Two Years Ago Today…..

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All of Christendom — and much of the rest of the world — recalls that on February 28, 2013, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI abdicated the See of Peter. The Sede vacante took effect at 8:00 p.m. local time, or 11:00 a.m. here in California.

The previous night (February 27), we sat down with Fr. A for a late supper. Mrs. Q had taken the last few days off from work, and we were beginning to feel some real excitement and nervousness for the future hours and days, and a little bit uncertain about what to expect, and when to expect it.

Benedict XVI's final audience, February 27 (Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: CanonLawJunkie)

Benedict XVI’s final audience, February 27 (Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: CanonLawJunkie)

We had steaks and baked potatoes for dinner. The boys were already in bed, sleeping. It was nearly 10:00 p.m. when we finally sat down to eat. Fr. A said a blessing, and we set to work on our plates. The steaks were great, and Fr. and I took up some discourse on the significance of the moment (as we are wont to do on such evenings).

I don’t think that either of us paid much notice when my wife excused herself from the table, and went upstairs for a little while.

We just kept eating and talking. Without a doubt, the conversation revolved around the next fews days and their unfolding. When would it happen? How would it happen? What would happen? How would everyone react? What would be the lasting images and words that we would remember?

And Benedict himself. We talked about the occasions that we had both gotten an opportunity to see the Holy Father in person. We reflected upon his great contributions to the Church. His years as panzercardinal, when he defended doctrine as prefect of the CDF, his association with John Paul II, and the way that he was much maligned both before and after his accession to the papacy.

We remarked upon the resignation, what it meant, who might succeed him. We both agreed that it was weird to think of the idea of a new pope without having to process the death of the old one. Most of all, we agreed that it was possible to be serene about all the uncertainty because Benedict was a steady helmsman whose own serenity encouraged us to join him in trusting the Holy Spirit.

My wife returned to the table from upstairs. She had changed her clothes, and showered, which seemed a really weird thing to do during dinner. I was still immersed in discussion with Fr. A, but I briefly paused from chewing and pontificating to ask her if everything was okay. She serenely nodded and smiled. All was well. No need to worry. Keep eating and talking. She sat with us as we continued with our repast, but did not touch her plate.

As Fr. and I basked in post-gustatorial satisfaction, attention turned back to Mrs. Q’s unfinished plate. She let us know that it was probably time to receive his blessing and….. head to the hospital. Although it was still nearly a week to the due date, her water had broken, which is why she’d quietly gone upstairs to change and get ready.

Fr. and I exchanged glances that said, “Wow, check out the clueless dudes paying no attention to the pregnant lady!” We were too addled by red meat and conversation to realize what happened, and she hadn’t said anything because she did not want Fr. and me to miss our dinner. How thoughtfully self-sacrificing is that? My wife waited to tell us she was in labor so we could finish our steaks!

Since February 11 I’d become convinced that we’d have an “Interregnum baby”. I kept telling people, “What’s more rare than a child born on February 29? A baby born in the Interregnum!”

IMG_3927Along the way to the hospital, I was calculating the possibilities of reaching 11:00 a.m. before the baby was born. But as the contractions continued to build, it soon became clear that we wouldn’t wait that long. The first exam upon arrival at the hospital revealed that my wife was already 4 centimeters dilated. The baby would arrive long before sunrise. Our first daughter, Lucia Jean, was born in the final hours of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, and not during the interregnum. In the wee hours of the morning, we had God’s newest gift to us in our arms.

I went to mass at 7:00 a.m. at the local parish and found my wife’s doctor (who had delivered Lucy a few hours before, and who is now in formation for the permanent diaconate) serving at mass in the scrubs he’d worn for Lucy’s delivery. Apparently he’d been home, but only briefly.

