Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Barça, Sí!

Barcelona - 2 Manchester United - 0

First year coach Pep Guardiola gets hoisted aloft by his players

The semi-finals against Chelsea were ugly, but apparently the final against Man U was stellar.

Barcelona gets the Triple done, winning La Liga, La Copa del Rey, and The European Champions League.

And in the highly anticipated showdown between the world's two best players, Lionel Messi outshone Cristiano Ronaldo, finally shutting up the naysayers by scoring a crucial goal against an English Premier League team.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

That Was London Calling

Vignettes from our trip

Day 1 on the London tube, and the girls are suffering from a bit of jet lag. My niece is in the center, my oldest daughter on the far right. My second-oldest daughter (sort of cut off in the photo) is still awake on the left.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

These are some photos from our trip to London at the begining of May. Unfortunately, the quality of most of them is pretty bad, because they were taken on my cellphone. It was a brand-new new Pantech Breeze I was still getting familiar with. My battery ran out long before I expected it to as well, and I had no converter with me in order to recharge it. There are lots of things we saw that we got no photos of... My daughters had a digitial camera with them, of course, but they shoot what they want to shoot. Nevertheless, a few of their shots are in here as well.

That's Newfoundland at sunset, taken from the plane on our way over.

Just after arrival, navigating the Tube from Heathrow to Wimbledon at about 6:00 AM, shortly before the rush-hour crowd started coming on board.

The girls are united with their cousin and are liking their accomodations at Favre House, a Jesuit house that was empty at the time and was kindly made available to accomodate us and a few other guests to the ordination.

Where would we have been without the trusty and timely 93 bus to take us from Wimbledon Village down the the train station? The girls refused to board any bus that wasn't a double-decker, and who would blame them?

Purple shoelaces from the front row of the upper deck, looking out over the Wimbledon roundabout.

Yes, for the sake of the tourists, they still have the red telephone booths around... This was outside Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. I'm glad you can't see the nasty publications and flyers posted inside.

My brother-in-law Joe with Tom Jones (in wax). I took Joe's picture with Tom Jones because he can do an amazingly accurate impersonation of Jones in his rendition of It's Not Unusual.

Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey as seen from the Eye of London. It was a spectacularly warm and sunny day. We were very fortunate.

Looking out towards St. Paul's Cathedral (upper center) from the Eye of London. We did get to see St Paul's later on in our trip, a massive and impressive building. There were services finishing up at the time though, so we were not able to see it from underneath the dome.

My niece and my daughter M on the London Eye.

Looking down at one of the other capsules on the Eye of London.

The Eye of London as seen from Westminster Bridge.

M on the Westminster Bridge.

The Houses of Parliament, from the other side of the Thames.

The entrance to the Tower of London, with one of my fat fingers in the way.

The Tower Field(?), with catapults and other medieval instruments of mayhem being displayed.

An informative and very funny Yeoman running a tour inside the Tower. This is in front of the Bell Tower, where Sir Thomas More was held, among others. The girls were exhausted at this point and couldn't understand his thick cockney accent, so we wound up making our own way...

St Thomas's Tower.

See: St. Thomas's Tower and Traitors Gate

Further along Water Lane on the right is St Thomas's Tower standing above Traitors Gate. The tower was built by Henry III and was named after Sir Thomas Becket who had been Constable in 1162.

Traitor's Gate.

Traitors Gate was originally known as Water Gate, but was later changed when it was used as the landing for the Crown's enemies. All important prisoners entered the Tower through this gate. According to legend when Princess Elizabeth arrived on Palm Sunday 1554 she refused at first to land at the gate, angrily proclaiming that she was no traitor. A sharp shower of rain however, caused her to change her mind. Later when as Queen she visited the Tower she insisted on passing through Traitors Gate. "What was good enough for Elizabeth the Princess is good enough for Elizabeth the Queen", she is supposed to have told the Constable.

The changing of the guard, inside the Tower.

The girls have a photo taken with an accomodating yeoman.

The Tower Bridge, as seen from the Tower itself.

The girls at Waterloo Station. I took this photo because the name of the eatery was the same as the town we live in here in the US, but I messed up and chopped it off...

The organloft and stained glass window over the entrance to The Church of The Immaculate Conception.

The ordination of Charlie and the other new Jesuit deacons was at the Immaculate Conception Church in Mayfair.

