Today I drove to San Francisco – 3.5 hours each way – for a meeting I should have conducted over the telephone. Live and learn. I’m always impressed by “the City”, as many call SF. Despite it’s well-deserved notoriety, it’s still a world class city that once was supremely Catholic and still lives in the shadow of the Church. Driving through the old Irish district was a feast for the eyes. Anyway, SF being SF, my potential client was a sweet lady who belongs to the Unitarian Universalist Church, which I am told expends a great deal of effort “ministering to animals”. I met her dog, rescued from Hurricane Katrina, and sat in an office surrounded by pictures of various non-human ministerial prospects. This reminded me of a former employer (also female) who was a radical animal rights activist (they all seem to be female). She wouldn’t tolerate the slightest affront to the “dignity” of animals, but she also believed that the virtual extinction of the human race was something to strive for. Literally.
Our “new” home in Chico was originally built in 1950, underwent some remodeling and expansion over the years, and was partially rebuilt after a fire in 2005. The house is sort of cobbled together in a very amateur way. There are odd steps from one room to the next, light switches that don’t make a lot of sense, a luxurious Roman tub that is completely out of character for the place, and dozens of other eccentricities. I like that.
We’ve had contractors here for three weeks repairing doors, ceilings, walls, floors, electrical abnormalities, and so forth. I think we’re finally coming to the end of it. The plan was to turn a three-unit structure into a two unit structure, the second unit being upstairs, and to make the house minimally functional for a semi-large home schooling family. Now that our bookshelves and family altar have been re-installed, it’s really starting to feel like home. We transported 65 boxes of books in a borrowed horse trailer. They are mostly back on the shelves but still need organizing.
We just concluded our apricot harvest this week: 50 trees in all, full of mostly unblemished and tasty fruit. Yesterday, I delivered the final pickings to a Christian homeless shelter in town. At the time one of the staff was involved in a confrontation with a belligerent client, the latter of whom was being told to leave permanently. He wasn’t taking it well. Spewing profanities and making threatening gestures, the client appeared to be on the brink of violence. I don’t know if the staff member – a man in his late 30s or early 40s – was paid or was one of many volunteers, but it occurred to me that confrontations like this must be fairly common, and that homeless shelters need the services of able-bodied men who know how to handle things. I paused at the door of my truck before leaving, silently wondering if some back up might be necessary. It wasn’t.
My eldest son writes on his Google+ status: “Another amazing day, here at the Colloquium. Went for a long walk through the city tonight with a couple other young people, and said the rosary at a park on the way back. That was quite nice, albeit tiring. Salt Lake City is very scenic.” That put a smile on my face.
Yes, I was stunned by today’s SCOTUS decision, especially Roberts’ incomprehensible vote and bizarre rationale. More evidence, I suppose, that the Constitution is deader than dead. That’s unfortunate but hardly unexpected: the rule of law is always contingent upon the rule of just, wise, and competent men in the end. What was he thinking? Perhaps consistent originalism isn’t even possible anymore. Roberts is right about one thing, though: as he noted in his decision, the American people voted for the President and for the Congress responsible for this law. I would add that the American people also voted for the presidents who appointed the Supreme Court justices and the congressmen who approved them. The law is bad, and the Court’s decision was wrong, but the American people were wrong first. This is a democracy, right? Let’s take care to prioritize our outrage.
This week, the annual CMAA Sacred Music Colloquium is being held at the beautiful Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. My eldest son is attending for his third year, this time accompanied by my eldest daughter, my wife as the chaparone, and baby Theodore. The Colloquium is an incomparable experience for anyone interested in the Catholic liturgical and musical tradition. I attended myself three years ago. When you get 200+ of the most talented liturgical musicians together for dinner in the same room, what should you expect? Music, of course! Angelic, ethereal voices, in surround sound. I haven’t been the same since that first night in Pittsburgh.
Look for updates at The Chant Cafe.
Here’s a little taste of the event:
Having lived in the orbit of Chico since I was a child, it’s a place I always took for granted. Many people I knew sang the praises of Chico, as though it were someplace really special, but I experienced too much of the city’s darker side to share the sentiment. Truthfully, I never wanted to live here. It never felt like home to me. And yet Chico is probably the one place in the world that has most shaped my personality, where I can honestly lay claim to “roots”. Four of my closest relatives are buried here, and most of the rest are living here. Moving to Chico was not a choice, but a surrender to reality. I sincerely hope this move will be our last, but am making no plans or promises.
