Friday, December 31, 2004

It Happened in a Dream

I had a dream recently....

I was with a friend who was struggling with his faith. It was late, and we were on Fifth Street in Saint Charles, having just left Saint Charles Borromeo Church. Full of self-confidence and spiritual pride, I asked my friend if he wanted to meet Jesus face to face. A poor beggar was nearby, and we gave him some food to eat, since our Lord said that whatever we do for the least among us we do for Him. We got on our knees in front of the beggar and I asked him if he would give us a blessing: in a brief flash of light, the Resurrected Christ himself in glory gave us a blessing. After the vision faded, the beggar, dressed in rags, asked if I would be willing to let him come under my roof and stay with me.

I woke up.....

I have many seemingly valid excuses why my taking care of the poor is not possible. But our Lord's command to us to care for the poor and needy is a hard teaching. It is something that the Government is incapable of doing, and cannot be delegated away.

Two Masses, One Spirituality

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Midnight Christmas Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on Lindell Boulevard. The experience was of breathtaking splendor. The music, directed by Dr. John A. Romeri, was beautiful and varied, and took excellent advantage of the acoustics of the huge church. The basilica itself is of great beauty, ancient tradition, and is a catechesis in stone and glass. I was seated at the front of the west transept, unable to see the Altar, but was amazed to hear voices above my head, as well as behind from the choir loft. Unfortunately, I arrived a half hour before Mass but did not know about the carols and lessons before the Mass itself. There were about seven scriptural lessons with carols between them. The Mass itself had chanted readings, and a friend with whom I attended was overjoyed by the beauty and solemnity of the readings and music, and for that time received the gift of peace and lack of anxiety. Archbishop Burke's homily was not soft, but challenging and fitting for Christmas. The slow procession of the altar boys and clergy to the sanctuary was fitting of such a happy yet solemn occasion. The entire Mass was dignified, holy, and respectful, as well as beautiful.

The next day, the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, I attended the Mass celebrated by the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem; this was the first time I attended their mass since their move from La Cross to Saint Louis; their Sunday and Holyday masses are held at the Passionist Chapel in Ellisville. Thinking that Mass would start at 9:30 instead of 9:45 a.m., I arrived a bit early and was surprised to find myself the second person in the chapel -- although happily it filled up quickly afterwards. The Canons Regular Mass was starkly different from the Archbishop's Mass...the traditional Liturgy of 1962 instead of the New Mass; no musical instruments and only a choir of two Fraters instead of several choruses, grand organ and instrumental soloists; and the entire Mass was chanted in Latin instead of in English. The chapel itself is Modern but not Modernist, being made of contemporary materials and design and spare ornamentation, but not of iconoclastic meeting-house style. I thought that it was a fitting chapel for the style of Mass celebrated by Dom Oppenheimer -- a complex liturgy said with only a few human voices in the simple, but noble, Gregorian Chant style. The chapel, altar, and vestments were not made to impress, but they did not have to. The chanting of the two Fraters was very beautiful, understandable, well-studied, and precise. The Mass itself, done in the ancient manner, was the center of attention. They prove that money and a large staff are not required for celebrating Mass in a holy, beautiful, and fitting manner.

Both masses, although far apart in scale, language, and music, represented the same Sacrifice, and both were done with respect, dignity holiness, and beauty.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

How to be a Better Catholic

- Get up at a fixed time, as early as possible.
- Offer your day to God.
- Work with order and intensity during the day as a way of serving God.
- Try to attend Mass, receiving holy Communion.
- Spend some time in mental prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
- Pray the Angelus at noontime.
- Pray the Rosary.
- Do some spiritual reading.
- Make a short examination of conscience.

- Center all activities around the holy Mass on Sunday.
- Receive holy Communion on Sunday and Holy Days.
- Honor the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturdays.

- Go to Confession.
- Seek and follow the spiritual guidance of a wise priest.
- Spend a few hours in recollection.

- Spend two or three days each year in silence.

