25 December 2008

Joyeux Noël dans la Paix du Christ Roi

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Ghost, and nine months having passed since His conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

--Roman Martyrology, Christmas Day

24 December 2008

The Belloc Family Christmas

George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton

A.N. Wilson, biographer of Hilaire Belloc, writes of his subject's yearly traditions:
Belloc's great essay on "A Remaining Christmas", which describes how they decked the hall with holly and laurel from the nearby farm; then put up the tree and adorn it with candles; then invite in all the nearby children to be fed, and to revere the crib which had been set up beside the great fire in the hearth.

Those who were staying in the house would then have dinner and troop upstairs to squeeze into the chapel. "And there the three night Masses are said, one after the other, and those of the household take their Communion."

Then everyone slept in late, and ate a turkey dinner. (Elodie was American, and perhaps they were among the earliest to eat this American bird as their Christmas dinner rather than the more traditionally English beef or goose.)
Wilson, invited by Belloc's grandson to make a documentary of Belloc's life and to include his home in the film, recounts the experience:
There are few houses in England, certainly few writers' houses, which have a more potent atmosphere than King's Land, with its chapel on the first floor, where he so often prayed, and where the Mass was so often said. The wall is papered with those little cards given out at Requiems, asking for prayers for the repose of the departed. And central to the chapel is the old piece of black-rimmed writing paper on which Belloc has inscribed his wife's name. It is grimy with his frequent fingering, for he touched and kissed it as often as he prayed here.
The camera crew came into the house. I felt awkward about their going anywhere near the chapel, but Julian, who felt in some degree oppressed by his grandfather, as by the Catholic faith, was all the more eager to bring to that hallowed place the glare of artificial light and the intrusion of a microphone. However often they tried to make their electrical equipment in the chapel at King's Land work, it failed. Either the lights popped, or the sound failed, usually both. The electricity of HB and of Elodie was much stronger than the electricity of the BBC. I felt, too, not merely the Bellocs, but the old Catholic Thing fighting back against the intrusion of the modern.
Belloc died on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, 1953, and is buried in the churchyard of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Consolation near his wife, who predeceased him by forty years; his sons predeceased him by, respectively, thirty-five and twelve years, each dying in a World War.

23 December 2008

The Priests

The new musical sensation...

Fight FOCA

The Obama website has posted a 55-page document issued by pro-abortion groups, whose top priority is signing FOCA into law. The site is open for comment; add yours to the cacophany. (There are, pleasantly enough, an overwhelming number of pro-life comments.)

22 December 2008

Catholics Better Than Atheists at Coping with Pain

So say a group of Oxford scientists:
[T]he researchers used 12 practicing Catholics and 12 non-religious voluntaries [read atheists and agnostics], submitting both groups to an electrical shock, during which they were shown either a religious or a non-religious image, and while registering their brain activity. After this the subjects were asked to record the intensity of the pain felt during the pulse, as well as their like/dislike for each of the images. The pictures chosen – a painting of the Virgin Mary called "Vergine annunciate" by Sassoferrato and "Lady with an Ermine" by Leonardo da Vinci as the non-religious control – were edited to become aesthetically very similar.

Interestingly, it was found that the religious group reported much less pain if watching the Virgin Mary during the electrical stimulus, despite the fact that both groups had, previously, been shown to have similar pain sensitivity. When commenting on the images, the Catholic subjects, as expected, expressed a higher liking for the Virgin Mary, while the non-religious group preferred the da Vinci’s print and even had negative feelings towards the Virgin.

These observations support the idea that the changes in pain perception were linked to the religious content of the Virgin image, and not the result of a preference towards an image, since the non-religious group had no pain scores’ changes while watching its preferred da Vinci’s image.

19 December 2008

I don't like you, Mommy

After the pains of pregnancy and labor, the sleep deprivation that necessarily comes after birth, the constant vigilance and ceaseless worries over the safety and health of one's child, and the other thousand sacrifices involved in childrearing, how bracing when the little nipper, in a moment of clarity, expresses his gratitude.

