Thursday, May 31, 2012

Visitation:Saint Ann Shrine Roman Catholic Church in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - painting of The Visitation

At Visitation/Saint Ann Shrine, in Saint Louis, Missouri. Photo taken July, 2010.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Saint Alphonsus Liguori Roman Catholic Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - stained glass window Pentecost

Detail of a stained glass window, Saint Alphonsus Liguori Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Strange Symmetry

SYMMETRY CATCHES THE EYE: obvious order, balance, opposition, and similarly in something tells us that it may have some underlying unity. While we are used to symmetry in organisms and art, society is often chaotic enough to lack clear symmetry. When we do see a clear symmetry in the news, then we ought to take notice, and attempt to understand what principles underly it.

The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), a traditionalist group founded in 1970, rejects many of the reforms in the Church since the Second Vatican Council. The Society fell out of communion with the Church in 1975, and time is running out for bringing the Society back. According to a deadline issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Society must give assent to a “doctrinal preamble,” which presumably is about certain documents of the Council and vows of obedience. Apparently, there is a strong disagreement within the leadership of the SSPX as to how they ought to proceed.

The Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR), which got its current name in 1971, represents the majority of religious Sisters in the United States. In 2009, the CDF started an investigation of the Council, because of its promotion of opinions contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The CDF subsequently appointed an Apostolic Delegate to oversee the reform of the LCWR. The Council has yet to decide how to respond to the CDF, and will hold a meeting later this month.

As far as I know:
  • No members of the SSPX serve with the permission of their local bishops.
  • All members of the LCWR serve with the permission of their local bishops.
It seems that:
  • The leadership of the SSPX accepts many of the doctrines and teachings of the Church, except for certain Declarations of the Second Vatican Council.
  • The leadership of the LCWR rejects many of the doctrines and teachings of the Church, except for certain Declarations of the Second Vatican Council.
  • The SSPX gets no support whatsoever from the mainstream media.
  • The LCWR gets overwhelming support from the mainstream media.
From what I’ve seen:
  • Ardent supporters of the SSPX, especially on the Internet, tend to be very nasty and uncharitable, and seem to care little for the wider Church.
  • Ardent supporters of the LCWR, especially on the Internet, tend to be very nasty and uncharitable, and seem to care little for the wider Church.
I’ve noticed that:
  • Writings from the SSPX often appear to be antiquated, excluding contemporary language and thought.
  • Writings from the LCWR often appear to be in line with the latest academic and political writing, excluding older language and thought.
Regarding political goals,
  • The SSPX in France wants an Absolutist monarchy, and is allied with the far political Right.
  • The LCWR wants socialism in the United States, and is allied with the far political Left.
  • The SSPX rejects the magisterium, with disobedience to the Holy See primarily in matters of unity.
  • The LCWR rejects the magisterium, with disobedience to the Holy See primarily in matters of doctrine.
In the world,
  • The SSPX is invisible. They have little involvement with the outside world.
  • The LCWR is visible. They are actively and clearly engaged with the outside world.
Regarding the apostolate:
  • The SSPX is growing, young, and has many new vocations to the priesthood and religious life, for it is easy to find youth who reject the Second Vatican Council.
  • The LCWR is shrinking, aging, and has few new vocations to the religious life, for it is difficult to find Catholic youth who reject the authentic teaching authority of the Church.
Regarding the Obama administration’s healthcare mandate:
  • The SSPX generally opposes the U.S. bishops’ attack on the Obama administration, because the bishops are arguing from religious liberty, and religious liberty is a concept rejected by the SSPX.
  • The LCWR generally opposes the U.S. bishops’ attack on the Obama administration, because the LCWR supports the administration’s goals.

The Catholic Church makes the audacious claim that it was founded by Jesus Christ, who personally selected a college of Apostles, with one of them as their leader, and the same Jesus intended this group to exist until the end of the age, and that it does truly exist to this day, led by the Pope and his Bishops, who authentically teach the doctrines of Jesus Christ through sacred scripture and tradition and the authority of the Church. Add to this the claim that Jesus is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, and therefore God Himself, the source and sustainer of all, means that we have to take the Church's authority very seriously.

The actions of the SSPX and the LCWR seem to imply that they don’t believe this, that rather, the Catholic Church is merely a human institution. I think the symmetry of the situation accentuates this: although both organizations are very different, their actions compared and contrasted with each other seem to imply this belief.

