Sunday, June 29, 2008

Letter #5: Roswell's Little Rome

In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI published the encyclical Summorum Pontificum stating (among other things) that the Catholic Latin Mass – long out of the popular vocabulary and thought in many quarters to be extinct – was in fact a good and wholesome thing for Catholics.

In August 2007 my letter on the topic to the editor of the Beacon was published.

The letter is online at

A PDF version of the issue is also online; my letter is on p. 29 of

Below is my letter (my title of “Roswell’s Little Rome” wasn’t included).


It isn’t often that an event of international significance has direct implications for Roswell, but one such event is taking place right now.

Pope Benedict XVI recently published a document titled “Summorum Pontificum” stating that Catholics can in good conscience attend Masses performed according to the traditional Latin rite.

It turns out that Roswell already has a chapel where the Latin Mass is said daily: St. Michael’s Catholic Church at 715 Hardscrabble Road, next to Roswell High School.

The folks at St. Michael’s have been saying for years that, contrary to popular belief, the Latin Mass has always remained a valid and legitimate form of worship for Catholics. After nearly four decades of debate, Pope Benedict has unequivocally confirmed that position.

The Latin Mass is the clear and perfect expression of the authentic Catholic Faith, and it has produced saints for 2,000 years. Francis of Assisi, Patrick of Ireland, Joan of Arc, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Chanel, Catherine of Siena, Mother Ann Seton – all these saints are in heaven now, and the Latin Mass is the Mass that they knew and loved.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Flight Delay

I’m not accustomed to writing without a deadline.

By that I mean, of course, that I have another flight delay, so I find myself with some unexpected time on my hands – that, and I was able to locate an available outlet to keep my laptop juiced up for an indefinite period while I wait for clearance for my plane to depart. So we’ll see how this goes.

For this week’s business trip to Charlotte I booked Delta going up and US Airways coming back – the outgoing flights were at the same rate, but the return trip was $100 cheaper.

The saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is axiomatic. So, too, is “You get what you pay for.” I’m still waiting for the expression “Wisdom is the combination, of experience, knowledge, and fatigue” to pass into common use.

For my return a severe thunderstorm prevented an on-time departure. We were boarded for the 6:00 PM flight an hour late, then were left to pursue various individual diversions for two hours before being told that the flight was cancelled because we’d reached the flight crew’s work limit for the day. I’m a little vague on the details, but my understanding is that somehow this still technically qualified as a matter “out of the airline’s control,” so they were not obliged to put folks up for the night.

I booked a new flight for Friday morning through an impatient corporate travel agent who treated my call as an interruption of whatever it is that corporate travel agents do when they’re not assisting travelers, then reserved a room at the airport Best Western. At the airport’s Kiss ‘n Ride I joined the queue at the hotel shuttle pickup port – which was actually something like a mob with all the passengers-in-waiting jockeying for the spots safe from the numerous cascading rivulets that found their way through the roof of the staging area.

I hopped on the first Best Western shuttle that arrived – which, it turns out, was not the shuttle for my Best Western, but for another one a bit further down the road. The night clerk at the end of the ride greeted me with a scowl: “We don’t accept vouchers!” After a brief exchange I realized my error in destination. “You have to go back to the airport and take the other shuttle,” she said with a second scowl to bookend the exchange.

I tipped the shuttle driver to take me to the Airport Best Western instead of the airport and so arrived at last at the correct link in the hotel chain. This night clerk greeted me immediately with an apology for having to make my own arrangements for getting to the hotel, explaining that their shuttle driver is not allowed to drive on nights with severe thunderstorms. Thus, though mine was a circuitous route, it ended up being the optimal one – which reminds me of another axiom: “Sometimes the longest way around is the shortest way home.”

I bedded down, and managed my normal routine of not being able to sleep in a strange room (the periodic sounds of nearby airplane departures were part of the equation). By midnight I finally managed to nod off, and I woke only half a dozen times before the room’s alarm clock – which had been set by the previous occupant – went off at 5:00 AM.

“At least I won’t be late for my morning flight,” I thought. I checked out, ate breakfast, and made it to the airport in plenty of time for my 8:00 flight. The flight check-in kiosk didn’t recognize me, so I waited a bit longer until a counter agent could assist me. It was then I learned that my morning flight had been delayed 50 minutes.

The security line was long; the lady in line in front of me was ill and vomited into a trash can. The pass through security had no glitches – which was a welcome contrast to the evening before, when I’d been delayed by the metal detector that didn’t like the Ace bandage I was wearing for my wobbly knee (also, after getting through the check point the seat I was about to take so that I could put on my shoes was claimed by a TSA gate agent who’d decided at that moment to sit down so she could eat a cup of ice cream).

And so here I am, waiting for my 8:50 (previously 8:00) morning flight to commence. The time is now 8:17, and my plane is not yet at the gate. I’m not down at all, of course: I know full well that if this flight has a glitch, I can always just rent a car and make the five-hour drive home.

I just hope that if it comes to that, the roads aren't backed up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

User Experience

My job title is Senior Information Architect (IA); it is a component of what in the web world is called the User Experience (UX) arena.

I have a slightly easier time getting people to pronounce my name correctly that I do getting them to understand what I do for a living. Here's a representative conversation along those lines -- apocryphal, but entirely plausible.


