Saturday, May 17, 2014

Avengers (And I) Assemble for Stratford Caldecott!

I #CapforStrat!
I heard about this yesterday on Facebook, and I thought it was so cool I had to join in.

Catholic writer and Marvel Comics fan Stratford "Strat" Caldecott is in the last stages of a long fight against prostate cancer. In order to make his remaining time as pleasant as possible, his daughters have asked Marvel Studios for an advance copy of the Captain America: The Winter Soldier DVD because Mr. Caldecott was too ill to go to the theater and see the movie. They've also reached out to stars of the Marvel superhero movies and the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. via Facebook and Twitter asking them to tweet photos with messages of love and support with the hashtag #CapforStrat. Mr. Caldecott's daughter Sophie reports that Marvel executives have arranged for a private screening of the film, and that many Marvel stars and ordinary people alike have tweeted their support. I'm not a movie star, but I'd like Mr. Caldecott and family to know I'm with them.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Repost from Holy Thursday 2012

NOTE: I originally posted this on Holy Thursday 2012, and unfortunately once again I'm ill on Holy Thursday, so I'm going to have to repost this. Prayers for all my readers as we enter the Blessed Triduum.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend tonight's Holy Thursday liturgy due to illness. For all those in a similar situation, whether due to illness or some other reason, I offer this, the beautiful Eucharistic hymn "Tantum ergo sacramentum," traditionally sung as the Eucharist is removed from the Tabernacle to a place of repose. The lyrics in Latin and in English are as follows:

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et iubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.
Amen.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.

To the everlasting Father,
And the Son Who Reigns on high
With the Holy Spirit proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor blessing,
Might and endless Majesty.
Amen.

A Blessed and Holy Easter Season to all my readers!




Monday, March 17, 2014

The Lorica of St. Patrick

The Lorica of St. Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity
Through belief in the threeness
Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the creator.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgement of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim
In obedience to the Angels,
In the service of the Archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of Holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun
Brilliance of moon
Splendor of fire
Speed of lightning
Swiftness of wind
Depth of sea
Stability of earth
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s host to secure me
against snares of devils
against temptations of vices
against inclinations of nature
against everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and anear,
alone and in a crowd.
A summon today all these powers between me and these evils
Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of heathenry,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that endangers man’s body and soul.
Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
so that there may come abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Thrones,
Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the Creator.
Salvation is of the Lord
Salvation is of the Lord
Salvation is of Christ
May thy salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Find the original text here.

St. Patrick, patron of Ireland, pray for us!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Now therefore saith the Lord: Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning. And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but he will return, and forgive, and leave a blessing behind him, sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, Gather together the people, sanctify the church, assemble the ancients, gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of her bride chamber. Between the porch and the altar the priests the Lord' s ministers shall weep, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people: and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God? The Lord hath been zealous for his land, and hath spared his people. And the Lord answered and said to his people: Behold I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and you shall be filled with them: and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.

(Joel 2: 12-19, Douay-Rheims Version, Epistle for Ash Wednesday Mass in the Extraordinary Form)

Monday, February 03, 2014

Surely Not, Sherlock!

Well, I wasted two hours of my life last night.

No, not watching the snooze-fest that was Seattle's absolute trouncing of Denver in Superbowl XLVIII, although that might have been preferable. No, I watched the third season finale of Sherlock, the BBC's postmodern update and reboot of the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson. I watched the first season of this show when it premiered on PBS in the United States a couple of years ago, wasn't especially impressed, and skipped the second and third seasons. I decided to give the show another look, however, when some recent late night pain and insomnia kept me up, and I needed something diverting to watch while waiting for the pain medications to kick in. Before I knew it, I was hooked—not on the pain medicine, but on Sherlock. With each "season" being only three episodes long, it was a fairly simple matter to get caught up. I plowed through seasons 1 and 2, and the two previous episodes of season 3 in order to prepare for the big finale last night. What a letdown!