Obedience (and I know this from experience) is very difficult for someone who considers themselves smart, especially when their superior appears to be dull-witted, uneducated, or just unthinkingly following the latest fads. As I said, I know personally how difficult it is to submit to a superior when I know I am right (or perhaps, I just think that I am right). But this submission is called the “martyrdom of the mind,” and is praiseworthy. Disobedience — found in both groups — may be a sign of the capital sin of pride. The best way to combat pride is to overlook the failings of others and instead to concentrate on, and have sorrow for, your own failings, while praising others.

The SSPX can be praised for keeping the holy traditions of the Latin Church, and for insisting on an authentic, magisterial interpretation of the more ambiguous parts of the Council, an interpretation which has been sorely lacking. Will Archbishop Lefebvre, founder of the SSPX, be universally praised one day as a new Athanasius contra mundum?

Likewise, the LCWR can be praised for abandoning a normal life, and for taking the dangerous and insecure life, “the road less traveled,” of service to the Church and to world. They worked hard, and with much opposition, to reform their religious orders according to the requirements of the Council.

But if the Second Vatican Council is binding and authoritative, then so are the other Councils of the Church, and also binding and authoritative is the magisterial authority of the Pope, for it is he who determines whether or not a Council is binding and authoritative. The LCWR cannot have it both ways. If the Superior of the SSPX does not submit to the authority of the magisterium of the Church, then why should any of his subordinates submit to him? What authority does he have?

These are difficult situations, and the fact that they are both reaching a critical point at the same time is very important. I pray for a happy resolution of both.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Saint Francis Borgia Roman Catholic Church, in Washington, Missouri, USA - spire

Spire at Saint Francis Borgia Church, in Washington, Missouri.

Healthy Foods Make You Unpleasant

FROM A PEER-REVIEWED journal comes an article Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Prosocial Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments, by Kendall J. Eskine. The article abstract is:
Recent research has revealed that specific tastes can influence moral processing, with sweet tastes inducing prosocial behavior and disgusting tastes harshening moral judgments. Do similar effects apply to different food types (comfort foods, organic foods, etc.)? Although organic foods are often marketed with moral terms (e.g., Honest Tea, Purity Life, and Smart Balance), no research to date has investigated the extent to which exposure to organic foods influences moral judgments or behavior. After viewing a few organic foods, comfort foods, or control foods, participants who were exposed to organic foods volunteered significantly less time to help a needy stranger, and they judged moral transgressions significantly harsher than those who viewed nonorganic foods. These results suggest that exposure to organic foods may lead people to affirm their moral identities, which attenuates their desire to be altruistic.
(Further commentary on the article can be found here.)

In other words, big fans of organic foods can be judgmental and self-righteous Pharisees, which isn’t telling us anything new. Of course, such behavior is often found in Christians, and that is likely a big reason why many people reject Christianity.

Once I wrote an article about the anxiety that can come from only eating health foods: Orthorexia nervosa is a type of scrupulosity that comes from the desire to eat only good food. Psychologists sometimes define scrupulosity as something having to do with only religious matters, but rather it has to do with any kind of moral behavior, and certainly healthy eating is ultimately a moral concern. Scrupulosity is basically the state of mind that believes morally neutral things to be sinful, or turns venial sins into mortal sins, and is the vice opposite to laxity. Scrupulosity about anything, even healthy eating, sucks all the joy out of life, and is a strong deterrent to evangelism.

The religious impulse is a part of human nature. However, true religion has been largely lost in our culture, and so this impulse is transferred to lesser things, such as eating.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Sparky the cat
Such a nice kitty.


I HAVEN’T BEEN posting much lately, because I’ve been busy working on my next photo books; no sooner did I finish working on St. Louis Parks, then I’m working on new projects. (Be sure to order your copy of the parks book by clicking here.) I always try to stay busy!

One thing I’ve learned from Holy Mother Church is the destructiveness of boredom: as any other mother can tell you, bored children start doing mischief, but bored adults even more so. And so I’ve tried to avoid it. The easiest way to avoid boredom is to stay busy.

