Go Ahead, Make My Day. Excommunicate Me!

(Note: the Markov chain example starts about halfway through the post).

One of the issues that the Roman Catholic Church wrestles with on an ongoing basis concerns the status of those politicians which a) profess and call themselves Roman Catholics yet b) show that they do not ascribe to the teaching of the Church in the way they vote and the positions they take.  Since the Roman Catholic Church expects the faithful to follow its teachings without reservation, the question comes up: why doesn’t the Church excommunicate these people?

The answer to that question is like a lot of things these days: it’s complicated.  It ranges from the desire of the Church not to be unduly unpopular to not wanting the state to retaliate against it for such an action.  It also stems from the fact that neither the United States nor any other nation can be called a truly Catholic country, and thus the standard of expectation is not the same.

It’s fair to say that the Roman Catholic Church isn’t the only church that experiences this difficulty.  The tale that this blog piece deals with comes from Russia, a place where many strange things happen and many unexpected results come to reality.

In 1901 the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated Lev Nikolayevitch Tolstoi, the famous Russian writer.  He had developed an idea of Christian anarchism and pacifism which (among other of his ideas) was unacceptable to the church.  The church wasn’t the only one unhappy with Tolstoi’s idea: in his last years his wife was increasingly disenchanted with his desire to renounce his wealth, as he came from an aristocratic background.

One of those in Russia who was likewise disenchanted with the state of things was the mathematician Andrei Andreyevitch Markov.  Markov is best known for his development of Markov Chains, an example of which can be found at the end of this piece.  Markov, far from basing his idea on Christianity, was an atheist.  Nevertheless, in protest of the Church’s excommunication of Tolstoi, he requested that the Church excommunicate him too.  The church made his day and did so, and he remained outside of its communion until his death after the Revolution.

It’s easily forgotten today, but Tolstoi was very influential in the development of non-violent resistance and action towards social change.  That influence was more felt outside of Russia through people such as Gandhi (India), Martin Luther King (United States) and in his later years Nelson Mandela (South Africa).  For that to be effective requires conditions which were present in the last century but which may be a thing of the past today.

In Russia, Markov’s fellow atheists the Bolsheviks took a more violent (and I might say a non-Markov Chain type of) course.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the same Russian Orthodox Church, almost driven to extinction under Stalin, made a comeback. After seventy years of atheism and all that went with it, Russians are chary of attacking an institution which stood against it, as Pussy Riot found out the hard way.  And they’re still hanging tough on Tolstoi’s excommunication.

For all of Russia’s strange and sometimes horrific history–a history that continues to play out in our time, with impact everywhere–one has to admire Markov when comparing him to the mealy-mouthed politicians who use their religious affiliation to garner votes which at the same time acting and voting in ways which go against its precepts.

About Markov Chains

Markov chains concern themselves with predicting the outcome of a sequence of events given the probability of an outcome at each step.  The following example comes from Marvin Marcus’ A Survey of Finite Mathematics (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1969).  We present another interesting example from Marcus’ book here.

In any case, consider a population of women which, like Gaul, is divided into three parts:

  1. Those who are overweight at 40;
  2. Those who are underweight at 40;
  3. Those who are normal weight at 40.

(The example doesn’t define the break points for weight, which is always the tricky parts in studies like this).

The transference of this condition from mother to daughter runs as follows:

  1. For mothers who are overweight at 40, 70% of their daughters are likewise, 20% are underweight and 10% are normal weight.
  2. For mothers who are underweight at 40, 30% of their daughters are overweight, 50% are likewise, and 20% are normal weight.
  3. For mothers who are normal weight at 40, 15% of their daughters are overweight, 60% are underweight, and 25% are likewise.

We arrange these results in what we call a transition matrix, shown below.  Each category of mother represents a column in the matrix and each category of daughter represents a row in the matrix.