Chico is an ecclectic place, a university town with multiple personalities. Around one corner there is a car plastered with liberal bumper stickers; just two blocks away is a garage with a large Confederate flag; and downtown you will find a veritable circus of tattoos and body piercings. The progressivist element is prominent, ’tis true, but it is not dominant. Despite Chico’s visible extremes, the city is surprisingly full of salt-of-the-earth, ordinary people with traditional sensibilities. I’ve been so impressed with the quality of clean-cut, hard-working young men employed by the contractors we’ve hired that I almost find it surreal. We live in an old, quiet neighborhood full of real families, many of whom parade in front of our house pushing strollers or riding bicycles in the evenings. The pastor of the Lutheran church (LCMS) across the street made a call within days of our moving in, and delivered a quilt for us made by some of the ladies of the church. Chico has to be one of the friendliest cities on earth. I have to say that Chicoans wave every bit as often as do the people in the surrounding countryside.
Chico’s crown jewel has always been Bidwell Park – the third largest city park in the country at over 3,600 acres – which served as the Sherwood Forest during the 1938 filming of “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. We live just three blocks from the park which has retained its stunning Eden-like character.
According the U.S. Census, Chico boasts the largest percentage of native Californians - 70.3 percent – of all California cities surveyed. That speaks well for a university town.
For me, the most interesting thing about Chico is the legacy of the city’s founder, General John Bidwell, and his wife Annie. Chico’s elevated cultural reputation stems directly from the legacy of this brilliant and energetic pioneer. Bidwell was a convert to his wife’s austere form of Presbyterianism. His broad Christian sensibility prompted him to donate one city block to every Christian denomination represented in the city, including the Catholic Church. During part of his journey west, Bidwell travelled with the legendary Fr. Pierre-Jean DeSmet, whom he praised in his memoirs and called “the saintliest man I have ever known”. Bidwell’s grant of land for a teacher’s college set the stage for conversion to a state university campus. Bidwell was, by all accounts, a principled and upright man who defended the Indians and the Chinese when it was a political kiss of death in California to do so. His biographers have said that they tried desperately, as journalists, to find some “dirt” on the man, but came up with nothing.
Christopher Check has an insightful review of “For Greater Glory” at Crisis Magazine:
“The film somewhat overplays this religious-freedom angle. Gorostieta’s wife, ably played by Eva Longoria, asks how he can fight for a cause in which he does not believe. He replies that he believes in religious freedom. Later he delivers to his troops the same kind of anachronistic speeches that mar Mel Gibson epics. ’Freedom is our lives!’ he declares, and at one point he proclaims that the Cristeros will not stop fighting until they have a democratically elected government. Well, the fact is that democracy was doubtless part of the problem in early twentieth-century Mexico. Indeed, as Rubén Blades, in one of the film’s stronger performances as Plutarco Calles, points out in a fictionalized meeting between the general and the president, the people of Mexico did vote him into office.
The religious freedom theme has served the marketers of the picture well given the growing number of Catholics reacting to the Obama Administration’s mandate that Catholic institutions offer contraceptive coverage for their employees. The difficulty with making too much of religious freedom when telling the story of La Cristiada—as the Cristero War came to be called—is that the Cristeros in the field, surely to the man, were not fighting for religious freedom. They were fighting for the political and social kingship of Jesus Christ.
Religious freedom can be a good, but it is not an absolute good, and the ‘absolute freedom’ that Garcia defends as General Gorostieta (and in media interviews as well) is problematic outside the context of Christianity.
It was the Catholic Faith, the Seven Sacraments, the Mass, Christ the King, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, for which the Cristeros took up arms. Their battle cry was ‘¡Viva Cristo Rey!’ or ‘Long live Christ the King,’ not ‘Religious Freedom for all!’ The martyrs in the Circus of Nero did not die for religious freedom, and neither did the Cristeros.”
At the conclusion of every low Mass in the Extraordinary Form, the priest and people pray specifically “for the liberty and exaltation of Holy Mother Church.” I therefore admit to using a form of mental reservation with respect to “religious freedom” and similar buzzwords: I simply add, silently, “for the Church”.
It isn’t that religious freedom for non-Catholics should be denied. Prudentially, religious freedom may be the best course at times, provided that a nation isn’t so radically pluralistic as to deny its government a religious orientation or legitimacy. But religious freedom is only a secondary good at best – a political compromise in which sins against the First Commandment are tolerated in order that obedience to the First Commandment may also be tolerated. Necessary, perhaps, but hardly an absolute principle worth fighting and dying for.
“Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted will I pluck up, even this whole land. And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.”
- Jeremiah 45:4-5
For the first time in almost forty years, your blog host is a Chicoan again. We now live about a mile from where I attended kindergarten and first grade. Through the intercession of St. Joseph, a fine young family will be renting the house in Orland.
You may have noticed that the blog has a new name. Long-time Chicoans will recognize the allusion instantly. A name that is evocative of Catholic England, the Eden-like beauty of our surroundings, and the quirky history of Chico must be regarded as positively inspired.