HOWEVER, many of the terrible heresies which plague our world today were started by people who were always busy.  Even in the otherwise pious Middle Ages, many merchants saw the requirements of the Faith as something that took away from profit, and they eventually turned religion into something that you only do on Sunday mornings at best. Likewise, dissident theologians were busy with their studies, but they turned religion into a dead letter, for these spent more time reading than they spent in the chapel and in serving others, because they thought that studying was “more important.” Heresy is not promulgated by lazy, bored people, but rather by busy people.

Herein lies the problem: if you are always too busy to have an active prayer life, and a life devoid of loving other people, then you could be drawn away from God and your fellow man. A busy person is not bored, but a bored lazy person falls into the same trap of thinking that their time is their own, which seems to be near the root of the problem.

As it turns out, both boredom and the habit of doing ‘busy work’ fall under the capital sin of sloth, or acedia. Sloth is the avoidance of what needs to be done to obtain the ultimate good, and it is a vice against charity. If sloth is persistent, it can lead to depression and despair. We see this with people who do nothing at all, and in those who engage in pointless busyness.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

“The Textile Blog”

LATELY, I’VE ENJOYED reading The Textile Blog: Design, Decoration and Craft, which, oddly enough, is only partly about textiles. Instead, the author, John Hopper, has a more catholic taste. Here are some articles that caught my eye:
Sicilian Decoration as seen by Matthew Digby Wyatt
Ceramic Mosaic Work from Cairo
The Anatomy of Pattern by Lewis Foreman Day
Sleeping Beauty Tiles by Edward Burne-Jones
Bullerswood Carpet by William Morris
Islamic Geometric Mosaics
The Geometrical Framework of Pattern
The Supremacy of Indian Decorative and Pattern Work
Educational Courts at the Crystal Palace
The 1853 Dublin Exhibition of Art-Industry
A Celebration of Pugin's 200th Anniversary
The Crocheted Lace D’Oyley
Decorative Endpapers of the Early Twentieth Century
Arabic Calligraphy as Decoration
The Designer as a Cross-Discipline Artist
Hopper also shows Catholic interests:
Ceramic Tile Designs by A W N Pugin
French Stained Glass of the 13th Century
Augustus Charles Pugin and Gothic Ornaments
Embroidered Altar Cloths of the 1860s
Pattern Work and the Medieval Mediterranean
Decorative Embroidery of Thomas Becket
Medieval English Stained Glass
English Tile Pavement from 1340
Vestment Decoration by A W N Pugin
Decoration of English Stone Crosses
Tessellated Pavement from Meaux Abbey
Byzantine and Romanesque Decoration
The Stylised Medieval World
Medieval Stained Glass Pattern Work
Embroidered Robes of Thomas Becket
Decorative Patterned Floors of Venice
The blog concentrates largely on Victorian England and the early Modern period. But rather than taking a starting point from the classical arts of Greece and Rome (which we now know was severely misinterpreted by the Renaissance and Enlightenment), it instead finds the full flowering of the decorative arts in the Medieval period, with roots extending across all of Europe and half of Asia.

The blog’s author argues that artists ought to be multidisciplinary, and should not be mere specialists in one narrow field or another. We find this variety of in many of the biographies found on the blog, with single individuals designing textiles, wallpapers, floor tiles, furniture, ceramics, stained glass windows, and even entire buildings.

The Textile Blog is both interesting in its own right and is inspirational as a sourcebook for design.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mid-Century Works of the Emil Frei Company

I ONCE MET Stephen Frei, of the Emil Frei Stained Glass company of Saint Louis County, Missouri. Naïvely, I asked him if he had a list of Catholic churches that had his company’s work. “No,” he said, since the company’s work can be found in “about half” of them.


The website, Built St. Louis (“Dedicated to the preservation of historic architecture in St. Louis, Missouri”), offers a detailed guide to the architecture of this region. It has a new feature — “The Emil Frei Stained Glass Company — Mid-Century Modernist Stained Glass,” which not only has photos of Frei’s Modernist works from 1939 onwards, but also links to Gothic-inspired work from earlier in the century, as well as biographies of artists who worked for the company.

Whether or not you like Modernism in ecclesiastical architecture, the work of Frei is among the best made in that style, and the Saint Louis area has some very good examples.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

“Right Mindfulness” and “Recta Ratio”

I FOUND AN article, “How Emotional Intelligence Boosts The Bottom Line At Companies Like GE, Zappos, American Express And Metlife,” over at Business Insider. This is part of an interview with long-time Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan, who applies insights from Buddhism to improving business:
Knowledge@Wharton: Business schools excel at teaching students analytical skills, but they have often been less successful at helping students develop emotional intelligence. How can they do a better job?

