Saturday, December 26, 2015

Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz


Opening Passage:

Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice's Lenten fast in the desert.

Summary: The story starts with Lenten vigil. Brother Francis is out in the desert discerning whether he has a vocation to the Albertian Order of Leibowitz when a brief series of interactions with an old Jewish wanderer leads him to discover a Fallout Survival Shelter, possibly associated with Blessed Leibowitz himself. In Part I of the Canticle we get the humorous story of the somewhat hapless Francis and one of the relics found in the shelter, a blueprint signed with Leibowitz's own name, entitled 'Transistorized Control System for Unit Six-B'.

Part I ("Fiat Homo") occurs several hundred years after the Flame Deluge, the nuclear apocalypse that laid the world waste and created a Dark Age. Part II ("Fiat Lux") opens in 3174, with the rise of the empire of Texarkana and a new Enlightenment. There are wars and rumors of wars, but Thon Taddeo, the illegitimate cousin of Hannegan, the emperor of Texarkana,is interested in other rumors, namely, that the Abbey of St. Leibowitz has physics texts from the twentieth century. When he gets to the monastery after the dangerous trip, escorted by Hannegan's guard, he finds himself in for a shock: one of the monks of the monastery has invented a fantastic machine that he has only just barely conceived the theory for.

Part III ("Fiat Voluntas Tua") opens in 3781, and again there are wars and rumors of wars, this time nuclear. A nuclear explosion has created a profound need for medical camps, and the Abbey of St. Leibowitz opens its grounds for the purpose. But there is almost immediately a conflict between the Catholic abbey and the medical authorities over the practice of euthanasia, and it appears that the underlying nuclear tension is getting worse.

Each part poses an objection to the monks of St. Leibowitz -- How can they waste their time with something as trivial and useless as texts? How can they stand in the way of scientific progress? How can they stand in the way of mercy? But the monks merely continue on, as the objections fade into other objections and the challenges of one age give way to the challenges of another. They hold the line, as best they can in their fallible ways, enduring as they always have.

A consistent theme throughout is that states tend to arrogate to themselves ever-increasing power, without limit, effectively divinizing themselves, and that in the process of doing so, they destroy themselves. We get this in Part I with what we learn about the Flame Deluge, in Part II with the rise of Hannegan, and in Part III with the conflict between Church and state on matters like euthanasia. In every age Caesar tries to usurp the place of God -- may even apparently succeed for a while -- and collapses through his grasping for power. The Church stands against this; but one day, perhaps, it will shake the dust off its feet (Mt 10:14).

Favorite Passage: There are a number of good ones, but this one jumped out this reading:

There were spaceships again in that century, and the ships were manned by fuzzy impossibilities that walked on two legs and sprouted tufts of hair in unlikely anatomical regions. They were a garrulous kind. They belonged to a race quite capable of admiring its own image in a mirror, and equally capable of cutting its own throat before the altar of some tribal god, such as the deity of Daily Shaving. It was a species which often considered itself to be, basically, a race of divinely inspired toolmakers; any intelligent entity from Arcturus would instantly have perceived them to be, basically, a race of impassioned after-dinner speechmakers.

It was inevitable, it was manifest destiny, they felt (and not for the first time) that such a race go forth to conquer the stars. To conquer them several times, if need be, and certainly to make speeches about the conquest. But, too, it was inevitable that the race succomb again to the old maladies on new worlds, even as on Earth before, in the litany of life and in the special liturgy of Man: Versicles by Adam, Rejoinders by the Crucified.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Exemplar Cause

In order to develop a life that is no less than a participation in the life of God, we must strive as far as is possible, to live a divine life. Hence, the need we had of a divine model. As St. Augustine remarks, men whom we see were too imperfect to serve us as a pattern and God, who is holiness itself, was too far beyond our gaze. Then, the eternal Son of God, His living image, became man and showed us by His example how man could here on earth approach the perfection of God. Son of God and son of man, He lived a Godlike life and could say: "Who seeth me seeth the Father." Having revealed the holiness of God in His actions, He can present to us as practical the imitation of the divine perfections: "Be you therefore perfect as also your heavenly Father is perfect." Therefore, the Eternal Father proposes Him to us as our model. At His baptism and His transfiguration He said: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Because he is well pleased in Him, the Eternal Father wills that we imitate His only-begotten Son....At bottom the Gospel is no more than a relation of the deeds and traits of our Lord's sacred person proposed to us as a model for our imitation: "Jesus began to do and to teach." Christianity in turn is nothing more than the imitation of Christ. St. Paul gave this as the sum-total of all our duties: "Be ye followers of me as I also am of Christ."

