Sunday, August 3

I took Katie to see the documentary film Spellbound this afternoon at our local art house theater. It was really and truly wonderful, and really, most kids 10 or above (and perhaps the more precocious under that) will enjoy it, and any adult with a heart will too. Yeah, it's about the National Spelling Bee, but like all art of quality, it's actually about many other things as well. It's about achievement, its price and its ambiguity. It's about family. It's about social and class differences - how can you not root for the kids who don't have the personal spelling bee coaches or computers? It's about American life, identity and opportunity. And it's about 8 very different, fascinating young people and their families. It's a moving, compassionate and sometimes funny film with a couple of situations that really and truly, if you'd written them into a "fictional" script or story would be tossed out as just too much, too fantastical to be believed - if you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about - but, as they say, truth really can be stranger than fiction.

So if it comes to your town or (in a few months I'm sure) video store, please go see it.

First step for Robinson

Gene Robinson’s journey to becoming bishop of New Hampshire passed a crucial milestone Sunday afternoon when the House of Deputies voted to consent to his election as bishop coadjutor. In a vote by orders on resolution C045, lay deputations voted 63 yes, 32 no, and 13 divided. Clergy deputations voted 65 yes, 31 no, and 12 divided. With the deputies' action, the final decision now rests with the House of Bishops, which will take up Robinson’s consent at 2 p.m. Monday. If the bishops grant consent, then Robinson may well be seated in the house that same day. The custom with the other bishops-elect who have achieved full consent this week has been for the bishops to give them seat and voice.

A brief and by no means thorough reflection on the conversations:

When you read history, one of the things you notice in recent work is the commonly held and frequently voiced assumption that traditional Christian thinking has emphasized a dichotemy between body and spirit, a separation, and modern thinking is all about the reintegration of body and spirit. I have to say that this never made sense to me, and even less so these days. It seems to me that both of the conversations of this week - on homosexuality and marital sexuality - revolve around the question, "What does what we do with our bodies have to do with the spirit?" Does what we do with our bodies affect our spirit, our total being? Should what we do with our bodies reflect any greater plan or purpose built into creation? That's simplistic, but you know what I mean. And the answers fall into two camps: those who wish the Church to give into contemporary Western culture on this score say, in essence - no. What I do with my body has little relation to anything beyond itself. Those who wish the Church to resist the temptation to give into culture say, yes. My body and what I do with it matters, and matters not only in the context of my bed or even my own emotions, but matters in the context of what God wants for His creation.

That's simplistic, and there are countless complexities and caveats that could be offered (and will be, I'm sure!), but it just strikes me that those who maintain the truth of traditional Christian thinking on sexuality are more attuned to the relation between body and spirit than those who want to dispense with it.

Now granted, this connection between body and spirit was more often than not presented in negative terms - you do this with your body, this happens to your soul. The proper relationship between body and soul was of the former being subjugated to the latter. But the relationship was there and understood, nonethless. We are not angels or spirits only temporarily housed in bodies. Perhaps the gift of the modern era is in helping us to see the positive aspects of our integrated beings - not only as we see the positive aspects of marital love, for example, but also, on a more fundamental level, as we unpack the relations between body chemistry and emotions, etc.

New Jersey losing Franciscans

The Franciscan community covering the East Coast has shrunk to about 430 priests and brothers from 1,100 in the early 1960s. As a result, the order will no longer staff St. Joseph's Church in West Milford, where friars have preached the Gospel since the late 1800s.The parish will continue to operate under the diocese, which will supply its own priests."We're a disappearing race,'' said the Rev. Boniface Hanley, who celebrates his last Mass at St. Joseph's today. "That's a fact.'' The Franciscans are considering a range of other cutbacks, including leaving another West Milford church, Our Lady Queen of Peace."I just buried four [friars] last month," said the Rev. John Felice, the order's provincial minister in New York City. "And people are wondering why we are doing this?"Franciscans, Felice said, typically live in communities of at least three friars. After St. Joseph's had been reduced to one priest - the 78-year-old Hanley - the order decided it couldn't spare the manpower to bring the staffing up to previous levels."We are committed to living in community - that's who we are," Felice said. "We love being in these places, but the math just doesn't work for us."

While I was walking/running yesterday, I was listening to This American Life and heardthis personal essay, called "The Slingshot" read by its author. It's a simple, evocative meditation on death - and confronting it.

September 13, Michael and I will be speaking and signing books:

On a Wing and a Prayer Religious Books and Gifts
115 E. South Street, Plano, IL
Michael Dubruiel on: Giving Thanks to God in All Circumstances: Living the Eucharist
Amy on:Teens, God and Life: What They Really Want to Know

More on Michael's appearances here

At this point the only other appearance I have scheduled is a talk at the Diocese of Bridgeport (CT) catechetical convention, which is the first weekend of November.

An interesting reflection on the LA Cathedral

Secular commentary on the cathedral has dwelled on its abstractions, seemingly more Zen than Catholic, and emphasized, appreciatively, how understated are matters of faith in the building's structure. But there is nothing subdued or Zenlike in Simon Toparovsky's life-size bronze figure of a man, black skin flayed, nailed to a post in the moments before his death. Those who have gathered this morning reach out to the feet and knees of the figure on the cross, touching them tentatively. Some lean in to kiss the metal, which is already losing its dark, iron oxide patina. Their consoling embraces recognize the sacredness of the sculpture and make it ours.

The cathedral resists other embraces. Later, during the sermon, the servers bring out a large brazier to illustrate a point the priest is making about prayer. He pours a handful of incense onto the coals and another until the flames drive up a thick column of gray smoke. I anticipate that the cloying odor of burning incense — a powerful instigator of Catholic memories — will fill the air. It doesn't. By an accident of geometry or ventilation, the cloud ascends, spreads into a veil and joins the light it cannot change. The burning incense leaves no smell.

An LATimes article about a photographic exhibition documenting the building of Notre Dame de Ronchamp, designed by Le Courbusier

Ronchamp, chosen in an American Institute of Architects poll a few years ago as the most significant church building of the last 500 years, represented a startling shift in direction for Le Corbusier. "If you look at his previous work," Safe says, "he did these very stark towers, so the fact that he would get into this sort of poetic, formal manipulation for a church was pretty remarkable. Here is this man who was designing these relentlessly square and, I'm not kidding, mile-long blocks of apartment buildings that he proposed for Algiers and Paris, and all of a sudden he got poetic."

And like any good poem, the chapel at Ronchamp provokes a wide range of readings. Some believe the roof is shaped like the habits worn by French nuns; others feel it's intended as a metaphor for Noah's Ark. Safe has his own theory. "Le Corbusier always had a shell on his desk, and the structural idea behind it is very derivative of a double-sided shell with a bottom and a top with an open structure between it, and I think that's probably more likely." Even the Ronchamp gutter prompts speculation. Pointing to one of Hervé's pictures, Safe says, "This scupper where all of the rainwater comes off of the roof, people talk about [it as representing] a woman's breasts and the liquid of life coming out of the thing. I don't think Le Corbusier ever sat around and explained any of this to anybody, so we're free to interpret."

Links to various secular reviews of The Magdalene Sisters

Catholic News Service's review

James Bowman's (of the American Spectator) review.

As for me, I'm planning to take Katie to see Spellbound on Sunday afternoon.


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