Meng: The first step is to recognize the importance of emotional intelligence in business leadership. Leadership is essentially character, and you cannot develop character if you don't also develop emotional intelligence — that's how important it is. Emotional intelligence is at the center of developing leadership, and recognizing that is the first step.

The second step is hard because business schools —and I think schools, in general — are very used to curriculum that is purely cognitive. You learn stuff from a book or from reading or solving problems. Schools in general and business schools in particular are not used to a curriculum that requires other forms of training. For emotional intelligence, there are at least three aspects of training. There's a cognitive aspect, but there's also the attention aspect and the affective aspect. The attention aspect is what we talked about earlier, which is to develop a quality of attention that allows the mind to become calm and clear on demand. The affective aspect is a training that allows you to perceive emotions at a high resolution and gain mastery over those emotions. This is not something you can learn from reading a book or solving problems on a piece of paper. This is an entirely different form of training. Business schools are not yet used to such things.
Emotional intelligence, according to Meng, comes from ‘mindfulness,’ or more properly ‘right mindfulness,’ sati, which is a part of Buddhism’s eightfold path to enlightenment. ‘Mindfulness’ is also used in contemporary Western psychology, but it derives from that older concept. While these methods undoubtably have merit, I’d rather make the point that similar, stronger ideas can be found in the Western philosophical patrimony, but, alas, this tradition is generally overlooked by modern Westerners.

‘Right mindfulness’ finds its Western equivalent in the Latin term recta ratio or ‘right reason,’ as is found in the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas and many other Catholic philosophers. We also find this equivalent in Greek philosophy as orthos logos or orthos doxa , the ‘right reason’ or ‘right belief’ that is an essential step towards enlightenment according to Plato. As both Aquinas and Plato were mystics as well as philosophers, we find that recta ratio and orthos doxa have something in common with mystical Buddhist notions — contrary to what we find in contemporary Western philosophy, which is rigorously secularistic and non-mystical. Recta ratio not only takes into consideration the right reason of the intellect, but also the emotions, and so leads to the kind of emotional intelligence described in the article above. Recta ratio is described in Catholic moral theology as a foundation of virtue, and so recta ratio is nearly essential if a human being ever wants to be happy or blessed over the long term.

Right reason is of great importance, and is an antidote to the poison of modern thinking. For a scholarly look at recta ratio, see the article Thomas Aquinas: Moral Philosophy at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and also the Meaning of Virtue in Thomas Aquinas. Or you can go the master himself, PRIMA SECUNDÆ PARTIS, of the Summa of Saint Thomas.

Inside Saint Liborius Church

HERE ARE LINKS to photos and information about the current status of Saint Liborius Church, which has been long closed, in north Saint Louis city. These links are from Saint Louis Patina, “A Blog detailing the beauty of St. Louis architecture and the buildup of residue-or character-that accumulates over the course of time.”

Correspondents frequently contact me about this church. While it is generally solid, the church is in a state of general disrepair, although some of the original liturgical art and furnishings remains. Locals are searching for a use of this church — but the neighborhood has few Catholics, although the area has seen some redevelopment lately. Clearly, the highest and best use of this building is as a Catholic church, but this kind of restoration would require unforeseen circumstances of the most remarkable kind.

Click here for the church’s nomination for the National Register of Historic Places, which includes a history of the church, detailed architectural descriptions, and historic photographs. Information from the Archdiocese is here, and more photos can be found at Built St. Louis.

Saint Louis Place neighborhood, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - abandoned Saint Liborius Church

I took this photo of the church in 2010; it was closed in 1992. The parish patron was Saint Liborius (c. 348–397), second bishop of LeMans in Gaul, and patron saint of Paderborn in Westphalia, whose intercession is invoked against colic, fever, and gallstones, and is a patron of a happy death.

It was designed by the German-American architect, J. William Schickel of New York, who is famed for his ecclesiastical works.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Cardinal Dolan’s Visit to Saint Louis

CARDINAL DOLAN is visiting Saint Louis.

Click here for details.

“St. Louis Parks” interview

Originally broadcast on KTVI television. I took the photos of the city parks, including Tower Grove Park, as shown in the clip.

You can meet both authors at the Saint Louis County Library, on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012, at 7:00p.m., at the Headquarters branch auditorium.