The good doctor, who had literally used his hands to help bring new life into the world hours before, was now at the altar of Christ to assist the priest saying mass. As he brought  Father the gifts, sang the responses and rang the bells, I was struck by the sanctity of his service, and the humility shown by his actions. Here was a modern man, as close to a miracle-worker as the secular world will allow, who could have claimed the fruits of his labors for himself, who could have gone home and gotten an extra hour of sleep. Instead, he made himself present for the truly miraculous as the life-giving work of the Church poured out for the benefit of all.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Palrogg)

(Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Palrogg)

I returned to the hospital to bring the Eucharist to my wife, and we prayed together and she received the Sacrament. Then as we enjoyed those first few hours with Lucy in our post-partum room, we watched the televised broadcast from Rome — His Holiness leaving the Apostolic Palace, greeting everyone who had assembled to bid farewell, his brief ride to the Vatican helipad, his flight to Castel Gandolfo, and finally, his last appearance to the public as Pope before the Swiss Guard closed the heavy wood-beamed door at the entrance.

IMG_3320An “Interregnum baby” would have been something distinctive, but as the days pass I am evermore grateful that Lucy was born while Benedict still reigned as Pope. While an interregnum is a very interesting and historic moment, the seat is vacant and so — to an extent — are our hearts. We Catholics do well to love our Holy Father, even when his human faults are obviously apparent. No matter whether we think he is great or just so-so, if our universal pastor is missing, then also is our rudder.

It is only once the stormy moments pass over, when the Barque is again safe and firmly captained, that we can freely look upon times that seemed perilous with the clear vision of the Spirit: that is, whether it seems so at the moment, we are always safely in the embrace of our Eternal Father.

A very happy second birthday to our lovely daughter, Lucy, and a prayer of thanksgiving for the Pope Emeritus, may he live many years to come.

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Live long and prosper…..

Sad news. A childhood hero, a character who exemplified rationality and logical thought, has died. Mr. Spock — Leonard Nimoy — was a very human person, in the best possible way. He was an inspiration. Almost twenty years ago, I had a chance to see him along with William Shatner and DeForest Kelly in person. It was a very exciting moment. May God grant him mercy, and eternal peace. Say a prayer for him. 

The Apple Watch: Predicting the Company’s First Epic Fail in a Long Time

14782757905_ec777c740f_oThe Book of Genesis tells us that after God created day and night, he set the lights in the sky, including the two great lights of the sun and moon, “to serve at signs to mark the sacred times, and days and years.” (1:14). Thus, from the beginning of Creation, God gave us a calendar and a way of observing the passage of time and seasons. Time is not merely an abstraction, but rather a gift given by God to help us order ourselves and our lives.

Since creation, man has attempted to build evermore complex and accurate devices to measure time, and along the way the wristwatch has taken its place to aid people in this task.

I own two timepieces with automatic movements — one Swiss, one German. An automatic movement is an engineering triumph. Long before the days of perfectly clean, dust-free, hypostatic rooms used to assemble hard drives and computer components, Swiss 14802782693_f8c050d7c6_owatchmakers were sitting at their work tables with a view of the Alps, with their jeweler’s loupes trained upon the minute details of their labor, undertaking the painstaking work of crafting marvels wrought by the minds of men.

A nice watch is a piece of art and a valuable tool, befitting the importance of time in our life. Artisans make timepieces. By hand. Using movements and materials designed over generations of development and care. Many such timepieces are tiny artworks. And they borrow their heritage from clocks and moving calendars built on a much larger scale for church towers and civic edifices, scaling timekeeping from a public function to the personal level.

Timepieces are More than “Brand” or “Cost”

Some people reduce a watch to either (a) the brand emblazoned on the face or the logo impressed upon the clasp or (b) a thing that tells the time. In either case, it’s about the brand or the cost to these folks, and not necessarily the tiny mechanical perfection within, beating out seconds and minutes with tremendous accuracy.

14596314687_f25eb21f0f_oThat’s why, even for Swiss makers such as TAG Hauer, Omega, etc., there are branded models (not much cheaper) that offer quartz movements. “Just as accurate” or “Nobody looks inside” are the pro arguments.

But nothing could be more absurd, except perhaps purchasing a Ferrari with a Toyota engine under the hood. “It still gets you where you want to go,” idiots will proclaim, even though such an automobile ceases to be the real thing, while the true enthusiasts will conclude that without a Ferrari engine, it’s just a car with a fancy shell. 