P=\left [\begin {array}{ccc} {\frac {7}{10}}&3/10&{\frac {3}{20}}  \\\noalign{\medskip}1/5&1/2&3/5\\\noalign{\medskip}1/10&1/5&1/4  \end {array}\right ]

We now want to diagonalise the matrix.  We do this first by finding the eigenvalues and eigenvectors for the matrix.  These are reproduced below, with the following notation: [eigenvalue, number of occurrences, {[eigenvector]}]

[[{\frac {9}{40}}+1/40\,\sqrt {73},1,\left \{[-7/4-1/4\,\sqrt {73},3/4  +1/4\,\sqrt {73},1]\right \}],[{\frac {9}{40}}-1/40\,\sqrt {73},1,  \left \{[-7/4+1/4\,\sqrt {73},3/4-1/4\,\sqrt {73},1]\right \}],[1,1,  \left \{[{\frac {17}{14}},1,3/7]\right \}]]

In floating point form, the eigenvalues are .4386000936, .0113999064 and 1.

We now construct a matrix of the eigenvectors and its inverse, as follows:

Q=\left [\begin {array}{ccc} {\frac {17}{6}}&-{\frac {13}{16}}-1/16\,  \sqrt {73}&-{\frac {13}{16}}+1/16\,\sqrt {73}\\\noalign{\medskip}7/3&1  &1\\\noalign{\medskip}1&-3/16+1/16\,\sqrt {73}&-3/16-1/16\,\sqrt {73}  \end {array}\right ]

Q^{-1}=\left [\begin {array}{ccc} {\frac {6}{37}}&{\frac {6}{37}}&{\frac {6}{  37}}\\\noalign{\medskip}-{\frac {1}{2701}}\,\left (69+7\,\sqrt {73}  \right )\sqrt {73}&{\frac {1}{5402}}\,\left (-27+23\,\sqrt {73}\right  )\sqrt {73}&-{\frac {1}{2701}}\,\left (-227+7\,\sqrt {73}\right )  \sqrt {73}\\\noalign{\medskip}-{\frac {1}{2701}}\,\left (-69+7\,\sqrt  {73}\right )\sqrt {73}&{\frac {1}{5402}}\,\left (27+23\,\sqrt {73}  \right )\sqrt {73}&-{\frac {1}{2701}}\,\left (227+7\,\sqrt {73}\right  )\sqrt {73}\end {array}\right ]

Careful observers will note that there is a scalar multiple between the original eigenvectors and these arrays.  This is an artefact of a struggle with Maple I didn’t quite win, and will cancel itself out in the diagonalisation process.

That being the case, we multiply them to obtain

D=Q^{-1}PQ=\left[\begin{array}{ccc}    1 & 0 & 0\\    0 & {\frac{9}{40}}+1/40\,\sqrt{73} & 0\\    0 & 0 & {\frac{9}{40}}-1/40\,\sqrt{73}    \end{array}\right]

We obtain, as we would expect, a matrix with the eigenvalues along the diagonal.

We then use the diagonalising matrices again by multiplying to obtain the distribution of results after an “infinite” number of generations, thus

A=QDQ^{-1}=\left[\begin{array}{ccc}    \frac{17}{37} & \frac{17}{37} & \frac{17}{37}\\    \frac{14}{37} & \frac{14}{37} & \frac{14}{37}\\    \frac{6}{37} & \frac{6}{37} & \frac{6}{37}    \end{array}\right]

The result is as we want: the three columns are identical.  That result is a good check on whether your result is correct; I found it very easy to make mistakes in the entries of the transition matrix, which will show up if either those entries are invalid (or unsuitable for a Markov chain) or an incorrect value is entered.

The three rows represent the final outcomes of the chain.  Thus, in this case, the top row represents the women who will be overweight at age 40, the second row those who will be underweight, and the bottom those of normal weight.  We thus see that the result is that at age 40, 46% of the women will be overweight, 38% be underweight, and 16% be of normal weight.