You can get your copy of the book here.

Newsletter from the Oratory


2653 Ohio Avenue
Saint Louis, Missouri 63118

May 03, 2012


Dear Faithful and Friends of St. Francis de Sales Oratory,


Canon Matthew Talarico

The Oratory will have the pleasure of welcoming Canon Matthew Talarico, Substitute for the Provincial in the United States. He will be the celebrant and homilist of both Masses this Sunday, May 6, and will also crown the statue of Our Lady (May Crowning). Please come to greet Canon Talarico after Mass in the hall.


Canon von Menshengen with the Oblates of the US Province

This week the Oratory hosts four oblates (in cassock) who serve in the US Province in various apostolates, and two candidates for the oblatehood. The occasion is the annual retreat for oblates of the Institute, preached this year by Canon von Menshengen from the Institute apostolate in Arizona. We at the Oratory are very pleased to acknowledge two familiar members of this retreat: Abbe Alex Barga, who has faithfully served the Oratory, and Mr. Matthew Serafino, a new candidate for the oblatehood.

The Institute is blessed with quite a number of young men who have a strong vocation to the community life, without a calling to serve the Lord as priests. As full members of the Institute, our oblates work closely with our priests, dedicating their many and varied talents to serve in our apostolates. As we know well at St. Francis de Sales, their role is so indispensable that they are sometimes called the “guardian angels of the priest.” With gratitude for their service to the Church and to the Institute, please join us in welcoming them to the Oratory, and offering prayers for their vocation.


In addition to the oblate retreat this week, St. Francis de Sales Oratory again will have the privilege of hosting all of the Institute priests serving the US Province for the annual retreat during the week of May 21-25. As in previous years, Monsignor Gilles Wach, Prior General and founder of the Institute, will come to preach. Like the annual Chapter Meeting, this gathering is an important event in the community life of the Institute, and an anticipated event which we all look forward to. We are deeply grateful for the help and support of the faithful here in St. Louis, as we plan for the arrival of all our priests from many parts of the United States. Please pray for us, and be assured of the Institute’s prayers of gratitude for your continuous generosity.


There will be a Solemn High Mass on Thursday, May 24, at 6:30 PM, with Monsignor Wach as celebrant. After the Mass all faithful in attendance are cordially invited to greet Monsignor and all canons of the American Province at the hall during a short reception.


In part to prepare for the upcoming priestly retreat, the renovation of the chapel inside the convent was accelerated so that we will be able to efficiently accommodate the private daily Masses every priest celebrates. Thanks to the extraordinarily generous and capable efforts of many faithful, the chapel is gleaming with newly painted walls, a new ceiling, light fixtures, “crown-molding” and soon beautiful curtains. Every minute of work which has gone into producing the beautiful chapel will be amply rewarded in the Holy Sacrifice which will take place there. Deo gratias!


Dear Senior Drama Families,

Thank you very much for all your wonderful work here!

It is true that we should be very proud of this group of students: What they have offered to all of us is the fruit of great perseverance, love and hard work. It is, first of all, a great compliment to you, dear families, parents and siblings, since last weekend’s performances show the effectiveness of a balanced and competent home-schooling practice and harmonious family life. It was gratifying to meet young adults who are socially and academically much more "skilled" and "apt" than one might expect. What we were happy enough to see is at the same time a beautiful fruit of the spiritual treasures Saint Francis de Sales (the patron saint and the oratory) is providing for all of us.


Thank you all very much, especially Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt, Dr. and Mrs. Dickinson and Mr. and Mrs. Hayworth, for all they do!


View from Iowa Street

In 2005 when the Oratory was first erected by then Archbishop Burke, vertical pole banners were installed along the side walk around the Oratory on Iowa, Lynch Streets and Ohio Avenue. With time, these banners deteriorated in the hot and cold weather, in the wind and the rain. In the last month, these old banners were replaced with bold blue ones carrying the crest of the Institute, and white ones proclaiming the name of the Oratory: St. Francis de Sales. May Our Lady the Immaculate Conception and our patron St. Francis de Sales continue to guide this church to be the cornerstone of revival for this neighborhood.


