Church Music

Having endured many years of less-than-amazing music at church, these observations by Anthony Esolen are interesting.

Why Traditional Hymns are Superior to Modern Ones

A congregational hymn is for the congregation. Its music is written so that the congregation will want to sing it and will be able to do so with ease. This includes men, women, and children—from basso profondo to treble. Since they are not trained singers, the intervals should be easy to negotiate, the range should be comfortable, the key should not be too high (both men and women are shakier on the high end of the scale), the rhythm should be straightforward, and the melody should be, well, something you could hum after you hear it a couple of times, because of repetition…

Most contemporary hymns fall afoul of one or more of these desiderata.  (Read More Here)


More from Esolen here: Poetic Traditional Hymns Put Alternatives to Shame

I often hear that since most of what is produced in any age is garbage, the quality of the hymns in a compilation such as the Hymnal 1940 is partly an illusion, because the bad stuff will have been tossed aside. This observation is by way of excusing the bulk of church songs composed since 1965. Time has not yet done its winnowing.

There are four reasons why I reject this conjecture…


Shut up, Macron

So the French President stuck his foot in his mouth and stirred up an internet backlash.

‘My Family Is Not the Product of Ignorance’: Harvard Grad and Mom of 8 Takes on French President

The president of France shouldn’t speak for women—and certainly not on how many children they decide to have.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently said, “I always say: ‘Present me the woman who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight, or nine children.”

“Please present me with the young girl who decided to leave school at 10 in order to be married at 12,” he added during his remarks at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Goalkeepers” event, which was held last month in New York.

Of course, most women agree with Macron on child brides.

But it’s insulting to moms of large families to imply a big family is akin to marrying off children.

I spoke to one such woman, Catherine Ruth Pakaluk, an assistant professor of social research and economic thought at the Catholic University of America, who has eight children—and no regrets about that.

“When I saw [Macron’s] quotation, my first thought was, ‘Hey, wait a second, I exist, and I know lots of people like me that exist,’” Pakaluk, who received her bachelor’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania and her doctorate at Harvard University, told The Daily Signal in an interview.

She added that she thought plenty of moms of large families would share the reaction to Macron of thinking that, “Hey, wait, I exist, and my family is not the product of ignorance.”

Pakaluk also started a hashtag: #PostcardsforMacron, to showcase the big families some educated women choose to have. (See the rest here)

Plenty of moms have contributed pictures of their beautiful large families to #postcardsforMacron.

Macron’s comments about women having “too many” children are stupid for many reasons but the one about girls leaving school too young to marry… projection anyone?  Good grief.  He wasn’t a child bride obviously, but he is young-ish, childless, white, male, and the boy toy of a much older woman — a woman who was a teacher at his school!  He probably should have kept his mouth shut.

Other than incensing all the educated mothers of large families, he also brought on well deserved criticism for his elitist, patronizing attitude.  Only people with degrees are intelligent apparently.

Melody Lyons of the Essential Mother had a perfect response:

I don’t care what the president of France thinks about my motherhood and he doesn’t care what I think. Perhaps I shouldn’t even waste my time with this but I’m not writing for him.

I know that for every highly educated, wildly successful mother-of-many out there (and all the internet posts suggest they are abundant!), there are even more throughout history who are like me…

…A woman who started her family instead of finishing college.

….Who didn’t think the weight of debt was a good trade-off for the value of a degree.

…Who has gained knowledge and experience outside of the popular institutional model.

…Who believes that our creative purpose is not defined by a certificate.

The truth is that civilizations were built on the servant leadership of “uneducated” women who poured their natural gifts into the care of their husbands and children… who have gone on to lead the world.

It is not a weakness of womanhood that we bear this role. It is our genius. JPII said, “To serve is to reign” and those of us who rock the cradle understand this on a deeper level than men.

But the worldly reality is that even if Macron cared about the level of our education or our resumes (he does not), he can always point to the many women like me and say,

“She proves my point.”

I’m not going to play that game with him or the internet because, honestly, I can’t win it. I’m not educated or successful in any way that he specifically means. I also do not buy into his agenda (which is really his issue).

And… it doesn’t matter at all.

At the end of the day, Macron will still think I’m a stupid breeder and I will still have 8 children. Nothing about seeing alphabet soup after my name will ever change his perspective because his point is not really about education… it’s about elitist, narcissistic power, antagonistic to the heart of Jesus Christ.

My own true value as a mother will only ever be weighed correctly by the Power of my God, not by some haughty flash-in-the-pan politician.

