May 30th, 2007

Vatican/St. Peter's

Theological Notebook: John Allen Predicting the Usual, Tired Spins of Upcoming Vatican Announcement

Now that is a healthy exercise in pre-emptive reporting! Some of the divisions we have inherited in the American part of the Roman Catholic Church – divisions often clumsily patterned after the "conservative/liberal" division so cultivated in American politics – are so predictable in their eagerness to spin or distort a news story that John Allen, our best Vatican-watcher has actually laid out exactly the kind of silly reporting one will inevitably hear about an upcoming Vatican announcement. (The deepest comedy will come from whether the hosting newspaper for this op-ed, the New York Times, will offer the stereotypcial reaction predicted within the pages of its own publication.

Op-Ed Contributor
The Pope’s Language Lesson

Published: May 30, 2007
The New York Times
Vatican City

A SENIOR Vatican official has confirmed that sometime soon Pope Benedict XVI will expand permission for use of what’s popularly known as the Latin Mass, the service that was standard before the Second Vatican Council. Though some details remain vague, one point seems all too clear: When the decision officially comes down, its importance will be hyped beyond all recognition, because doing so serves the purposes of both conservatives and liberals within the church, as well as the press.

Pope Benedict’s intent, according to Vatican authorities, is to make the pre-1960s Mass optional, leaving Catholics free to choose which Mass they want to attend. Because the older Tridentine Mass, named for the 16th-century Council of Trent, has come to symbolize deep tensions in Catholicism, the pope’s decision is sure to trigger an avalanche of commentary.

Many on the Catholic right will hail the move as a death knell for the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, such as use of the vernacular languages and modern music, and participation by the laity, most of which conservatives have long derided as misplaced efforts to make the church “relevant.” The older Mass, many argue, has such beauty and elicits such a sense of awe that, over time, it will triumph, leaving the changes of the last 40 years as a failed experiment.

That argument fails the smell test of contact with reality. Collapse )

Personal: Dissertating and Other Surprises

Time, as ever, keeps moving faster than can be believed.
The sun comes up. The sun goes down
Passing me by once again
Summers used to last forever
Now I think ahead in years
Days slip by like water
Memory swims in tears.
Well, perhaps that last line is a bit too bleak. As I've been saying, it's been wonderfully "concrete," this whole dissertating thang: every day I see x number of pages written and the total is starting to add up in a satisfying way. I'm learning a ton, too, as I'm carefully going through my interviews of Frank Sullivan last May, adding to them and fleshing them out as appropriate. Now that I actually have a thesis and a plan for the book as well, I can see what to do with the material as I'm going along, and where it fits into the whole of what I'm doing, as well as informing other parts of the work. Way cool.

But while I've been locked in my ivory tower, I've had a chance to slide down the drainpipe here and there and get out to do something a little different, to add in some variety with which to season the days. The breakup process with Jen has continued, as it were, with some time together both for fun and for some serious talks, with a few surprises along the way in realizing how much we misunderstood one another, whether for me speaking in Irish irony or for missing some point she was trying to spell out to me. But this was done after an afternoon last week of her mountain biking up in the Greenbush Rec Area of the north part of Kettle Moraine State Forest, while I hiked the trails, or then taking in a view of the North Beach of Kohler-Andrae State Park on the Lake Michigan shore. We hung out for several hours today, too, where I said more of my piece, after having a week apart to sit with it all and think while she was in California scouting out the location of her new "Wild Mystic" wilderness venture.

Wednesday last saw the triumphant dissertation defense of my best friend from my first years at Marquette, Kari-Shane Davis, with her A Critical Assessment of Michael Novak's Interpretation of Pope John Paul II's Theological Anthropology in Centesimus Annus and Its Impact on Christian Economic Practices. I don't go to lots of Ethics dissertation defenses, and so this was also a bit interesting in that respect, but it was particularly disconcerting to discover that the five faculty members on the committee spent all their time more picking at Michael Novak (the other guy, not me) and not really focusing on the actual focus of Kari-Shane's work, which had more to do with human creativity and with the incredibly cool critical insight of Vincent Miller (who was a TA of mine at Notre Dame) that capitalism incorporates within itself all [?] critiques of capitalism. I had noticed as an undergrad that I could buy "alternative" clothes on the ever-hip State Street in Madison, but that would have me spending just as much money as if I was dressing as a "prep." That just made me much less interested in my clothes: I didn't extrapolate this insight about the ability of capitalism to subvert and incorporate critiques of capitalism from that concrete and lame example. Cool stuff. So, anyway, Michael Novak took up everyone's attention (including my own) and the Miller and Alasdair MacIntyre stuff got short shrift. Oh, well: now she's Doctor Kari-Shane Davis Zimmerman, and she's not taking any prisoners.

And then on Thursday, I took two hours off to go to the Milwaukee County Zoo on Dan and Amy's family pass, along with Mike and Donna meeting us there, and we took in the "members only" preview of fun displays on sharks, rays, and koala bears. A totally fun break, both in hanging with the friends and in seeing how Anna and Renée, the paired little girls, took in all the sights. Renée, who is not quite three years old, even treated me to a short lecture on the dinosaurs, who, she was quick to stress, once were real, but now had become "pretend," which I thought was a fabulous and interesting way for a three year-old mind to make that contrast. It was just the kind of low-key contrast I needed from the minidrama of my own life.

Likewise, an absurdly funny run of dinner conversation with Diane on Saturday night over a giant pork chop at the Coquette Café and then an even more giant apple pie at the Metro for dessert was both relaxing and helpful. And so it goes. I could write more to try to capture the night, such as the bizarre ice-cream classification Diane shared with me that had nothing to do with ice cream, and the great phone calls from Kate Fagan Taylor and from Erik, but the dissertation calls, murmurs, mumbles, taunts, and just rolls over and says it has a headache.