16 December 2008

Lo and Behold

Two recent studies conducted by the American Pediatric Association reveal that a correlation exists between youths watching sex and aggression on television and the same youths becoming more sexual and aggressive.

What would we do without overfunded academic studies telling us what any half-wit already knows?

15 December 2008

Just because you're pregnant

and deeply fascinated by your ballooning torso does not mean you should snap photos of your exposed belly (even artistic black-and-white ones) and exhibit them for all the world to see, for the simple reason that not all the world wants to see them. (I once had a friend offer to send me a snapshot of her "torpedo belly" taken while she stood in front of the mirror in her bra and panties; "No thanks" was the gist of my response.)

Just because you're pregnant

and find breastfeeding the most beautiful, natural thing on earth, and think every woman should feel such a magical bond with her little one, does not mean you should have others snap photos of this most intimate moment and exhibit them on your webpage or on magazine covers for all the gawking world to see, and assume that the rest of us will feel the same magic and wonder upon seeing your offspring feasting on your exposed teat.

Maternity is the most sacred and glorious aspect of the feminine; the vulgar take this beauty and make exhibits of it, like the smitten, indecorous husband who divulges too much about sex with his wife, or the evangelical who blabs incessantly about his close, personal relationship with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, yet has never experienced Holy Communion and reception of the Eucharist. Of course, we live in an age of exhibitionism--modesty being a long lost concept--in which one's every act is downloaded onto YouTube, and even taking one's life is not considered meaningful unless live-streamed to a virtual audience. (Physician, heal thyself! you cry--and to that I respond that this blog is an extension of approximately 10% of myself, the rest remaining hidden behind a fog of mystery. No, my dear readers, you have not figured out Christine, nor shall you, so far as I can help it.) The truth remains that foisting one's deeply meaningful, personal experiences indiscriminately onto an overcurious public necessarily results in reducing those experiences to something less meaningful, less personal.

So, my fellow expecting mothers, take heed; your husband may adore your expanding midsection, with its dimples and stretch marks, or find you at your most womanly when nursing, but do not assume the rest of the world to be so eager or so kind. By all means, take your photos, paste them into your scrapbook, look back upon them with fondness and nostalgia in future years--but there let them remain, and kindly spare the rest of us the spectacle.

Sir Basil Seal's Answer to the Annoying Holiday Letter

I should think such a response would be most appropriate for holiday letters received from people (1) whom one hasn't heard from in several years and (2) who include a general request for money in order to participate in some week-long missionary enterprise in the Third World.

Dear Friend,

It is that time of year again to share with you our adventures in this journey we call life. 2008 has been another year of magic and wonder…

Hudson almost 3, is quite a talker. She continues to amaze the professors at Oxford with her intuition in foreign languages. It was fun for her to serve as Official Translator for Condoleezza Rice at the Mideast Peace Talks. She intends to spend this Holiday transcribing War and Peace into Arabic and Cantonese and has just had her first novel published.

Baron, now 15, is growing in leaps and bounds. When he got his first set of building blocks he seemed quite interested in large buildings. This year he designed his first skyscraper and ground was broken in Hong Kong for the new “Baron” Towers. It is great to have a budding architect at home as he made a new addition to the house and a wonderful gazebo for our garden. Martha Stewart will be filming her next show here in April, and Oprah will visit and film in May. His finishing second at Augusta and his performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the London Philharmonic at Albert Hall were also exciting parts of the past year.

Countess had a very busy year. In between her work as President of the American Cancer Society and Senior Partner of Goldman Sachs, she introduced a line of children’s novels and hand made active-wear. She remains occupied with the children and has introduced them to Shakespearean acting and is reading the Latin Vulgate aloud with them each night. We are particularly proud of her for reaching the Women’s Singles Final at Wimbledon this year.