From here:

After Catholic emancipation in 1829, when the position of Catholics in England became easier, a plan was conceived on a bold and imaginative scale for a permanent Jesuit church in London. It showed extraordinary vision and courage on the part of the Superior of the English Jesuits, Fr Randal Lythgoe, to have a church built to seat as many as 900 people.

In the 1840s , the Jesuits first began looking for a location for their London church, they found this site in a quiet back street. (The name derived from Hay Hill Farm which extended in the 18 th century from the present Hill Street eastward across Berkeley Square and beyond).

From 1849 until 1966 it was simply a Jesuit church, open to the public but not the centre of worship for a parish. Sacraments such as marriage and baptism could not be celebrated in the church and the reputation of Farm Street rested on the pulpit and the confessionals. It became famous for the work of many Jesuit priests whose guidance given to those seeking advice gently led many to embrace the Catholic faith.

Since 1966 the church has been at the heart of a parish in the centre of Mayfair. The Jesuit community here has always consisted of Priests and Brothers attached specifically to the church, working in other apostolates or in retirement. The Parish is more than a geographic one, attracting its congregation not only from all over London and its surrounds but visitors from all over the world.

This church was opened in 1849 and it was from the start a place of beauty. There have been changes in the adornment of the building and although it has expanded (through the addition of the side-altars and their chapels) the impact is much the same. Generous benefactors made it possible for Farm Street church to become a gracious and peaceful place in the 19th and 20th century.

Deacon Charles with his friends Michael and Dianne.

For me, one of the most enjoyable highlights of the trip was to become acquainted with two academic friends of Charlie's, Dianne Kirby and Michael Mahadeo of the University of Ulster in Belfast. Diane teaches American Studies and Michael is a lecturer in Health and Social Sciences. In addition to being scholars, Diane was a member of Ireland's Water Skiing Team, and Michael has taught and counseled inmates in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison. They stayed in the Favre House where we were staying. We spent many happy hours over dinner and drinks talking politics (theirs is quite far to the left), religion, history, culture and families. We were very glad to have met them and to have become fast friends.

The girls were dressed up a bit for this. Later we went shopping on Oxford and Regent Streets.

A crappy cellphone picture of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, taken from a bus. I just wanted to capture one of the massive lions, and so I did.

Another highlight of the trip was to meet and speak to Father Gerald O'Collins, SJ.

After the ordination, the Jesuits in Charlie's community made dinner for the visiting families, as well as breakfast the next morning. Father O'Collins, who is a reknowned theologian, known principally for his work in Christology, is in community with them. He's an immensely humble, kind, and sociable Australian, and we had a very interesting conversation about biblical scholarship, new books about St. Paul, and certain scholars on the scene such as John Dominic Crossan (he's not much of a fan) and Luke Timothy Johnson (he a big fan). It was interesting for me at least, but he truly seems to relish talking over these things with laypeople... I'm now on a Gerald O'Collins reading binge. :)

At any rate, it was humbling to have a theologian of his repute clearing my plates away, topping off my glass, and jumping up to help his brothers scrub the pots and pans in the kitchen. The Jesuits were extremely hospitable and patient with us, and we were very grateful for it.

We also heard the Jesuits say a beautiful Latin Mass (in the ordinary form) at the Sacred Heart Church in Wimbledon (see photos).

And finally, my niece C undergoes a beheading at The London Bridge Experience & London Tombs, a tourist trap near Waterloo Station. It was very cleverly sold to us, since we were actually heading to The London Dungeons, but the "Experience & Tombs" had an aggressive group of street performers who hijacked us. We were impressed by the work ethic, so we went along with it. Joe, especially so, since he's in sales.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


A brief reflection on turning the big 5-0 this week

"No, no Jimi... Here, let me help you with that... It goes like this..."

Who is that old guy with Jimi?? Good Lord, how did that happen?

That's me with Jimi Hendrix at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London. I'd actually hoped to have a picture taken with the wax effigy of Pope Benedict, but they must have had him in storage somewhere... I had my confession all planned out, too.