Web Novice: What do you do for a living?

Information Architect: Well…it’s tough to describe, but you can say that I make web sites.

WN: Great! I need a web site for my business on the side. How much would you charge to make it?

IA: Um…it depends on what you want to do.

WN: Just a simple web site where I can show products from my shop.

IA: OK, I don’t program code. But I could design an interface for it…

WN: Oh, so you’re an artist? I thought you actually made the web sites.

IA: Sort of, but I’m not a graphics person; I focus on the functions of the site.

WN: (long pause, confused look) So you design web pages, but you’re not an artist. And you make web pages, but you’re not a programmer.

IA: That’s right.

WN: So what is it that you do again?


The IA is the professional who focuses on how to make an online solution work best for the end-user -- key words are usability, human factors, user interface, web design, organizing, taxonomy. It is about empowering decision-makers by providing them with the information and tools they need to take care of business. I enjoy the work very much, and I recommend the job highly.

U.S. News & World Report listed "Usability/User Experience Specialist" as one of the 20 best careers to have for 2008.

UX Words of Wisdom:

* The user is the stakeholder with ultimate veto power.

* Information is the currency of decision-makers.
- Chris Brantley, IEEE web master

* Where is the wisdom? Lost in the knowledge.
Where is the knowledge? Lost in the information.
The Rock (paraphrased), T.S. Eliot

Letter #4: Marriage

In March 2007 the Beacon published a pair of op-ed pieces about the legal recognition of homosexual marriages -- one op-ed was in favor, the other against. I wrote a response, which was published the next week.

Here are links to the originals:

* Original Article: p. 25 of
* My Response: p. 27 of

Below is my letter.


To Destroy With Faint Praise

What people do is less interesting to me than why they do it.

For example, the notion of allowing for a new kind of civil marriage between non-traditional partners is one reason why marriage is less and less talked about in respectable circles. The chief difficulty, I think, is that those who would defend marriage – and by “marriage” I mean the glorious institution that historically formed the bedrock of Christian civilization – are themselves compromised; they have gotten into the habit of merely enjoying the secondary, pleasurable elements and neglecting or even omitting the primary, necessary ones. It’s something akin to chewing up food for the flavor and then spitting it out. In a sane world that would be rightly viewed as an eating disorder, but when everyone is anorexic, even a lean marathon runner comes to be viewed as plump.

Michael Dvorscak wrote, “Marriage is an institution…defined as a union between a man and a woman.” Marriage deserves better than that. The same could be said of a business venture, a civic club, or a picnic. A definition that is unspecific is not only anemic as a definition, it has the effect of undermining through weak praise what must be vigorously protected.

Here are the missing elements of what has traditionally been included in our civilization’s definition of marriage:

  • Marriage is the exclusive and permanent union of a man and a woman as husband and wife. After the couple is truly married, the marriage bond endures for life – thus the traditional pronouncement, “’Til death do us part.”
  • Its primary end is the procreation and raising of children, whom the parents will feed, clothe, shelter, and educate. Infertility and sterility are not obstacles (there are precedents of surprises in that domain), but a couple that cannot physically procreate cannot marry.
  • Its secondary end is for the good of the couple – to form between the man and woman an intimate life of affection and love. This is a necessary support for helping the couple accomplish the primary purpose of marriage; it also makes more likely the marriage’s endurance.

One reason that marriage is permanent is that newborn children are terribly frail and utterly dependent. A society that permits dissoluble or merely civil marriages sentences the most innocent and helpless of its members to a life of chaos and dread.

That, in a nutshell, is marriage as it created, nourished, and benefited Western civilization. Anything that dilutes or weakens the institution or definition of marriage undermines society and condemns its people.

Marriage is the quintessential building block of a society. As the family goes, so goes the nation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Regionalizing the Atlanta Airport Experience

On a trip through the Atlanta airport one day I was listening to the train recording that announces at which terminal the train is stopping. You know the drill – “Now approaching terminal:
* A as in Alpha…
* B as in Bravo…
* C as in Charlie, etc."

Then I thought: Atlanta is a southern city; if the examples had a southern flavor, they might come out like this:
* A as in Ain’t
* B as in Barbeque
* C as in Catawampus
* D as in Dang!
* E as in Elvis
* T as in Tea

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Letter #3: Kith and Kin

In March 2007 the Beacon published an op-ed piece favoring expedition of the naturalization of illegal immigrants on economic grounds. My response was published the next week.

Here are links to the originals:
* Original Article: p. 34 of
* My Response: p. 29 of

Below is my letter.


Do economics trump kith and kin?

Kith and kin specifically means “near acquaintances and relatives.” Frequently the phrase is used to describe a more or less cohesive group with whom one shares common language, customs, and history. Down to my bones, I have affection and gratitude for my country, my family, my faith: I can’t imagine who I would be without them.

Urging me, as do Joseph Davis and Bernard Lobracco, that I should put all this aside and endorse putting the naturalization of illegal immigrants on the fast-track because it is good for the economy is comparable to telling me that the most important factor in choosing a wife is to find a woman with prospects for a large fortune.