This summer, the Institute will once again offer a week-long music camp for the children to hone their music skills in an atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie at the Ursuline Motherhouse in Kentucky, from August 5th-10th. Immersed in daily music making with their peers, the campers will attend classes in Latin, Gregorian Chant, Music Theory, and Vocal Technique. Daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite will be offered by an Institute priest. This year's faculty includes: Mr. Nick Botkins (Director of Sacred Music - Saint Francis de Sales Oratory), Mr. Kevin Allen, (Composer, Chicago) , and Ms. Yollanda Bornhoff (Organist, Chicago).

Since our announcement about this year’s Choir Camp, many children are already looking forward to this annual summer event. Registration is open! The camp tuition will be kept at the same level as last year. For more information, please contact the Oratory office.


The excerpt this week chronicles an important event in the parish history of St. Francis de Sales: the consecration of its pastor as the first Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis in 1933. Bishop Winkelmann served as the pastor of St. Francis de Sales from 1929 to 1940. The caption for the photo reads:


A photograph taken on the steps of the Cathedral immediately after the consecration ceremony of Bishop Christian H. Winkelmann, November 30, 1933. From left to right : Msgr. John Lyons, Pastor of St. Pius V; Msgr. Patrick P. Crone, Vicar General of the Archdiocese; Bishop Lillis of Kansas City, Missouri; Archbishop John J. Glennon; Bishop Christian H. Winkelmann; Bishop Johannes of Kansas City, Kansas and Rev. William Barr, Rector of Kenrick Seminary.

In 1933 St. Francis de Sales rejoiced over the appointment of its pastor, Father Christian H. Winkelmann, to be the first Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis. Thus our parish had the special distinction of being the first one in the Archdiocese, outside of the Cathedral, to have a bishop for its pastor. On the feast of St. Andrew, the Apostle, November 30, 1933, which also happened to be Thanksgiving Day, Father Winkelmann was consecrated Bishop of Sita, a Titular See, and the Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis.

The ceremony of consecration of Bishop Winkelmann took place at the Cathedral with Archbishop Glennon assisted by Bishop Lillis of Kansas City and Bishop LeBlond of St. Joseph. During the remaining time of his pastorate at St. Francis de Sales, Bishop Winkelmann brought with him the full grandeur and glorious beauty of pontifical ceremonies. These were eventful days for our parishioners, especially when their pastor was vested in the sacred robes of a bishop with crozier and mitre. The ceremonies of Holy Mass on solemn occasions as performed by Bishop Winkelmann are still gratefully remembered to this day.

Bishop Winkelmann had much to do before taking leave of St. Francis de Sales. In the spring of 1937, almost three and a half years after his consecration as Bishop, plans were started to build a new grade school building and to open a new high school in the parish. The increasing number of grade school children again made it necessary to build a new grade school. Funds were then sought throughout 1937 and 1938 in preparation for the new building, which was started in December of the latter year. Four homes, which had been acquired to make room for the new school along Ohio Avenue, were bought and razed to the ground. Ground was broken two days before Christmas and the important work was underway. Many of our parishioners recall the early problems of erecting a good foundation for the new school building. It was discovered that the ground was not solid in all areas but rather that some of it was part of a filled-in quarry. Therefore it was necessary to drive into the ground to a depth of thirty feet strong concrete pilings in order to insure the stability of the new building.


My Dear Faithful and Friends of Saint Franics de Sales Oratory,

By secular standards, it is rarely pleasant to raise the subject of finances, much less to do so habitually with a hat in hand. As we approach the end of our fiscal year (end of June), it is an unavoidable task the Rector must address.

As one may deduce, the total utilities cost for the entire church campus is very high. On average, the combined annual cost for electricity and gas is more than $75,000. Thanks to our excellent and capable maintenance team, we try to economize and keep these expenditures to a minimum.

Aside from utilities, the single largest expense in our annual budget is the property insurance for the church. It amounts to $84,000 per year we remit to the Archdiocese, which is self-insured. This is a fixed cost for which no amount of frugal economizing can reduce. It is also a necessary cost that protects the investment which was begun in 1908, and for which many families since that time have made sacrifices. Until now, our insurance payment has been drawn from a single large inheritance (now dwindling) which was left to the Archdiocese to be used specifically for St. Francis de Sales.

We are the current stewards of St. Francis de Sales, and frankly, I cannot imagine a church better appreciated by its congregation. I am deeply grateful to the individuals and families who come every Sunday to be nourished by the liturgy and to support the Oratory effectively in so many ways.

