Monday, August 29, 2005

I know, it's only rock and roll

Is there any merit to giving 30,000 fellow human beings 2.5 hours of unadulterated enjoyment?
If there is, if turning a warm summer night into a carefree romp of rhythm and nostalgia, if liberating troubled minds and hearts for an evening carries some weight on the eternal balance of good and evil... then we might just be able to listen to the Rolling Stones in the ever after.

Although it already seems like they've been playing forever, the Exorcist admits enjoying the recent Stones concert as if he were hearing them for the first time. The combined age of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood reads like an overall score at a PGA Masters Tourney... But they are still incredible entertainers.

My only complaint: they didn't play Angie or Wild Horses, two of my favorites... but hey, you can't always get what you want. Right?

Friday, August 26, 2005

mid east mayhem

On to what I was thinking about before getting sidetracked by my rant on hurricane coverage.

The Exorcist was awed by the Israeli release of Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank last week. Now, there's news that bears analysis and not just the gut wrenching takes of protesters being dragged out of settlement synagogues.

The political will of Ariel Sharon - whatever else you may think of him - in bringing about the evacuation was formidable. The only motivation capable of putting in motion such a dramatic and significant action by the Israeli government is the only motivation that ever moves Israel: self preservation. Survival.

A Vatican official, commenting on the Israeli withdrawl, implied that it was out of respect for international law... an appraisal that is either withering sarcasm or hopeless ingenuousness.

After 35 years the Israelis are suddenly overcome with pangs of guilt over the illegality of the Gaza settlements? Not likely.

Calculated self conservation, pure and simple.

Demographics: the Palestinian population has grown exponentially (not accidentally) in comparison with the Israeli, making extended Jewish presence in the poverty-stricken Palestinian quadrant practically unsustainable. It is demographics that will ultimately bring an independent Palestinian state into being. Israel does well to cede and establish limits on that future state now. Inaction or delay could put the existence of the Jewish state in danger in the long run out of sheer numerical inferiority.

There was undoubtably a good deal of political arm twisting done by the Bush administration, but that, too, essentially boils down to Israel's survival instinct. The future of Israel, surrounded by 22 hostile Islamic nations in continual flux, depends more than ever on the benevolence of Big Brother.

Whether the removal of settlements will instill peace or not in Holy Land is yet to be seen. Something tells me it is not going to be as easy as bulldozing under the evacuated communities. Hamas has already attributed the Israeli withdrawl to its own relentless intifada. If it worked in Gaza, why not east Jerusalem? Read C.Krauthammer's editorial...

Whatever happens, the ball is obviously in the Palestinian court as we stand and watch history unfold before our eyes...

weather or not

The Exorcist is a bit of a news junkie. I think I od on information somedays. But there's only so much you can retain. And making sense of it all - as if there really were such a thing as a coherent world view - is just more than my tiny Catholic brain can handle.

That said, I find the national news chains' coverage of hurricanes during the hurricane season very irritating. Not that tropical depressions in the waters near Antigua aren't noteworthy. But the minute to minute updates on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox about hurricanes Horace, Igor and Jezebel inching closer to the Florida coast... oh wait, maybe not, our latest up-to-the-nano-second Doppler radar image shows that he/she may change trajectory ever so slightly... bore me to tears. Their efforts to liven it up with shots of seniors buying plywood at Home Depot or those devil-may-care hipsters still body surfing as the tide surges only reinforce the tedium.

And doesn't it seem that the breathless weather reporters, egged on by their hyperventillating anchors, want each and every storm to be as catastrophic as possible? Right now it's just a category six tropical storm, but see those warm waters by the Bermuda coast, they are REALLY feeding Isabel right now so I can see this baby picking up strength to become a cat one or even a cat two by landfall, and as it rips through the mainland it will again gain force so we may see a cat four or cat five by the time it gets back to the coast. Wow, Darlene, and to think that this is already the eighth hurricane of hurricane season in an area where hurricanes happen all the time... Absolutely right, Dave, this is scary stuff...