Adolphe Tanquerey, The Spiritual Life, 2nd ed., tr. by Herman Branderis, Society of St. John the Evangelist (Tournai, Belgium: 1930?) pp. 72-73.

Maronite Year XI

Christmas needs no introduction, of course. But in the Maronite liturgical year it touches off a series of themes for the next several days (at least, those not taken up by some more important feast or memorial): Praises to the Virgin Mary Mary, The Visit of the Magi, Holy Innocents and the Flight to Egypt, Return from Egypt to Nazareth.

Feast of the Glorious Birth of Our Lord
Hebrews 1:1-12; Luke 2:1-20

The Just One is revealed to Zion like the dawn;
the Deliverer of Jerusalem shines out.
All the nations shall see Him, His glory.
The Lord upholds His royal diadem.
No longer are we forsaken; we are loved.

Once we were duped by falsehood, enslaved by passions,
but the Savior from God dawned on us with great love.
He saved us through His merciful design,
with His power He gives us a new birth,
and His grace restores us through the Holy Spirit.

A child is born to us; His name is "Wonderful",
for God is wonderful who comes to us a child.
A shining star has risen from Jacob,
a leader for all comes from Israel.
In David's town a Savior has been born for us.

God in flesh has dawned upon His creation,
the Word has tabernacled among His people.
Before, God spoke His words through the prophets;
Now, He speaks to us through His holy Son,
who shines with splendor in the brilliance of glory.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Radio Greats: Crossroads of Christmas (The Family Theater)

The Family Theater, founded by Fr. Patrick Peton, CSC, to encourage family prayer (hence its still-not-forgotten tagline, "The family that prays together, stays together"), was in many ways the most successful and mainstream religious program of the Golden Age of Radio. It is not at all surprising, then, that it has a number of very good Christmas episodes.

One of these episodes is "Crossroads of Christmas", from December 17, 1952. It's from a familiar genre -- portraying the Nativity story from an outside perspective -- but it has a number of nice twists, presented in an understated way, that distinguish it a bit from other stories of that kind. It's a story of two families -- one, a family that is far from home and in need of shelter, and another, the family that lends them a bit of help, who are having difficulty with their hot-headed and anti-Roman adopted son. We know, of course, the Son of one of the families; but the real kick in the story is that we know the son of the other family, too....

You can listen to "Crossroads of Christmas" on in three different formats, at the Retro-OTR Podcast (note that they have spoilers in their description), or on YouTube thanks to Dennis Morrison:

From World's End to World's End

Mind-enlightening is the influence that dwells in her; set high apart; one in its source, yet manifold in its operation; subtle, yet easily understood. An influence quick in movement, inviolable, persuasive, gentle, right-thinking, keen-edged, irresistible, beneficent, kindly, gracious, steadfast, proof against all error and all solicitude. Nothing is beyond its power, nothing hidden from its view, and such capacity has it that it can pervade the minds of all living men; so pure and subtle an essence is thought. Nothing so agile that it can match wisdom for agility; nothing can penetrate this way and that, etherial as she. Steam that ascends from the fervour of divine activity, pure effluence of his glory who is God all-powerful, she feels no passing taint; she, the glow that radiates from eternal light, she, the untarnished mirror of God's majesty, she, the faithful image of his goodness. Alone, with none to aid her, she is all-powerful; herself ever unchanged, she makes all things new; age after age she finds her way into holy men's hearts, turning them into friends and spokesmen of God. Her familiars it is, and none other, that God loves. Brightness is hers beyond the brightness of the sun, and all the starry host; match her with light itself, and she outvies it; light must still alternate with darkness, but where is the conspiracy can pull down wisdom from her throne? Broad is her sweep from world's end to world's end, and everywhere her gracious ordering manifests itself.

Wisdom 7:22-8:1 (Knox translation)

Radio Greats: A Stable in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (Matinee Theater)

Matinee Theater was geared to cater to one of the most difficult radio slots to fill, that of Sunday afternoon, when the audience was highly diverse and often consisted of families looking for something special, and also appropriate to the day. Matinee Theater attempted to fill the gap by providing serious live dramas with wide appeal. It had actually started out as show called Dangerously Yours, starring Victor Jory, and had expanded its repertoire and changed its name, although it kept Jory on, in an attempt to appeal more broadly.