It is humbling to appeal to you continuously for the means to make our payments. But, when we look upon the outstretched arms of Our Blessed Lord on the cross, we are reminded that the sacrifices we make is not for ownership, but for stewardship of something which belongs to Him.

Again, grateful for your support, I plan to designate the first $400.00 of every weekly collection to meet our insurance obligations to the Archdiocese. Thank you very much for your help in this matter.
Yours faithfully in Christ the Risen King,

Canon Michael K. Wiener
Rector, St. Francis de Sales Oratory

Thursday, May 03, 2012

On Reading Fiction

I DON’T KNOW OF any men who read the blog ‘The Art of Manliness,’ although I know very many women who do, which is quite telling. Our culture, as is now well known, has become increasingly feminine, or rather more effeminate, and very many women, it seems, do very much want their men to stop playing video games and to get up off of the sofa.

However, a recent article from that site (whose link a lady friend sent to me), Why Men Should Read More Fiction, recommends that men sit back on the sofa and read a good book. But not any book, but a good book of fiction. The amount of fiction read by men is apparently at a low point — and this genre seems to be mainly dominated by women readers.

Now I must admit that there was a time that I was proud to say that I only read non-fiction. This was long before my conversion, and I thought there was a practical benefit to this, that fiction was a waste of time that took away from the daily business of life. I looked down upon people who never read serious non-fiction. This kind of Puritan practicality, while true in a certain limited sense, is hardly a guide to living a vibrant life. Reading fiction all day every day has nothing to recommend itself to the pursuit of virtue, but reading no fiction at all has its dangers also, as the article states:
Most of your success as a man, whether in love or work, depends on your ability to socialize adroitly. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Success depends not on what you know, but who you know.” As much as you’d like to think that’s not true, it is. You can be the most skilled and talented whatever in the world, but you’ll likely labor away in obscurity if you don’t know how to reach out and share those talents with others.

Unfortunately, men have gotten the short end of the evolutionary stick when it comes to our ability to socialize. Studies show that male brains are generally wired for dealing with stuff, while female brains are generally wired for dealing with people. This may explain why women often prefer fiction over non-fiction: their brains are already wired to want to read about “selves in a social world.”

Thus as men, we probably have the most to gain from reading fiction. Instead of seeing fiction as a bunch of made-up, waste-of-time baloney, look it as a simulator that allows you to exercise and strengthen the cognitive muscles responsible for socializing. Every time you pick up and read a novel, you’re molding yourself into a better, more socially adept man.
Ah, I see my own failure here, having long considered myself an expert in “dealing with stuff,” while tending to ignore the social part of life.

I recently watched the popular television show Downton Abbey with a lady friend. While disappointed that this abbey had no monks (thanks to the evil King Henry VIII), I still found it fascinating. However, I watched one episode by myself, and I found it incomprehensible — I was unable to comprehend it without the assistance of my friend explaining things to me. Partially this was due to the complexity of characters and events, but other times I simply missed subtle clues such as body language, or the meaning of certain oblique lines of dialogue.

The one time in my adult life when I did read lots of fiction was the time in my life when I was most dissatisfied. My career was going very strongly, and I traveled frequently by plane. For whatever reason, I chose fiction books to read while flying: at the time I thought this was a weakness, that I was failing at doing what I had to do, escaping into my mind when I should instead be confronting reality directly. But is not the mind a part of reality? Just because science has trouble characterizing the mind does not mean that it is unimportant. The needs of the soul ought not to be ignored. I was dissatisfied, but I did not know why; fiction became important to me, but I did not know why it was important.

My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, so nowadays I tend to prefer audiobooks to paper books, and I also get to have some entertainment while driving. When I got a free membership to an online audio book website, I initially wanted to get long non-fiction works, but instead selected a couple of fiction books — and I was immensely pleased by them, becoming far more involved that I would have suspected. There is something to be said about fiction that I had ignored before.

Chesterton wrote that good fiction tells you more truth than do mere facts. This is due to a certain abstraction, the taking away of confusing and inessential facts to get to the meat of a story. He also wrote that good fiction tells you truth about the characters, while bad fiction tells you truth about the author, which is important to know when choosing what fiction to read.

The principle of abstraction as found in good fiction was greatly helpful to me when I did photography for the new book “St. Louis Parks”. A good composition will eliminate unnecessary, distracting details, and will emphasize what is important.