Thanks for the dime-store wisdom, but my heart is not up for the bidding; neither am I a mercenary who would sell out my heritage just to make a buck. There’s an opportunity cost to reducing all considerations to dollars and cents: the most valuable commodities life has to offer are always lost in the exchange.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Parking Garage Security

If you're in Atlanta and you should happen to need to get in touch with Peachtree Center security – because, say, you worked until 2:30 in the morning and you can’t get your car out of the parking garage because the dispatcher who is responsible for multiple parking garages is on rounds at one of the other garages and has locked down your garage and made it impossible for you to get your car out – you can reach a dispatcher at (404) 654-1285.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Letter #2: Policing Roswell

In March 2007 my local Roswell paper, the Beacon, published an op-ed piece that included a comment about how Roswell has low crime numbers because of its government. I wrote a response, which was published the next week.

Here are links to the originals:

* Original Article: p. 33 of
* My Response: p. 35 of

Below is my letter.

Caveat: I certainly recognize that police officers act as effective deterrents before crimes are committed. I still take exception to support of the notion that more government is the solution to society's problems.


Contrary to Joseph Davis’ assertion, “most of the credit” for Roswell being named the 18th safest city in the United States does not go to the city government. Leave it to a liberal to assert that the reason we have a safe community is because of the government.

The reason that Roswell is safe is that its citizens are decent, law-abiding folks who break the law less frequently than those in most other comparably-sized towns. Police officers have the unenviable yet important job of dealing with criminals and predators after they have offended; most of the credit for the lack of criminal behavior in the first place, however, goes to good old fashioned family values.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Vegetarian’s Dilemma

Tennessee Seahorse

A friend of mine's husband took this photo at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Her note: "George took this photo during our recent visit to the Tennessee Aquarium. There is little seaweed at all in this picture - the big green thing is a seahorse."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Grand Canyon

The Spanish arrived here in 1540, led by Hopi Indian guides. The soldiers couldn't reach the floor of the canyon at the time -- I suspect the Hopi weren't inclined to lead them to what was a sacred spot for them -- so they gave up and went home. The next Spanish didn't come through for another 200 years.

Any more trips to the canyon floor are considered more or less routine. What will never be routine is the canyon view. I was there for a few days in May of 2000; aside from the immense beauty, what struck me was how different the canyon looked depending on what time of day you were there. In the morning the walls seemed to be streaked in shades of brown and brilliant red, while towards evening the red turned deeper, until it gave way to a royal purple with the day's gloaming. It was a joy to simply sit there on the canyon rim and watch what seemed like a slow-motion firework display emerge over a period of hours.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Letter #1: School Vouchers

A local newspaper bills itself as a conservative alternative to the AJC. At times it succeeds.

In February of 2007 the paper published an op-ed piece about school vouchers. I wrote a response, which was published the next week.

Here are links to the originals:
* Original Article: p. 35 of
* My Response: p. 37 of

Below is my letter.


Editor: School Vouchers

Parents require viable means of caring for their children, and it is one of the primary duties of government to assist them in this endeavor.

In a world of complex social interactions, mobile widespread populations, rapidly-changing moral developments, and international governance, trade, and ecological considerations, it is crucial to have solid knowledge, skills, and criteria for evaluating and understanding different cultural dispositions so as to arrive at sound intellectual and moral conclusions.

The best way, I think, of educating anyone in how to reach this goal is to form in them a concrete understanding that acknowledges the unchanging aspects and needs of human nature and the role of family, country, faith, and other inherently binding factors.

For this reason I read with abhorrence the Davis and LoBracco op-ed supporting current notions of diversity in the schools and advocating secular schooling; also troubling was the favorable mention of Bob Chase and the NEA, who have a reputation for putting the needs of teachers ahead of the needs of children.

A school environment is not sufficiently diverse when it obliterates the integrity of diverse groups and replaces them with a static, egalitarian, collectivist, homogenized alternative that promiscuously draws on incongruous sources. A classroom is less intellectually diverse, not more, when disparate elements are presented side by side and trusting students are told to accept on blind faith the dogma that one option is just as good as the other, and that what separates them are just accidental subjective points of view.

At times different views simply cannot be reconciled: one position or another must be chosen, and there cannot be even tolerance of its opposite. Will a monogamist sell his daughter to a polygamist? When the state-run school is obligatory and lack of financial resources precludes the possibility of an alternative educational environment, the monogamist will be forced to consider it – an act of violence against that person’s nature, and a degradation of what that individual holds dear.

Teach a variety of politics, literature, art, music, histories, culture, religions, philosophies, and economics. More importantly, teach how to judge between them using criteria that are not clichéd expedients for a dehumanized state.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Counting to 10

My niece was an early speaker: by 18 months my sister had taught her to count to 10 in English, French, and Spanish.

I remembered enough of my high-school and college Russian to coach my niece in that tongue too, so I gave it a shot. At first she took to it very well -- after only two passes she could repeat one through five back to me. Then as she turned away to some other diversion she announced, "Uncle Sean, I want to stop now -- you're boring me."

There ended the lesson.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mom's Recipe

There’s a recipe for Beef Stroganoff in the family that makes my mouth water when I simply think about it.

Beef Stroganoff Recipe
* 1 lb. lean boneless sirloin cut into strips
* ¼ lb. butter (½ olive oil, if desired)
* ½ lb. fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
* ½ cup minced red onions
* 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
* ½ cup beef consommé
* ½ cup Marsala wine
* ½ teaspoon dry mustard
* 1 tbspn. tomato paste
* ½ cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté onion and garlic in butter. Add mushrooms. Cook slowly five minutes. Remove to bowl.