Good ole' Jimi... Gone since 1970, he'll forever be known to us as 27 years old. As for me? Well, I needed a new passport for this last trip. My old passport photo was from 1984. Let me tell you, the last 25 years have not been especially kind on the visage. I wouldn't have recognized myself between the two. It was like looking at The Picture of Dorian Gray. :D

For many, many years I actually looked young for my age. Then my hair went gray rather quickly, and now I look my age or maybe even a little bit older. That middle-aged shift was tough to get used to. Most of the time I don't feel like I'm getting older, maybe because we still have a couple of kids under the age of 10, but then again, sometimes I do feel it too, like when I pass a large mirror or see a photo. I loathe being photographed now. Anne laughs at my foolish vanity, but you know what? She doesn't like having her photo taken either.

Such tail-end baby-boomers. I'm sure we'll be in the set of boomers who won't get any Social Security money or Medicaire because the front-enders will have tapped it all out.

It's a bit disconcerting to come to the realization that certain bodily systems seem to have genetically-determined expiration dates built into them. There once was a time when I had 20-15 vision. At around the age of 46 or 47, there was a day when I didn't need reading glasses, and the next day when I did. Just like that. All of a sudden. Immediately. That's just for starters... For example, I had to play in a father-son soccer game last year. Not that I needed to, but I was wondering if I would still be able to sprint flat-out, because quite frankly, it had been a number of years since I had even tried to run at full-speed. The good news was that I was still able to sprint. Sort of. In a way. That was gratifying. The bad news is that ever since, my right knee hurts when I climb stairs... Did I forget to mention that making a fool out of yourself trying to retain your aging jock-status is another one of those middle-aged syndromes?

My advice is, don't get old.

If you must, age like fine wine.

If you can't do that, take up drinking it.

Red wine, that is. You'll need the anti-oxidants.

Somebody pointed out a blog to me recently regarding a different topic, and I noticed that it also happened to have some enjoyable and extremely well-written essays on turning 50:

Turning 50, I: The Great Change

Turning 50, III: Youth Dies Hard. (Ask Dreams.)

Turning 50, VI: Nature Is Your Best Friend ... NOT.

Granted, they are written from a woman's perspective, but a lot could hold true regardless of gender.

By the way, Anne and I have a hot date for my birthday at the Museum of Fine Arts: Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice

Friday, May 15, 2009

Does Being Catholic Mean Always Having to Say You're Sorry?

Or for that matter, does being German? Criticize, sure, but criticize when appropriate

Pope John Paul II with Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Sheikh Taysir Tamimi at the Interfaith Gathering in Jerusalem in 2000. It was a disaster back then, and it was a disaster during Benedict's visit this year too.

"It's hard to imagine, but it's true that the Jews are not at the top of the agenda of everyone else in the world."
-- Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Professor of Jewish studies at Bard College, commenting on the recent criticism of Pope Benedict coming from various Jewish sources
This is about as Jewish-friendly a Catholic blog as you are likely to find anywhere.

I've posted early and often here about the danger of resurgent anti-semitism, spoken of my appreciation for Nostra Aetate, taken issue with the tendency of certain Christian teachers to make caricatures out of Judaism as a religion of works-righteousness as they preach supersessionism, and I've welcomed the input of Jewish scholars as they've weighed in on the person of Jesus and on New Testament studies in general. I've been quick to raise criticism of the SSPX and the anti-semitism imbued within it, and when Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications on the four SSPX bishops, I chewed him out loudly over it.

In other words, I haven't been shy about criticizing popes or some of the legacies of my own Church vis-a-vis Judaism. Nevertheless, I find that some of the criticism being directed at Pope Benedict after his recent remarks at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Center to be unfair and unsettling.

For example, he's been criticized for the "coldness" of his delivery and for saying that the victims were "killed" instead of "murdered." For saying that "millions" died instead of "six million," and so forth...

Well... he is what he is. It's true... for someone who was at least nominally a member of the Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht, yes, you'd think he'd show a bit more sensitivity about these matters. We all know that John Paul did this sort of thing better than he does, and quite frankly, John Paul already did it on behalf of the Catholic Church.

Rabbi Neusner is right. Benedict cares about our relationship with Jews to be sure, but it's not at the top of his agenda. The crumbling Church is his main concern, as effective or ineffective as his own approach to that problem may be.

I hate to say it, but it seems that for some things it's just not possible to apologize enough. Just watching the sexual abuse scandal unfold in my own diocese, for example, I've seen that there are cases where no matter what gets said or done (and there is still more to be done, admittedly), it will never be enough. There are some people so wounded by it that no amount of apology will ever be enough. They wouldn't be satisfied unless the Catholic Church simply ceased to exist, and perhaps not even then. I'm afraid I have to conclude that the Holocaust has had this effect on some people as well.