To every mother who didn’t participate in the public hashtag event because perhaps you stumbled over your skinny worldly resume…

You are free. You are not defined by men like Macron. He IS talking about you but it doesn’t matter. Neither are you defined by the resume of another woman. They ARE impressive but irrelevant to the genius of your own life.

You are doing it the way the majority of women throughout history have done it. Without fancy modern degrees and accolades. Giving the best part of yourself to your family. Heroically. Quietly. Intelligently. Wisely. Keeper of the flame of love. Guardian of Joy and Faith. Carrying the weight of the restoration of culture on your back.

You don’t owe an explanation to Macron. And when his legacy dies with his mortal body, yours will live on through your children through history and eternity.

Secularization and the Church

The Synod on Youth is destined to become a microcosm of the battle between Catholics who are rich in faith and those who have become secularized. Some readers bridle when I say things like this, but while secular attitudes affect all of us to some degree, the crisis of the Church in our time—that is, the chief problem which demands renewal—is that the institutional apparatus of the Church is so deeply infected by secular values.


But the Church as a whole today is still primarily shaped—insofar as it is not shaped entirely by the Holy Spirit—by the cultural values of the dominant West.

In centuries characterized by sharp class distinctions, those values tended to favor the rise (and seduction) of Churchmen of wealth and power. In the same way, the values of our cultural elites in an ideological and media-centric age tend to favor the rise (and seduction) of those whose thought processes are comfortably in tune with what has been predetermined as both true and important in the dominant culture. But some forms of degradation are worse than others. Personal sin is one thing; the effort to justify it by diminishing Catholic faith and morals is quite another.

This is why so many Churchmen today find their moral high ground in the purification of the environment rather than in the purification of our bodies. Or in blaming sinful institutions rather than correcting sinful persons. Or in condemning clericalism (which nobody in the dominant culture values) rather than condemning homosexual behavior (which everybody in the dominant culture values).

Perceptions of Youth

It is in the nature of a Church so sweetly in tune with secular values and so horribly out of tune with Christ that we will hear much more from Catholic leaders about evils which the dominant culture already theoretically abhors (and which, therefore, require little attention from Catholics) than about evils which that culture celebrates (which, therefore, must be challenged with the light of Christ). Thus the Church becomes a self-fulfilling secular prophecy: It seeks to engage young people by championing the values the world has taught them to champion. A few decades ago we called this the need to be “relevant”.

The upshot is that huge numbers of youth inevitably find the Church profoundly irrelevant, for the simple reason that so few of her ministers offer any compelling vision for their lives.

Read the whole thing here.

Another article by the same author, Dr. Jeff Mirus, is also interesting as a case study in the Secularization of Christ.

What To Do About Bad Bishops

Some more ideas on how the faithful can respond to the scandal can be found in: When Bishops Lose Their Authority.  Read the whole thing here.

While on the scaffold awaiting his execution, St. Thomas More famously declared, “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.” Throughout the controversy surrounding King Henry’s divorce and remarriage, More was adamant about one thing: he was a servant of the king, and accepted the king’s authority over the land. Although he could not consent to Henry’s rejection of the Church, More still acknowledged that he was the rightful king, and that as such, Henry had authority given to him by God.

That was the genius of More: he was able to distinguish the office of the king from the personal failings of the man who held that office. He didn’t call for the abolishment of royal rule; instead, he refused to support the sinful actions of the current king.

While we don’t live under kings anymore, Catholics today are faced with a similar dilemma. Some who exercise spiritual authority over us—our bishops—have shown themselves to be unworthy of this authority. As Catholics, how are we to respond? Do we simply ignore their egregious sins and say nothing, fearful that any criticism might be disrespectful of the episcopal office? Do we see the profound failings of these men and decide that the office itself is flawed and should be jettisoned? Or is there a third path for Catholics in this time of crisis?


The Church’s hierarchy is in crisis. What has only been hinted in the shadows in previous years is now coming to the light of day. The Cardinal McCarrick scandal is likely only the tip of the iceberg. This crisis has led to a loss of the human authority of the bishops as a whole. Who, after all, takes them seriously anymore when they opine on political or economic matters? The USCCB belches forth document after document, grasping at relevance, while no one is listening. All the while too many bishops are keeping their heads in the sand about the rising indignation directed at them from the laity.

I would say that we’re in danger of another Protestant-style revolution happening, but the truth is that it’s already happened. The vast numbers of Catholics who have stopped practicing the faith in recent decades make the Reformation look like a warm-up act. All those fleeing Catholics didn’t leave simply because many bishops failed to live up to their office, but, if nothing else, they essentially put a doorstop in place to keep the exit doors open.