There is such eagerness in their voices, trying to impress upon us the urgency and newsworthiness of it all. And what disappointment when the southeast US still largely exists after Isabel has blown out to sea...

Anyway, my beef could be stated thus: do we really need suffocating, second to second national coverage every time a storm whips up in the Gulf of Mexico? Why not leave the constant updates to the local news people and just tell the rest of us about it in a sound byte or two when it's all over? In our times there seems to be real news, worthy of analysis, breaking at high speed every day. Spending 22 minutes of a 48 minute broadcast on the weather seems a little excessive, dontcha think?

Friday, August 19, 2005

they followed a star

The Exorcist is a little disappointed that Pope Benedict's trip to Cologne is not getting more coverage in the mainstream media. Granted, there's a lot going on in the world today. It seems that almost every day is a big news day. Makes me kind of wonder, on a grander scale, what stage of history, what point in time, humanity is approaching...

Pope Benedict, in his own unassuming way, is reaching the hearts and minds (yes, they do have minds!) of the thousands of young people who have followed their personal star to the banks of the Rhine. The relics of the Magi are kept at the cathedral in Cologne and the image of the mysterious witnesses to the Saviour's birth has provided the Pope with some very suggestive metaphor for his exchanges with the young pilgrims.

The full text of his most recent words can be found on the blog of a brother. Reading them, I recalled something Ratzinger wrote in Truth and Tolerance:

"And did not the Magi find their way to Christ by means of the star, that is, by means of their 'superstition', by their religious beliefs and practices? Did not their religion, then, kneel before Christ, as it were, in their persons, recognizing itself as provisional, or rather as proceeding towards Christ?"

I guess everyone's got a star to follow. And I hope all stars lead to Him.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

blessed the peacemakers

Terrible sadness and remorse should weigh upon the Christian world tonight.

Brother Roger Schutz, founder of the ecumenical monastic community Taize and inspiration for the many groups rooted in his basic, gospel spirituality, was a victim of the mindless violence that we have grown so insensitive to.

He was 90 years old. He was praying vespers in the Chapel of Reconciliation with his community. A deranged woman stabbed him from behind. He died almost instantly.

We kill what is good. It is that simple.

We ridicule what is holy. We exalt what is trivial. We scorn what is true. We revel in what is senseless. We excuse what is shameful. We strike out at what reproaches us.

We do not want peace or understanding or solidarity or any other of those empty wishes that roll so glibly off the lips of everyone from Miss Universe to the General Director of the UN.

We should be sickened by what that demented woman did last night, because she did it for us and in our place.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

a tribute to the Big Guy

My Dad died three years ago today. He was only 66, but prostate cancer got the better of him. He died peacefully, at home, accompanied by my mother, a brother and a sister. I was 5172 miles away that afternoon, helping a family move house (move slum, better said) in an overpopulated barrio of a large South American city. But that's what cell phones are for, and by 8am the next morning I was in New York, making my way home.

I celebrated an anniversary Mass at the parish near my Mom's house today at noon. We then gathered for sandwiches, eggplant parmesian and champagne. We sat around and shot the breeze for a few hours.

All in honor of the Big Guy.

The Big Guy
(February 17, 1936 - August 16, 2002)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I see dead people (1)

It all boils down to death.

The elephant in our kitchen.
The universal spoiler.
The equalizer.

The minute we're born we start to die.
A little at a time.
The minute we forget about death our existence becomes as banal as the latest fad we're distracted by.

Death makes happiness impossible, possessions worthless and achievements hollow.
It's where everyone before us is, where we're going and where everyone after us will follow.

We revile it, fear it, hide it and pretend it doesn't effect us. We are drawn to it, trivialize it, sensationalize it and use it to our advantage whenever possible.

There is nothing more deleterious than forgetting about death.
There is nothing more senseless than worrying about it.