Basil was immersed with his Graduate School teaching, and managed to co-author a paper on Multidimensional Customer Attribute Analysis by Conjoint Survey and accept a Nobel Prize for his discoveries in Quantum Physics. Along the way Basil took three startups through their IPO. We are proud of his work serving on the Board of Directors of IBM, Coca-Cola, and Walt Disney, where he was personally responsible for most of the nation’s job cuts this past year and as a personal mentor to Pope Benedict in Rome. Basil was also active with the kids teaching haute école and helping Baron become a scratch golfer. We were able to squeeze a little traveling in this year. We started in London, went to St. Petersburg, Lapland, Denmark, Vienna, the Galapagos, Greenland, Holland, Brazil, where we helped displace an entire Amazonian tribe in order to clear the rain forest for loggers, Italy, Japan, Nepal, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, and Pitcairn Island. Our trip sailing our new boat around the world was a great experience for the kids, we learned to herd Dolphins into the Tuna nets, sailed with the whaling fleet, where the kids had great fun in helping the whalers sink several Greenpeace boats, and tagged along on a baby seal hunt and discovered a new region of deep water volcanoes which has been earmarked as a new nuclear test site.

And Weimer, our German shepherd, learned to speak. Latin. Other than that, it was a very quiet year. So from our household to yours, all the Blessings of the Season and may your New Year be prosperous. We found out yesterday that we won the $500 Million Powerball Lottery.

The Countess, Sir Basil and Family

14 December 2008

St. Jean de la Croix

Prêtre, grand mystique, réformateur du Carmel, docteur de l'Église.
Il est mort le 14 décembre 1591.

St. Jean de la Croix, priez pour nous.

The Carmel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a community of cloistered Carmelite monks in Wyoming, is the only religious community in the world that still uses the Rite of the Holy Sepulcher, more commonly known as the Carmelite rite. The community's confessor and spiritual director, Fr. Vernon Clark, whose parish covers more territory than any other parish in America (6,000 square miles), also celebrates Mass with the monks--which makes him perhaps the only diocesan priest in existence who knows how to celebrate the Carmelite rite. This traditional contemplative community, whose Masses are in Latin accompanied by Gregorian chant, and whose plans include purchasing additional land to provide for the eremitical life, describes itself as a place "where joy and peace abound in a manly, agrarian way of life." What's more, it makes and sells fine coffee:
Before joining the Carmelites in Cody, Brother Michael Mary of the Trinity had worked in a commercial coffee shop in his native Minneapolis. And, as all the monks can testify, Brother Michael Mary knows his coffee.

"The shop he worked for trained him in what good coffee tastes like," Father Daniel [founder] said. "He's always had a sensitive ability to taste the difference between good and bad brews."

The monks struck on an idea that was both practical and appealing. They would start their own coffee business, selling beans on the Internt to customers around the world. They began doing their homework--buying a small home roaster, reading books about coffee and gradually laerning to brew a marketable product.

In July 2007, the monks officialy launched their coffee business. As America grabs the black stuff to wake itself up, the Wyoming monks hope they reach for a cup of Mystic Monk Coffee.

In fact, the monks themselves are part of America's growing coffee culture. Like cowboys on the open trial, these Wyoming monks greet each dawn with a song swelling in their throats and a pot of pick-me-up simmering on the range.

"Most of us drink a big mug of it in the morning," Father Daniel said. "It gives us a jump start to get going. Some of the brothers say it does help with prayers, too. It helps keep them awake. There's always a battle with sleep in the early morning hours of prayer. So coffee fits right in with our routine."
To buy some Mystic Monk brew yourself and support the monastery, go to this link.

13 December 2008

Haute Cuisine for the POTUS-Elect

Rachael Ray, who's as cute as a button, has dreamt up as ghastly an inaugural dinner as one can imagine:
She'd start by ditching the traditional formal dinner and serving party food, instead. "I'd have sliders," she says. "What's more American than a hamburger?"

Ray would make miniature versions of burgers topped with things like blue cheese and arugula or honey-mustard cream sauce. She'd also make little Chicago-style hot dogs, deviled eggs and all kinds of things you can eat in two bites.
Pigs-in-a-blanket on the White House lawn? How delish. May the good Lord spare us from making her the Commander-in-Chief's chef.

09 December 2008

Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute will present a petition, signed by 330,000, to the United Nations asking that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be interpreted to protect the unborn.
The group formed in response and in opposition to petition efforts by pro-abortion groups International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International that are calling for a right to abortion on the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“We are proud not only to match but far surpass the efforts of pro-abortion groups,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), the primary organizer of the petition drive. “We launched our drive only two months ago and have generated more than 300,000 names from all over the world.”