For those who haven't seen the show, perhaps a few words of explanation are in order, but here there be spoilers. You have been warned. In this contemporary update of the Holmes universe, some elements and vestiges of the original stories remain, although often transmuted and transmogrified.  Holmes is still a brilliant but asocial, eccentric oddball, a violinist, and a sometime nicotine addict, residing at 221B Baker Street, London, and attempting to make a living as the world's only "consulting detective." In his day job, he's a pathologist at London's St. Bartholomew's Hospital, but he's forever running his own bizarre experiments on the cadavers to test equally bizarre theories that his coworkers find incomprehensible. His coworkers, however, are just as incomprehensible to Sherlock as he is to them. One of his colleagues, the timid, mousy Molly Hooper (brilliantly played by Louise Brealey) has a massive crush on him, but he's oblivious to her attentions. When Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade of Scotland Yard (Rupert Graves) calls Holmes a psychopath, Holmes snaps back, "High functioning sociopath. Do your research."

While Conan Doyle's original Holmes was definitely an asocial eccentric, he could, if need be, muster a modicum of social skills, and, on occasion, a kind of gallantry, particularly, if a woman was in danger. He could rally to the defense of a damsel in distress. For much of this new series, Holmes, as played by Cumberbatch, isn't that classy. He's simply arrogant and condescending to anyone he considers his intellectual inferior, which is to say most people. To put it bluntly, he's a jerk. For much of the series, Holmes insists he isn't really interested in questions of right and wrong, good and evil, and the needs of the people who come to him for help. People are merely ciphers, minor factors in a complex intellectual problem. However, as the series progresses, we see that despite his protestations to the contrary, he really does have a sense of right and wrong and a desire to help people achieve justice. In a way, the series is as much about Sherlock's coming out of his shell and learning to form normal social relationships as it is about solving mysteries. Sherlock matures as the series progresses, especially through his relationship with Watson, but with each season being only three episodes long, we don't get to see that relationship develop as much as we might like.

Sherlock's brother Mycroft, on the other hand, remains largely the same throughout the series. Brilliantly played by series co-creator Mark Gatiss, Mycroft "is the British government," a sinister and calculating spook and spymaster, holding a shadowy but powerful position in the British intelligence services. Mycroft does have a more human side, but we don't get to see it until the very end of the series. The long-suffering Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), Holmes's housemaid in the original stories, is now his landlady, who owes Sherlock a favor: he saw to it that her drug-dealing, abusive ex-husband was sent to prison.

Watson, for his part, is a veteran of the current war in Afghanistan, who has been advised by his therapist to keep a blog as a means of treating his post-traumatic stress disorder. Holmes and Watson, both in need of a roommate, are introduced through a mutual acquaintance, and a legendary partnership is born. Watson blogs about Holmes's adventures, the website attracts new clients, and the two detectives battle an assortment of serial killers, art thieves, terrorists, assassins, and blackmailers, most of whom, it seems, are under the control of the psychotic master criminal Jim Moriarty (chillingly played by Irish actor Andrew Scott). Throughout the series there are all sorts of clever, winks, nods, and references to the original stories, from episode titles and names of characters to plot points and little passing observations Holmes makes. Often the writers will combine and update elements from two or more different Conan Doyle stories and give them a contemporary spin. Most of these references and updates are clever and well done, but not all: I wasn't a big fan of making Irene Adler, the opera singer who actually manages to outwit Holmes in the original Conan Doyle story "A Scandal in Bohemia" into a high class prostitute and dominatrix in the updated version, but I was willing to overlook it because the series up to that point had been pretty good.

I suspected the show was headed for real trouble, however, as season 2 ended and season 3 began. At the end of season 2, in an episode loaded with references to the Conan Doyle story, "The Final Problem," Holmes and Moriarty have an epic confrontation, Moriarty apparently succeeds in destroying Holmes's reputation, Moriarty apparently commits suicide, and Holmes likewise apparently leaps from the roof of St. Bartholomew's Hospital to a bloody, suicidal death right in front of a helpless Doctor Watson. As season 3 opens, however, we find that Holmes never really died and his apparent death was all a piece of remarkably clever stagecraft managed by British Intelligence. By this time, Watson has moved on and proposed to Mary Morstan, the love of his life (who originally appears in the Conan Doyle novel, The Sign of the Four), and is furious to find that Holmes deceived him. Since we don't get to see the relationship between Holmes and Watson develop in depth over time, and because Holmes is such a jerk for so much of the time we do see, Watson's emotional collapse at Holmes's apparent death and outrage at Holmes's fraud and deception, don't ring entirely true. The second episode of season 3, which takes place on Watson's wedding day, is little more than a clip show and a comic relief episode in which Holmes struggles valiantly to give a best man speech, recount some "humorous" cases, and solve a mystery that's taking place at the wedding reception itself.