Brown meat in same skillet.

* Add seasonings, onions, and mushrooms, tomato paste, consommé, and red Marsala wine. Simmer gently for 1 hour or until meat is tender. Just before serving, stir in sour cream. Do not boil. Serve on rice or noodles. Serves 4 (2 with seconds).

* After you have browned the steak in the fat, remove the steak and mix 2 tablespoons of flour with the fat left in the pan. Cook it for a little bit to get rid of the floury taste and mix it to get rid of any lumps that form (or use a blender to remove lumps).


Last month I cooked this dish myself for the first time. Some of the ingredients – e.g. beef consommé, Marsala wine, tomato paste -- I never cook with, so I was obliged to engage in an extra bit of foraging at the grocery store to locate them. The most elusive dubloon turned out to be the beef consommé: I didn’t see it among the broths and bullions, and the grocery store employee had never heard of it. I ended up phoning m
a mère, the family Kitchen Expert, who directed me to the soup aisle. I ended the call, and after a few moments more of looking I located the remaining ingredient.

A few days later I received a UPS box with my brother’s name on it in the return address; inside the box were two cans of beef consommé. “Ah, what a joker!” I laughed. I used one of the cans when I cooked up a batch of Beef Stroganoff, then boxed the empty can and returned it to my back-slapping brother.

This perplexed him to no end. “Why would Sean send me an empty can of consommé?” The can happened to have arrived just before his birthday, so he pondered whether I perhaps meant something profound and metaphysical in the keepsake I sent him.

I was perplexed in turn by his perplexity. Surely my meaning wasn’t so obscure as all that: that I’d received and enjoyed his largesse, and had sent him the decommissioned vessel in acknowledgement and to extend the gag a bit further.

The answer to the riddle came on my next visit south, where it was revealed that my mother had sent the two cans. The mix-up came at the UPS store, where the clerk applied to the package the family name on record in the UPS database. That name, it turned out, was not my mother’s -- it was my brother’s.

The conundrum cracked, my brother pledged to keep the can on hand as a token of the strangest birthday gift he’d ever received.
Meanwhile I was left to wonder what would happen if I asked mom for her apple pie recipe.

The Can Itself

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Georgia Martyrs

In September of 1597 five Spanish Franciscan missionaries were slain by American Indians on the islands off what would later become the Georgia coast. These gentle sons of St. Francis suffered and died for love of the sacrament of matrimony, becoming heroes of the Catholic faith. Like St. John the Baptist who was martyred for protesting King Herod taking for himself the wife of his brother, the five Georgia Martyrs are an eloquent rebuke – then as now – to an age that believes men can make use of marriage with no regard for public morality or for the spiritual character of the institution.

Era of the Spanish Missions in the American Southeast 
The Spanish missions on the southeast American continent – what Juan Ponce de León discovered in the Easter season of 1513 and named La Florida – initially extended from the Florida Keys along the Gulf of Mexico west to Texas and then north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada.

By the end of the 16th century Spanish influence over most of this area had diminished, but colonies were well-entrenched in northern Florida and coastal Georgia: from a base on the east coast in St. Augustine, missions stretched west across the peninsula to Tallahassee and north along the coast to the Island of St. Catherine (Santa Catalina).

The pinnacle of the Spanish missionary age arrived in 1667 when 70 missions served by 40 priests and brothers were active from Florida as far north to St. Catherine’s Island. It had a longer life-span and involved an even greater numbers of religious and converts than its more famous counterpart in the American west a century and a half later under the “Apostle of California,” Fr. Junípero Serra. This era ended in 1742 when the English Lord (later General) James Oglethorpe defeated Spanish troops at the Battle of Bloody Marsh on St. Simon’s Island.

Life in the Missions
The Spanish missions of coastal Georgia were trying: salt marshes and tidal freshwater wetlands abounded; stone was scarce, and the soil was poor, wet, and acidic, making crops difficult to grow; in the submerged saw-grass terrain mosquitoes buzzed and bit constantly.

Spanish families were reluctant to settle there, preferring the more hospitable lands of Cuba and Mexico to the south. Soldiers considered assignments in the area hardship duty.

One tribe of aborigines controlled the terrain along the 100-mile strip of land and islands that would become the Georgia coast. This group of semi-nomadic worshipers of sun and sky practiced polygamy, wore little clothing, and were lazy, erratic, and warlike. These natives were disinclined to accept Christianity, showing open contempt and even violence: priests who greeted them with charity were not-infrequently slaughtered.

The Indians supplemented their diet of wildlife by planting crops of maize, beans, and tobacco. They built villages of wattle, daub, and tabby for maintaining their farms, but they did not live permanently in them. Each village was ruled by a chief, or mico; over all the micos was a mico mayer, or head chief. In their native tongue they called themselves the Guale (pronounced by the Spanish “Walley”), which was the title of their chief and the name of their main village. The Spanish applied the term to their land as well.

The beginning of the missions among the Guale is credited to the Jesuits, who began their efforts in 1569; one of the missionaries, Domingo Augustin, also wrote a grammar of the Guale language. The unpredictability of the natives and the migratory life of neighboring tribes proved too much for the few Jesuits to serve, however, and a year after a 1571 Indian uprising and massacre the Jesuits withdrew from that mission field.

