Monday, November 25, 2013

Fake Grammatical Forms

There may be perhaps four other people in the world who will find this post interesting or amusing or engaging or not sleep-inducing, but the fact that they are few is no reason to rob them of their enjoyment. Here I present fake grammatical categories which label irregular but common usages of speech.

Interrogative Imperative: a command that looks like a question. Often used by annoyed teenagers.
Example: The question "Are you done talking?" is in actuality the command "Stop talking."

Interrogative Declarative: a statement that looks like a question. Often used by, well, everyone.
Example: "You're going to drink that expired milk? Are you stupid?" Here, "Are you stupid?" is meant to make the statement, "You are stupid."

Super-Comparative: a middle ground between the comparative (e.g. more fun) and the superlative (e.g. most fun). To be used when something is more fun than "more fun," but is still not the "most fun."
Example: "This is even more funner than the other ride!"
Hyper-Superlative: a degree beyond the superlative (e.g. most fun). To be used when "most fun" just isn't fun enough; often requires an irregular superlative (e.g. "funnest").
Example: "That ride was the funnest ever... but this ride was even more funnest!"

Semi-inclusive Pronouns: a pronoun which refers to some members of a group but not the entire group. Used by cliques of middle school girls.
Example: "We're going to the mall after this." "Oh, great, which mall?" "Oh, not you; we are."

And a serious grammatical question:

Why do the same people who insist on gender-specific terms in most cases, e.g. "Congress-person" instead of "Congressman," also insist on abolishing gender-specific terms when those terms come from another language? Why do we increasingly hear people refer to both males and females as "actors" or "rectors" when there is a specific term for a female in those roles, that is "actress" and "rectress"? (Thankfully we still have "waitress" in use.) Why do some get offended at "being called a man" in their own language but not in another? Perhaps they just don't know? Thankfully some people still use these nouns properly--my fiancee, when giving directions while I'm driving, insists on being called the "navigatrix."

Friends, what other fake grammatical forms are we missing?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hits and Highlights from Christian Iconography

A few fun bits from class...

If you see a picture of a saintly figure with a dog's head, don't worry: it's not an attempted Christianization of the Egyptian god Anubis, nor a hagiographical depiction of the Wolfman, nor an early rendering of Chewbacca. It's actually... St. Christopher! No, seriously! See, apparently some translators at some point mistook the word that was describing him as a "Canaanite" (i.e. someone from the land of Canaan) to be calling him a "canine" (i.e. a cute little pooch). So, naturally, instead of thinking, "Hmm, did I translate that word correctly?" they concluded that St. Christopher was an overgrown Ewok. Other depictions of St. Christopher portray him more akin to Andre the Giant (or maybe Hillbilly Jim)....

Have you ever seen the pawnbrokers' symbol? Do you know where that comes from? St. Nicholas! According to the legend, there was a man who was too poor to be able to give his daughters in marriage (i.e. he had no money to provide a dowry for them). He was going to send them into prostitution. St. Nicholas, to prevent this, on three successive nights, dropped a bag of gold through the man's window, providing him the money to let his daughters get married. I think the connection with pawnbrokers is that, by doing this, St. Nicholas sort of "bought back" the daughters from prostitution. This also explains why St. Nicholas is the patron saint of prostitutes. No, seriously. Hey, everybody needs a patron saint, right? ....

You may have noticed that a fair number of saints are depicted together with weaponry of various kinds: swords, flaying knives, spears, arrows, etc. Not exactly the peaceful image of holiness, is it? Are they "soldiers for Christ"? Is this what we mean by the "Church Militant"? Ought we to picture roving bands of saints, armed to the teeth like a 19th-century street gang, laying the smackdown on all the pagans and sinners within arms' reach? No! They aren't showed with these instruments because they used them, but because they suffered by them. Martyrs are often shown with the instruments of their martyrdom, as a visible display of what they suffered for the name of Christ. St. Paul was beheaded by a sword. St. Thomas was killed by a spear. St. Bartholomew was skinned alive with a flaying knife. St. Sebastian was shot with arrows. These are the symbols of their victory over death in Christ. Actually, Christ himself is often depicted with the instruments of his torture: the scourge, the nails, the crown of thorns, etc. These are called the arma Christi, or "arms of Christ," because the serve as his coat of arms, his royal banner, displaying the weaponry by which he conquered Satan--not by using them, but by undergoing their torment. They remind us of the horror of the Passion, which makes the glory of the Resurrection that much more glorious.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Plea to Pastors

Some recent news stories have reported an increase in the number of people going to confession since Pope Francis ascended to the Holy See. This is a wonderful thing to hear, and we ought all to pray that it continue. If the spiritual life is likened to the bodily life, then this sacrament is medicine for a sick soul, and all of us are suffering from one sort of spiritual illness or another. We all could use a little booster shot of God's grace now and then!

To extend the analogy, it would certainly help if the clinic were open more often. As much as we talk about the vital importance of this sacrament to the spiritual life, most parishes offer confessions very infrequently: most typically, for somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes right before the vigil Mass on Saturday afternoons. But life is busy, and Saturday afternoon seems a busier time than most: you might have to work, or coach a Little League team, or it may be the only time you can work on that home improvement project without the neighbors complaining. There are 10 thousand and eight reasons why any 60 minute block of time may be unavailable to you in a given week.

And in my experience, often the priest shows up 10 or 20 minutes late. Can you imagine a health clinic that only offered flu shots once a week for 45 minutes? Yes, most parishes also say you can make an appointment to have your confession heard. But have you ever tried actually doing this? Whatever time you suggest, odds are the pastor is in a meeting.

God bless our priests, they're often over-extended and over-worked, I know. My point here is not to blame them. My point is to say that if the Church is serious about its words on wanting the faithful to avail themselves of this sacrament more frequently, parishes should make this sacrament available more frequently. The Church teaches us that the Mass is the "source and summit of the Christian life," and it backs this up by offering four, five, six Masses during the weekend, giving people as much of a chance as possible to partake of the Supper of the Lamb. The Church also teaches that the sacrament of Penance is sorely needed for our spiritual health, and it backs this up by... 45 minutes a week? That doesn't add up.

The leadership of the Church knows this, I think. In his 2002 apostolic letter motu proprio Misericordia Dei, soon-to-be-St. John Paul II, as part of an effort to effect a "vigorous revitalization" of the sacrament, directed the bishops and priests of the Church to ensure that this sacrament be made more widely available to the faithful:
"Local Ordinaries, and parish priests and rectors of churches and shrines, should periodically verify that the greatest possible provision is in fact being made for the faithful to confess their sins. It is particularly recommended that in places of worship confessors be visibly present at the advertised times, that these times be adapted to the real circumstances of penitents, and that confessions be especially available before Masses, and even during Mass if there are other priests available, in order to meet the needs of the faithful."
Now, there are lots of reasons that the number of people partaking of this sacrament has been down in recent decades. The biggest, I'm sure, is the loss of the sense of sin, the dulling of our consciences, the defining-down of sinfulness to "I'm basically a good person... I mean, it's not like I kill people... often." This problem also needs to be addressed. But I'm convinced of the Field of Dreams Principle: "If you build it, they will come." If you offer confession more often, more people will participate. I know that priests are often extraordinarily busy, but would it be that much of a demand on your time to offer other half hour periods during the week, three or four days--heck, maybe every day? Look at it this way: if people come, fantastic, you've been a Good Shepherd and reconciled them to God; if people don't come, you can use the time as a daily period for spiritual reading, prayer, homily prep, etc. Work on your crossword puzzle if you want. But be there for us. You are doctors of grace and we need your ministrations.