Democrats chide a judicial nominee’s ‘extreme’ Catholicism; Fr Georges Lemaître honored by science; the art of Pater Karl Stadler, A midwinter night’s dream, & more.
Note from Father Gordon MacRae: After These Stone Walls posted “The Cheers & Jeers of 2018,” the New Year brought a few stories of other Cheers & Jeers that simply can’t wait another year to be told. So what follows is an addendum of sorts.
THE FIRST JEER OF THE YEAR: POLITICAL PREJUDICE
I recently posted a brief rebuttal to a column in The Wall Street Journal by Peggy Noonan. I don’t like rebutting Peggy Noonan. She’s a well-established commentator on national affairs and a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. It was largely because of her behind-the-scenes prose that he was dubbed “The Great Communicator.” In addition to feeling a little intimidated, I tend to agree with Ms. Noonan more often than not.
In the matter at hand, I agree with her almost entirely, almost. It was her first column of 2019 entitled, “Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside.” It’s about the chilling effect our bouts of political correctness can have on art. This past Christmas season brought forth an example that PC protagonists sought to impose on everyone else.
It was an effort to prevent our cultural ears from ever again hearing the 1942 hit song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The self-righteous self-appointed guardians of political correctness declared, in light of the #MeToo movement, that its lyrics could be construed as “a date rape in progress.” It’s one example among many of political correctness run amok. Ms Noonan comments:
“Political correctness is the enemy of art… We have seen the political correctness of the social justice warriors sweep the universities, hounding out those who would speak from an incorrect perspective, decreeing new rules of language and living… When you tell Americans what they can and cannot say, can and cannot think, they don’t stop saying and thinking.”
I would go a step further. When you tell Americans what they can and cannot say, can and cannot think, they reject a long slate of seasoned politicians and put someone like Donald Trump in the White House. Ms. Noonan wants him to be more presidential and more of a gentleman. So do I. But I strongly suspect that his presidency is in part a reaction to a decade of oppressive political correctness imposed on Americans. Peggy Noonan also shared some optimism about the political left:
“My greatest hope for 2019 is cultural. It is that the left will rise and do what only it can do – strike a blow against political correctness.”
I was once a member of that political left, a strain of Boston politics called “Kennedy Catholic-Democrats.” As the left just went further left, I found myself moving right (to the great chagrin of my family). Here’s my rebuttal posted at WSJ com:
“Political correctness is not only the enemy of art, but of justice and Constitutional equality as well. Peggy Noonan has a lot more confidence in the political and cultural left than I do. Just days ago, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) demanded that a federal judicial nominee, who happens to be Catholic, terminate his membership in the Knights of Columbus because of the organization’s ‘extreme’ Catholic views such as the right to life.”
This was not the first time these senators brought their bias into the public square. During the horrible Senate confirmation hearings that I wrote about in “Justice Brett Kavanaugh Is Guilty for Being Accused,” Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) opined:
“Guess who’s perpetrating all these kinds of actions? It’s the men of this country.” They should “just shut up and step up.”
Democrats in the House and Senate have thus far said nothing about the declaration from two Democratic senators that membership in the Knights of Columbus should disqualify a judge for its “extreme” Catholic views. I hear that K of C officials have sent letters to Senators Harris and Hirono to educate them about the Knights’ many contributions to American culture. So much for the notion that men should “just shut up and step up.”
A CHEER: SCIENCE HONORS FATHER GEORGES LEMAÎTRE
As 2018 was coming to an end at a time when Catholic priests in Western Culture are under suspicion and public ridicule, one priest was globally honored, and These Stone Walls played a small part in bringing that about.
At the end of January, 2014, priest and physicist, Father Andrew Pinsent wrote a TSW guest post, “Fr. Georges Lemaître: Father of the Big Bang.” Father Pinsent was formerly a physicist at CERN, the European Union’s Center for Nuclear Research, and at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.
Today Father Pinsent is Research Director at the Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion at England’s Oxford University. An avid reader and supporter of These Stone Walls, we have been in contact for several years. In his TSW guest post, he wrote of the science and history behind Fr. Lemaître’s “Big Bang”:
“In 1927, The Belgian priest-astrophysicist Fr. Georges Lemaître published a paper in the Annals of the Scientific Society of Brussels presenting the idea of an expanding universe. When invited to a meeting of the British Association in London in 1931, Fr. Lemaître proposed that the universe began and expanded from a single point which he called the ‘primeval atom.’ Shortly before his death in 1966, Father Lemaître learned of the discovery of cosmic background radiation widely accepted in science as the faint echo of the Big Bang.