In 1573 missions were resumed by the Franciscans, who had greater success. The main Franciscan mission was based in the Guale capital on St. Catherine's Island. Deep into the wilderness, far from the safety of military protection, these preachers of the Gospel built missions, taught and catechized, administered the sacraments, and offered the sacrifice of the Mass.

Catechizing the Guale was a slow process, but in time the missionaries taught the Indians the catechism in their native tongue, introduced them to European methods of agriculture, and reminded them of the necessity of wearing clothes, working diligently, and living peacefully. Though the Franciscans adapted themselves where they could to many Indian customs, they held firm that a Catholic man could not divorce, and that he could have only one wife. The missionaries would not baptize a Guale adult who refused to promise to live in a permanent marriage with only one spouse. Through entreaties, patience, and gifts the friars converted a number of the Guale, who were baptized, confirmed, and buried as Catholics.

Five Martyrs
In 1595, during the reign of Spain’s King Philip II, the Guale Christians numbered 1,500 souls when they received a new community of friars.

The recent arrivals were escorted by the local governor to the several missions. At each village the governor reverently knelt to kiss the hands of the missionaries in the presence of the assembled Indians, an act that made a great impression on the inhabitants. A new mission was soon established at the important Guale village of Tolomato, just north of present day Brunswick. The spot was named Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Tolomato -- Our Lady of Guadalupe of Tolomato.

The Franciscans’ work continued with no little success, and two years later 22 Guale tribal chiefs traveled south to St. Augustine to pledge their allegiance to the governor. This jewel in the crown of the Franciscan missionary efforts meant that friars could be sent safely almost anywhere among the Indians from the southern tip of Florida north to the border of English-held lands.

Then came a sudden Indian revolt with bloodshed. The ensuing problems had far-reaching consequences which precipitated a change in Spanish rule and marked the beginning of the end of Spanish sovereignty in that region of the New World.

The instigator was Juanillo, a belligerent son of the Tolomato mico. Juanillo married a second wife, and to the great scandal of the Indian Christians he refused the admonitions of the Franciscan in charge of the Tolomato mission, Fr. Pedro de Corpa, a wise and holy Castilian preacher and confessor. A Catholic can have only one wife, the friar said: if a man would remain a Christian he must give up the life of the polygamist as he had promised at his baptism.

Juanillo scoffed at and ridiculed Fr. Corpa. The young Indian’s status as a village leader meant that his recalcitrance endangered the spiritual well-being of the entire mission. Taking counsel with Fr. Blas de Rodríguez, the Spanish superior of all the Guale missions, Fr. Corpa deprived Juanillo of his right to succeed his father as the Guale mico mayer. The right of succession would instead descend upon a relative.

Martyrdom of Fray Pedro de Corpa
The furious Juanillo gathered about him a group of conspirators. Several days later, on the morning of September 14 – the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – while Fr. Corpa prepared for morning mass, Juanillo and his men, adorned in war-paint, rushed the priest and killed him with their macana, or stone hatchets. They severed Fr. Corpa’s head and impaled it on a stick by the river amid pagan celebrations. The body was exposed to the elements for several days before being buried in an unmarked grave in the woods.

Martyrdom of Fray Blas de Rodríguez
The next day Juanillo recruited other Guale chiefs to his cause. The marauders sent word to the Guale chief on St. Catherine’s Island to kill the missionaries there. Juanillo himself remained on the mainland, and with his enlarged force he moved north to the village of Tupiqui. Here lived the Alcantaran Fr. Blas de Rodríguez, with whom Fr. Corpa had conferred. Fr. Rodríguez was surrounded by Juanillo’s men and told that his death was at hand. The friar was held hostage for two days. On September 16 he offered a last Mass and gave a sermon.

My sons, for me it is not difficult to die. Even if you do not cause it, the death of this body is inevitable. We must be ready at all times, for we, all of us, have to die someday. But what does pain me is that the Evil One has persuaded you to do this offensive thing against your God and Creator. It is a further source of deep grief to me that you are unmindful of what we missionaries have done for you in teaching you the way to eternal life and happiness.

After the Mass Fr. Rodríguez distributed his belongings to his faithful children and gave them instructions to always obey God’s law. The priest was bound, and in this posture he watched the Indians profane the chapel. Having reduced the chapel to ruins, the Indians turned their rage on the helpless priest, whom they clubbed to death. Fr. Rodríguez’s body was left in the woods for several days until it was buried by a Guale Christian; the remains were later recovered by Spanish soldiers.

Martyrdom of Fray Miguel de Añon and Fray Antonio de Bádajoz
The missionaries on St. Catherine’s Island were Fr. Miguel de Añon, a Spanish noble with a reputation as a preacher who was in charge of the St. Catherine’s mission, and his assistant and interpreter Br. Antonio de Bádajoz. Although sympathetic Indians warned the two missionaries of the impending attack, they did not flee; perhaps there was not time, or they did not believe the warning, or they hoped for martyrdom – none today can say. Rather than seek escape, they offered a Mass. Fr. Añon gave Br. Bádajoz communion, and then they were killed, the lay-brother first and then the priest. The date was September 17 – the anniversary of St. Francis’s reception of the Stigmata. Their mutilated bodies lay under the hot the sun until Christian Indians buried them at the base of a large wooden cross that Fr. Añon had erected.

