Sunday, September 28, 2008

Brideshead Revisited: Forget the Movie!

Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited is one of those overwhelming novels that has a point but does not hit you over the head with it. We are indeed sinners and yet God's grace can pierce our armor and cature our falty will.

It is a powerful novel and the language is beautiful. The BBC's miniseris adaptation of it for "the telley" drew widespread praise. Two of my favorite reviewers condemned the new movie version.

Barbara Nicolosi makes it sound like the San Francisco version of the book:

"How dare they.

"No, I mean really, how DARE they?! Imagine if someone did a new adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird and it ended up savagely racist? That's what they've done here. A profoundly Catholic novel, in this'adaptation', Brideshead Revisited is viciously anti-Catholic. They turned a movie about God and the soul, into a lurid love triangle between a homosexual, his sister and a hapless hunk. It's lame. It's bad."

Steven D. Greydanus writes a long and thoughtful review (originally for the National Catholic Register.) He ends his analysis: "Waugh wrote that Brideshead 'deals with what is theologically termed "the operation of Grace", that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself.' Grace may not be totally missing from the film version — the ending isn’t wholly betrayed — but however real it may be for the characters, there’s no sense that it feels real to the filmmakers, or the audience. It’s as if Waugh’s story has been filtered through the spiritual blindness of young Charles. The movie sees, but it doesn’t understand."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How do you say "Cross Fertilization" in French?

From Paris and Lourdes, the Lesson of the "Liturgist" Pope

On his trip to France, Benedict XVI did not only defend the ancient rite of the Mass. He also explained and demonstrated repeatedly what he believes to be the authentic meaning of the Catholic liturgy of today and always. And, about sacred music, he said...

by Sandro Magister
ROMA, September 16, 2008 – In the three Masses celebrated during his trip to Paris and Lourdes, Benedict XVI followed the post-conciliar rite. But he intentionally enriched it with elements characteristic of the old rite: the cross at the center of the altar, communion given to the faithful on the tongue, while kneeling, the sacredness of the whole.

The reciprocal "enrichment" between the two rites is the main objective that impelled Benedict XVI to promulgate, in 2007, the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum," which liberalized the use of the ancient rite of the Mass, according to the Roman missal of 1962.

Sandro Magister's analysis is always very valuable. It was just over a year ago, that Benedict freed the old version of the Roman Rite. He chose that aniverary to preach liturgical tolerance to a hierarchy short in that pastoral virtue. Moreover, Benedict used this "teaching moment" to show how the old and new can cross fertilize each other.


Monday, September 15, 2008

The Surge Succeeded. Who gets Credit?

Bush's Lonely Decision
Wall Street Journal: September 15, 2008; Page A22

Now that even Barack Obama has acknowledged that President Bush's surge in Iraq has "succeeded beyond our wildest dreams," maybe it's time the Democratic nominee gives some thought to how that success actually came about -- not just in Ramadi and Baghdad, but in the bureaucratic Beltway infighting out of which the decision to surge emerged.

That's one reason to welcome "The War Within," the fourth installment in Bob Woodward's account of the Bush Presidency. As is often the case with the Washington Post stalwart, the reporting is better than the analysis, which reflects the Beltway conventional wisdom of a dogmatic and incurious President. But even as a (very) rough draft of history, we read Mr. Woodward's book as an instructive profile in Presidential decision-making.

Consider what confronted Mr. Bush in 2006. Following a February attack on a Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra, Iraq's sectarian violence began a steep upward spiral. The U.S. helped engineer the ouster of one Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, in favor of Nouri al-Maliki, an untested leader about whom the U.S. knew next to nothing. The "Sunni Awakening" of tribal sheiks against al Qaeda was nowhere in sight. An attempt at a minisurge of U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad failed dismally. George Casey, the American commander in Iraq, believed the only way the U.S. could "win" was to "draw down" -- a view shared up the chain of command, including Centcom Commander John Abizaid and then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Politically, the war had become deeply unpopular in an election year that would wipe out Republican majorities in Congress. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, run by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, was gearing up to offer the President the option of a politically graceful defeat, dressed up as a regional "diplomatic offensive." Democrats united in their demands for immediate withdrawal, while skittish Republicans who had initially supported the war, including Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon Smith of Oregon, abandoned the Administration.