- Stay in the presence of God.
- Thank God for the graces that He gives you.
- Do everything for the love of God.
- Try to live as you would like to die.

These rules are abridged from the Daily Roman Missal, edited by Reverend James Socías, and published by the Midwest Theological Forum, Inc.; Scepter Publishers, Inc.; and Our Sunday Visitor. Copyright © 2003 by Fr. James Socías.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

In Good Company

Dan Brown must be making a fortune off of his novel The Da Vinci Code, the conspiracy theory book that attempts a revisionist history of the Catholic Church. A premise of the book is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that their bloodline exists to this day, carefully guarded by an esoteric group of the enlightened.

One of Mr. Brown's main sources is a book called Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which I happened to read back in college. The book says that the bloodline of Jesus and the Magdalene exists today, and that this secret was guarded by such luminaries as the artist Leonardo Da Vinci and scientist Sir Isaac Newton, members of a secret society called The Priory of Sion. I must admit to being somewhat disturbed by that book, but providentially at the same time I ran across in my college's library a huge dusty multivolume collection of documents of the early Church. This was even more of a revelation for me than the Holy Blood -- many alternative Gospels, including Gnostic writings, Roman documents, and so forth, in scholarly and dispassionate volumes officially produced by the Catholic Church. Being at that time a Lutheran, knowing nothing but the Bible, this was a gold mine of early Christian history. But of greater importance I found out that ancient non-biblical writings of Christianity were not suppressed by the Church, nor were they preserved and protected by secret societies, but instead were a well-known part of the patrimony of Catholicism. The introductory paragraphs to the writings told something about their authenticity or correctness, but they still printed the works, heresy or not. I found that to be intellectually honest and refreshing. (I must add that I read parts of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica at that time and immediately gained tremendous respect for Catholicism -- although it took me twenty years to convert). Today, you can read many of these ancient documents online in the orthodox Catholic website Dan Brown should reconsider his reliance on the Gnostic gospels, considering that they were preserved by the Vatican.

Back to Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Sadly for the authors, after the publication of this book it turns out that the secret society the Priory of Sion was a hoax. Not that this prevented them from coming out with another book on the same subject. One thing that I noticed was that the authors had initials after their names, kind of like members of Catholic religious orders. However, these initials showed Masonic membership. I didn't know what to make of it at the time, although much later I found out that many books that I later read on esoteric history, like the lost civilization of Atlantis, were also of Masonic authorship; in fact, that group seems to have a great fascination with alternative history. After watching a particularly annoying presentation of an alternative life of Jesus on PBS -- put out by the Jesus Seminar -- I did a little research and found out that many Seminar members had scholarly specializations in subjects such as Masonic ritual, Wicca, and other such non-Christian fields.

The Masons have a fascination with the Holy Grail, as does Dan Brown, but in Holy Blood and the Code, the Grail is not the Cup used by our Lord in the Institution of the Eucharist, but is instead Mary Magdalene, as the vessel containing the bloodline of Jesus. Mr. Brown's interesting take on the subject is a feminist reinterpretation of the Magdalene as a strong, independent goddess figure, who was oppressed by the chauvinistic Apostles.

Masonry is an easy target for outlandish conspiracy theories, but the 19th and 20th century Masonic revolutions in Spain, France, Mexico, Portugal, Italy, and other places killed huge numbers of Catholics and led to intense persecution and outlawing of the Faith. A comparison of bodycounts between Catholic abuses and these Masonic atrocities are illuminating.

But the Masons and Dan Brown are not the only folks attracted to the Magdalene Grail theory. In the mid-19th century, various strains of non-Catholic German Romanticism and Rationalism, fascinated by such diverse ideas as Darwinism and the occult revisionist history of the Knights Templars, led to the notion of a race of men, superior all other races, descended via the Magdalene Grail. This of course is the Aryan Race of Germany and other parts of Northern Europe; impurities in this bloodline from other degenerate races weakened this Master Race. And we all should know about what happened to the Nazis and Hitler, who actually implemented what this theory suggests, by starting an efficient eugenics program and who attempted to eradicate racial impurity by the force of the law and arms. By the way, feminist Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, also embraced this program of racial purity: read the book Architects of the Culture of Death for more information.