  1. The example above leaves out a great deal of the theory of how the diagonalisation process is used to analyse the Markov chain.  Marcus goes into this in some detail, but in the example he actually uses another method to get his result.
  2. Although some will find this example objectionable, linear algebra is full of examples like this.  When I took advanced linear algebra, I fell ill during Spring Break, and ended up in a Catholic hospital, where I saw the election of Pope Francis.  (I told them during the process, “You better pay attention, you’re getting a new boss…”)  I came back from this experience only to be presented with an example involving people dying in the hospital!

Unloading on Roman Catholicism: A View From the Pew

In response to my post Think Before You Convert, George comes back with some tough observations, which I reproduce below, with my comments interspersed:

I’m a catholic and this church feels so empty that I cannot recommend anyone to convert into the RCC. I am one of those “too enthusiastic” types, reading the Bible, volunteering at church, reading the catechism, etc… As noted in the article, this is an authoritarian church, there is not really a dialogue. If you know your Bible, and initiate a conversation with a priest, you will soon find they will not “encourage” you with a discussion on any topic where the validity of an RCC position is being discussed. The priest doesn’t have to defend anything, you can take it or leave it. That is the RCC.

It’s tragic that a church with such a broad-based intellectual tradition, where you can find the question “why”? answered (a question Evangelicals are notoriously flat-footed in dealing with) for a variety of topics.  But the “take it or leave it” approach is not atypical at the parish level.  I’ve always felt that one of the great gifts from God in my life was that my first parish used the chapel for the archdiocese’s major seminary, where I could interact with the priests and professors there.

Converting is also quite a long and boring process. And you will have to sit through a ton of presentations, and will be expected to shut up and nod in acceptance of whatever you are told. Not kidding, ask a question, and they get uncomfortable quickly. The RCC is not a place where questions are asked.

I think the RCC has the idea that, if they make the conversion process difficult, they won’t get “box checkers”, which they have in abundance.  The problem is that the system, for other reasons, tends to encourage the formation of box checkers.  It’s kind of like my old cat, who thought that, if he hid behind the chair, we would not see him, oblivious to the fact that his tail was sticking out in plain view.

The Bible mentions so many spiritual things like; casting out demons, healings, visions, dreams, voices from Heaven, etc… The RCC has an intellectual acknowledgement of these things, bur if anyone actually talks about these things happening today in the laity, they look at you like you are crazy. So it is an intellectual Christianity, not a Christianity of the heart.

The problem here is that the RCC (especially these days) is obsessed with all the grace from God flowing through the church and the sacramental system.  That isn’t the way it works.  As far as head and heart knowledge, it’s a favourite “either/or” proposition of churches, but I don’t think that this is was God’s plan either.

The RCC has had a long obsession with Latin. For a long time mass was held in Latin, which is not the vernacular of anyone. So they chose for a long time to teach the word of eternal life in a dead language that hardly anyone can understand. Jesus and the apostles after the holy spirit descended on them spoke in languages that people could understand. The RCC chose latin that no one could understand for whatever bizarre reason that pleases them.

In the years after Our Lord was on the earth, his apostles and their agents, successors and assigns (sorry for the legalese, I’ve hung around lawyers too much) spread the Gospel in the languages then current.  One of those was Latin.  It was intelligible in the Roman Empire and widely so for a thousand years and more afterwards.

Unfortunately the people’s ignorance of the language turned what was intelligible to what was not, and it became a mystery, which turned into mystique, one buttressed by the fact that Latin is generally chanted.  It’s a good opportunity for parishes who want Latin Masses (and this applies to mixed ones too) to give Latin lessons, which would improve the people’s English to boot.  It’s also a splendid opportunity to pitch the Church’s dreadful pronunciation of the language.

Quite frankly, finding Jesus in the RCC, while not impossible, is super hard. Just find yourself a better church and enjoy the good news of the gospel.

That’s a tragedy for a church with such far a far reach into society.  Forcing people to make such a choice only impedes the advance of the Gospel and causes pain for many of us.