The real deal-breaker for me, however came with last night's season finale. Holmes and Watson, having forged an uneasy truce after Holmes's deception, go up against a particularly loathsome blackmailer, tabloid magnate Charles Augustus Magnusson ("Charles Augustus Milverton" in Conan Doyle's original story). Mary Morstan Watson, John Watson's wife, is also going after Magnusson, because he knows that she—get ready for this—is actually a foreign intelligence agent and international assassin posing as Mary Morstan. Sherlock deduces the truth about Mary and tricks her into confessing to him and to John. John is again outraged, but somewhat incredibly, decides to forgive both Mary and Sherlock. Sherlock and John return to confront Magnusson, but discover that all the incriminating information Magnusson has about Mary is in his head, and only in his head—there are no paper documents or files on computer hard drives. When Sherlock points out that Magnusson thus has no proof of Mary's real identity, Magnusson coolly replies, "I don't need proof. I'm in newspapers."

Knowing that Magnusson will be a threat to John and Mary as long as he's alive, Sherlock calmly shoots Magnusson in cold blood. In order to save Sherlock from a long prison sentence, Mycroft proposes a deal: Sherlock can go to Eastern Europe and perform some high level espionage for the British government, or he can go to jail. Sherlock agrees to do the spy work, leading to what looks to a final parting between himself and John Watson. Just minutes into Sherlock's exile, however, Mycroft calls him back to England; it seems none other than Moriarty is alive and up to his old tricks. End episode, roll credits.

Will there be a fourth season? I don't know. Will I be watching it? After that turkey of an episode, I really don't know. I don't mind the secret agent stuff so much if it's done in moderation. From my reading of the original stories, I know that at times, largely because of Mycroft, Holmes is called upon to be as much a secret agent as a detective, performing certain highly confidential services for Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria and the other crowned heads of Europe, so there is that precedent in the source material. This reboot, however, really overdoes that whole aspect, transforming Holmes from a nerdy science geek who solves crimes into some kind of badass James Bond-style superspy. I like James Bond and superspy stories too, but when I tune in expecting one kind of genre and get something else, it really bugs me.

It would have been perfectly plausible to imagine what might happen if Magnusson knew something incriminating about Mary Morstan. It would have also been perfectly plausible to imagine what might have happened if she had confronted him about it; but that incriminating something should have been something believable. Maybe, years before, she had embezzled from her employer, or had an affair with an important married man. She should have been what she had been portrayed as up to that point, a middle-aged woman happy to find love at last, and desperate to keep an incriminating secret; not a spy or an assassin, or some ridiculous baloney like that! Come on! And the whole "Sherlock and Mycroft at home with their parents for Christmas" subplot? Please! Honestly, sometimes I think even I could write something better than that. Why don't I?







Friday, January 17, 2014

Writing with Drive

My fiendish plan worked! As I said in my previous post, I've been thinking lately about doing some writing, both dusting off some old unfinished projects, and starting on some new stuff. Both of these projects would require some library research, so I got the bright idea to upload what I had written to Google Drive (Google's online word processing app) so that whether I was at home or at the library, I would have access to all my files without the aid of a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other portable device that I can't afford right now. This morning on a visit to the nearest branch of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library, I logged into Google Drive, found one of my unfinished stories, and made a small addition. When I got home and checked my computer, there was the addition, ready and waiting. I've spent the last few minutes rereading what I've written so far and tinkering with it. It's a strange feeling; it's been years since I worked on this story, but in another sense, it feels as if I've never been away. Can I keep this going? I hope so.