St. Francis Receives the Stigmata (Giotto)

Martyrdom of Fray Francisco de Veráscola
Juanillo’s war party proceeded south to St. Simon’s Island. There they killed Fr. Francisco de Veráscola as he was returning in a canoe from St. Augustine with supplies. The Indians, much afraid of Fr. Veráscola’s great physical strength – he had been nicknamed the “Catabrian Giant” – feigned friendship: two of the warriors took him into their arms at the riverbank while the rest set upon him with their stone axes. After killing Fr. Veráscola – the date is uncertain, but fell before the end of September – the warriors mutilated and buried his body. Father’s Franciscan hood and sombrero were later retrieved from the Guale who had claimed them as trophies, but his body was never found.

Passion of Fray Francisco de Avila
The Indians continued south in search of Fr. Francisco de Avila, who dwelled in the Talapo mission on present-day Jekyll Island. When Juanillo’s band arrived with news they said they carried a message from Fr. Rodríguez. Having received word of the death of Fr. Corpa, Fr. Avila refused to come outside. The Indians broke into Fr. Avila’s hut; the priest attempted to escape, but he was pierced by three arrows and captured. Wounded and beaten, Fr. Avila was forced to walk a long distance to an Indian village where he was tortured further and condemned to die. The Indians abruptly changed their minds, however, and decided to keep the friar as a slave.

Fr. Avila was mistreated in captivity for nine months: in pain from his wounds, he was forced to serve even the village children. He endured cold and hunger, living off what food he could forage for himself in the bleak terrain and wearing only scraps for clothing. To spite the priest’s faith, the Indians tried to make him take a wife and perform other acts against his vows.

There the friar would have died, abandoned to the malice of his enemies, but he was rescued by a Spanish military patrol. Father was borne to St. Augustine, where he recovered his health. The lone survivor of the Guale massacres, Fr. Avila invoked clerical immunity when the Spanish governor asked him to testify: the friar feared that his words would be used as grounds to execute his abductors, and he was unwilling to incriminate them. It was only years later, after Fr. Avila went to Havana, that he wrote of his ordeal, and even then he did so only under obedience to his superior.

The initial slaughter grew into a general uprising, which was put down by Spanish soldiers in a great battle at Cumberland Island. Subsequent retaliatory raids against the Indians finally reduced them to total submission in 1601. By the end of 1603 the mission among the Guale were completely restored, though Spanish rule had been shaken and its forces depleted.

After the uprising a Spanish military force exhumed the remains of Fr. Añon and Br. Bádajoz on St. Catherine’s Island. The relics we transported to St. Augustine, where they were re-interred at the central friary with great honor and ceremony. Today that building is now the National Guard Armory, and is known as “The St. Francis Barracks.” A skull that could be that of Fr. Corpa was discovered by archeologists in 1950.

In 1612 the superior of the custody of Saint Helen (Santa Elena) reported to the Spanish king:

Although the Indians did not martyr the friars for the faith (that is, because of any doctrine or article of faith which they preached), it is certain that they martyred them because of the law of God which the religious taught them. This is the reason the Indians themselves gave and still attest to...

The Guale and the other coastal tribes remained under Spanish governorship for the next 75 years. These subject tribes were finally dispersed at the end of the 17th century by English-armed Indians on slave raids for the Charles Town traders. All surviving Guale were incorporated into the growing Creek Indian Confederacy.

St. Catherine’s Island Today
St. Catherine’s is now owned and operated by a private foundation: one can travel to the beaches, but visitation to the interior is not permitted. The island serves as a zoological sanctuary for breeding endangered species: the subtropical haven now hosts colonies of lemurs, gazelles, zebras, hartebeests, parrots, cockatoos, and Madagascar turtles.

Archeologists have visited the island to search for remains of the Indian villages and Spanish settlements. After copious excavation, the mission chapel was unearthed, and numerous medals, rosaries, crucifixes, and other artifacts were discovered. The archaeologists also discovered a large cemetery beneath the floor of the mission chapel. Upon completion of the excavation, the site was re-covered; the location of the site is not publicized to discourage unauthorized digging.

The Cause for the Georgia Martyrs
Four centuries later, the cause for canonization of the five Franciscan martyrs has been submitted to Rome by the Archdiocese of Savannah. If raised to the altar, these Spanish missionaries would join the three 17th century Jesuits martyred near present-day Auriesville as the only beatified martyrs slain on American soil.

* The Cross in the Sand by Michael V. Gannon (1993, 3rd printing, University Presses of Florida)
* St. Catherine’s Island: An Island in Time by David Hurst Thomas (1988, Georgia Endowment for the Humanities)
* The Franciscan Missions of Coastal Georgia by Gillian Brown (1985, The Cause of the Georgia Martyrs)
* “Man seeks sainthood for 16th-century friars” by Russ Bynum (April 08, 2007, Associated Press)
* “The Five Franciscan Martyrs of Georgia” web site -

Attende Domine

Recently I read some political wag's quip that conservatives are essentially pessimists about mankind, while liberals are essentially optimists.

I'll offer a qualified reply: conservatives are essentially pessimists about mankind, while liberals are essentially pessimists about everyone except themselves.