Agapè – Le Troisième Seuil (The Third Level)

Agapè AG-2001 (1972)

The styles of the “Jesus Music” era varied from group to group, reflecting the popular music of the era.  The concept was that the music “become all things to all men, so as at all costs to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 TCNT)  The old rockers celebrated then (and still do now) the emergence of real Christian rock music.  And, of course, there was a lot of folk music out there.

But one genre that was under-represented was progressive music.  Probably the best known example of this in the Anglophone world was Reflections’ Sounds of Salvation (and if the status of the so-called CD release was clearer, I’d post it).  Another one which pushed the envelope in that direction was Outpouring. But the Francophone world shouldn’t be left out from this contest.  Just as Les Reflets took Christian folk to a new level in the “old country” so also a group of Québec based musicians did for progressive music with this album, justly titled The Third Level.

This album was primarily the brain child of Fr. André Dumont, who was the artistic director for the RM record label.  His idea was to present the Christian story in a new way, and to that end he assembled a very diverse group of musicians to produce this masterpiece, with its varying styles yet consistent message.

For this album to have seen daylight after all these years I am indebted to Sébastien Desrosiers at Patrimoine PQ, whose blog on the music of Québec in the same era is one of the most fascinating music blogs on the web.  His original posting of this album (with more details on its production) is here.

The songs:

  1. Overture
  2. Camarade
  3. Vous êtes pas tannées de crever
  4. Avez-vour passer une colombe?
  5. Le jugement dernier
  6. Le temps des partances
  7. Le printemps des pauvres
  8. Eden
  9. Le Troisième Seuil
  10. La fin des temps


From One Who’s Been There: My Thoughts on Ulf Ekman’s Conversion to Catholicism

The Pentecostal and Charismatic world has been atwitter (a phrase with new meaning these days) about the conversion of Ulf Ekman, Sweden’s foremost Charismatic pastor, to Roman Catholicism.  My friend Dale Coulter has a more “respectable” take on this, and he’s right: it’s easier to make the Tiber swim from a Full Gospel start than it is, say, from other parts of the non-Catholic world.  What I want to do is to look at from the viewpoint of someone who basically did the reverse, and went on to actually work in a Pentecostal church.

Probably the most popular stop on this site is my piece about conversion between Anglicanism and Catholicism. Some of my comments there probably apply to a process such as Ekman’s too, so I won’t repeat them here.  My willingness to talk about conversion has gotten me into trouble with sites such as TitueOneNine, but I think it’s important to be open about such things.

I also addressed some issues between prosperity charismatics (as Ekman was) and Roman Catholicism in this piece, and won’t go through all that again either.  But there are two things I do want to discuss here: the spiritual state of Roman Catholics and the point in Ekman’s own life when he made his Tiber swim.

One thing that Ekman has discovered is that many Roman Catholics operated on a higher spiritual plane than he was led to believe.  That’s no surprise to me: some of the most Christ-like people on earth I have ever met are Roman Catholics.  The Church is perfectly capable of producing people who follow the path that Our Lord has laid before us in a very beautiful way.

The problem is that the Church is also capable of producing a great crowd of “box checkers,” people who have “made a business deal with God” (as my first parish priest put it) and, observing the formalities to varying degrees, believe that they’re okay.  In addition to the expected variations of wheat and tares, there are many reasons why the Church is good at this: a weak pastoral care system, a gradualistic view of our place with God, an overreliance on the sacraments as conduits of grace to the faithful (and especially, since Vatican II, with baptism) and an institutional aversion to enthusiasm, which means that renewal movements tend to get smothered in the system.

I think that the trends are in favour of the Church because it is becoming harder and harder to be a Christian, especially in the West.  This will tend to shake the box checkers out in a way that anything the Church does cannot.  The Roman Catholic Church is experiencing a “Gideon moment” in the West–and it is not alone in that regard.