More adherents of the Magdalene Grail theory can be found in Elohim City, a settlement associated with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. This group is nominally Christian, but they believe in the same pure bloodline of race descending from Mary Magdalene.

Dan Brown and his theories are in good company. His closest allies appear to be feminist academics, who support abortion on demand; and whose abortions kill millions every year in the name of the Sacred Feminine. This abortion mentality is leading to the even more deaths among the sick, depressed, and elderly, through doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia. Dan Brown and his fellow Grail theorists have a very bloody past and present. May God Forbid an even bloodier future.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Courage to Change the Things That Should Be Changed

The famous Serenity Prayer was written by the liberal Lutheran Pastor and theologian, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, who was born in Wright City, Missouri. This prayer gained notice by its inclusion in 1944 in an army chaplains' field book, and later became nearly synonymous with AA. The original version of this prayer is:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things that should be changed
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Notice the strength of the original third verse, compared to the modern version: "courage to change the things we can".

Dr. Niebuhr was a pacifist during the First World War, a Socialist, and a theologian of the Social Gospel, but became alarmed by the rise of the Nazis. He gave up his pacifism and was horrified by the general lack of concern in the civilized world of this new power of evil, and the unthinking pacifism of his fellow Liberals. Of course, Liberals do not take evil seriously.

We live in an era where great evil is celebrated by the media and defended by the law. We live in the new "Culture of Death" that promotes abortion, suicide, pornography, euthanasia, and eugenics, while becoming ever more harshly aggressive against our Christian patrimony. Taking the trends of these laws and the philosophy behind them, and extrapolating them to the future, one can predict that our future could be very bloody indeed.

Sadly, perhaps a majority of citizens in the civilized world don't bother themselves to change the path our world is on. Conservatives and Traditionalists have been complaining for so long that they are ignored. Will our Liberal brethren realize the vast injustices that may come to pass, before it is too late?

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Items of Interest

The Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem, a new clerical order that celebrates the Latin Rite of 1962, now has a web site:

The order celebrates Mass at their new home in west Saint Louis County:

Priory of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
1635 Kehrs Mill Road
Chesterfield, MO  63005-4310

This is located near Linda Vista Catholic School; perhaps at the top of the ridge overlooking the school? Mass times are Monday through Saturday at 7:00 a.m. They hold Sunday and Holy Day Mass at the Passionist Nuns Chapel; 15700 Clayton Road, Ellisville, Missouri, at 9:45 a.m; more information is at:


Robert Onder M.D., a practicing physician and bioethics scholar, hosts a new pro-life radio show on Covenant Network, which is broadcast on AM 1080 in Saint Louis or on the Internet at The network replays Bob's show several times during the week, including Sunday at noon.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Healthcare without Charity

As Christians, it is our duty to see the face of Christ in the sick and poor. Jesus performed many miracles in healing the sick, and He commanded the Apostles to do the same. Early Christians, mindful of their duty to the least among them, cared for the sick and unwanted with great charity, since when caring for the sick and poor, they did that for Christ Himself.

During the reign of Emperor Constantine, after the legalization of Christianity, many hospitals were founded under the bishops and in monasteries to care for the sick among pilgrims and the poor. The charity of the Christians gave comfort and hope to their patients, as well as medicine, clean bed linens, good food, and warm lodging. This is in great contrast to savage tribes or even civilized pagans who would fatally neglect the unwanted or even directly kill the infirm. Hospitals continued to be supported in the West by Christians even after the collapse of the Roman Empire. The flourishing of Universities during the High Middle Ages led to great advances in medical knowledge and also to better hospitals. These Medieval hospitals would continue to care for the poor free of charge and also continue the tradition of caring for anyone regardless of creed; Christian hospitals in the Holy Land cared for Christian and Muslim alike. Hospitals were often under the patronage of nobility, but also owned property to pay for services, received donations, and often were in agreement with local municipalities to receive tax revenue.