For myself, I fall into the former camp: a fellow needs to recognize his failings as a prerequisite for seeking mercy.


Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi.
Hearken, O Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned against Thee.

1. Ad Te Rex summe, omnium Redemptor oculos nostros sublevamus flentes: exaudi Christe, supplicantum preces.
Weeping we raise our eyes to Thee, sovereign King, Redeemer of all; listen, O Christ, to the prayers of suppliant sinners.
Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi.

2. Dextera Patris, lapis angularis, via salutis, janua coelestis, ablue nostri maculas delicti
Thou art the right hand of God the Father, Headstone of the corner, Path of salvation and Gate of Heaven: cleanse Thou the stains of our crimes.
Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi.

3. Rogamus Deus, tuam majestatem: auribus sacris gemitus exaudi, crimina nostra placidus indulge.
We Thy Majesty entreating, with Thy blessed ears hear our sighing; graciously grant pardon to our sins.
Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi.

4. Tibi fatemur crimina admissa, contrito corde pendimus oculta, tua, Redemptor, pietas ignoscat.
We confess to Thee our consented sins; we declare our hidden sins to Thee with contrite heart; in Thy mercy, O Redeemer, forgive them.

Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi.

5. Innocens captus, nec repugnans ductus, testibus falsis pro impiis damnatus: quos redemisti, tu conserva, Christe.
Led away captive, guiltless, unresisting, condemned by false witnesses unto death for sinners; O Christ, keep safe those whom Thou hast redeemed.

Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi.

The Shush Man

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

On my first trip to Rome in August, 2000, one of the ports of call where I put in was the Sistine Chapel. Everyone, I think, hears about the chapel's ceiling, but somehow I had managed to miss the news that the walls themselves are covered with eye-popping art -- which is odd to me, in that most people who were in the chapel at the time treated the place as more of a museum or art gallery than a church.

On that note, there was a recording (in English, curiously) piped in over a loud speaker reminding everyone to observe silence. The reminder was necessary: most of the visitors carried on like they were at an amusement park or a museum. The only time they actually quieted down is when the little Italian man sitting in the corner let out a prolonged "SHHHHHHH!" His talent was much in demand -- I actually timed the guy -- because within 60 seconds of a given shush he was on to the next shush: the crowd, it turned out, would quiet down for just a few moments, but slowly, consistently, predictably, the whispers would give way to talking and then return to an excited din.

I didn't know what the man in the corner's official title was, so I dubbed him The Shush Man; perhaps his role is filed under some sub-category of librarian. I also wondered if the chap acquired his job through appointment, or whether it was inherited; I can imagine how he might thus declare " I am a Shush Man, my father was a Shush Man, and his father was a Shush Man..."

Sunday, June 8, 2008

March to Canterbury

On a Friday afternoon in late July of 2006, I joined over a hundred traditional Catholics led by priests of the SSPX at the walls of Rochester Cathedral to commence a three-day petition to Heaven for the return of England to the Catholic Faith. Our assembly of English, French, Welsh, American, German, Swedish, Croatian, Zimbabwean, and other faithful from around the globe culminated the 41-mile trek, footsore but ebullient, with a Mass set in the ruins of half-forgotten St. Augustine's abbey in the shadow of Canterbury Cathedral.

Our pilgrimage wound its way along the old Pilgrim's Trail often by the upper chalk ridge over road, field, and wood, ornamented with hymns, litanies, chants, and rosaries.

At the Friday night camp, after the tents were erected, we had a low Mass followed by a welcome hot meal. Saturday morning we rose to a sung Mass before resuming the march through the Kent Downs, spending one more night under canvas before arriving at Canterbury.

We processed in two columns through the narrow streets of the ancient town, parting the crowds while singing in Latin the Litany of Loreto in petition to the Holy Mother of God, a tribute to the Queen of All Saints in whose honor a Catholic England once bore the cognomen "Dowry of Mary." The curious and passers-by received leaflets about the Society and Tradition; many took photos and video of our traveling fellowship - souvenirs of what, Our Good Lord willing, will one day become a regular occurrence.

The majestic Gothic Cathedral of St. Thomas a Becket seemed to spring suddenly into view, a spectacular sight after traversing the narrow and constricting maze of city streets. One can only imagine what this site of grandeur, this hint of Heaven, would have seemed like to a medieval pious peasant who had known only hovel, barn, and stable.

We made our way past the cathedral to the ancient site of the abbey of St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury and the Apostle of the English who journeyed to the shores of the Sceptred Isle at the behest of Pope St. Gregory the Great. The foundation pillars of the abbey still stand, the bare bones of the old church, the rest having been swept away in the great tide that was the suppression of English monasteries during the rule of King Henry VIII.

Ethelbert, a pagan Saxon King, ruled Kent when Augustine arrived, and in the ruin one could almost imagine hearing the chant of the Saxon saint Caedmon when he sang about the creation of all things:

Praise we the Fashioner of Heaven's fabric,
The majesty of His might and His mind's wisdom,
Work of the world-warden, worker of all wonders,
How He the Lord of Glory everlasting,
Wrought first for the race of men Heaven as a rooftree,
Then made He Middle Earth to be their mansion.