Opposing Bishops Without Undermining Their Office
So what can Catholics who want to remain in the Church do? Should we mentally reject the authority of bishops, yet attend Mass and receive the sacraments while keeping our distance from the hierarchy? I don’t think that’s the answer, for that way eventually leads to schism. It makes us no different than Henry VIII.

No, Catholics need to doggedly uphold the divine authority of the bishops. Yes, a Catholic can safely ignore the bureaucratic abomination known as the USCCB, for it has no divine authority. But we must always acknowledge—and submit to—a bishop’s legitimate authority in his diocese. While acknowledging this divine authority, we mustcall bishops to account for abusing their authority. Monsters like Cardinal McCarrick—as well as those who have enabled and promoted him over the years—must be exposed and removed from office. Although painful, the laity must continue to push to expose all the deep pink secrets the bishops have been hiding for so long. Only through shining the light of truth into these nasty crevices can the bishops hope to regain any semblance of credibility.

Ultimately, our goal is to replace the men, not the office. Cardinal McCarrick does no more to invalidate the divine authority of the hierarchy than any of the Borgia popes. Yet, in both cases, the scandal of their reigns must be opposed and brought to an end as quickly as possible, before countless souls are lost.

One practical way to do this is via the pocketbook. One of the primary concerns of a bishop is keeping the lights on in his diocese. He doesn’t want to be the bishop who had to declare bankruptcy. This underlying priority is behind many—if not most—of the decisions a bishop makes. Why do you think most bishops will assign liberal pastors to “liberal” parishes (and conservative pastors to conservative parishes)? Because to do otherwise would lighten the collection plate. This is not to accuse bishops of personal greed. It’s simply to state the obvious: it’s their responsibility to pay the considerable bills of the diocese, and to do so, they need a steady flow of donations.

So perhaps it’s time to dry up those donations. If bishops begin losing money, perhaps they will hear the cries of the laity to clean up their act. This doesn’t mean Catholics stop being charitable, of course. It means redirecting our contributions to non-diocesan apostolates. And it means we increase those donations to make those non-diocesan apostolates even stronger. So if you currently put $20 in the collection basket, consider giving $30 to the local pro-life pregnancy center or a solid religious order. Doing this has a two-fold impact: it lessons the power of the bishops to protect themselves from their misdeeds, and helps with the renewal of the Church going forward.



“Detachment is an overwhelming attachment to God” – Mother Angelica

How does one appreciate and love the people and things of this world without becoming attached?  Detachment is sometimes described as “rightly ordered desires,” that is desiring God first and then other things in proper proportion, being willing to give them up if that is what God asks of us.  But what of having to give them up just because that is the way this world works? What if rather than clearly needing to forgo some worldly good for the better good God is calling you to, there doesn’t seem to be any “benefit” in losing something or someone?  Perhaps this is where redemptive suffering comes in (but that is a topic for another day) or it just illustrates the how fallen the world is.

God created for us a world full of goodness and beauty and urged us in his Word to contemplate all that is good, true, and beautiful (Philippians 4:8).  In this broken world, perhaps only Truth in its transcendent absolute form has a chance at permanence, but even those who love and seek it are sometimes deceived or have difficulty discerning it.  We are designed to appreciate and be drawn to that which is good and beautiful, but those things are often destroyed.  Every lovely thing in this world eventually ends, and despite our desires to the contrary, nothing lasts forever.

We are designed to seek community and to love other people, but other people let us down, they aren’t there for us when we most need them, even those who do love us often fail to love us well.  Friendships fail.  People die.  Truly we are alone.  And it hurts because it should not be so.  We were not created for isolation, sorrow, pain.

The natural beauty of God’s creation can inspire wonder and awe in us, both in its wilder and more cultivated forms.  When we encounter a beautiful place, we do not want it to change, not ever.  We feel this even more strongly when the place has a special hold on our affections because of its association with fond memories.  Alas, Nature often destroys her own wonders, sometimes suddenly, sometimes gradually over the years.  It seems especially bitter when people wantonly ruin her beauty.

Those who seek beauty, truth and goodness are often drawn to things that contain a hint of permanence.  We appreciate enduring literature, stories that seem to retain some of this truth, beauty and goodness.  We can always go back and read that lovely book again.  So too we are drawn to fine architecture, works of art, things that seem to last, that which is old and so appears almost permanent.

