25 April 2021

Looking to the past.

Today was Good Shepherd Sunday in the OF.  We are to pray for our priests, give thanks for them, and to pray for more, as well as find other ways to support them.

I found myself thinking of our first bishop, Michael Power.  There was a good shepherd if ever there was one.  Power's tenure here was short, and his legacy to us is complicated.  Despite being a young man (still in his thirties) when he was made bishop, he died after a mere five years in the office.  He was still very much in the process of setting up the machinery of the diocese and setting it into motion when he died, so there is relatively little that we can point to as his.  At least one historian has argued that the true founder of the diocese was Power's successor, Bishop Charbonnel.

The one undeniable thing Power left us was his example.  Power died in 1847 after he contracted Typhus from personally ministering to the victims of the Irish Famine who landed ashore here all that long summer. Since him, we have had many bishops who founded schools and built churches, set up this or took down that, but we have had but one who gave his life in the service of his flock.  I understand the cause for his canonization has been opened.  I support it whole heartedly.

Unfortunately, that is almost all we know of the man.  I say 'unfortunately', because his life should be remembered for more than how it ended.  His end was not an aberration of his life, but its fulfillment.  We should look to what went before as well.  

The most recent pandemic and the measures taken against it have had many asking the question: what would Power have done?  The usual implication is that he would not have done what our current leaders have done and are doing.  Very often it isn't an implication, but overtly stated. I wonder about that.  What he would have done were he here today is ultimately unknowable, but if we were to look to his brief time as bishop and try to know him a little better, I think we may have some surprising answers..

Here's a few things to consider.

First, he probably would have lead from the front, as he did in '47.  As that summer wore on, the few priests Power had in Toronto all fell ill to Typhus, one by one, so by the end he was alone in administering the sacraments to the faithful and to the sick. It is likely one of the reasons he fared so badly against the disease is because he was utterly worn out and exhausted, with no reserves left for himself.  So, what direction would he have lead?

Here is gets a little more complicated. Back than, in the time when he was not at Mass or at the fever sheds ministering to the sick, he was at nightly meetings with the government officials of the time.  He used his influence, as well as the influence of some well placed Catholic friends, to sway policy and to get a little more help for his flock.  Part of his agreement with the British officials in order to get them to sign off on the creation of the new diocese was his promise that he would keep his flock in line and do what he could to stop his people from joining any further rebellions against the government, as many had done in 1837.

So, to say that Power would have directly confronted and gone against or even defied the government- unlikely.

What would he have done with the government restricting attendance at religious services to a mere ten people?  It is likely he would have met with them, and he would have used his circle of friends to help persuade the government to change its mind.  Perhaps he would have organized open air services, where the restrictions don't quite apply.   

Second, less known about Power is that he had autocratic tendencies and was also an ultramontanist.  

One of Power's first acts as bishop was to put a series of rules on his priests, one of which was to order his priests to wear their clericals at all times.  His priests, who were almost all Irish, objected.  Wearing your clericals in Ireland could get you killed.  Wearing them in Upper Canada could get you a thrashing.  Power, despite being born in Halifax to Irish parents, was educated, ordained, and served as a priest in Quebec, and was therefore essentially a French priest and insisted on the French tradition.  Over their objections, the order stayed.

He would consult with others before making a decision, and, once the decision was made, it was final.  He did not take contradiction well.  One priest wrote a description of Power flying into a rage, his face turning dark red, his eyes bulging from their sockets.  He was also known to reconcile quickly with those who repented of running afoul of him.

This ties into his ultramontanist tendencies.  Ultramontanism was a movement that began in France, of looking literally 'beyond the mountains' (in their case,, the Alps) to the man beyond- namely, the Pope.  If they had a motto, it would have been Roma loctus est, causa finita est.  It is my understanding that it was this movement that would ultimately give rise to the doctrine formalized in the First Vatican Council of Papal infallibility.   Power deliberately sought to model his diocese after Rome, and he expected his people to follow their bishop even as he followed the Pope, and he would have not tolerated, not even for a second, any deviation.  Attacking him or the Pope was to invite excommunication.

What would he have done?  Possibly what you wish, and possibly not.