Apple should understand this. Ever since Steve Jobs’ obsession with messy solder on the motherboard of the Apple II, the company has had a focus on engineering well-crafted products, not just assembling parts together to make a whole. Its attention to detail (albeit on a mass-production, factory-oriented scale) has always been a hallmark in the consumer electronics industry. Their things are well-made, and last longer than industry averages.

The Apple Watch 

It’s somewhat ironic that the company associated with the fruit in the Garden of Eden has reached back to creation itself in developing its next product. But just as Eve was deceived in eating of the fruit, we would do well to observe the cautions of the Apple Watch set for release in April. I believe that Apple has taken too big a bite, and its Watch will not succeed at market, at least at this stage of development.

The first big reason is pricing. There’s currently an article on MacRumors that tries to offer some analysis on pricing, which has not yet been confirmed by Apple; to date, the only official statement indicates that “base models” will “start” at $349. And it’s unclear whether you can get an Apple Watch AND band at that price. It’s possible that you have to spend at least $400 or more to get the thing on your wrist.

14784874525_316c790e22_oThere are three “lines” of the first generation of the Apple Watch, and a range of wristbands made from different materials. Note that the “guts” of the watch do not appear to differ according to which model is chosen; only the external materials used in manufacture will vary. The “base model” will feature an aluminum housing while the fanciest model will be available in 18K gold, among other finishes. Sapphire crystals will appear on at least the mid and high end models.

According to the article on pricing linked above, the price of the gold/most expensive model of the Apple Watch could easily top $5,000, even $10,000.

In light of pricing, the second big reason the Apple Watch will not be a success is the failure to deliver an heirloom product. All watches keep time. The reason that you buy a $5,000 watch rather than a $50 watch is not purely because the $5,000 watch keeps better time, but because it is made with the type of care and materials that make it worth keeping for years and years, or forever.

But an Apple Watch, even one made using the same high-quality materials as a gold Rolex, will never be an heirloom.

It will never be an heirloom or have the same appeal as a traditional timepiece because:

(a) It is inevitable that regardless of whether the device succeeds on the market, there will be second, third and fourth generation products offering upgraded features, better chipsets, more memory, more communications ability, better sensors, and longer battery life. If you went out and bought an original iPhone in 18K gold, only to see the 3G, 3GS, 4, 4s, come out every year or so thereafter, how stupid would you feel? Who wants to bet that there will be no way to upgrade the original Apple Watch?

(b) an Apple Watch will likely need to be recharged at least every day (just like your phone), and will contain a battery with a finite number of charge cycles. There has been no indication from Apple whether battery replacements will even be offered. Even if a replacement is offered, it will be vastly more costly than a watch battery from the drug store. Once the battery dies after an hour on your wrist, your heirloom is a big hunk of crap unless you buy a new (expensive) battery. At some point ten or fifteen years down the line, you won’t be able to find the battery anymore.

(c) an Apple Watch requires that you own an iPhone (and keep it in proximity to the watch) in order for it to function. Will the original Apple Watch work with your iPhone 11 (five years from now)? Or will you have to carry your 7s for time immemorial?

(d) Even a mid-priced Swiss timepiece is almost always extremely resistant to the elements. For example, Omega makes divers, submariners, and has even supplied wristwatches for astronauts to wear in space, after rigorously testing their watches in trials of extreme temperature, altitude, and pressure. Even if the Apple Watch is “water resistant”, you can bet that taking it to 3 atmospheres will void the warranty, and brick your wrist.

In contrast, a good Swiss timepiece with an automatic movement requires no batteries, and if you wear it every day, never needs winding. Assuming you “tune it up” by getting it serviced every few years (or i.e., when it isn’t keeping accurate time as well), it will last forever. As one Swiss watchmaker proudly proclaims, you don’t actually own such a timepiece; you merely take care of it for the next generation.

If you find yourself playing the role of Tom Hanks in Castaway, assuming your automatic timepiece survives the plane crash and makes it to shore with you, you’ll continue to know the time and day until you get rescued. In contrast, if you were wearing the Apple Watch, you’ll know for about 36 hours, if the watch survived at all, but after that it’ll be as communicative (and expressive) as Wilson.