“Among Catholics with some kind of popular outreach, Fr. Gordon MacRae, through his widely-read blog, These Stone Walls, has done more than almost anyone I know in recent years to draw attention to Fr. Lemaître. Inspired by Father Gordon’s work, my colleagues and I created a series about Catholic contributions to science for the Catholic Knowledge Network.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (297) teaches us that Scripture bears witness to faith in creation “out of nothing.”
Among the many science books profiling the discovery of the Big Bang by Father Lemaître, Einstein’s Heroes by mathematician Robyn Arianrhod characterized the science in terms remarkably similar to those taught by the Catholic Church:
“Before this point there was no time and no space. No geometry, no matter, nothing. The universe simply appeared out of nowhere. Out of nothing.” (Einstein’s Heroes, P. 187)
In November, 2018, the International Astronomical Union voted to recognize this discovery about the origin and expansion of the universe by changing the name of the scientific law behind it. What had up to now been known in science as the “Hubble Law” is now the “Hubbel-Lemaître Law” in recognition of both Edwin Hubbel and Fr. Georges Lemaître for their immense contributions to modern cosmology.
The strangest part of this “Cheer” was another discovery against astronomical odds. Father Georges Lemaître, Father of The Big Bang and Modern Cosmology, was also a life-long close family friend of Pierre Matthews. Pierre is today Pornchai Moontri’s Godfather. There is a photo of Pierre with his family and Father Lemaître in my TSW post, “The Science of Creation and a Tale of Two Priests.”
A CHEER: THE SACRED ART OF PATER KARL STADLER
This is another story that has found its way behind These Stone Walls and even became a part of them. In both my prison cell and the library where I work, some wonderful works of art in miniature have transformed this world of concrete and steel.
Paul Stadler was born in Switzerland in 1921. He entered the Benedictine monastery at Engelberg Abbey in 1942 and was given the monastic name, Karl. He was ordained a priest in 1947. Pater Karl studied at the School of Applied Arts and taught art and aesthetics until 1996 Throughout his life as a Benedictine monk, he also maintained a career as an artist, and was Editor and Contributor to the quarterly journal of Engelberg Abbey.
Father Karl Stadler died on June 17, 2012 leaving a legacy of four decades of art works and museum exhibitions. His niece, Bea Pires of Switzerland and Canada, has been an avid reader and supporter of These Stone Walls. At the time of Father Karl’s death, she began printing some of his art works as smaller photos and sending them to me. Many have been posted on the wall of our cell and many others in the library where I work.
After the Conclave of 2013 and the election of Pope Francis, Bea Pires wrote to him in her native German and included a nicely framed work of her uncle’s entitled “St Francis, Walking Under the Icy Trees, Began to Sing.” In her letter, she also told the Holy Father of my unjust imprisonment and asked for his prayers.
Bea received a reply, also in German, from Archbishop Peter Wells, Assessor at the Vatican Secretary of State which she graciously translated before sending me a copy. On behalf of the Holy Father, Archbishop Wells thanked her for the wonderful works of art by Father Karl, and wrote that the Holy Father promises to pray for discerning hearts in the spirit of 1 Kings 3:9 for me and all those involved in my imprisonment.
“Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil, for who can govern this, Your people?” (1 Kings 3:9)
Most recently, Bea has been involved in the creation of a website that features a display of the inspiring art of Father Karl Stadler and a photographic journal of his life. She has sent me some of its pages, and it is a wonderful presentation. I invite you to visit this experience of Swiss culture, sacred art, and Benedictine spirituality at www.PaterKarlStadler.com.
SPEAKING OF ART: PORNCHAI’S OUTSTANDING WOODWORKING
You may know from some past posts that our friend, Pornchai Moontri, has distinguished himself with remarkable skill in woodworking. He has designed and built projects large and small from magnificent ships from the age of sail to keepsake boxes, jewelry cabinets, mantle clocks, and a stunning Divine Mercy box.
A few weeks ago, I was walking through the woodworking shop where he is employed as Safety Instructor, and was surprised to see him completing two rather large wood furniture projects. It was his first foray into creating such large furniture and cabinetry, and the workmanship was simply stunning.
