Thursday, June 30, 2011
Praise the Lord, O my soul, in my life I will praise the Lord: I will sing to my God as long as I shall be. Put not your trust in princes: In the children of men, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish. Blessed is he who hath the God of Jacob for his helper, whose hope is in the Lord his God. (Psalms 145:2-5)

Thou shalt not speak ill of the gods*, and the prince of thy people thou shalt not curse. (Exodus 22:28)

*'gods' has often been interpreted here as magistrates, judges, or priests

I had had my share of fallen stars, just as any other teenager does, when I was talking one day in 1999 with a fellow disciple of Father Malachi Martin.

'Rachel, it looks bad.'


'It looks like he was living with that woman in an intimate way.'

'The New York Times is hardly a paragon of truth, and even they did not dare say it outright. They merely implied she was his companion.'

'Rachel,' she said gently, 'Would it shake your faith if Father Malachy was guilty?'

'No it wouldn't. And he's not.'

Then came Robert Kaiser's book, Clerical Error. 'It really looks like he may have been a great sinner,' many said.

'He's still the man who helped me, and in any case, he's not guilty.'

Even if Kaiser's ex-wife had collaborated that madman's account, or if Mrs. Livanos had claimed to be his mistress and produced photographic evidence, I would still not have believed it. There's something to be said for detachment from our heroes, but there is also something to said for loyalty. Even though cynicism is, alas, often justified, in the case of persons, it may be that, as L. M. Montgomery observes, love has 'the truer vision.' Therefore, the devotees of the renegade Jesuit and priest forever, will inflexibly maintain his saintliness until contradicted by his own shade. Even then, I do not think we will do much more than shrug.

Still, it is good to see that he is defended, and by those who knew him for many intimate years.
Saturday, June 18, 2011

(awesome poster from

Now, I can't remember, (and being swamped with student reports and not being a professional blogger, I do not have time to look it up), was it Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens who said the people pictured above only did bad things by virtue of some latent religiosity?

Well, whichever one of them drooled that particular line of bull spittle, it only proves that they can do no damage to people with common sense. None but the most dogmatic anti-theist (atheists tend to be more rational than that lot) would ever buy such a ludicrous argument.

Yet, while that opinion will never be taken seriously by people of good will and sound reason, John Lennon's argument (or should I say Yoko Ono's?) often is. The song, Imagine, has never had much charm for me with its anaesthetic rhythm and sporadic pattern of rhyme, but many adore it. In the 1970's in America, many young Catholics even made their First Communions to it. Amidst the homogeneous rubbish playing on radios in retail stores, that song still occasionally emerges, as up to date as when it was written. But that song is a lie and a recipe for human misery.

Every religious movement has parties that want to influence the public life more authoritatively, and most religions also have factions that want to keep their creeds pure of earthly taint. The term 'religion' is nearly a meaningless one in that the movements falling under that name hardly ever offer the same thing. Some are merely philosophies; others are a system of manners. Some exalt the god of their creed, and the rest merely meditate on the paradise which they hope awaits them. What they have in common is that they permeate a culture. Unlike disciplines of empirical sciences, schools of pure philosophies, and political parties, a religion has the ability to be grasped at some level by any citizen of the commonwealth over which it presides. This is the one common factor that may be gleaned from the term 'religion', so how is it that Lennon could make this broad, sweeping statement?

...Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

Leaving aside the reference to nations in the previous line of the song, why on earth would the lack of a god, which not all religions properly have, leave a man with nothing to die for? Could not a man still get drunk and beat another man's brains out in animal rage? Even without a creed to condemn adultery, one spouse may still murder an unfaithful husband or wife in a jealous rage. It's one thing to condemn the Church for the Crusades and another thing to say that she is the author of all Western woes.

However, the first verse is still the one that takes the cake:

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

The sky is a vast dome with barren space beyond and the Earth is a hollow shell. All that exists is material and the only time is now. Would, does this mentality foster a peaceful environment? Well, let us say that for some reason, the lack of the promise of Heaven destroys man's incentive to live as if there was a 'tomorrow' to which his 'today' will be accountable. Would this not make for a most irresponsible and selfish society? If there is no tomorrow, why should anyone have to endure self-denial? There is one pastry left on the table, and if you hurry you could cut off the other person heading for it. Why not? After all, there's no tomorrow.

Therefore I commended mirth, because there was no good for a man under the sun, but to eat, and drink, and be merry, and that he should take nothing else with him of his labour in the days of his life... (Ecclesiastes VIII:15)

Yet, an admirer of Imagine is likely to say that Lennon/Yoko Ono did not mean 'today' literally. They were referring to the entire life in which we live, and given their views on the myth of over-population, one knows that they did not mean to encourage self-gratification at the expense of others.