From the State Department, Condoleezza Rice opposed the surge, arguing, according to Mr. Woodward, that "the U.S. should minimize its role in punishing sectarian violence." Senior brass at the Pentagon were also against it, on the theory that it was more important to ease the stress on the military and be prepared for any conceivable military contingency than to win the war they were fighting.

Handed this menu of defeat, Mr. Bush played opposite to stereotype by firing Mr. Rumsfeld and seeking advice from a wider cast of advisers, particularly retired Army General Jack Keane and scholar Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute. The President also pressed the fundamental question of how the war could actually be won, a consideration that seemed to elude most senior members of his government. "God, what is he talking about?" Mr. Woodward quotes a (typically anonymous) senior aide to Ms. Rice as wondering when Mr. Bush raised the question at one meeting of foreign service officers. "Was the President out of touch?"

No less remarkably, the surge continued to face entrenched Pentagon opposition even after the President had decided on it. Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went out of his way to prevent General Keane from visiting Iraq in order to limit his influence with the White House.

The Pentagon also sought to hamstring General David Petraeus in ways both petty and large, even as it became increasingly apparent that the surge was working. Following the general's first report to Congress last September, Mr. Bush dictated a personal message to assure General Petraeus of his complete support: "I do not want to change the strategy until the strategy has succeeded," Mr. Woodward reports the President as saying. In this respect, Mr. Bush would have been better advised to dictate that message directly to Admiral Mullen.

The success of the surge in pacifying Iraq has been so swift and decisive that it's easy to forget how difficult it was to find the right general, choose the right strategy, and muster the political will to implement it. It is also easy to forget how many obstacles the State and Pentagon bureaucracies threw in Mr. Bush's way, and how much of their bad advice he had to ignore, especially now that their reputations are also benefiting from Iraq's dramatic turn for the better.

Then again, American history offers plenty of examples of wartime Presidents who faced similar challenges: Ulysses Grant became Lincoln's general-in-chief in 1864, barely a year before the surrender at Appomattox. What matters most is that the President had the fortitude to insist on winning. That's a test President Bush passed -- something history, if not Bob Woodward, will recognize.

Friday, September 05, 2008

McCain's Acceptance Speech

Gov. Sarah Palin's Speech

Obama On the O'Reily Factor

Sen. joseph Biden's Acceptance Speech

Obama's Acceptance Speech

37 million Heard the Pitbull with Lipstick

Ian Swanson and Aaron Blake report in The Hill, "Sarah Palin’s speech was the biggest draw of the Republican convention, nearly matching the number of people who watched Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama last week.

"More than 37.2 million people watched coverage of the Republican National Convention’s third night, where the star attraction was Palin, the party’s vice presidential candidate and current governor of Alaska."

Pelosi's Catholicism

Nancy Pelosi (D,Calif.) is the Speaker of the House. Around the time of the Democrats convention in Denver she was on Meet the Press. She told us she is “ardent practicing Catholic.” She considers it thus proper to discuss her Catholicism in public: this is not a private matter. Apparently the liberals' doctrinaire separation of church and state rules do not forbid her expressing opinions on matters of theology. (See my prior posting: In Case You Are Wondering Why The Archbishop of Denver Was Not Asked to Pray an Invocation at the Democrats' Denver Convention.)

Archbishop Wuerl, the shepherd of Catholics in our nation's capital, also noticed Ms. Pelosi's foray into theology. The Hill's Bob Cusack reported, "Washington archbishop rips Pelosi on abortion." I would have written "Washington archbishop corrects Pelosi on abortion." That is his job after all. Archbishop Wuerl should know what the church has taught on abortion from the time of the apostles until now. He coauthored with Fr. Ronald Lawler the predecessor to The Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Teaching of Christ. He has written at least one book on the early church fathers and knows his stuff.

Kathryn Lopez, editor of NROnline, provides even more insight. She attended mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver Sunday night before the Convention. She tells us what she heard: “'If you’re Catholic and you disagree with your Church. What do you do? You change your mind.'

"So said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, archbishop of the Catholic archdiocese of Denver."

Lopez goes on to examine some of Pelosi's public statements about her beliefs. Does Pelosi really believe in the Real Presence? Read Lopez's column and judge for your self.

I have long believed that the decline of Catholic morality, including the evil slime of the priestly abuse of children scandal, has been directly related to the rejection of apostolic teaching and a loss of belief in the Eucharist.