The first is a cabinet designed and created from cherry. It stands about four feet high. Once completed over the course of a month, it was sent out to the “Corrections Creations” store for retail sale where it sold quickly for $600 Selling their creations on consignment means that the prisoner retains 65-percent of the sale. After an investment of $250 for wood and materials for the project, Pornchai earned about $150.
The second item Pornchai created is a chess table with inlaid chess board sections. Created in maple with cherry and black walnut inlays, this unique piece also sold quickly for $290.
Pornchai’s work has given him the designation, “Master Craftsman.” A visit to the Pinterest Board, “Woodworking and Model Shipbuilding by Pornchai Maximilian Moontri” will take you to a number of his creations and links to some posts about them at These Stone Walls.
CHEER OR JEER? YOU DECIDE! A MIDWINTER NIGHT’S DREAM
When These Stone Walls first came into being in 2009, I wrote a short post with the title, “Contentious Convicts.” I wrote it going on ten years ago, and I don’t have a copy, but I am told that it will make you smile, maybe even laugh. It’s a post about a hobby that I had before I was forced by circumstance to become a contentious convict myself.
For many years in the places where I lived and ministered as a priest, I owned a large aquarium. It was a time-consuming hobby that I loved and miss very much. I raised two fascinating species of tropical fish. The first was a large, brilliant red and gray pair named Astronotus Oscellatus, more commonly called “Oscars,” native to the Amazon.
The other was from the Cichlid family native to the rivers of Central America. Its scientific name was Herichthys Archocentrus Negrofasciatus, popularly known as a “Convict Cichlid” due to its striking black and white stripes. I have long since wondered whether that was some sort of portent of darker things to come.
The two species learned to coexist on opposite sides of their large aquarium, and they seemed quite content. Though one-tenth the size of the Oscars, the Convicts were eager to defend their
territorial waters against any and all invaders – including me.
About fifteen years ago, I began to have a haunting and anxiety-filled recurring dream about my aquarium. It’s a dream from which I often awaken just to drift back to sleep and back into the same unresolved dream. In the dream, I suddenly become startled to learn that I have failed to feed the occupants of my aquarium for forty days. It’s always forty days.
During that time, the Oscars and Convicts had exhausted any and all sources of food and are struggling to survive. I become aware of this just in the nick of time and wonder how I could have been so negligent. I have not seen my aquarium for 25 years. I raise this because on the night before typing this post, I had the dream again.
It was just as it always is, and as usual I awakened in a state of anxiety just to fall back to sleep and back into the same dream. In a panic, I searched every nook and corner of my dwelling to find food to restore them. It isn’t until they are fed that I can return to sleep without lapsing back into that dream.
In the ancient Church, the fish was one of the earliest symbols for Christ. The Greek word for fish is “ichthus” the letters of which form in Greek an acronym for “Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ” which means, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” Ancient seals and clay lamps in the catacombs of Rome bore this symbol.
In the Greek-speaking regions of early Christianity the emblem of the fish was used as a secret sign. Gospel proclamations about the Apostles becoming fishers of men, and about Jesus instructing them to “Duc in Altum,” to put out into the deep, serve to enhance the symbolic nature of the sign. Hence the “Fisherman’s Ring” worn by the Roman Pontiff.
In Latin the baptismal font in churches is called a “piscina,” which literally means “fishpond,” and Christian converts were known as “pisciculi” (pis-ICK-oo-ly) meaning, “little fish.”
Like everyone else, the anxious affairs of this polarized and troubled time draw me away at times from the One Truth that is at the center of each of our lives. Christ lives in me, and in you, and we neglect to nourish that life within us to our spiritual peril. Hence the great Divine Mercy prayer of Saint Faustina:
“Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and the sins of the whole world.”
So is my dream a Cheer or a Jeer? You decide. And don’t forget to feed the fish!
Note to Readers: Please share this post on social media and with your contacts You may also like these related posts from Father Gordon MacRae and These Stone Walls:
- A Day without Yesterday Fr. Georges Lemaître & The Big Bang
- Come Sail Away! Pornchai Moontri & the Art of Model Shipbuilding
- The Stuck-Inside Literary Award: At Sea with Patrick O’Brian
- The March for Life and the People on the Planet Next Door