Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quote: Rhetorical Education and Citizenship

"Consider the audience of an orator like Lincoln: even if his audience consisted of simple farmers, these farmers would have been exposed regularly to examples of oratory modeled on great orations of the past. County fairs often featured Ciceronian orations extolling the virtues of American agriculture; even country preachers modeled themselves on the sermons of great Protestant divines; eloquent, structured toasts and speeches were expected features of public events. American culture at the time of Lincoln, in other words, was one in which the average citizen encountered regularly acts of rhetoric that demonstrated sustained logic in elegant, gripping language, held up to the standards of great Western orators."

So writes
Dr Sean Lewis on the blog for Wyoming Catholic College, concerning the decline of Rhetoric in the West. This is turn reminds me of a conversation which I had a few years ago with a good friend of mine, Mr Stephen Cheney. We had been discussing the relative decline of the art of homiletics (specifically), when he mentioned a style of homily which was once in wider use, but which has seemingly gone by the wayside. There was a time once when the preacher might on occasion choose not to write his own homily, but rather to present the homily of somebody else, a sort of "great homilies" approach.

Sometimes Fr Dullwind really does have a very good homily which truly illumines this week's readings, or at least a well-thought-out sermon which can somehow be tied into them. There are certainly more than a few priests who take great pride in their homilies, meaning that they put great effort into researching the material for a good homily, and then crafting an excellent oration which glorifies God and edifies the congregation. However, more often than not Fr Dullwind is the type who puts together maybe a half dozen such homilies during the year, and then the remainder are "self-help motivational talks or cutesy stories littered with bad jokes...little more than funny anecdotes poorly strung together."

Must Fr Dullwind prepare his own homily each week from scratch? Can he not look back to some of the great orators of the past, the homilists whose sermons shook the world, the preachers whose preaching can still be presented today fresh an edifying as it was hundreds or even thousands of years ago? Can he not present a homily from Saint Augustine, or St John Chrysostom, or even the commentary of St Jerome? Or, turning from the Church Fathers, can he not find anything from Saint Thomas Aquinas, or Saint Vincent Ferrer, or Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman?

Perhaps he can. Or perhaps we have lost the ability to follow such sermons to the lethargy which has beset our society in its rhetorical slumber. Nevertheless, I can't help but think that in looking to these great preachers of the past, we may help raise if but a little the discourse of the present. We may also find that the Faithful are more well-catechized as a result.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Seven Quick Takes (v 15): Seven Quick Links for RCIA

This week is going to be a little different with the quick takes. Two or three of the RCIA candidates and catechumens have been asking me for a while for a list of my favorites blogs. So, this week's quick takes will be a few of my favorite blogs (and similar) sites which I think could be and/or will be helpful for converts.

My first pick is the National Catholic Register blogs. They have put together a stellar cast over the years, most (all?) of whom also have their own private blogs elsewhere. I would especially recommend Mr Mark Shea (who writes with a goofy and rather winsome style), Mr Jimmy Akin (whose prose is generally very clear and thorough) and Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler (who is smart, humorous, and also quite gracious), but the entire group is good.

While on the subject of group blogs, I would also recommend Virtuous There are quite a few talented young writers there, and posts have covered everything from philosophy and theology to culture (including specifically Catholic culture). Your humble servant also contributes a (usually) hebdomadal post, but I would actually recommend quite a few others who write there first: Mr Brent Stubbs, Fr Ryan Ehrlenbush, Mr Marc Barnes, the Three Bright Maidens, Mr Nathan Kennedy, Mrs Jennifer Mazzara... Most of the VP contributors also list their own personal blogs on the "meet us" page. I especially also read the blog of Dr Stacy Trasancos.

Update: Two things here. 1) The site is now IGNITUM TODAY, and 2) the cast of writers has changed a bit since I wrote this. I try to keep an up-to-date list of the writers' blogs in my links on the left side of this blog, under the IGNITUM TODAY NETWORK links. Some of the writers, such as Nathan Kennedy, have stopped writing entirely (for now). Others, like Fr Ehrlenbush and Mr Barnes are still writing, but on their own sites. Look 'em up! There are a number of other talented writers will writing for IGNITUM TODAY, and a few of the old standbys are still there.

The blogs for the Archdiocese of Washington are in general good. Monsignor Charles Pope is especially good, as his writing style is clear and pastoral, and often also very insightful. I suspect that he gives some very good homilies for whichever parish is lucky enough enough to have him.

There are several sites which are not so much blogs with advice as blogs which collect links to good, useful, or interesting posts. The New Advent site which is put together by Mr Kevin Knight is the best of those; he's also done us all the great favor of compiling online such things as the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Summa Theologica, the Catholic Encyclopedia, and some of the writing of the Church Fathers (though I'm not sure whether a candidate or catechumen will necessarily find these useful now).

It's not technically a blog, but the Catholic Answers website is a veritable treasure trove for anyone who is coming into the Church or is otherwise interested in apologetics. They have a team of apologists (which includes a few folks I've introduced above) who have answered probably thousands of short questions, they have compiled a number of tracts on any number of doctrines and practices of the Church, and the even have a forum for discussion. This is, incidentally, the first site that I turned to when I became interested in apologetics. I can think of a few other non-blog sites which are worthy of recommendation (Dr Peter Kreeft's site and Fr Robert Baron's Word on Fire spring immediately to mind), but for a convert (or anyone else interested in Catholic apologetics), I can think of no better single-stop site than Mr Karl Keating's Catholic Answers site.

The Aggie Catholics blog, which is mostly run by Mr Marcel Lejeune, is also very candidate/catechumen-friendly. Actually, of all these sites I've listed so far, this one seems to me to be the most heavy on Q&A posts--and his answers are always very good. They're also usually more succinct than my answers (which is not hard to do, but still...), so those who have questions and don't want to read a lengthy 3-4 page tract in response might look to see if he's answered your question before, and if not perhaps drop him a line.

There are a lot of other great websites out there. The list of links by the side of my blog will take you to some of them, and following the links from New Advent (or from Mr Tito Edward's, or sometimes Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler's links blog, etc) will generally point you to them. However, I wanted to limit myself to 7 blogs. And since Catholic Answers isn't technically a blog, that leaves leaves me with at least a couple possible selections. I would recommend Dr Scott Hahn and Mr Frank Weather's "Why I Am Catholic." These two men--like so many others on this list--are also converts. Scott Hahn's books in particular are excellent, and I think that they would be very beneficial not only to most if not all converts but also to most if not all cradle Catholics. And Frank Weather's site is just plain inspiring.

Take 7 Update: And here is another reason why Frank Weather's blog rocks.

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.