The other thing I want to mention concerns the appeal of his past and present form of Christianity with regard to stage of life.  Ever since late Patristic times the Church has recognised the distinction between the “active” and “contemplative” life, with a distinct preference for the latter.  In that respect Roman Catholicism has a strong escapist thread running through it.

Modern Pentecost has neatly solved the dilemma by pitching the contemplative life altogether.  Yes, there’s a renewed emphasis on prayer and the return of the prophetic.  But these, in good revivalistic tradition, are handmaidens to The Mission of spreading the Gospel and growing the church.  Modern Pentecost is the supreme “ants in the pants” religion, always in motion, almost never looking back.  When the Assemblies of God were offered the house on Bonnie Brae in Los Angeles where the Azusa Street revival started, they turned it down: they didn’t want a monument.

That makes Pentecost the young person’s religion par excellence.  Unfortunately those who stay on the earth for an extended period (in our sense) have a change in priorities.  The time of the Great Day of the Lord is unknown, but as we age our own Great Day’s approach looms larger.  This means that Pentecost is a great religion to live in but perhaps not such an ideal one to die in.  That tendency has only gotten worse of late as much of contemporary ministry has become a big, post-modern business, with our ministers unprepared to deal with the success they have prayed and worked for.  The last is something that Ekman saw with some of his colleagues.

It never occurs to our ministers, constantly seeking aspirational members who will find prosperity both for themselves and the church, that a religion with a strong intellectual tradition and a well-trained focus on the exit strategy would have any appeal.  But it happened the last time our civilisation went in the tank, why not again?

Ekman isn’t the first high-profile Swede to “swim the Tiber” and doubtless won’t be the last.  And, chances are, there will be others in the Pentecostal and Charismatic communities who will take his example seriously.  We would do well to consider why this is so and perhaps take some positive steps and not simply complain.

The Real Enemies of Perseverance–and Success

One trait that’s deeply cultivated in this country–to a fault, really–is perseverance.  How many times have we heard that “winners never quit and quitters never win”?  How many times have we heard stories about people who have “pursued their dream” often a great cost (to someone) and accomplished what they set out to do.  Isn’t that the American way?

Let’s start by considering just what perseverance is to start with.  As our old friend Thomas Aquinas would say, perseverance is simply to persist at length towards a good goal (cf. 2-2, q. 137, a. 1).  Whether perseverance is a virtue depends first on the nature of the goal.  If the goal is bad, all the perseverance in the world won’t make it any better.  (If we can’t tell right from wrong, do we really know whether it matters or not)?

Beyond that, there are two main enemies of perseverance: softness and pertinacity.

Softness is simply the situation where “someone to be ready to back away from a good on account of difficulties which he cannot endure.” (2-2, q. 138, a. 1)  It doesn’t mean that someone who is actually defeated by a superior force is soft; it means that a soft person is one “who backs away from good on account of sorrow caused by lack of pleasure, yielding as it were to a weak motion”.  We see that a lot these days; people would rather drink, take drugs, hook up and party and not stick to what they’re supposed to be doing.  That, IMHO, is why it has taken the left so long to win the culture war.  Their principal goal, although they’re loathe to admit it, is for they and everyone else to drink, take drugs, hook up and party, and that goal has been in their way for the last fifty years.

The technical term for the other enemy of perseverance is pertinacity. A “person is said to be pertinacious who holds on impudently, as being utterly tenacious.”  To stick the knife in further, Aquinas brings in Aristotle to note that he “calls (the pertinacious) ischyrognomones, that is “head-strong,” or idiognomones, that is “self-opinionated,” because they abide by their opinions more than they should” (2-2, q. 138, a. 2).

Although we generally see softness as the primary opponent to success, anyone who has moved in a workplace or a church or a political institution knows that self-proclaimed know-it-alls or bull-headed people can ruin an institution–and the lives connected with it–as fast as anything else.  And it’s easy–especially in our extreme culture–to mistake this for real perseverance, but the failure from pertinacity can be far worse than the failure due to softness.