There will be plenty of first adopters. Just don’t be one of them.

Fr. Rosica v. Vox Cantoris: Foretelling or Totally Random?

I have no idea. But I think you should know about it.

A Canadian Catholic blogger who operates the blog Vox Cantoris has been a rather outspoken critic of Vatican spokesman and fellow Canadian Fr. Thomas Rosica. In particular, VC hasn’t pulled any punches in connection with Rosica’s comments concerning the Synod on the Family. VC’s rhetoric is somewhat, er, strident. Fr. Rosica retained counsel who wrote a threatening letter. Read the letter here. In one word: “Wow.” Not just any (parish) priest, but a rather powerful one, threatening litigation against a Catholic layman for criticizing the priest’s public statements. I’m not a Canadian lawyer, but I think there are some (legal) problems with the positions taken in the letter. I also think (not entirely knowing the merits of Rosica’s claims) that regardless of whether Fr. Rosica has the sanction of Fr. Lombardi (and Pope Francis), this was a truly unwise tactical move that is going to backfire. I smell fish. Once the light hits it, the stink will be incredible.

Huzzah for SF Abp. Cordileone!

A group of eight California legislators, Democrats, sent this absurdity to the Archbishop this week. It’s cloaked in euphemism and makes no logical sense. In response, His Excellency sent this, and says:

…would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general? On the other hand, if you knew a brilliant campaign manager who, although a Republican, was willing to work for you and not speak or act in public contrary to you or your party – would you hire such a person? If your answer to the first question is “no,” and to the second question is “yes,” then we are actually in agreement on the principal point in debate here.
Now let’s say that this campaign manager you hired, despite promises to the contrary, starts speaking critically of your party and favorably of your running opponent, and so you decide to fire the person. Would you have done this because you hate all Republicans outright, or because this individual, who happens to be a Republican, violated the trust given to you and acted contrary to your mission? If the latter, then we are again in agreement on this principle.
My point is: I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission. I simply ask the same respect from you.

Exactly. Courageous bishops. We need them, and they need our prayers. And the Archbishop deserves our support and three “Huzzahs” for defending Catholic identity in the most vitriolic and pagan region of the country. He’s holding the line against powerful forces that do not fight clean. They don’t just want to win; they want to destroy. Thanks be to God, for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (who appointed the Archbishop), and for Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

Another Libational Project: Limoncello

IMG_1357South of Naples, in and around Sorrento, the Italians have had citrus groves for centuries, and continue to make a wonderful liqueur called Limoncello, which involves taking the yellow zest of the local Femminello St. Teresa lemons and steeping them in clear spirits for a period of time, and then introducing an admixture of simple syrup before bottling.

Limoncello is big business in southern Italy; a lot of shops specialize in it for the tourist crowd, and trattorias and families make their own homemade versions. There are different varieties, including opaque, clear, and with cream. There are other citrus liqueurs too, including blood orange.

For limoncello, typically no actual lemon juice is used to make the drink; rather, the lemon flavor, aroma, and yellow color comes from the oils contained in the zest, which are released into the alcohol. Depending on the amount of sugar and water added in the form of syrup, the final alcohol content ranges between 20 and 30%.

IMG_1358Limoncello is reputed to aid in digestion, and anecdotal evidence confirms this. We frequently bring out limoncello at the end of our large dinner gatherings, and a dose or two encourages guests to undertake an attempt at dessert. Limoncello is stored in the freezer, and (ideally) served in frosted aperitif glasses, and it is refreshing. Sambuca is another nice (Italian) liqueur, but is not as refreshing as limoncello.

IMG_1359Apart from drinking as a digestif, it can be used to make other cocktails, flavor desserts (I use it to make a dessert similar to tiramisu, with limoncello and white chocolate in place of espresso and semisweet), or poured over berries and fruit salads.

