Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Westfield, 1948

"Ego baptize te Franciscum," which was, my mother was assured, not the name of some Italian beggar, but merely Latin for Frank, her one hundred percent American father's name. And so it is, isn't it? Not that I am much of a Latinist. I mean, Franciscum looks wrong, as if it should be Franciscem, but that would be irregular, wouldn't it? Besides, if I were to be named for the Poor Man of Assisi, I should be called John, after his own Christian name, not Frank, Franco, or Frenchy or whatever nickname he went by. On the other hand, I did take John for Confirmation, so there.

March 20, "of the Feria" then as now. Venerable Fathers of St. Sabbas in the East. The New Calendar East. Go back two weeks for the old one and it's the 40 martyrs of Ammonium. Ammorium. But at least the forefeast, back then, of our own Benedict, of whom I am, on paper, still a novice Oblate.

I visited the church website today and looked up the history, and saw what at first appeared to be an enormous gap in the list of pastors. Then I realized why:

"In the 125 years of Holy Trinity Parish life, there are fifty-five golden years that stand out above all. This was under the guidance of Rev. Henry J. Watterson, who arrived on St. Valentine's Day in 1913, at the age of thirty-seven. He was a man of great determination and tenacity. When he decided to become a priest, he worked day and night to complete a thirteen-year course of study in ten years. He was ordained in 1901 and his first assignment was to St. Lucy's Catholic Church in Jersey City. After that, he went to St. Francis Church is Lodi, where he had the distinction of being the first parish priest in Bergen County to own a car. It is hard to imag[in]e in this age of rapid change, that he was in residence at Holy Trinity for so many years, many of those either by himself, or with just one assistant priest. Msgr. Watterson retired in 1968 at the age of ninety-two and lived into his 101st year. He is buried alongside the church he built."

I doubt he performed the baptism himself, but it is good to think this remarkable man was my first pastor. And he might even be amused to know that the baptismal register now states, or should, that I am no longer a member of his church, but a subject of the long vacant Russian Exarchate. One of them, anyway. Harbin, perhaps?

Westfield, New Jersey. Where I do not remember living. Home of Charles Addams. Inspiration of the Addams Family. No wonder, to those who know me.

Next time, perhaps, something of Weehawken.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Lost Month

Chalk it up to Great Lent, if you will. If you won't, don't!

This morning I got an email informing me that a cause has been opened for the canonization of Prince Dmitri Gallitzin, a Russian child of the French Enlightenment settled near Pittsburg, where he was for a time known as Father Smith. Only in America... Although Prince Dmitri was a cradle Orthodox, on his conversion he was not assimilated to any of the Eastern Churches, nor would he be today, as he had a Roman Catholic mother, and however you are raised, your ritual church is that of your Catholic parent. That was Catherine Doherty's problem, more serious in her case, as she was indeed a child of Eastern Christendom. The elder Prince Gallitzin was a friend of Voltaire; his son turned to the Church about when his mother returned to it.

Interesting scene last Thursday when some friends were discussing Giussani's Journey to Truth. One retired lady drew the wrath of a True Believer when she said she didn't quite see things the way Father G. did, and he accused her of being a Gnostic. He didn't know that she had spent years studying one Eric Voegelin, who had a bee in his bonnet on the subject of Gnosticism, if indeed he knew who Voegelin was. Needless to say, she let him have it!

I guess Gnostic is a general term of opprobrium you pick up in the seminary. In this case a singularly inappropriate one, as her fault was admitting that she had no great sense of Certainty, but had to be content to walk by faith. And of course the idea of some esoteric mental posession, higher than mere faith, the mark of the elect, is the very definition of theological Gnosticism, never mind Voegelin's political varieties.

Frankly, I think Gnosticism is the special temptation of all these new ecclesial movements. CL does better than most by refusing to segregate themselves from the main body of the Church, but sometimes I do hear the strains of esoterism, however faintly.

Don Luigi seems to have two things in mind. He speaks of moral certainty, the ability to act with enthusiasm and confidence. And he speaks of the existential attitude of being open to reality as a whole. I see what he means, but there is also the risk of cutting yourself from the human race by defining everyone who expresses himself differently than you do as an inauthentic human being. For example, there are some followers of Lonergan who don't think it's worthwhile to talk things over with people who disagree with you, as they are in need of radical conversion.

Of course there are problems adapting a high school and college youth movement to adults. Young people do need to be reminded that that they don't have to undermine their confidence by always brooding over how the world thinks. But adult Catholics don't need to fall into the defensive mentality of Kuyperian neo-Calvinist worldviewism. There are also cultural differences. Secular Americans are not Italian secularists -- even our Freemasons are not of the Grand Orient -- indeed, they are forbidden to associate with Grand Orient Masonry!

Italians still concern themselves with Pius IX's Syllabus of Errors. Americans, on the other hand, have rediscovered the formula for the blessed man's cologne, and are not only selling it, but advertising it on the National Catholic Reporter's website -- even the "progressives" here have a sense of humor. Sometimes. I must admit, I am truly curious what it smells like, though it doubt it will put the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab out of business.

On the causes for canonization front, I am happy to see the founder of Mondragon listed -- but don't ask me to spell his name now! But Julius Nyerere? (Which I have probably misspelled too.)