Take a look at this picture. How many old people do you spot? If you said "none," you would be correct. This group of young people study Organ, Sacred Music, and Historical Keyboards at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.
Now take a look at this picture:
These young people are part of the Institute for Sacred Music at Yale University, where they keep alive ancient traditions and make them modern.
Knowing these programs exist and that they are well populated by young people is heartening, because it shows that there is true beauty within our very debauched, corrupt culture. For all the sacrilegious, blasphemous things that so often occur within our culture, there are also some very beautiful things that happen, even if they don't make the news on TMZ. The world may be tuned into the trials and tribulations of Bruce Jenner, but these programs quietly move ahead, despite everything.
In recent weeks, I had the privilege of attending a traditional Latin Mass, just like the ones your grandparents used to know. This one was conducted by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), done beautifully by the young priest, and very well attended by people of all ages. I saw families, college kids, teens, Millennials, along with a minority of older people. That was what caught my interest, that this is something that young people want, that people under 50 desire beauty and spiritual peace and tranquility. The Mass choir is also populated by young people, most of them well under the age of 50. That's good to see, because it means that despite the high tech age governed by political correctness and reality TV, good things are also happening.
Ordinations to traditional orders, such as we see in this picture, are becoming more common. Sure, you might not see this every day or in every city, but confraternities like the FSSP and movements toward the traditional Latin Mass are increasing in popularity. These do not cancel out the Novus Ordo by any means, so don't panic. That being said, more and more people want Church culture that goes beyond "We Remember" or "On Eagle's Wings." Those may have their value, to be sure, and many people enjoy those hymns, though a lot of young people are finding the beauty of the "Pange Lingua" and the "Veni Creator Spiritus," particularly when sung well and with devotion.
In many ways, we are in a post-Christian cultural decline, not unlike the decline of the Roman Empire and their culture that dominated the West for so many centuries. Any one of us could go on and on about the banality of the Kardashians or the raunchiness of Sex and the City (the show was way better than the crappy movies) or the horrific violence of Game of Thrones (you knew Sean Bean wouldn't make it past season 1). Many critics have talked about lewdness, misogyny, baseness, as well as general immorality. I recently saw a commercial touting the shows Wahlburgers, Donnie Loves Jenny, and some reality show with Nick Lachey, all peddled as "America's Favorite Families." Excuse me? They ain't my favorite families. My family is my favorite family. I like the Adams Family better than this bunch of plastic, overpaid, overblown goons.
Some might mistake reality TV slop like this as a sign of the End Times, but I refuse to go down that road. Our Lord said, "You do not know the hour nor the day," so I think we need to trust Him on that. Therefore, if we want our culture to thrive and grow and remain relevant and special and stimulating, then we're going to have to fight for it. And it's not about silencing anyone, because that is ridiculous. That's what, to quote Kirsten Powers, "the illiberal left" does. They do everything Natan Sharansky warned about: delegitimize, demonize, and apply an unfair double standard in order to silence any opposing point of view.
Good people should not go down that road, nor should they have to. Rather than silencing people and using the same bully tactics used by some on the shriller sides of the Left (not all liberals are shrill), we need to redefine what beauty is. I'm not talking about turning back the clock or throwing out our smartphones or boycotting Twitter. Many things in modern culture are good and should be kept. Apps that bring people together for a good cause, such as the Options United Life App, are great inventions. I recently used Facebook to raise awareness about the martyrs of the Middle East and North Africa, and as a result, hundreds of people wore orange on Pentecost in solidarity with those suffering persecution. Even shows like the Dog Whisperer are fun and really teach the viewer about the complexity of the dog's mind and psyche.
And as inspiring as the Latin Mass is, the Novus Ordo can also be beautiful and spiritually rich. I can think of any number of great Masses I've attended that have made me walk away feeling uplifted. So again, I'm not saying we have to turn back to the 1940's or anything.
That being said, however, people need to toughen up if the culture is to be saved from total money-driven, narcissistic hedonism. We've been fed the idea that we must not judge, and we must be accepting of all people. In theory, of course, that is true, but that doesn't mean turning a blind eye, nor does it mean that we must passively accept the crap that entertainment or culture has become. We need to value ourselves more, and we need to realize that we deserve a lot better than what's being shoved down our throats day after day, or what we are forced to accept as "the new normal," to quote Bruce Jenner. That only happens when passive people allow it to happen, so let's keep it real.