Ruse said, “I suspect that Marie Stopes and IPPF will present a few thousand names. This shows what we have known all along; that abortion is supported mostly by elites while every day people are for protecting the unborn child.”

Ruse’s group along with the Pro-Life Federation of Poland, the Institute of Family Policy of Spain, United Families International of the US, and US-based Concerned Women for America will present the petition at UN headquarters and in private meetings with Ambassadors.

07 December 2008

Magnificent Macaroons

There's nothing I adore more than coconut macaroons. There needn't be any frills; no need to dip them in chocolate or top them with toasted almonds. In fact, I like them so no-frills that I don't even add flour; just pure noix de coco in mine, thank you very much. I include here my favorite gourmet recipe. Done right, these are gorgeous.

2.5 cups sweetened coconut
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mold spoonfuls onto greased baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Remove and cool.

Yields about 20 macaroons

To Whom Much is Given: Surviving the Massacre in Mumbai

The minutes passed, while screams and sounds of gunfire continued. I began to pray to St. Michael the Archangel: “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” I also prayed the first of many Rosaries to see my way through what had suddenly become the single most shocking and desperate experience of my life. I knew that if I were to get through this, it would be Our Lord’s doing.
You can read the rest here.

Congratulations to Representative Joseph Cao

Joseph Cao defeated nine-term congressman William Jefferson in the Second Congressional District in Louisiana. Not only is he the first Vietnamese-American federal congressman, he is a devout Catholic (when was the last time you saw a fleur-de-lys gracing a congressman's banner?). Born in Saigon, he fled with his mother and siblings to the United States after the city's collapse, his father remaining behind. His family settled in Houston, and he received a degree in physics. From his website:
After graduation, Joseph entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), finally arriving in Louisiana for the first time to begin his religious training at Grand Coteau. During his first two years in the Society, Joseph was sent by his religious superiors to various parts of the world to minister to the poor and indigent. Joseph was then sent to New Orleans in 1992 to study theology and philosophy, furthering his training for the priesthood. He subsequently was accepted to Fordham University in New York, where he earned his Master of Arts degree in philosophy in May 1995. He returned to New Orleans to teach philosophy and ethics at Loyola University. The following year, Joseph left the Society of Jesus and taught at a local parochial school in Virginia.
In September of 1997, Joseph returned to New Orleans to study law at Loyola School of Law and subsequently resumed teaching philosophy at Loyola in 1998. In May of 2000, he obtained his Juris Doctorate from Loyola and began his legal career as an associate at the Waltzer Law Firm.... He opened his private law practice in 2002, which he continues to operate. Also in 2002, he was selected by Archbishop Alfred Hughes of the Archdiocese of New Orleans to be a member of the National Advisory Council to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Best wishes to the new congressman!

06 December 2008

Bonne Fête de Saint Nicolas!

Saint Nicolas, mon bon patron,
apportez des p'tits bonbons,
des pastilles pour les p'tites filles,
des marrons pour les garçons.

Saint Nicolas, mon bon patron,
apportez-moi des p'tits bonbons,
des beaux jouets pour mes copains,
des belles fleurs pour la maîtresse.

Saint Nicolas, mon bon patron,
apportez-moi des macarons,
des dentelles pour les demoiselles,
des beaux rubans pour les mamans.

St. Nicholas was born in the 4th century. His parents, devout Christians, died when he was young, and their son spent the whole of his inheritance assisting the poor and needy. Eventually becoming the Bishop of Myra (in modern day Turkey), he was known for his generosity and bounty.

From StNicholasCenter.com:
One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.
St. Nicholas died December 6, 343 in Myra.

St. Nicholas, priez pour nous!

04 December 2008

Je vous salue, Marie

My children love singing this one...

03 December 2008

Pregnant? Highstrung? Have a glass of wine.