However, if living for today means doing one's best to achieve Heaven on Earth, to bring about Utopia, the outcome will be unfathomably worse than the comparitively innocuous humanism mentioned before. It is a common literary device to complicate a villain by making him to believe that he is acting righteously. He does not hurt others, because he hates them. He does so, because he knows better than they what is good for them.

Usually this person is painted as extremely orthodox, but to accept this veneer would be a mistake. A member of an organized religion must bow his head to the hiearchy. The universal body of the Church will keep him balanced and humble before his fellow man. It is the heretic, who esteems his personal fanaticism above the devotion of his fellow man, who exalts his reason as the only source of truth, that becomes the dangerous man--the murdering Utopian. While the simple atheist, the person who just sleeps in on Sundays and is content to respect or patronize his religious neighbours, can hardly be accused of dogmatism, such is not the case for anti-theists publishing their own holy writ. They, along with the Monte Cristos of literature, are the villainous idealists.

Christopher Hitchens hates Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Why? Because she accepts the lot of the people whom she serves. The Catholic Church has so many charitable orders and has taken upon herself so many works of mercy throughout her long history, with no hope of earthly reward for it, that she has often been praised for it by non-Catholics and atheists, too. Anti-theists however grind their teeth at these acts. Their answer is not to mitigate the personal distress of the unfortunate individual, but to change the structure in which the person is miserable. Most believers however will accept this saying as from the mouth of God:

For the poor you have always with you (Matthew XXVI:11)

Persons of any religion are usually taught to place bread in the hands of the hungry, but that they must ultimately accept suffering as the will of God. Utopian anti-theists prefer to give those who are wronged guns to fight their fates. If happiness or 'living in peace' is the immediate goal of man, where then should one cast his lot? The answer seems to be the same as Pascal's wager.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Using the more civilized Olde British metric system, I would like to share with you a little cocktail I have invented! I call it the 'Harried Catholic,' and I think it will cheer you up after reading the news (especially news about churchmen):

1 ounce Irish Cream (any brand)
1 ounce Kahlua
1 ounce Polish herbal vodka

Pour over ice, fill the glass to the brim with whole milk, and stir. Let the size of the glass be determined by how diluted you'd like it. And for the practicing Catholic, do remember that one serving is likely enough!
Pinning Down a Definition

Before the defense started, I had been an absolute nervous wreck. The whole idea of my pitiful attempt to write a work of disciplined truth after years of being humbled by giants of thought seemed absolutely absurd and presumptuous, and I was reckoning on being showed as much in a painful manner as I was to defend my thesis before three of the college's doctors.

However, my self-consciousness and butterflies shrivelled up within moments after the defense commenced. The affair became as my advisor had said it would be: a conversation with three other people, and what's more, a conversation about a topic that had interested me very much. I was having a lot of fun before I knew it, when of the doctors nailed me with this question: 'So you argue that the practice of heroism is different for men and women. Is there then such a thing as masculine virtue and feminine virtue?'

I think all four of us smiled (as well as my one fellow student attending) at a question that was by now very sentimental. The Great Books program fittingly begins with Plato, and the first thing Thomas Aquinas College students read for philosophy was his dialogue, Meno. The person of Meno, serving as the omnipresent Lestrade/Watson to the Holmesian Socrates, stated that virtue was not only different for the two genders, but also the various walks of life in society:

Meno: There will be no difficulty, Socrates, in answering your question. Let us take first the virtue of a man - he should know how to administer the state, and in the administration of it to benefit his friends and harm his enemies... A woman's to order her house, and keep what is indoors, and obey her husband. Every age, every condition of life, young or old, male or female, bond or free, has a different virtue: there are virtues numberless, and no lack of definitions of them; for virtue is relative to the actions and ages of each of us in all that we do. And the same may be said of vice, Socrates. (Plato, Meno, 71e, translated by Benjamin Jowett)

And so, along with the questions: 'What is a sign?' 'Is the wrath of Achilles justified?' et al., the idea of virtue being different for men and women is one of the first ideas TAC's pupils struggle with as freshmen, while the tutors preside reservedly over the debate. However, Socrates's opinion on the subject is unequivocal:

Meno: I am beginning to understand; but I do not as yet take hold of the question as I could wish.

Socrates: When you say, Meno, that there is one virtue of a man, another of a woman, another of a child, and so on, does this apply only to virtue, or would you say the same of health, and size, and strength? Or is the nature of health always the same, whether in man or woman?