"A Stable in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania" was deliberately written to be a modern example of the old genre of the miracle play, about the interventions of saints and angels in the lives of people. It aired on Christmas Eve 1944 and opens with two old men dining at a fancy club on Christmas Eve and scrooging it up over the foolishness of Christmas commercialism and the popular belief in the myth of the Christmas story. But their waiter happens to remark that it's not a myth at all. In fact, it just happened again a year ago....

You can listen to "A Stable in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania" at the Internet Archive (episode 10). (It is also here as 144.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O God-with-us, our King and Legislator,
Hope of the nations, and Savior of them:
come to save us, Lord, our God.

Radio Greats: The Plot to Overthrow Christmas (Columbia Workshop)

Norman Corwin had many extraordinary successes in radio, but one success that was extraordinary even for Corwin was "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas". It grew from a single question; put on the spot to come up with an idea for a Christmas, he said, "Did you hear about the plot to overthrow Christmas?" It grew into a performance on December 25, 1938. It was an instant hit, and Corwin would produce the radio play again in 1940 and in 1944. A television reading was done in 1969.

The show is a whimsical fantasy in free rhyme, which takes some getting used to, but despite the whimsy (to the point of goofiness, at times), it is less saccharine than one might think. We start the programming by descending into Hell, where we meet up with Mephistopheles the Devil, consulting with a number of villains about a very serious problem for the fiends of Hell: the good cheer and good will of the Christmas season. They eventually decide on a plan (proposed by Lucrezia Borgia) to assassinate Santa Claus, with the Emperor Nero getting the honors for doing the deed. But Santa's wits turn out to be more than a match for Nero, and turn an attempted assassination, quite surprisingly, into a tale of repentance and fellowship.

You can listen to the 1940 version of the radio play on and you can read the transcript at Generic Radio Workshop Script Library, complete with Corwin's own production notes. It would be a bit of goofy fun to throw together a reading over Christmas, if that's your sort of thing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of Nations, and their Desire,
and cornerstone making two one,
come and save man,
whom you formed from clay.

Radio Greats: The Big Little Jesus (Dragnet)

Dragnet, starring Jack Webb, was an extraordinarily successful radio program that went on to be an extraordinarily successful television program. Webb had been successful in radio for years when he came up with the idea for the show: a depiction of a police detective, as authentic as possible, showing them as working-class heroes. Realism with respect turned out to be a powerful formula for a police drama, and because of it Dragnet has set the standard all police dramas have been trying to achieve ever since. One of the most inspired decisions was to make the hero of the show Everyman -- Sergeant Joe Friday is every policeman who does his job, which is why in one episode he's in Vice and in another he might be in Homicide and in another he might be in Robbery or in Auto Theft. The entire style of the show was to underplay everything, so it can be easy to miss, but an immense amount of work went into getting even tiny matters right. An example of this is the sound effects, which are done brilliantly and in unusual quantities for a radio show of its day; the show had a team of sound effects experts, and they were expected to get their sound effects exactly right, so that if Friday walked from one room into another in police headquarters, the number of footsteps that could be heard had to be the number it would take really to walk from one room into another in police headquarters. The sound effects almost never put themselves forward -- but as a constant background they contribute immensely to the realism of the show. The entire show was like that.

The program ran on radio from 1949 to 1957, becoming a major fixture in American culture. (It is the single reason most Americans learned what an A.P.B. is, for instance.) During that time, it dealt with difficult, edgy issues like drug trafficking, prostitution, rape, and murder. But one of the strengths of Dragnet is that it wasn't about edginess: it was about honest work-a-day policemen doing their job in ways that made us all better off. And so they handled smaller issues, too, and the cases where the world turns out to be a little better than you might have thought.

Such a case is "The Big Little Jesus", from December 22, 1953, one of the most famous Dragnet radio episodes, on which was based one of the most popular of the Dragnet television episodes. Sgt. Friday and his partner, Frank Smith, are working Day Watch out of Burglary Division when they get called to the Old Mission Church, which serves the small and poor Mexican community of Los Angeles. When there they learn that the Jesus statue has been stolen from the church's Nativity scene. It's not worth much dollar-wise, but the church has had it for thirty-one years. Friday and Smith promise Fr. Rojas to do their best to find it in time for the first mass for Christmas, which leaves very little time to discover it....