The sun shone hot down on us; no breeze or sound disturbed us there. At the Mass no instrument was heard save the voices of the schola, who sang the plainchant of that same Gregory who commissioned Augustine to quit Rome for Britain. The chief intention of the pilgrimage was the return of England to the faith, but each of us brought our own petitions as well; we united them with those of the priest at the altar, who stood in the place of Our Blessed Lord as the mediator between God and men, this alter Christus who offered our prayers and requests to the King of Heaven in union with that one supreme offering that took place 2,000 years ago in another forsaken, half-forgotten place.

And I pray thee, loving Jesus, that as Thou hast graciously given me to drink in with delight the words of Thy knowledge, so Thou wouldst mercifully grant me to attain one day to Thee, the fountain of all wisdom and to appear forever before Thy face.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Crowd Wisdom

Last week a co-worker and I were discussing how the "wisdom of the crowds" burbling around "social media" is so much bunk. "After all," I teased, "how can a million lemmings all be wrong?"

The fun with touting a folksonomy is that its practitioners are both the observers and the performers, which means hyping "crowd wisdom" as the penultimate "next-gen Web" success story has the two-fold benefit of justifying the
flattery of one's self while courting a like-minded audience (for whatever reason: business, politicking, fund-raising, etc.). Rather than reward initiative or innovation, it conditions users to think and perform in desired ways: say or post or blog what (the royal) We like, and you too can leave your digital mark in virtual space. It is a descendent of the promise embodied by the "I am somebody -- just read my branded t-shirt!" phenomenon.

In its defense, taking a people-praising message to the virtual masses has a demonstrated ability to accomplish what it is intended to accomplish (c.f. the online fund-raising success stories of Ron Paul and Barack Obama).

The emotional draw of lauding "crowd wisdom" works best when users curtail higher brain functions and allow the promoter to stroke their egos. Naturally, the "crowd wisdom" champs recognize that.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


During a meeting today one of my clients paid me a compliment for consistently being calm and collected, hard-working but low-key and disinclined to get rattled no matter what the circumstance.

"Sean is infallible," she said.

The word she meant to use was "unflappable." While I chuckled, someone pointed out her error and suggested the correct term.

"Only the Pope is infallible," I offered.

"Oh, I'm not Catholic," she replied. "I didn't mean to say anything offensive!"

"No, I'm not offended," I smiled.

Someone else then said, "And Jesus is infallible."

This last remark was meant as extolment, and is one of those statements that is correct if understood one way and entirely false if understood another.

To be infallible means to be free of the possibility of error.

The Pope speaks infallibly when he renders a decree:

* about faith and morals (i.e. not in unrelated domains like astronomy or poetry),

* in his official capacity as Roman pontiff (i.e. not as a private individual, but with full ecclesiastical authority),

* in the name of the Catholic Church (i.e. as the supreme teacher and legislator after its Divine Founder, Jesus Christ),

* with Apostolic authority (i.e. in agreement with what was given by Christ to the 12 Apostles and handed down to their successors and universally taught and practiced by 20 centuries of popes, doctors, saints, and dogmatic councils),

* with the intent of being binding upon the conscience of Catholics (i.e. not merely a suggestion).

Thus, the Pope's infallibility is extremely focused and has distinct limits, but is inerrant when within those limits. When the conditions outlined above are met, the Holy Father's statement is certain to be error-free. Never in the 2,000 year history of Christendom has a Pope rendered an infallible decree that was later annulled or reversed by a successor.

And the teachings of Jesus Christ are -- without limit -- objectively and eternally true. As such they can never be revoked, qualified, or overruled. They are incapable of being wrong, without exception, regardless of time or circumstance or subject matter.

And I mean that unflappably.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Neological Research

My last year and a half as an undergraduate saw me conducting research for the professor of English whose "History of the English Language" classes I'd attended for my senior seminar. My professor's speciality was following the development of new words, or neology; he also had a hand in the compilation of several dictionaries.

When I knew him one of his projects was creating a catalog of words used in American English that have British derivations. My job was to take yellow high-lighter in hand, work my way through the three sets of dictionaries that I was provided, and highlight entries that were designated as British (as opposed to French, German, etc.). In short, my job was reading dictionaries.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Where to Put the Books?

The downstairs of the townhouse is one open room with a counter separating the kitchen from the dining and living areas. I can work in the kitchen and still carry on a conversation while company reclines in the living room.

Today I acquired a nice collection of hardback books, sent by my grandmother. The books belonged to my grandfather; I'll be installing some new bookshelves (probably upstairs in the office or master bedroom) to hold this heirloom collection.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Doll Etiquette

I spent the afternoon at the house of friends whose eldest daughter just graduated high school. The eight kids of that family have unofficially adopted me as one of their own, and so they all call me Uncle Sean.

A few years ago I was visiting around Christmas time, and the children were showing me the gifts they'd received. Hannah (the third daughter) introduced me to a new doll that she'd Christened Emily: "Look Uncle Sean, Emily likes to dance in the living room and sit on the couch and walk up the stairs," etc.

Emily was clearly a very capable and talented doll, so I wanted to make her better acquaintance. "Hannah, do you think Emily would like to have a bite of this home-made bread that I'm eating?" I asked.

Hannah greeted my suggestion with an incredulous stare. "Uncle Sean, Emily is just a doll, she doesn't eat bread."

"Of course," I agreed. "What was I thinking."