Here's an example. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a couple of episodes of The Office, supposedly one of the best, most popular shows on TV in recent years. Personally, I found it boring. OK, it was mildly amusing, but mostly it was embarrassing. It had some raunchy humor, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sadly, it wasn't Richard Pryor raunchy or Lenny Bruce or George Carlin raunchy. It was more like fourth grade boy raunchy. Then there's The Big Bang Theory, which I found profoundly unfunny, stereotypical, and not that smart. Just because you have supposedly nerdy characters doesn't mean the show will be intelligent. Pretty simple equation, right?
And then there's Grace and Frankie, on Netflix. I would guess that even someone in favor of Marriage Equality would find this show ridiculous, stupid, poorly written and dreadfully acted, despite the very fine cast of Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston. The show offends me less because of its premise about two men getting married and more because it throws aside any real feeling that the wives had about their husbands, minimizing and mocking the real pain they must have felt. Real women and men who have experienced not only a philandering spouse, but one who has been lying to them for years, go through real suffering and degradation and loss, and seeing that as a part of a politically motivated comedy to promote the notion that we just gotta get used to Marriage Equality truly is offensive.
If this is what we settle for as entertainment, then we're screwed. It's not that we have to watch Masterpiece Theatre or Firing Line or Charlie Rose or anything...at least not all the time. Sherlock is a smart show, as are BBC's Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders. There's plenty of good stuff out there, to be sure. Even a simple reality show like Parking Wars is fun and sweet without exploiting anyone.
But saving the culture goes beyond watching certain TV shows. As I said before, we have to learn to love ourselves more, to treat ourselves better, to cherish our own dignity, and to be strong enough to say publicly that "I deserve better." We have to ask ourselves some serious questions about what we choose to place before our eyes, and whether that show is worthy of our attention. That may sound pompous, but I don't mean it that way. We need to stop undervaluing ourselves, and we need to be a lot more demanding.
Once we can do that, we're well on our way toward healing the culture.
There's been a lot of talk about courage these days, and it made me think about a few things. First of all, I decided to ditch my last blog post--I am dismayed that I ever weighed in on the whole Jenner/Kardashian issue, mainly because I believe that sort of thing is a private matter, not one for public exploitation or ridicule or anything else.
That being said, this caused me to consider what courage truly is. Technically, one could define courage as action in the face of fear or sorrow or grief. Conquering ones fear of heights, for example, takes courage. Overcoming an addiction also takes courage, as does living with a condition or disability that might draw unwanted attention. Those living with the terrible aftereffects of burns, for example, exhibit tremendous courage, knowing people might turn away or ask uncomfortable questions. I admire burn survivors because so many of them, health permitting, just get on with life.
To me, that is far different from daring, which is boldness, but not necessarily courage. Maybe that's nitpicking, but I do see a different. Granted, the world needs daring! We need bold leaders who are unafraid to be themselves and to forge new trails for the rest of us. St. John Paul II or Mother Teresa or St. John of the Cross are examples of daring--they followed the Holy Spirit and blazed new trails for the Church and for humanity, bringing about incredible change and hope and grace. If we didn't have the daring of those who saw a need and acted on it, where would we be today?
I included a picture of retired Phoenix police officer Jason Schechterle, who was burned over 40% of his body after a devastating accident while he was on duty. His journey back to life never ceases to amaze and hearten me because of the courage it must take for him on a daily basis, not only to face a judgmental world but also, to forge ahead with life and being able to set aside what he's lost, despite his current success as a motivational speaker. Courage is also defined by the late Talia Castellano, a beautiful little girl who passed away recently at the age of just 13. Talia had lived with cancer for six years, and for the last two years of her life, Talia faced down the ravages of the disease by exploring the world of makeup and beauty. She was able to face the world with her head held high because she had the courage to reach out to others in the midst of her own suffering.
Courage means different things to different people, but what truly defines living with courage is that you press ahead with life, no matter what is going on or what people might say or whether people gossip about you or stare or ask odd questions. Courage means meeting those demons and stomping on their ugly heads, even if it hurts, and even if you are filled with fear or pain. I'm grateful for those who do live with courage and daring because that gives me the inspiration that I need to do the same, especially on those days when I'd rather shut off the alarm and go back to bed.
God bless them all!
Witty; cunning; crafty
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