So I strongly recommend you read last Sunday's NYTimes Magazine. The cover article, 'The Struggles to Create the Good Death', falls just short of saying what has to be said. By not saying it, by saying everything else but the obvious and finishing with a hapless shrug of the shoulders Robin Marantz Henig makes a much stronger statement about death and the human condition than she probably intended.

She tells the story of Goldie Gold, cancer victim, atheist, frightened and unwilling participant in the dance of death who laments, "I'm not afraid of dying, but I'm terribly unhappy about not living."

Marantz narrates other dramas, terminally ill patients and their families torn between the horror of death and the torture of living a life so extenuated that technology can barely sustain its pulse.

She even talks about the death of her own father who, at 76, suffered congestive heart failure while sitting on the toilet. His demise was mercifully swift, she admits, yet bemoans not having the chance "to make my father's death meaningful". (That's a line worth coming back to...)

The article is framed as an inquiry into the two paths most traveled by dying patients: hospice care and palliative medicine.

At the risk of oversimplifying, hospice care began as an alternative to exaggerated, unwanted medical attention allowing patients to die peacefully (machine free) in their own homes. Hospice expenses (nursing, painkillers, beds...) fall under Medicare when the sick person has been diagnosed to live six months or less.

Palliative medicine has become a sort of pre-hospice treatment that starts with the initial diagnosis of a terminal illness. It emphasizes pain relief, symptom control and emotional support without excluding hospitalization and medical intervention.

The problem is, according to the author, that hospice care now includes 'open access', the availability of chemotherapy and other highend treatments thus essentially embracing what it originally renounced: highly technical, medicalized intervention in dying. Palliative medicine, on the other hand, is yet to be globally accepted as a specialization in its own right and often blurs the final decisions even more: when has enough been done and how much is too much?

The article is engrossing, as is every serious consideration of death. But what is almost said, what is subtly skirted in the piece is infinitely more interesting.

What are these observations not saying?

"...we act as if we can avoid death indefinitely only if we're quick enough or smart enough or prepared enough."

"How do we let go of a life? When do all the small fixes stop making sense? How does a person know when to say, 'OK, so this is what I'll finally die of'? We rarely ask such questions because we don't believe, in our bones, that a terminal disease will end in actual death."

"Dying at home is not easy. (Although) 70% of Americans say they want to die at home, few realize how grueling the work of dying can be."

"Death often comes as something of a surprise - which is odd, when you think about it, because people who die tend to be old and sick already."

"...why do we often feel blindsided by death, even the death of an elderly person suffering from a long-term condition?"

"What we're addicted to, it seems, is the belief that we can micromanage death. We tend to think of a 'good death' as one we can control... But often our best laid plans can go awry. Dying is awfully hard to choreograph."

"Studying death is somewhat like studying a black hole... there's something intrinsic to the very process that defies our ability to analyze it."

"The scariest part about dying... is how it ends: with the immutable fact of no longer existing."

In the last columns of her article, the author reflects on the unwillingness of health care professionals and their terminal patients to use words like death, dying, end of life, preferring in their place all manner of euphemisms.

But the words the author herself avoids using reveal an even greater ambiguity. How can you write about death without using words like mystery, completion, definitive act of free will...

The truth about death is not to be found in medicine or statistics or legislation. Death is a mystery because life is a mystery. We have exiled all concept of mystery from our bland, banal lives. That is why death frustrates and terrifies us.

Dying is the last and greatest opportunity to embrace the mystery, the radical truth that makes all our schemes and ambitions evaporate like drops on hot pavement.

Death cannot be understood in scientific or sociological terms. It would be like applying all the practical and theoretical knowledge of auto-mechanics to interpreting a work of Matisse. By missing the point you would, in fact, be making the point.

Get the point?

Oh yeah, and that line about "making her father's death meaningful"? Well, it was the first 76 years of the mystery that determined the meaning of its last instant. The cause and the place of his death may or may not highlight that meaning, but they do not constitute it.