Meno: I should say that health is the same, both in man and woman.....

....Socrates: Were you not saying that the virtue of a man was to order a state, and the virtue of a woman was to order a house?

Meno: I did say so.

Socrates: And can either house or state or anything be well ordered without temperance and without justice?....Then they who order a state or a house temperately or justly order them with temperance and justice?...Then both men and women, if they are to be good men and women, must have the same virtues of temperance and justice?.....
..... (ibid., 71e-73b)

Socrates then defines virtue/virtues differently from Meno, and he more explicity names the forms in the dialogue, Protagoras, giving us what we in the Western School call the cardinal virtues: justice, fortitude, temperance, and prudence. Since men and women both are virtuous in so far as they participate in these forms, there would be appear to be no such thing as masculine and feminine virtues, just as there is no difference between masculine and feminine health.

Yet, one is not 'wise, brave, sober, and just' by virtue of a single act, much less an abstract one, though it may correspond to the four pillars. A drunk who makes it home in a state of sobriety for but one night of the week is not temperant. Virtue, as Aristotle showed, must be a habit, and habits vary widely due to empirical realities. Type the term 'woman's health' into an internet search engine, and you will not receive the response, 'Silly fool! Health is the same for men and women!' Rather the results will literally number millions. While health, in the sense of 'the state of being free from illness or injury' (O.E.D.), is obviously the same for men and women, what defines that state positively--rather than negatively--may indeed vary.

Blood-pressure levels, susceptibility to alchohol (regardless of weight and size), immune system strength, nutritional needs, vulnerabilitiy to cancer and sexually-transmitted diseases all vary according to gender. Not only are different health habits necessary to maintain an ideal state, but the actual ratios determining the quality of health is different. Nature may be styled feminine, but she does not hear woman's roar.

My reply to the three tutors was far more meandering and fuzzy than the one I shall present, but in all honesty, I do not remember what I said five years ago: 'I think that there are two defininitions of virtue, the first being the form that we seek, and the second being the qualities in us that are disciplined to obtain it. For example, chastity is praised in both men and women by civlized societies. For men, the habit of this virtue indicates high-mindedness and self-mastery. For women, it indicates a constancy of the heart and a sense of modesty and self-worth.'

The Duty of Men

'Is it a requirement that men teach these habits to men and women teach them to women?' the same tutor asked.

I opened my mouth to agree, but closed it again (at least I hope I didn't leave it parted while I was thinking). I couldn't help but think of how modesty does not come to most girls naturally. A girl's first prerogative is to dress like her peers and in a way that makes her appear most beautiful and appealing. This is her instinct. While there is also a self-conscious instinct to veil her feminine shape
as she buds into a woman, her inability to read the minds of males and the desire for masculine attention will erode this earlier bashfulness in time.

Even mothers naturally want their daughters to look pretty and to be successful in society. Only the wisest or the most pious, or saddest of all, the most experienced of women give serious thought to how males will react to their daughters' garb. Obviously, t
he women who envy their daughters' beauty and thus try to conceal it do not serve as examples of loving mothers who are trying to protect their children. The desire to cultivate true modesty comes from selfless virtue not selfish vice. However, two of the good qualities that make the mother fit to be a judge of appropriate clothing--barring ageless piety--are inaccessible to the young daughter.

It usually results that the father's word carries the most weight with his daughter about what she should wear, and his judgement is clearer and more focused than the mother's. He cares only for his child's dignity and safety, and provided that he holds the proper place as head of his home, he is the best teacher for his girl.

I said as much in my own clumsy way to the tutors at the defense. And I received this reply: 'So is modesty a masculine virtue then?' I felt like a Meno or one of the many Platonic strawmen at that moment, for I had not seen that bolt coming at all. Physical modesty seemed something so obviously belonging to the feminine (after all, when men wear revealing clothing, it repulses the onlooker). Yet, could it even exist if it did not concern men?

In the novel and film, Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim and Mike Newell respectively, there is a memorable scene at one of the exclusively female suppers:

Mrs. Fisher: That's a beautiful dress...
Caroline: No I've had it a hundred years.
Mrs. Fisher: ...but you must be very cold in it. Its easy to catch a chill here after dark. You look as if you had nothing on underneath.
Caroline: I haven't.

The matronly Mrs. Fisher is predictably horrified, while a third woman, Lottie observes that the fact can hardly be inappropriate as no men were about.