These hospitals were run as charities. The paid staff (usually limited to lay physicians) was quite limited. Unpaid members of religious orders were nurses, cooks, and janitors, and performed nearly all of the services in the hospital. These Religious, being under vows to serve God and their neighbor out of Charity, did their duties not because of personal ambition, or for money, or for career enhancement, but for love. The horrors and dangers of hospital service were persevered due to the dedication of those who vowed their whole being to that service.

Since hospitals were a thoroughly Christian institution, the spiritual aspects of healing and death were not only recognized as being important, but were absolutely central to the institution. Christian patients were to go to Confession upon entry to predispose their souls to healing, attended the Mass daily, and were to pray for the hospital benefactors; they also received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.

The Reformation led to a decay of the hospital system in many parts of Europe, with income-producing hospital properties being seized in England and elsewhere, and with an attitude among some Protestants that illness and poverty were signs of God's displeasure, and so those were not deserving of charitable healthcare. However, this was also the period of the formation of vast hospital communities of Women Religious, some of which still exist and own some of the largest hospital systems today. 19th Century revolution and forced secularization of hospitals, combined with vast migrations of workers to the cities often lead to hospitals that were poorly funded, overcrowded, and severely lacking in the original Christian charity that made them houses of hospitality.

Hospitals in the United States were still overwhelmingly religious charities until the 1970s. With the social revolutions of that era, the emphasis changed from charity to profit and social justice. Religious vocations also dried up during that time, with Brothers and Sisters being replaced by paid staff. Many hospitals were sold to private companies, with the religious affiliation greatly attenuated or even eliminated. Another trend during that time was the change from fee-for-service to medical insurance and government payments.

So we end up with several systemic changes:

- Costs rose dramatically. Vowed Religious, receiving only room and board and perhaps a small stipend, were replaced with paid, and often unionized, staff. Staffing costs are now the major cost of healthcare, even more than technology and pharmaceuticals.

- Insurance companies want increased control over healthcare costs, and will often dictate the type of care received; this is particularly true with 'managed care' where the management is from the insurance company. Often these insurers will insist on short hospital stays, eliminating the close, long-term care that hospitals traditionally offered.

- Private corporations insist on increasing revenue and will often use a large percent of that revenue for acquisitions instead of for patient care. Under this system however, excellent care is available for those who can afford it.

- National governments, increasingly paying for, or even monopolizing healthcare, are more interested in rewarding political interest groups than in their healthcare mission. Access to health care is now often framed in terms of so-called social justice theory, with favored groups getting better care than those out of favor.

What we get is a high-cost, low care hospital system, with interference based on the unpredictable desires of political power blocs. And charity is completely missing. Very few people in the health care field are doing their work out of love of their neighbor; hospitals are not operated out of the love for the sick and the poor. Instead, hospitals are run for money and power. This is the new synthesis between Capitalism and Socialism, neither of which philosophies are known for their love of either God or Man.

For thousands of years, physicians took a solemn vow to work for the good of the patient; sometime in the 20th century it was changed to working for the good of society, which is a very dangerous idea. Formerly, the relationship was between the persons of physician and patient; now, it is a relationship between a person and...what?...Society? What exactly is society? Is it the national government, an activist judge, a political party, a business manager, an insurance company, or perhaps an ethicist on the hospital staff? Certainly it is not a clear relationship between two distinct, identifiable persons.

Charity is out of our hospitals; so is -- for the most part -- religion. However, 'spirituality' is becoming recognized by our modern hospitals as an important component of healing, but certainly not Christianity as we have known it. Hospitals usually have a chapel, but often just a vague nondenominational-looking room; even Catholic hospitals will have a chapel of iconoclastic design. Instead, hospital counselors will just offer a New Age spirituality. A friend told me that when his Uncle Leroy was dying, he was visited by a spiritual counselor -- a female Protestant minister -- who wore clown pants, couldn't find Psalm 23 in the Bible, and didn't even offer a good prayer. Contrast this with traditional Catholic hospitals, where a dying patient would be ministered the Sacraments by a priest and be visited by a roomful of Sisters in full habit who would pray for him. Those were the days of spirituality led by charity.