Time magazine had a pretty interesting article called Pope Benedict on the Question of Judaism, and while I agree heartily with these remarks and find much merit in them...
Concern about the muddiness of Benedict's message first surfaced when he visited Auschwitz in 2006. Those attending the event were moved by his obvious emotion at the former death camp. But his address that day was marked by some highly peculiar ellipses. He failed to mention anti-Semitism, instead contending that "ultimately" the Nazis' motive in killing Jews was to "tear up the taproot of the Christian faith." And although he claimed to speak as a "son of the German people," Benedict seemed to downplay any ordinary-German implication in the Holocaust. Instead, he placed blame on a "ring of criminals [who] rose to power by false promises ... through terror ... with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power."

Both assertions are highly suspect. Although the German people as a group were not guilty of mass murder, neither were they innocent dupes throughout the process. And the idea that Hitler killed 6 million Jews to get at Christianity approaches the perverse. When Jewish groups complained, Benedict devoted a general audience to condemning anti-Semitism--although he revisited neither his church's nor his homeland's role in the Holocaust...

As (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel made clear, Germans have a special obligation. "We don't want [history] to repeat itself," as papal adviser Walter Kasper says. The Holocaust also remains an affront to the self-understanding of Christians, and Western civilization as a whole. We learned the word genocide through the Jews. Since Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has set the post-Shoah standard in acknowledging the absolute unacceptability of the Jewish loss. Without the Catholic Church's leadership on the issue, other Christian groups might not have followed.

Since papal conclaves have a cutoff age of 80 and tend to elect Popes from their own number, Benedict is likely to be the last Pontiff who can say, "We remember," and mean it literally. As the church's center of gravity moves southward, he may also be one of the last European Popes, and Jewish relations tend to be low on the radar of African and South American bishops. (One of the latter recently said the Jews own the media.) When Benedict is gone, says Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, "not only may Judaism be off the agenda--it may face opposition. There's a clumsiness to how Benedict has dealt with some of these issues, and we really hope he fixes them while he's still here. Because the next guy may not be fixing any of it."
...I'm still inclined to find appreciation in the following remarks as well:

From Michael Sean Winters:
I watched the Pope’s speech. I read it. The Pope does not wear his emotions on his sleeve, to be sure. But, the Pope grasped, perhaps in a way a 29 year old cannot, that before the enormity of evil that was the Shoah, silence is an appropriate emotional response. Silence is not, of course, an appropriate political response and the Pope made clear that we must speak out so that the world will never forget what happened. But, he is being criticized for not saying something "touching" as one columnist wrote. It is unfair...

I do not know what Pope Benedict felt when he went to Yad Vashem. His words, "I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in horrific tragedy of the Shoah" seemed to me excruciatingly appropriate. This Pope – who never tires of telling us Christians that our faith is about God and therefore about us, not the other way round – seemed to be saying, "My visit here is not about me. It is about the victims and their God." That may not play well in an age when our culture encourages vicarious emotional responses. But, it struck me as profoundly true.
From this week's Tablet editorial:
He applied gentle but effective pressure on Israel's coalition Government and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, not to wander too far from the road map defining the "two-state" peace process, which in the view of the Vatican, Washington and most of the rest of the world, offers the only real prospect of peace. Perhaps to neutralise his influence, voices inside Israel were quickly raised, criticising his stance particularly with reference to the Holocaust. If the Pope is not on their side, they would prefer to see him discredited.

But they failed, although the Israeli media gave wide coverage to the complaint from some Jewish figures that Pope Benedict had refused to apologise as a German for what his fellow countrymen did to the Jews 65 or more years ago, and as a Pope for the failings of his predecessor Pius XII to denounce those actions more forthrightly. There seemed to be a strange doctrine of collective guilt behind these complaints, and a suspicion of bad faith that will never be completely banished because it is irrational. In fact, fair-minded Jews were inclined to judge Pope Benedict by his actions and words now. He said all they wanted him to say: "May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten! And may all people of goodwill remain vigilant in rooting out from the heart of man anything that could lead to tragedies such as this!"
A charge of anti-semitism or even aloofness towards Judaism and the Holocaust cannot justifiably be pinned on Benedict, in my view. He has flaws, don't get me wrong, but he's not going to apologize merely for being a Catholic or for being a German. Nor should he.