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Monthly Archives: December 2008

It’s important for Christians, especially Catholics, to remember that as much as we may be in agreement with other people on certain issues, that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily on our side when it comes to faith and religion. This hit me again yesterday with SayUncle’s post (and Sebastian’s agreement with it) about the Pope’s Christmas Message, criticizing Benedict for apparently living in luxury while he tells the rest of the world to watch out for the poor. Specifically:

He says don’t be selfish and help those who live in places where the basics needed for survival are missing. He said this from an extravagant mantle, on a gold throne with jewels, wearing a priceless gold cross, and some expensive clothes.

Good message there, chief.

Let me offer a rephrase: “Don’t be selfish, and help those how live in places where the basics needed for survival are missing. Benedict, who had begged his predecessor to be able to retire from the College of Cardinals so he could write books, wore borrowed clothes in a house (including furniture and decorations) that isn’t his.”

The commenters at SayUncle’s site do a good job of taking him to task, although I think ultimately they miss the main point. Yes, the Catholic Church does more (measurable) good than any other organization, and has been doing so for the past 2000 years. That’s good, but it still falls into a problem when the Lesson of the Widow’s Mite is considered: even acknowledging all the good the Catholic Church does, it has a lot of advantages and so it’s hard to definitively pin down whether they objectively do enough. Another comment notes the message of “The Shoes of the Fisherman” and how stripping the Church of its wealth won’t work, but this is also inadequate: just because we may not succeed isn’t a legitimate reason, by itself, not to try.

I think that the important point is that the riches of the Church exist for a reason: they help to show heaven to the people. To urbane society this seems laughable (although that’s delusional), but to normal people it doesn’t. It serves the same purpose as the stained glass windows, high cathedral arches, and vivid iconography in a church: to display the Gospel and who God is. When foreign dignitaries visit an American embassy, do they expect to see the staff lounging around in t-shirts, halter tops, and board shorts? Of course not; the embassy staff represents a superpower nation and they dress professionally. Do we expect the Queen of England (who, incidentally, is not the “spiritual head” of anything) to forgo her coronation as being too ostentatious? Of course not; she represents the British (and Commonwealth) people and her coronation has to do with the position, not the person. The Pope is similar: his position is that of steward for the resurrected and glorious Christ. That he looks splendid in his official clothes is utterly appropriate. That he be surrounded by pious beauty is also utterly appropriate. Would his detractors have him surrounded by slide projectors and white sheets? Well, probably; this logic would also say that they should get the cheapest projectors they can find that still display recognizable images, rather than getting expensive ones that will last and will display vivid images. The thing is, projections aren’t real. They’ll do when you don’t have anything else, but once you do you stick with that. The Church is real, as the Body of Christ here on Earth. At the same time, it is also a representation of heaven, and so it must do the best that it can.

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I’m not someone who likes most church music. Or rather, most music found in hymnals. Obviously there are exceptions to be made, but I’ve never heard of most of what we wind up singing. Often it’s by the abysmal David Haas or Marty Haugen, whose treacly and sometimes theologically-suspect songs make me want to punch a hippie. If the song has non-English words there had better be a very good reason, and an even better reason if the songwriter is messing around with syntax. There’s a reason the modern worship music at Catholic churches seems to largely written by Evangelicals: the Evangelicals (Hillsong, Delirious, Casting Crowns, etc.) actually write theologically correct (or at least from a Protestant perspective, from a Catholic perspective they’re usually inoffensive) lyrics and write in a way that doesn’t sound like an annoying woman coo-cooing a child.

That said, at Mass for the Immaculate Conception on Monday we sang a song I’d never heard before: “Canticle of the Turning.” I was wary at first: the lyrics were written by someone born in 1952 and “Canticle of the Turning” sounds almost unbearably earnestly liberal. I later found out that the lyricist associates with Marty Haugen a lot, which doesn’t help his case. What made me give it a chance, though was the catchy melody. It turns out that it’s the Irish ballad “Star of the County Down,” and frankly just about anything put to Irish music is going to sound better. Looking over the words, though, I realized that while they may be a little surprisingly revolution-oriented, in the context of a paraphrase of the Magnificat it’s actually appropriate.

Give it a listen. Even if you dislike most modern music it may be an exception.

It also made me aware of “Star of the County Down,” which is very, very catchy and fun to sing. I’ve had it stuck in my head for days now and bought several version of it off iTunes. However, the two versions I like best aren’t available there and are only found on YouTube:

This one, by Serbian Celtic band “Orthodox Celts,” not only does a good job of sounding both classic and modern but also has a great video with a really cute “colleen.”

Completely different is this version done by two English girls calling themselves “Fiomily.” It’s much slower but has “The Mamas & the Papas” -type harmonizing going on. The blonde girl has the better voice and does a good job leading, but the brunette’s harmonizing is amazing and I actually wouldn’t change her timbre if given the chance. If you like their sound, you might also want to try their versions of House of the Rising Sun and California Dreaming.

If you’re going to hit up iTunes, my favorite version of the song are those by The Barley Boys, Emerald Rose, and Jed Marum.