In both the United States and in Britain, recent healthcare privacy rules have had the unintended consequence of denying the sacraments to hospital patients. Formerly, a patient's church would be notified upon admittance; now, the patient has to give specific consent to notification. Clearly, if a patient is unconscious, they are not able to give this consent. I've heard that thousands are dying every year without getting the sacraments because of these new laws. I hope that this was an unintended consequence of the law: let's see if the laws are amended to correct this problem.

Progressive philosophers talk about quality of life, where they make judgments on whether a life is worth living or not. These philosophies have been quickly absorbed by those regulating healthcare. Unwanted babies, of course, are aborted, and the very sick, elderly, and depressed are euthanized under such a system. Progressive countries originally allowed euthanasia with informed consent, but now those rules are being relaxed, with larger classes of persons subject to euthanasia without consent. It's been done before, and the results were disastrous and cruel. Where will this end? The most civilized, progressive, and educated country in the world, Germany, killed millions of these undesirables. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are now being framed as positive social justice issues. It's for the good of society.

Withholding care from certain patients is treading very close to direct euthanasia; the sick and elderly are now strongly encouraged to sign a so-called 'living will' which would be more accurately described as a "will to die". Clearly this is a difficult subject, for we all will eventually die, and sometimes it is just our time to go. Every Christian accepts that the Lord will call him when He Wills it. I just see the ethical trend is moving towards a looser definition of when that time will be, and more problematically, hospital staff, relatives, and now even the courts may make that decision for the patient, against his will. Good advice now is to carefully choose someone who will have the power of attorney for such decisions.

Hospitals were created by Christians as charities, to care for the sick and poor. Hospitals have now been taken over by secular powers and are no longer charities. Patients live if they are wanted or productive, or if they can pay for it. The unwanted and unproductive die. A shudder should run through the soul of every Christian who realizes this, for we are called to see Christ in the least among us. We Christians should attempt to regain the virtue of Charity to turn back this great evil.

Here are some things that we Christians can do:

- Encourage the founding of new Religious Hospital Orders. The Church is at a low point now, but changes are coming. We need to encourage heroic charity in ourselves and our children.

- Operate hospitals as charities again. Charge on a sliding scale. Be politically active to prevent government interference in the operation of these hospitals.

- Accept the poor and unwanted free of charge in the hospital. No patient ever should need to worry about the withholding of care or involuntary euthanasia.

- Aggressively promote Christian values in hospitals. Refuse to accept secular theories on life issues. Have plentiful access to Christian spiritual direction, prayer and the Sacraments. Fill the hospital with religious iconography.

We may be entering an age where our very life depends on the whim of others. We are Christians, we must fight this with love.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

High art or low?

There used to be a concept called "High Art", which was the body of always beautiful art created by artists possessing superb technical skill and broad education. These artists were naturally talented, but spent many years serving under a master, often far from home, perfecting their technique. "Low Art" was folk art, lacking in technique in execution and lacking education in content, and often ugly. High Art was the best, and most suitable for imitation. Children were educated in high art, and cultured persons would patronize institutions of high art. Low art, or folk art, or popular art, just wasn't taken very seriously, since the content reflected passing trends and personalities, and was of low technical quality.

The Church, historically, is the greatest patron of high art, with the very best of painting, architecture, sculpture, letters, and music being created for her, and the subject matter is both eternal and universal. Monarchs were also great patrons, but personalities come and go, while the Church remains. In the 19th century, when Enlightenment governments took control, artists in state-sponsored academies changed the subject matter from Catholic to violent or lascivious pagan Roman themes, which they thought more appropriate for Empire, even though it was self-destructive. The high artistic technique remained in the academies, but outsider artists opposed this, leading to the Impressionism movement that substituted novelty for technique and content that was trivial. This was a step away from high art.