I have an uncle who supplied a couple bottles of homemade limoncello made from his Meyer lemon tree, and we enjoyed the fact that rather than the opaque, emulsified commercial limoncello typically found for sale, he left some of the zest as sort of a textural counterpoint in his version. His version tasted a bit more “fresh” and lemony than others we have sampled.

About half the lemons needed for this batch

About half the lemons needed for this batch

Rather than trying to score some more bottles of my uncle’s limoncello, I decided to go ahead and attempt making some myself. Recently I zested nearly 70 lemons from local (California) lemon trees belonging to friends — some Meyer and some the more ordinary lemon variety — which I added to 9 liters of potato vodka sourced from Trader Joe’s. Within minutes, the spirits had already taken on a tremendous yellow color.

IMG_1342The vodka and lemon zest will “steep” for over a month, before a 1:1 simple sugar syrup (approx. another 9 liters) is added, to steep for another month or so before bottling. I’m planning (since I’m going to get 18-20 liters of this stuff) to make two versions — one “with zest” and one “without” — and if it’s any good, we’ll give some of it away to our favorite friends at Christmastime.

In terms of cost, the finished product is about $4 per 750 ml bottle to make, along with a few hours worth of time, and even if we give a few bottles away, we’ll be stocked with limoncello until 2017 or so.

Quartermaster RSVPs, Offers to Bring the Kegs!

Benedict Confirms Epic Kegger At Apostolic Palace During Francis Visit To U.S. Father Benedict (since that’s reportedly what you would prefer to be called now), send me a text, e-mail, tweet, whatever. Or have Abp. Ganswein get in touch. Lager? Abbey Ale? DIPA? Stout? We have time to plan!

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The “Fabric of Our Country” and the President’s Untenable Rhetoric

In just the past week, we’ve seen Islamic terrorists invoking the name of Allah and beheading Christians, burning hostages alive, and issuing promises to invade Rome while  burning, raping and pillaging all along the way. In an Op-Ed piece for the LA Times, President Obama writes, matter-of-factly, “we know that many Muslim Americans across our country are worried and afraid.”

You know who else is worried and afraid?

Me.

I’m afraid, because in addition to the near-daily stories of violence — perpetrated upon innocents by the likes of ISIS, Boko Haram, Mossad, al Qaeda, et al. — involving acts of cruelty and inhuman torture that sound more like the scenes from an Eli Roth film than real life, the President has manufactured his own reality, in which he can apparently (in earnest) stand behind a podium and say things like this:

Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.”

I’ll accept that the first Islamic center was opened in New York City in the 1890s. But that’s well over a century since the founding of our nation. I’ll accept that the first mosque was erected in South Dakota in the 1920’s. However, now we’re 150 years since the founding of our nation.

I’m afraid because I do not understand why it is necessary to say these things. Why is it important to perpetuate a fiction about Islam’s place in American history? We don’t pretend that anyone Chinese was a delegate at Independence Hall. We don’t make up stuff about regiments of Hindus at the Battles of Concord or Lexington. No one sane has ever plunked an Essene in the Lewis and Clark expedition.

That sound — those words — it’s all Newspeak. More than anything else, more than any terrorist attack, my fear, the thing that keeps me awake at night, is that the truth has become fungible, and is now entirely at the service of ideology.

EnterpriseTripoliThe reality distortion field is on, because while there were Catholics, Protestants, Universalists, Pantheists, Jews, and possibly even a few atheists or agnostics, at the founding of the United States, it entirely stretches beyond credulity to suggest that Islam has been part of the American fabric since its founding.

Unless President Obama means thisin which case, I agree with him.

Beer (in moderation) is a Healthy Food!

So many antioxidant choices.....

So many antioxidant choices…..

Beer is a food. It is nutritious. It is brewed from healthy ingredients: specifically, grain (mostly malted barley), water, hops, and yeast.

And new research indicates that the hops used to brew beer contain a compound, Xanthohumol, which is an anti-oxidant that has been shown to protect against degenerative brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. This compound is also credited with being “cardioprotective” and capable of playing a positive role in cancer and inflammation processes in the body.

Caveat: this does not mean you should consume large quantities of beer. But it does further confirm that moderate enjoyment of beer can be good for you. Cheers!