23 April 2021

Talk like Shakespeare Day


Today is the 457th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, or the 405th anniversary of his death. Take your pick.
Not feeling terribly inspired at the moment- the best I could come up with was an elaboration on someone else's joke of turning the lyrics of 'play that funky music, white boy' into faux renaissance speech. Here instead are some verses I perpetrated back in 2016 for the 400th anniversary of his death.
What need has Shakespeare for me? What am I
That I should add my praise to th'immortal
Poet of my tongue? Yet grace demands it,
And gratitude: We must praise our masters
Though our praise fall ever short of their worth.
Then list, O reader faire, to these my words,
For on this day, this happy day, a mere
Four and one half centuries (plus years two)
Was born to us a bard. No man before
Nor since ever so wielded quill and ink.
Soul of his age, soul of ours, who saw
The full compass of man in all ages.
Never was born one whom Shakespeare wrote not,
Never can one be born out of Shakespeare.
In all ages and all places does brood
Hamlet in his sables, Macbeth does ford
His bloody river, and an Iago
Tempts Othello to mad, jealous murder;
Star damned Romeo seeks his Juliet,
And Lear rages at his ill-use, 'til breaks
His heart. And yet more: What tavern knows not
Its Falstaff, braggart great? He lies, we know,
Yet laugh we still, as did the wayward prince.
Theseus blesses where his law could blast,
And Malvolio storms, claiming his day
Shall come.
A language small was thy inheritance:
A language great was ours, enrich'd by thee
In words as well as poetry. So much
Thou gave'st thy beloved English, much more
Than can ever be repaid: And for thanks
Thou art much abused, thy name known, naught else.
Taught by ill- learn'd schoolmasters to students
Unwilling: among them, thy glorious
Name now a curse.
                    Take then, O master great,
My praises weak, for though small they may be,
They are honest. As long as beats this heart,
My tongue shall not be enjailed within my teeth
And I shall praise thee, not as thou deserves,
For no mouth can speak thy worth, nor hand write
Praise high enough: A mere candle am I
Lit against the darkness rising. Take, I ask,
What I give, essaying to catch thy tone
If not thy worth, as I speak as thou spoke
For this one day, and be not offended.
Thou needst not me, I know well, but I thou
Dost need and love, O William of Stratford,
This day and ever master of my tongue,
And grateful I am providence saw fit
To grant us thee for time short and for time

22 April 2021

Today in history

 "Far far from Wipers/ Is where I long to be/Where the bloody German snipers/Won't go sniping at me./Dark is my dugout/Cold are my feet/Waiting for whizzbangs/To send me to sleep." - Popular World War one rhyme.

Today is the 105th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres.
Months before the battle began, the Allies and the Germans had reached a stalemate on the Western Front. Both sides began looking for tactics and weapons that would allow them to breakthrough the deadlock and bring them victory. By April 1915, the Germans had decided to unleash their new terror weapon at the Ypres Salient- a bulge in the trench lines around the town of Ypres in Flanders, the last part of Belgium still in Allied hands- chlorine gas.
Holding the ground around Ypres (mispronounced 'Yipers' or 'Wipers' by the British troops) was a bloody affair. The crescent shaped bulge in the line meant the allies were surrounded on three sides. The only place within the salient out of range of the German guns was in the town itself. The allies suffered thousands of casualties every week in the Ypres sector with no actual offensives occurring- just the bloody rent paid to hold the last symbolic piece of Belgium.
It was at the salient that the Germans determined to unleash their gas as soon as the weather conditions were favourable. They chose to launch the attack at the part of the line held by British and French colonial troops (in the case of the British, the colonials being the Canadians) in part due to the low regard the Europeans held for colonials. There had been warnings that the Germans may be planning on using gas, but High Command refused to believe it. On April 22nd, the unbelievable happened and gas was unleashed at the French side of the lines. Some of the troops held their ground, others fled. Many died. The Canadian First Division, seeing a whole opening up in their flank, formed up and moved to close the gap, counter attacking the advancing Germans through the night. Against the gas they urinated into their handkerchiefs and held them over their faces, the ammonia in the urine counteracting the chlorine gas.
They were not merely hampered by the gas, but also by their own rifles. The Canadians at that time used the Ross Rifle, which began its life as a hunting rifle. As a hunting rifle- and, as it turned out, a sniping rifle- it was quite effective. But in combat, where it was fired fast and often, it over heated and jammed. Its bayonet was also prone to falling off. The gun, wrote one soldier in a letter home to his family, was useful only as a club. The Canadians still managed to drive the Germans back and close the gap, marking the first time colonial troops defeated a European power on European soil.
The Germans launched another gas attack in the coming days, this time at the Canadians. They held their lines, but were forced to retreat back closer to the city of Ypres. There the line continued to hold for another two years, but now the city itself was within range of the German guns, meaning the entire salient was now within the range of the German guns, and the bloody rent became even bloodier. In two years, the salient would again be the place of another offensive, this one launched by the British, which became one of the most horrific battles in the history of war. It is officially called the Third Battle of Ypres, but it is better known by the name of Passchendaele.
Returning to the Second battle of Ypres, it was then that a young doctor, exhausted from treating the casualties, stepped out of the operating tent to take a brief rest. He looked out on a nearby cemetery field, heard the distant roar of the guns, and saw the poppies beginning to grow. Inspired by the moment, he pulled out a notebook and a pencil and scribbled down a few lines of poetry. Those lines began; "In Flanders Fields the poppies blow..."

9 April 2021

In your charity

 Please pray for a coworker of mine.  He has been in poor health for a year now, and has said he has lost the will to live.

4 April 2021

Some music for today.

Some music for today: Leonin's (c. 1150- c.1201) organum duplum from the Notre Dame School, 'Haec Dies', or 'This is the day.'
This was an early form of polyphony. Leonin would take the base Gregorian Chant, slow it down to a crawl, and then write an elaboration on top of it. This little clip illustrates nicely a key problem with most of the early and much of the later polyphony: it was often incomprehensible. For instance, this little section does not even complete the singing of the first word, 'Haec'.
Anyway, Happy Easter.

He is risen, Alleluia

He is truly risen. 

Scimus Christus Surrexisse.  

2 April 2021

Good Friday

 I chose to show the small crucifix on the high altar for today.  Of all the decorations and statues in a church, only one is absolutely required: the crucifix.  'We preach Christ Crucified', and in the old form Mass was said facing this crucifix.