Even as late as the 1970s I recall sponsored national classical music programs on radio or television, hosted by an announcer with Mid-Atlantic accent, perfect pronunciation of foreign phrases, and great erudition and education. The music was complex and beautiful, the musicians excellent, and only the conductor was allowed to be egotistical. But sometime during that time period something had, "challenging" music started to be played in the concert halls. This music was dissonant, ugly, repetitive, screeching, and just unlistenable. And you couldn't even hum a few bars. This was considered very progressive, and was shoved into patrons' ears, even though nearly everyone hated it. Critics were called ignorant, and were dismissed as reactionary. The result? Symphonies folded or cut back schedules, attendance dwindled, and taxpayer support was required. With lack of symphonic attendance, classical radio listeners and audio recording sales also tanked. High musical culture is now gone.

Simultaneously, popular music became increasingly important. Folk and Rock in the '60, Hard Rock and Punk in the '70s, New Wave in the '80s, and Alternative in the '90s all became studied and praised by scholars, journalists, theologians, and others of the cultural elite. Even though the artists may have lacked technique, and may have lacked any musical understanding outside of their genre, these were praised as the equal of the old high artists. Some theoreticians, particularly from the field of comparative musicology, even refuse to compare the artistry of a rock musician like Kurt Cobain with a classical composer like Beethoven, declaring them both equally great. So, we are now told, there is no distinction between High and Low music, except that the former High music is no longer readily available.

The same problem occurred in painting and sculpture. Except for the 1930s when Social Realism was fashionable throughout the Western world, Modernism in painting and sculpture became the norm in the 20th century. These art works were increasingly nonrepresentational and trivial in technique, where an artist could be praised for merely pouring a bucket of paint across a canvass. The materials used to make the art sometimes became ephemeral and fragile or vile. Again, these artworks showed little or no technique, and the artists could be uneducated and still get high praise. Low art had become the equal to high art, sharing the same space in our fine art museums. Again, patronage for the arts dwindled, causing art institutions to rely on government and foundations, neither of which purchased art for their own use as did private patrons and the Church. And those new sources of money only supported low art.

Shall I go on? Architecture, the most visible works of public art, followed the same trends. Important institutions started using the same unschooled, untechnical architecture that is suitable only for inexpensive warehouse space, and which used to be considered even too crude for a modest family home. Countless buildings of high architecture had been destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s for the sake of urban renewal or 'open space'.

Philosophically, this trend to destroy high art and proclaim low art to be its equal dates from the 19th century, in the thinking of antireligious socialists. Although the leaders of these movements were themselves elite, educated, and were from wealthy families, they identified with members of the new industrial working class who were living in terrible poverty. The leaders' goal to create a new egalitarian society required the destruction of the old society, and with it the symbols and patrimony of that old society. This included of course the high art of the former society. Perhaps they could have attempted their transformation with a new high art...after all, the Anticlerical European governments promoted high art...but since they identified solely with the common people, their strategy was to replace the High with the Low. And low art is cheap, replaceable art that is thrown out soon after it is made; this way, ideas cannot have staying power, but new ideas can be manipulated quickly and without solid opposition. High art, it is true, is static, but tells eternal truth, and not the fashion of the day. The best of high art will be viewed or listened to for centuries or millennia, and hence is opposed to those who want to change everything.

The trend continues today. High art is rarely seen, promoted, or taught. Our institutions no longer patronize high art. Our governments do not fund it. High art is no longer imitated. Instead, we just get novelty in music, drabness in architecture, and painting and sculpture is merely nonexistent. Our churches have suffered, giving into this trend of low art. The Low church tells us nothing of Catholicism and the eternal truths it promotes; its music is not familiar and so is not singable, reducing public participation in the mass -- or in the worse case, drive away parishioners. We have low art missalettes, printed as cheap paperbacks that symbolize only constant change and a throwaway mentality instead of finely-bound, gold edged missals of high art that document the rite of the Mass.