The hysteria over Fetal Alcohol Syndrome started in the 1970s, the government waging its well-intentioned campaign by, inter alia, requiring every alcoholic beverage to contain the surgeon general's warning to pregnant women about the risk of birth defects. The fact that America has a puritannical streak with regard to tobacco and liquor is of no help. (In France, for instance, it is expected that one serve at least two types of wine with dinner--and this rule was followed without exception at the pilgrimage retreat centers at which we stayed, run by habited religious. Here, one assumes nuns would be looked at askance if they served alcohol to their guests.)

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is, of course, nothing to take lightly; neither is it something to fear with the occasional glass of wine, being that FAS is only the result of abusive drinking, meaning several drinks a day over an extended period of time. For someone like me, who has perhaps had three glasses of wine over the past eight months, such fear would be more than ridiculous. According to this article:
[N]ot even one study carried out since the mid-1980s has shown a direct correlation between moderate alcohol consumption and birth defects. One study, of 33,300 California women showed that even though 47% drank moderately during their pregnancies that none of their babies met the criteria for Fetal Alcoholic Syndrome. The authors of this study concluded "that alcohol at moderate levels is not a significant cause of malformation in our society and that the position that moderate consumption is dangerous, is completely unjustified."
A recent UK study revealed similar:
“Our research has found that light drinking by pregnant mothers does not increase the risk of behavioural difficulties or cognitive deficits. Indeed, for some behavioral and cognitive outcomes, children born to light drinkers were less likely to have problems compared to children of abstinent mothers...."
If you can't drink responsibly, abstain altogether (and don't use this post as an excuse to binge). But if you enjoy a glass of red wine once or twice a week, there is no reason to forgo this occasional pleasure just because one is expecting.


One of the delightful aspects of being a relatively recent convert is incorporating old Catholic traditions into our family life. In the nominally Catholic home in which I was raised, we followed the secular calendar; i.e., we put up the tree right after Thanksgiving, and Christmas was over on the 26th--away went the tree, the lights, and the presents.

These days, I know better. We're celebrating this penitential season by going day by day through the Advent calendar--new to both of us--as it counts down the time until the birth of the Savior of the world. We're keeping a manger with an empty crib, the infant Jesus not making an appearance until midnight on Christmas Eve. In the meantime, the children are learning self-sacrifice by placing a piece of straw in the crib each time they perform an act of kindness, and are encouraged to make the crib as comfortable as possible for the divine child. They were so excited about this they kept trying to find nice things to do, just to be given the chance to put a bit of straw in the tiny crib.

In Bavaria and other parts of Germany, December 6 marks the opening of the Christkindl Markt, and more significantly, the feast of St. Nicholas. Catholic families celebrate St. Nicholas Day by a visit from the saintly bishop, who then leaves coins or gifts in children's shoes. It's a holiday we plan to observe as well (sans costumed St. Nick).

Another lovely Bavarian custom we would take part in if we could is vividly described by James Monti:
Across Germany, all the Christmas markets and many businesses close at noon on Christmas Eve, allowing everyone to return home for the approaching "holy night"--Weihnacht. A stillness descends upon the countryside as afternoon gives way to evening in the Alpine Bavarian village of Berchtesgaden, situated amid forested mountains. In such a setting one can almost imagine on Christmas night encountering in the snow-cloaked woods the Madonna and Child wandering through the quiet forest, causing the thorn bushes to blossom.... Yet the twelve hours of stillness leading to midnight on Christmas Eve are thrice punctuated by an extraordinary ceremony of medieval origin to welcome the Christ Child to Berchtesgaden. At noon, six o'clock, and shortly before midnight, over twleve hundred young men dressed in traditional Alpine costumes take their places at various points across the surrounding valley, armed with antique guns and cannons used solely for the purpose to which they are now put. The "Berchtesgaden cannoneers" unleash a massive twelve-hundred-gun salute to the infant Savior that resounds to the mountain slopes. During the third and final firing of the "Christmas guns" near midnight, the din of seven thousand shots of gun and cannon fire mingles with the tolling bells of Berchtesgaden's churches, summoning the villagers to midnight Mass, the supreme act of Christmas celebration for German Catholic families.

01 December 2008

Lines for a Christmas Card

May all my enemies go to hell,
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel.

--Hilaire Belloc