We long for permanence.  We do not want all things to pass away.  God created this world to be good and beautiful, and we are meant to appreciate these glimpses of goodness and beauty that can still be seen in this now fatally-wounded world.  When we see the beautiful come to an end it is painful, it is sad: the ancient oak cut down for no good reason, the pastoral loveliness of a childhood home marred by an ill-conceived development, the fine old house ruined by “remodeling,” another neglected then torn down.

Even the things that we think of as permanent have only just been lucky to survive a little longer than most.  Visiting Rome people marvel over its grandeur and beauty.  It seems almost eternal, but barbarians may burn it to the ground again sooner than we think.

Deliberate destruction of beautiful things is tragic, but how much sadder is the loss of people we love?  It is sometimes said that to love is to risk loss, but it would be truer said that with love, loss is guaranteed .

How do so many people not notice the tragedy we are living?  They numb themselves to it, never noticing the goodness and beauty in the first place so neither do they mourn its loss.  Their lives are poorer for it, but are they less painful?  It can be tempting to stop caring, to stop loving in an attempt to steel one’s heart against the pain of loss.

How does one peacefully surrender all that is good in one’s life without slipping into apathy or despair?  How does one love and yet be willing to let go?  How do we live in a temporary world, we who are made for a permanent one?

We are meant to care for and love the people in our lives.  We are meant to be good stewards of God’s creation.  We are meant to love what God gives us in this world, but we are meant to love God more.

Beloved people, fond places, beautiful things: they are gifts, but not possessions; they are, every one, only on loan.  Even we who have faith must mourn their passing, for this is not as it should be.  Even Jesus wept (John 11:35).

“Because God did not make death and he does not delight in the death of the living.  For he created all things that they might exist” – Wisdom 1:13-14

Piety and Patriotism

Archbishop Charles Chaput has these reflections for Independence Day:

The question arises:  Can the piety of an authentic Christian life and patriotism for a secular state coexist in such a conflicted time?

Scripture tells us to respect and pray for our civic leaders, even when we dislike them; even when they persecute us.  Jesus himself said that Caesar has a realm of legitimate authority.  That realm is limited in scope, but we have a duty to obey civil authority so long as it does not demand a kind of practical idolatry.  Christians were martyred not because they hated Roman power, but because they wouldn’t burn incense to the emperor’s “genius” or sacred spirit – in other words, they wouldn’t treat him as divine.

It’s true that in the first three centuries after Jesus, Early Church scholars like Tertullian, Hippolytus and Tatian all rejected military and even civil service for believers.  But that changed as the empire gradually became Christian, and changed radically after the Emperor Constantine converted from paganism.  From the late Fourth Century on, St. Augustine’s “just war” teaching on the legitimate use of force in situations related to self-defense came to dominate Christian thought.

Augustine also taught that Christian political engagement and public service can be morally worthy, so long as our expectations of remaking reality are modest.  All human structures are flawed by sin.  The City of Man can never be the City of God.

And that’s a wisdom we need to remember.  Christianity is not finally about our place in this world.  It’s about our place in the next.  We have duty to make the material world, and especially the people around us, better for our passing.  We can’t and shouldn’t try to escape from the challenges and responsibilities of the place where God plants us.  We need to be a leaven for goodness, here and now.  But our real citizenship, our real goal, is heaven.  We belong to heaven first.

So it’s worth unpacking those two words, patriotism and piety.

The word “patriotism” comes from the Latin pater (father) and patria (homeland, native soil).  As with any human father, the nation-state is not a little godling.  It can never require our worship.  It can never demand that we violate our religious identity and beliefs.  But properly understood, patriotism is a virtue and a form of filial love.  We’re sons and daughters of the land of our birth.  It’s natural and deeply human to love our home and be faithful to the best qualities in our native land.

The word “piety” comes from the Latin pietas, meaning humility and a devotion to the gods.  Pietas was the highest Roman virtue and a powerful force in shaping early Roman life.  It’s no accident that Rome’s ancient poet Virgil, in his epic work The Aeneid, described Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome, as pious Aeneas repeatedly.

Aeneas and his piety are pertinent for this reason.  One of the great scholars of the last century, the British Catholic historian Christopher Dawson, demonstrated that all great human civilizations have started from some form of a religious founding.  And as the essence of that founding is lost, illness of the soul sets in.

Humans are addicts for meaning.  We’re also inescapably mortal, which means we instinctively look for purpose outside and higher than ourselves.  The “God question” matters because God made us.  Thus in our own country, from the very start, biblical language, belief and thought have provided our moral meaning.  The more we discard these precious things, the more alien we become to ourselves and to the nation we were meant to be.