Some claim that we cannot have high art anymore because we lack the craftsmen to do that work. That is false: I recall having to hire recent college graduates and then teach them computer programming so that we would have enough people to do the work that my company required. If the will exists to reclaim high art, it will be done.

A suggestion: patronize high art. The St. Louis Art Museum has an exhibit on medieval prayer books: go see it and pay the admission and buy the exhibition book at the shop. Attend the symphony orchestra when they are having good and only good music. Listen to and buy good music. Refuse to let anyone tell you that you are reactionary if you don't like modern art. If you are wealthy, buy high art only. If you are an officer of a large corporation or an elected official in local government, don't approve any new building that is junk; refuse to bring in architectural firms that design junk. Take your kids to the museum, study the high art and just run through the modern art sections: tell them the truth about modern art and what it really represents. If you are a bishop, investigate some of the new architectural firms that do classic Catholic buildings; consider bringing in some of the fast-growing religious orders to maintain your underutilized but beautiful urban churches. If you are a priest, how worthy is your church to contain the Body of Christ? If you are a student and are considering a degree in art, attend only those schools that promote technique of the highest order, or if you can't, refuse to make junk, even if the professor doesn't like it. If you are an artist, perfect your technique, and swallow your pride to be too creative, instead make works that are true and beautiful.

High art doesn't have to be expensive, it just has to be good. A simple, but noble design is better than extravagant and tasteless. Gregorian Chant, for example is holy and humble, yet noble. It is high art, but not expensive art. Classic European monasteries are high art but simple, as are many village churches. And if you are going to spend a fortune on a new Cathedral, please make it beautiful and instructive.

Comments requested

The word "culture" comes from the Latin cultus or religion. If we look at our American culture today, what religion would you assume we practice? Our Catholic patrimony embodies the gold standard for a moral, civilized, and educated society while our society is fleeing from these norms.

My father has a good test for judging cultural innovations. "What if everyone does it?" he asks. What if everyone is selfish, neurotic, alienated, demanding, childish, greedy, hateful, rude, promiscuous, sloppy, ignorant, drugged, and impious? What if everyone is pious, charitable, sober, noble, faithful, chivalrous, grown-up, polished, and generous? Sadly, our culture is going from the latter to the former. Our culture today idolizes youth and money, instead of praising virtue.

Saint Louis is a beautiful Catholic city, but is in decay, and faces numerous church closings. I fear that our architectural patrimony will be lost, as the Faith itself has been largely lost many years ago. Good art, good piety, good vocations, good culture, and good community are all parts that must stand together and will reinforce each other. If we can sow the seeds of a restoration of culture today, we can help future generations regain what has been lost. Of course, the flight of Catholics to the suburbs, the fashion of Modernism, low birth rates, few vocations, and lower church attendance due to confusion following the Second Vatican Council are the immediate cause for the proposed church closings; this shows a lack of community, lack of art, and lack of faith. All of these must be brought back together for a restoration.

If old, beautiful parish churches are to be closed, I would like to see them held on to as long as possible before being converted to something other than a Catholic church or destroyed. It would take a lot of work and money, but if Catholic families, the city government, and real estate developers could work together to revitalize the neighborhood around it, then the church could reopen and a solid, urban Catholic community could once again flourish. Alternatively, if new religious orders, or existing orders from outside the area be given these churches, they could provide much needed ministries as well as incubate new vocations. A friend of mine, JSM, has the idea that some of these churches could be dismantled and rebuilt in Saint Charles County, where new parishes need to be built due to the growing Catholic population there. Certainly this is preferable to destruction, and more architecturally relevant than most new churches being built today.

We need to make the Church again the center of culture, which will be difficult and face heavy opposition. "Faith" means "steadfastness to duty", so we need to work on our cultural restoration with faith. This depends on restoration of a sense of Catholic identity, and then Catholic community, using the tools of art and education.