fact, those who argue against such adoption have a valid point; the Roman Church ought to celebrate the Latin tradition if said tradition is to have any integrity. Similarly, there is no such obligation for the Orthodox Church to be a forum for the Western/Latin Tradition. Those who expect that it should will be sorely disappointed.

Further to the above, the Orthodox Church does not bear the responsibility for preserving the Latin Tradition or the Traditional Latin liturgies. One should not expect that such a project will ever be high on the Orthodox priorities. It should not be expected that the Orthodox Church senses the same degree of crisis over the Western Tradition as Catholics or Anglicans nor see how important it is to have outposts for traditional Latin/Western liturgy. This responsibility remains with the Western Patriarchate. If the appropriate Patriarch has been negligent in his duty (for whatever reason), it is not for the other Patriarchs to intervene or otherwise attempt to have some jurisdiction over the Latin liturgical tradition.

Transitioning to the Orthodox Church in the hope of finding an outpost for pre-Vatican II Catholicism sets one up for failure, bitterness and resentment. One is expecting the Orthodox Church to take responsibility for something that regardless of antiquity belongs properly to a particular Patriarchate. The Orthodox Church can, of course, offer much for the road weary Western Christian, but this is done with the expectation that the liturgical praxis of the Orthodox Church will be followed.

Orthodoxy is not Catholicism, and Catholicism is not Orthodoxy. It should not be expected that Orthodoxy will be the last refuge for Traditional Catholicism - Orthodoxy has its own tradition to preserve.