Monday, January 06, 2014

2014: Looking Ahead

In my previous post, I looked back over the major events of my life in 2013. Now I'd like to look ahead a bit and think about what I'd like to accomplish in the New Year 2014. It's been frequently noted (indeed, I'm sure most of us can see it in our own lives) that most "New Year's Resolutions" fail miserably. As my Facebook friend and fellow blogger William "Billy" Newton observes, based on statistical evidence, human beings tend to make grand, noble-sounding plans to "lose weight," "get in shape," "get organized," or "be a better person," but usually give up in a short time because our goals aren't specific and measurable enough. If your goal isn't specific enough to be measured, how will you know when you've reached it? If you don't know when you've reached your goal, what will motivate you to keep pressing on until you've achieved it?

I myself am notorious for making grand plans, announcing a course of action, and then failing to follow through, usually when I realize it's going to take more work than I figured to reach my goal. Yet at the same time I've been thinking about how the New Year does gives us an opportunity to take stock, start over again with a clean slate, and maybe, just maybe, do things a little differently, and a little better than we did in the past. I'm especially conscious of this, having recently relocated to a new city and a new and better living situation than I've had for many years. I'd like to set out some goals (I hesitate to call them "resolutions" because somehow that seems more formal, grand, and ominous) that I'd like to achieve in the new year. In setting them down here, I realize I'm committing myself to something. I may look back on this post in a year and realize I've failed miserably and embarrassed myself, but on the other hand, writing these goals down and posting them in public may just shame me into keeping them. Here goes.

I have three broad areas of interest in my life right now: broadening and deepening my Catholic faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ; resuming and continuing my genealogical and family history research; and resuming and continuing my creative writing. I have specific goals I'd like to achieve in each of these areas.

As far as my Catholic faith is concerned, I would like to continue attending the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the Traditional Latin Mass) and learn more about the spirituality behind it until I am as comfortable and familiar with the Traditional or Extraordinary Form as I am with the vernacular or Ordinary Form. I would like to go through the entire calendar year (from this past June when I started to going to EF Masses until next June) and through the entire liturgical year (from Advent to Advent) with the Extraordinary Form. I've said on Facebook that somebody needs to write The Extraordinary Form for Dummies or something like it, and lately, I've even begun to entertain the preposterous idea that I could be that somebody. I would know when the book would reach its intended audience of dummies because I would be the Chief Dummy. I'm not a theologian, liturgist, priest, or religious; I'm just a poor, dumb schmuck in the pews, trying to get to heaven like everybody else. If the book made sense and was helpful to me, maybe it would make sense and be helpful to other people. I've begun making notes and doing preliminary research. I will aim to have a first draft ready by this time next year.

I would also like to learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, but this may be too ambitious if I am also writing and doing research. I purchased a breviary and The Divine Office for Dodos by Madeline Pecora Nugent, a guide for learning the Divine Office, by several years ago, but found both the learning process and the guidebook more difficult than expected. Nugent tries so hard to make her writing style cheerful and encouraging that it actually backfires and comes across as annoyingly chirpy and a bit condescending, cheering the reader on as if he is a slightly dimwitted child. Daria Sockey's book, The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, has been recommended to me, and I'd like to try it. I will purchase the book this week and see how far I can get with praying the Hours by this time next year.

As far as my genealogical research is concerned, my research has been stalled for over a year and I'd really like to change that. I've been able to establish that my great-great grandfather James E. Leslie (1823-1875) was born in Iredell County, NC,  moved to Lowndes County, AL some time before 1850, set up a blacksmith business, and served in a Confederate cavalry regiment as a blacksmith during the Civil War. However, I don't know where in Iredell County he was born, who his parents were, and when or why he moved to Alabama. I sent e-mail and made a phone call to the Genealogical Society of Iredell County but received no reply whatsoever. I will make contact with the GSIC by the end of this month, and if that fails, I will see what I can find through other channels including the Iredell County Courthouse and the North Carolina Office of Archives and History.

Finally, as far as my creative writing goes, I have no fewer than three unfinished superhero origin stories (which sometimes feel like three versions of the same story) on my hard drive waiting to be completed. My interest in the superhero concept has waxed and waned periodically over the years since I first discovered the HeroMachine website and software, but I'm still intrigued by these characters I've created with it, and it's always bothered me that I haven't yet been able to finish their stories. Maybe this is the year. I will have a completed draft of at least one origin story ready by this time next year.