Perhaps those reading this post are rolling their eyes at this apparent conclusion, but in an age where many of us ladies resent or even bristle at the intrusion of male voices on feminine issues, it is important to note that modesty is a habit that cannot exclude male opinion. Men throughout the ages have been overly harsh, true, but it is often only because they credit women with telepathy. To a certain extent, we do have such an intuition and are aware of the reaction we engender in the opposite gender. Many women enjoy turning heads, but while they think they are provoking admiration or a light, flattering attraction, they may be arousing something much more ugly and even dangerous.

Therefore, when I come to the more practical application of modesty, I will not always be able to proceed rationally, as modesty is subjective to the reaction of men. Before someone thus objects: 'Wait, wait, wait! Some men will think dirty thoughts no matter what. Do we have to wear burkas?' don't be so hasty! As with all things, we must find the Golden Mean, and this will entail only considering the opinions of well-balanced, well-meaning people (e.g., not the tyrannical father or the prudish cleric), and one's own common sense and logic will definitely play a part.

However, a certain element of a woman's trust in a man's word is necessary for dressing with dignity. I once saw
a skirt in a catalog I liked with a hemline stopping properly below the knee. At the bottom, there was a lovely pattern formed by holes cut out of the fabric in a lacy pattern. My mother said the skirt however was immodest, not because of actual exposure, but because of its 'peekaboo' appeal.

One of my sisters refused to accept the theory as having any weight in reality, so an argument ensued. It ended with 'wait until your father comes home,' and all agreed that his say would be the final verdict. He soon came in with bleach in one hand and laundry detergent in the other. Without giving him any background concerning the argument, my mother showed him the picture and asked him what he thought of the garment. 'Slut,' he said laconically and went back to the car to get the rest of the groceries.

What can be said? Sometimes experienced people are actually knowledgable, and men occasionally even know their own gender!
Friday, June 3, 2011
This will be an essay in which I intend to invest a great deal of thought, and as I am swamped with school paperwork, it will come in phases. There are things I need to re-read, visuals I must contemplate, and perhaps surveys to conduct. In any case, I need to think about it.

The idea came as I prepared for work this morning. I had stopped for a moment after dressing to survey what I was wearing. I generally perform the standard 'head, shoulders, knees, and toes' test when purchasing a garment and then never give it another thought, but I had bought this white, tiered skirt in a rather dim shop, and I was having second thoughts in the light of day.

As with all things white, there was the problem of transparency. The layers under the skirt were sufficient, but they did not reach all the way to the hemline, and though they were long enough for a skirt I would wear all on its own, it made me wonder whether there were something teasing or immodest about the first ten diaphanous inches.

'Jansenist, Puritan, Extremist, Manichean, Pharisee, Shiite, etc.' and other such epithets reverberated in the memory of my ears, as I recalled the words of men and women, friends and foes, whom I know and have known. I may have winced, but even though the rebukes of majority are
arresting, they do not have much impact on a monarchist.

I began trying to disect the matter rationally, when logic gave up the task and ceded to intuition. 'Oh, puh-lease!' (my intuition normally adopts the voice of my sister, Maggie) 'There are girls out there with their hemlines ending a few inches below their hips. What makes you so special as to attact attention with what you're wearing?' Now that reasoning I could not combat, and I actually trotted out the door giggling at myself and the problem I had posed.

Two particular troubles came to revisit me later though. The first was the fact that I knew too few people (and most of them via books) that took a middle position on the issue of modest. The second, that I was and am not sure that I even occupy the middle.

Unlike the subjects of my other ruminations, this issue is actually a lot of bother to revisit, and I don't savour the idea of writing about something I should have in hand after twenty-seven years on this Earth. Yet, as I consider how separated I have been from others, due in part to the way I dress, or how fervently I have sought to please those whom I respected over those whom I wished to befriend, I am interested to know if I have made the right decision, or if I have made myself a bit ridiculous for
ideals that priests and philosophers would have quickly forgone if they had been practical women or had known the social price.

I was engaged in a debate on the subject of dignity in dress recently--by those who claim belief in modesty, too. It is rather typical that my side was taken by no other party, but this time I had hoped the case would be different and that at least this one other soul would take my part. Well, suffice it to say that this did not happen, and as a woman, I was
disappointed. As a rational animal, I was also dissatisfied with the emotional arguments employed against my position. After all, if emotions had the last say, why would mine be any less infallible?

To those that are interested, I promise the following chapters will not be so sticky with personal references as this
post, and I will exercise more discipline. Still, a personal preface seemed necessary this once, especially as I hope no one takes the forthcoming argument personally.

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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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