A good example of that which is familiar to many readers of this blog is the Anglican/Episcopal property wars.  Even with élite opinion running in their favour, the Episcopal Church has spent in excess of forty million dollars to hold property they have no practical game plan to populate.  A little thoughtful consideration could have netted a positive cash flow by using the Dennis Canon as a weapon during negotiations.  Some in the church actually figured that out, but such sensible strategy is beyond its current general leadership.

So what do we do?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Set good goals.  Perseverance of any kind is bad if the goals are bad.  The best goal is eternal life; the rest are in reference to same.
  2. Keep the goal you set in front of you.  One of the problems with pertinacity is that it substitutes the process for the goal, which means you get bogged down.
  3. Have a “Plan B” and an exit strategy.  It’s considered “unAmerican” to have either these days, but if it’s true so be it.  If your earthly goal is what it is supposed to be, “Plan B” should be just another way to get there.  Lacking same is another way we get trapped in pertinacity.
  4. Don’t let the pleasure of the moment deflect you from the goal.  Make provision for some “good times” in the plan but don’t make them the plan.

If we adopt sensible, strategic goals and methods of achieving these goals, our perseverance can count and we can avoid the pitfalls its enemies present to us.

All quotations from Aquinas are from the Summa Theologiae.

Rising Hope: Farewell to the Shadowlands and Where the Songs Come From

This Cincinnati, OH, based group put out two very nice folk-rock albums.  There is a mixture of original compositions and covers, some of which (well, one of which) you wouldn’t expect on a non-Catholic album.  The group does well in different styles and these albums are very good as a result.

More information about the group can be found here.

Farewell to the Shadowlands (LP S 726) 1975

The songs:

  1. Farewell to the Shadowlands
  2. Secret of the Start
  3. Love to Pass the Ages
  4. Psalm 27
  5. Come Gather Children
  6. Song of Praise
  7. The Lord Will Be My Snowtires
  8. Psalm 121
  9. Help Oh Lord
  10. Lead Me On
  11. Further Up


Where the Songs Come From (8064N2) 1978

  1. Here’s My Family
  2. I Want To Be
  3. Try To Run
  4. Listen To The Singer
  5. Friends & Lovers
  6. I Am The Bread Of Life
  7. Run To California
  8. The Winner
  9. Morning Song
  10. A Wind In The Door




Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire: Ian Mitchell Was Replaced by Jon Bruno

It’s always interesting to follow the various artists that grace this blog.  One of them, Ian Mitchell of American Folk Mass fame, was featured a little while ago when I discovered that the L.A. Times reported on Halloween 1985 that he had been given the boot at St. Athanasius Episcopal Church.  That took place because he was too sympathetic to the homeless and homosexuals.

The Diocese rose to the occasion and, as reported here, made the following appointment to replace him:

The Rev. J. Jon Bruno, a former policeman and professional football player, is a large man. Now, the 6-foot, 5-inch, 300-pound Episcopal priest has a job to match his size–a job that may require the spirituality of a clergyman, the street smarts of a cop and the rough-and-tumble doggedness of a defensive tackle…

“You know the old saying about ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread?’ Well, I’m no angel. So of course I have some fear and trembling about entering this situation. But I do it prayerfully. I feel compelled to respond to the need.”

Bruno proved no angel, all right: he was a major protagonist in litigation against the parishes which attempted secession in the last decade.  And, as far as being a “compromise” candidate is concerned, he oversaw the consecration of Bishop Mary Glasspool as the first openly lesbian bishop in TEC.  Even in 1985, “But others say they are pleased by Bruno’s efforts to make both camps feel comfortable, and by his assurances that such community programs as El Centro (gang outreach) will remain and that gays will be welcome. There is, however, some suspicion of Bruno because he was appointed by Rusack, whom some view as an autocrat, and because Bruno pledges his loyalty to the bishop.”