Your death will mean whatever your life did. Nothing more. Nothing less. 'Nuff sed.

less of this, more of that

A few days ago the Exorcist observed that press received by Catholic priests is usually bad press. Again the Daily News is harbinger of unneeded scandals brought on by the clergy's questionable conduct.

Mons. Eugene Clark is a high profile priest in a city where nothing goes unnoticed. He is rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral and is 79 years old. He's been around for ever. He knows what it's like to live and work in the Catholic church in NY. He does not go unrecognized.

Regardless of what went on in his recent trip to LI with soon-to-be-divorcee Laura DeFillipo, why expose yourself in this manner and at this stage of your life's work? How could a situation like this not be misconstrued? ...if indeed it was misconstrued. What on earth was the venerable monsignor thinking?

In this country there is a hair-trigger reaction to any word, any gesture, any behaviour by Catholic clergy that could even remotely imply moral equivocacy. Suspicion surrounds the priesthood and litigation, frivolous or not, against a church perceived as wealthy and willing to settle is fast becoming a national pastime.

Whether Mons. Clark has done anything else, he has been unseemingly imprudent.
The Exorcist strongly feels we need less of this.

In other, more encouraging news, it appears that the Belgian Trappist monks of Saint Sixtus Monastery in Westvleteren have won the prestigious highest score for their deep and malty Abt 12 ale on the RateBeer website.
Brewing, like praying and and chanting, has long been part of monastic living. It could arguably be considered one of the pristine 'good works' through which our cloistered brethren sanctify and save.

The catch is, the good monks of Saint Sixtus run the brewery in function of the monastery. Not the other way around. They, therefore, frequently run out of beer.

The Exorcist strongly feels we need more of that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

from outtie to innie

To those of you who were kind enough to ask about the Exorcist's health, my most sincere thanks.

I'd been walking around for years now with a growing protrusion that I always assumed was an alien growing in my abdomen. When fully developed, my inner ET would burst out, fangs dripping, and wreak unholy havoc on all humanity. That's how these things always pan out, right?

Anyway, imagine my mirth when, at my check-up a couple of weeks ago, the physician tells me I have an umbilical hernia.

What, no alien?

Nope. Just an unruly outtie.
Probably safer for all of us.

So they popped it all back in and slapped some kind of fibrous mesh over my abdominal wall to keep the rambunctious little fella in its place.

Bottom line: I have gone from looking like this > looking like this.

When, alas, all I ever wanted was a baby alien I could call my own.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

this day in history...

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the liturgical feast of the Transfiguration. The story is told in the three synoptical gospels. Luke 9, 28-36, is one example in which the author includes the episode immediately preceding Christ's systematic fortelling of His passion and death. The glimpse of Christ's divine glory in that unexpected mystical experience of His three closest followers on the mount that day did little to change their cowardice and desperation when it all hit the fan. Seeing is not always believing...

Sixty years ago today the first atomic bomb used in war was detonated over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The Enola Gay unloaded "Little Boy" and, both immediately and as a result of the fallout, over 120,000 lives were taken with the deployment of a single weapon. The military tells us that the atomic bombs in today's arsenals make "Little Boy" look like... well, kid stuff. I hope we never find out just how advanced those weapons really are.

On this date in 1978, Pope Paul VI died after one of the most tumultuous periods in modern Church history. A scholar, a diplomat and, for many, a saint, he took on the daunting challenge of bringing the Church fully into the postmodern world. The upheaval of Vatican Council II aged him quickly. Thus the scenario was 'prepared' for John Paul II...

Andy Warhol, Robert Mitchum and Lucille Ball were all born on this fateful day.

As was the Exorcist. I'm 45 today and could think of nothing better for tonite's post than the ol' this-day-in-history ruse. How lame is that?

Lame or not, it's time for some Jack on ice and an Excalibur, two delicacies I've been saving for just such a moment.

Thank you and good night.