You can listen to the episode at the Internet Archive here (where it's episode 221), or here (where it's episode 209). You can also read the transcript for the episode at the Generic Workshop Radio Script Library.

Monday, December 21, 2015

O Oriens

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Rising,
brilliance of eternal light, and Sun of justice,
come, and enlighten those seated in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Radio Greats: Dog Star (Suspense)

Suspense is certainly the powerhouse of the Golden Age of Radio, lasting from 1942 to 1962, so popular that it was able to last against the rising power of TV better than almost any other program -- and the day it (with Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar) went off the air, September 30, 1962, is often called the last day of the Golden Age. With such a long and popular run, it was inevitable that it would have a number of Christmas episodes.

Such is "Dog Star", from December 22, 1957. It's a charming story in which a little girl's wish for a dog lands her in the middle of the Space Race between the USA and the USSR. Since it is Suspense, you cannot expect it to be all fun and games. There is death, for instance. And one should consider the context, too. On October 4 of that very same year, the USSR had launched Sputnik 1, stunning the rest of the world, and upsetting the USA's complacency about being the technologically superior nation. On November 3, 1957, Sputnik 2 was launched, carrying Laika, the first dog in space. The possibility of the Soviets continuing their successful streak was itself a matter of more anxiety and fear -- and suspense -- than one might imagine.

The episode stars Evelyn Rudie, notable for being one of the most successful child actors of all time. She's seven years old here, but already a professional, having been nominated for an Emmy the year before. She would later go on to be an extremely successful playwright, stage actress, and costume designer.

You can listen to "Dog Star" at the Internet Archive (it's episode 695) or here, courtesy of Southbridge Old Time Radio:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

O Clavis David

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel,
who opens, and none closes,
who closes, and none opens:
come, and draw out the chained from the prison-house,
those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Maronite Year X

Throughout the Season of Announcement we have been getting closer and closer to the Birth of Christ, so it might at first seem odd that the Sunday closest to Christmas we are suddenly talking about the genealogy back to Abraham. But if you grow up in a Middle Eastern culture, and look at what people know about you, the first thing they know about you is your family. It is one of the most basic ways in which we locate each other in the world -- that A is the son of B, who is cousin to C, who married D, that guy from the town across the way. And in a culture in which names tend to repeat a lot -- there would have been many Yeshua's -- there is nothing better to narrow down exactly who is meant than genealogy.

Much of the imagery of the Maronite liturgy on this Sunday is concerned with the hidden mystery throughout the ages -- for so long as it were in secret God had prepared this day, and when it is revealed, even angels are not fully prepared for the greatness of the deed, whereby God, to fulfill his promises to a family of mortal animals, became a member of the family.

Sunday of the Genealogy of Jesus
Romans 1:1-12; Matthew 1:1-17

Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David,
the Son of Abraham, in fullness of time
was born of Mary, the Mother of the Light,
the wife of Joseph of the House of David.

Tradition of blood, tradition of promise,
tradition of covenant and legacy,
succession of generations in their hopes:
simple human lives grow into mystery.

Christ was descended from David by the flesh;
by resurrection he was proclaimed God's Son.
In Jesus we are made heirs of Abraham,
not merely by flesh but by God's own promise.

Angels and guardians of heaven rejoice;
they take cheer in the glory of the upright.
From human generations comes mystery,
one beyond even the angels of heaven.

Heaven came down and is found in a dark cave;
the new throne is a manger at which beasts feed.
Joseph and Mary are like the wheels of fire,
and the Babe that they carry is the Lord God.

Our Lord is a ruler from everlasting;
though He was God in nature, He did not grasp,
but bowed Himself low and became a servant:
the mystery hidden for long is revealed.

People walking in darkness have seen great light;
out of Bethlehem of David day has dawned.
With singing we rejoice in Christ's victory:
a child is born to us, a son is given.

The Son of David shall rule the world with peace,
the Son of Abraham bring hope to Gentiles.
Even the hosts of heaven are in wonder,
even we to whom it is shown are amazed.

O Lord, grant us the faithfulness that endured
through generation after generation;
O Lord, give grace unto us as you gave grace
through generation after generation.

O Lord, who took a body from the Virgin,
in this dark world nourish the people you save.
Lord of light, born of Mary, Mother of Light,
dispel the mortal darkness of faithlessness.