“Autocrat” bishops and presiding bishops are well entrenched in TEC these days.  As noted by this nephew of my old Bethesda Rector, Hunsdon Cary, about Bruno and Glasspool themselves:

We believe it is up to the vestry to come up with a candidate that can only be denied by a bishop(s) if there is moral turpitude or a history of the candidate that does not accord with ‘conduct unbecoming’. We believe that it is the role of the bishop and the canon to participate in an advisory capacity only when asked.

We believe that the person selected to be the Head Usher, for example, or any position of leadership, should be a person selected by fellow church members in conformance with godly principal. We believe that this person should be transparent in all areas.

We believe that Bishop Mary Glasspool, albeit a convivial, bright, articulate individual, is a non-celibate lesbian who was elevated to her current position by a Bishop no stranger to bullying; who, with Bishop Glasspool, defied the Archbishop of Canterbury; who was not above suing individual vestry members of a Newport Beach church all the while purporting to love his fellow man, while confiscating churches and property taken by church dicta without reference to established property law, courtesy of David Booth Beers.

We do not believe this kind of behavior is part of the long tradition of the Episcopal Church or of the Catholic Church tradition, from which Bishop Bruno emerged. We believe that if Bishop Bruno and Bishop Glasspool wanted to start a church or join the Unitarian Church, they should do so and leave the heirs to the tradition of the Christian Church to fulfill God’s purpose for His heirs in Christ; or at least stay out of the affairs of the individual churches.

And if liberals are mystified by conservatives’ wariness about “compromise” they should see where this has gone.  It’s just too bad the conservatives didn’t wake up sooner and over the core issues of the faith rather than wait until this one came to the surface.

Sylvia Dunlap: Someone Like Me

Oblate OBLP 1001 (1981)

Followers of this blog know that, if an album combines “Texas” and “Catholic,” I’m generally interested.  This album, which is a little later than most of the albums on this site, goes against the grain of where Christian music was going in the early 1980′s (and that’s also somewhat true of Ft. Worth based Honor, Wisdom, Glory and Praise) in that it’s a straightforward Christian folk album.  Sylvia Dunlap isn’t the strongest vocalist out there (but then again neither was Juliana Garza, and look what she put out) but the music is simple and sincere, and that makes it nice.

The songs:

  1. Someone Like Me
  2. Song of Solomon
  3. Peter Was a Fisherman
  4. Wash Me In Water
  5. Pick Me Up
  6. Woman At The Well
  7. My Father’s House
  8. Sing a New Song
  9. Hollow of His Hand
  10. Paul’s Prayer


St. Pius X Seminary Choir: Each One Heard In His Own Language About The Marvels Of God

Century 30441

One of those early, pre-NOM works, it was led by Rev. Nicholas Freund.  The best way to describe this album is “eclectic.”  It has some of the “space age” effects of Leo Nestor’s Sons of the Morning, but doesn’t venture into the refined realms of that work.  It explores the combination of folk and choir as does God Unlimited and Peter Scholtes’ parish, but lacks the original compositional resources.  From a 1960′s folk and rock standpoint, it’s definitely a step forward from the likes of The Winds of God and has some nice covers of some of the best of early post-Vatican II folk music, and many Catholic parishes and student groups would follow in its footsteps for the next decade and beyond.


The songs:

  1. Acts 4.1-2
  2. Pentecost Sunday
  3. I Am The Resurrection
  4. Come Children Hear Me
  5. Who Is This Man
  6. Get Together
  7. Introit-Sing To The Lord
  8. Kyrie-Lament For The City
  9. Gloria-Joy In The City
  10. Credo-Death In The City, Sanctus-Lord Of The City, Agnus Dei-New Life In The City


Broken Windows and Spiritual Warfare: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

We’re starting yet again another Lenten season.  The streets of New Orléans (and doubtless other cities which go out for Mardi Gras and Carnival in a big way) are full of trash but quiet.  If you’re not Roman Catholic and on fast and abstinence, it’s a great time to eat in the French Quarter.

But it’s a great time for everyone–the January “Daniel Fast” types notwithstanding–to stop and think penitentially about their spiritual state.  It’s the time when we consider Our Lord’s own forty-day visit to the desert and how Satan came to call with his own agenda, which was frustrated then and certainly on Calvary and the empty tomb.

There is a lot of stuff out there on spiritual warfare, how to wage it and how to win it.  I don’t spend a lot of time on the subject, but when I do I turn to another realm I deal with a lot here: politics.

The 1960′s saw, among other things, a skyrocketing in the crime rate, especially in the urban areas of the United States.  Boomers who grew up in the sticks wistfully speak of a time when they could live in their houses with the doors unlocked.  Having grown up in South Florida, I wonder what country these people came from.  The high crime rate came in part with migration from Northern cities where it was also high, as New York proved when the lights went out in 1977.

In the early 1990′s even New Yorkers had their canful of the high crime rate.  Into this situation stepped Rudy Giuliani, who along with his police Commissioner Bill Bratton aggressively pursued the “broken windows” policy.  The idea behind this was simple: if you cracked down on petty crime such as the squeegee masters, graffiti, etc., you would make it clear to everyone that crime wasn’t tolerated and the rate would drop.  It worked: crime fell throughout the 1990′s and into the new millennium, and New York became a safer city to work in and a better place to visit, as my wife and I found out in 2006.  (My guess is that the current mayor will undo a lot of this, with a resulting rise in the crime rate to be expected).

The same principle works with spiritual crime: take care with the small things the Enemy puts in front of you, and chances are the big stuff won’t be a problem.  As St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out in Summa Theologiae, 3 q.41 a. 4 (emphases and bullets mine):

The temptation which comes from the enemy takes the form of a suggestion, as Gregory says (Hom. xvi in Evang.). Now a suggestion cannot be made to everybody in the same way; it must arise from those things towards which each one has an inclination. Consequently the devil does not straight away tempt the spiritual man to grave sins, but he begins with lighter sins, so as gradually to lead him to those of greater magnitude. Wherefore Gregory (Moral. xxxi), expounding Job 39:25, “He smelleth the battle afar off, the encouraging of the captains and the shouting of the army,” says: “The captains are fittingly described as encouraging, and the army as shouting. Because vices begin by insinuating themselves into the mind under some specious pretext: then they come on the mind in such numbers as to drag it into all sorts of folly, deafening it with their bestial clamor.”

Thus, too, did the devil set about the temptation of the first man.

  1. For at first he enticed his mind to consent to the eating of the forbidden fruit, saying (Genesis 3:1): “Why hath God commanded you that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?”
  2. Secondly [he tempted him] to vainglory by saying: “Your eyes shall be opened.”
  3. Thirdly, he led the temptation to the extreme height of pride, saying: “You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

This same order did he observe in tempting Christ.

  1. For at first he tempted Him to that which men desire, however spiritual they may be–namely, the support of the corporeal nature by food.
  2. Secondly, he advanced to that matter in which spiritual men are sometimes found wanting, inasmuch as they do certain things for show, which pertains to vainglory.
  3. Thirdly, he led the temptation on to that in which no spiritual men, but only carnal men, have a part–namely, to desire worldly riches and fame, to the extent of holding God in contempt. And so in the first two temptations he said: “If Thou be the Son of God“; but not in the third, which is inapplicable to spiritual men, who are sons of God by adoption, whereas it does apply to the two preceding temptations.

And Christ resisted these temptations by quoting the authority of the Law, not by enforcing His power, “so as to give more honor to His human nature and a greater punishment to His adversary, since the foe of the human race was vanquished, not as by God, but as by man“; as Pope Leo says (Serm. 1, De Quadrag. 3).

In the case of Our Lord, Satan was beaten from the start, so no matter what level he went to he hit the wall.  But in the beginning it was not so: man gave into the first temptation and things went downhill from there.

If we want victory in life and spiritual warfare, we must resist the small things lest we then graduate to the larger ones.  Remember, “the devil is in the details.”

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal