On the Necessity of the Sacraments

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You may have encountered childless people, both married and single, who refer to their pets as their “children” and to themselves, in turn, as the animals’ “mommy and daddy.”  Often such people will pamper their dog or cat as if it really were a child, even dressing it up in shirts, and hats, and shoes.  Misguided as this most assuredly is, we wouldn’t call these people insane.  Their affection is misplaced, but we assume that when push comes to shove, most of them understand that Fido and Whiskers aren’t quite the same as Philip and Wilma.

Even New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe, who recently granted a writ of habeas corpus to two chimpanzees in order to protect their “rights” against unjust imprisonment in a medical experimentation facility, will have a hard time convincing me she believes Hercules and Leo (the chimps) have human rights until she invites them to her next cocktail party.  To put it simply, aside from poor souls suffering from real mental illness, men and women understand that animals aren’t persons.  They may not be able to give Boethius’ definition of what a person is – an individual substance of a rational nature – but they know that when they ask the dog, “Are you hungry,” he may run to his bowl, but he isn’t going to answer, “Yes, mommy.”

Let’s drive the point home further.  When I was little my father would sometimes take me to the office with him where his secretary would keep me entertained while he worked.  I would fool around on her typewriter and play with the figurines she had decorating her desk.  One item on her desk was that great cultural contribution of the 1970s known as the Pet Rock.  If you have never heard of the Pet Rock, don’t waste your time on a Google search.  It was a short-lived novelty item that jokingly purported to be the perfect pet because, as a rock with a face painted on, it need not be fed, washed, or walked.  I venture to guess that my father’s secretary was in even less danger of thinking that her Pet Rock was a real animal than the overly attentive dog owner was in thinking that his dog was a person.

There is a basic ontological framework in which we exist that we can observe rather easily in our daily lives.  It does not take much to grasp that by their nature lower creatures are incapable of attaining an existence proper to beings higher in the order of creation.

To illustrate this point let us consider our Pet Rock.  A rock is made of matter and form, but that form is not a soul, which only animate creatures possess.  Rocks may change through chemical interactions and outside forces of heat and pressure, but not from any interior mechanism; they have no life processes.  A tree does have life processes, an interior dynamism that enables growth and seasonal renewal, but no more than that.  So while it has a vegetative soul, it does not have a sensitive soul, which explains why despite being a living creature, it does not recoil from the lumberjack’s ax.  The dog, with its sensitive soul, will recoil from a swift kick, but it won’t ask its master what it did to deserve the kick, because it does not have a rational soul.  Man alone in the material order of creation has a rational soul with its powers of the intellect and will.  No rock, no tree, or even dog can know and love.

Even if they have never pondered these realities, I think most people understand the truth of them.  With minimal instruction they can be shown that the inanimate creature is incapable of vegetative life; the merely vegetative creature is incapable of sensitive life; and the merely sensitive creature is incapable of rational life… but that is where most people stop.  Somehow it would never occur to them to take the final step and acknowledge that the merely rational creature, like a man, is incapable of divine life by his own power.

If you were to strike up a conversation with a grieving family member at their grandmother’s funeral regarding the eternal state of her soul – and I am not recommending you do so — you would almost certainly hear them assert that grandma is in heaven as a matter of course.  Even people who would maintain the possibility of eternal damnation are likely to miss the reality that those who do attain heaven don’t do so by their own power.

A “good man” no more deserves the gift of divine life than the Kentucky Derby winner merits a rational soul.  Being a good man is its own reward; being a son of God is a superadded gift of the Father.  God owes us nothing.  He need not have created us; when He created us, He need not have given us the gift of His friendship; when we forfeited that friendship through sin, He need not have redeemed us by his Son’s Incarnation and Passion.  There is nothing in our human nature that can demand the divine life of sanctifying grace as a matter of justice, either in this life or the next.

Yet our merciful and loving God makes His divine life available to us anyway, but on His terms, not ours.  So how does God make His sanctifying grace available to us?

The only sure answer we have is the Seven Sacraments, as instituted by Christ, safeguarded by the Church, and administered by her priests.  God has bound His power to the Sacraments making them efficacious signs of his grace which transform the properly disposed recipient simply by the work being worked – ex opere operato.

We must admit that God is free to work outside of the Sacraments for the salvation of men, but it remains an unsure hope that he actually does so.  It is unsure because, while we can trust in God’s infinite mercy, nowhere in the Gospels does Christ say there is salvation apart from the Sacraments.  To the contrary, we read such statements as that found in John’s Gospel: “Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5),” which explains the urgency of the Resurrected Christ’s commissioning the Apostles to make disciples of all nations through Trinitarian Baptism.

Likewise, regarding the Eucharist: “Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day (John 6:54-55).”

The other Sacraments fall into their respective places, with Christ giving the power of forgiving and retaining sins to the Apostles for the sake of restoring Baptismal innocence, Confirmation to seal us with the gifts of the Spirit for the sake of giving public witness to the Faith, the establishment of Holy Orders to ensure there will always be priests to mediate these sacramental graces, the raising of marriage to the dignity of a Sacrament for the procreation of new persons made for beatitude, and the Anointing of the Sick in order to transform death itself into the passage to new life.

God wills to be with his beloved sons and daughters throughout their pilgrimage on earth so that we might be happy with him forever in heaven.  In the Sacraments we encounter the crucified and risen Lord who became man so that man might share in his life divine.

That is our sure hope.

Whiskey Review: Jack Daniel’s Green Label

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Founded 1875 (or 1863, depending on who you ask), in Lynchburg, Tennessee, where it’s still headquartered, Jack Daniel’s is the best selling brand of whiskey in the world. Its founder and namesake, Jasper “Jack” Newton Daniel, started experimenting with making whiskey when he was young. He took over the local preacher’s distillery in 1884, and the signature square bottled Tennessee whiskey has grown in popularity ever since.

A 2013 state law requires whiskey marketed as “Tennessee whiskey” to be, like bourbon, at least 51 percent corn and aged in never-used charred oak barrels. Additionally, Tennessee whiskey must be filtered through charcoal and stored in Tennessee. The passage of this law, supported strongly by Jack Daniel’s, was controversial: some competing distilleries felt that the law was modeled specifically to fit the Jack Daniel’s distilling process. In 2014 an effort to repeal the law failed. Jeff Arnett, the master distiller at Jack Daniel’s, said of the Tennessee whiskey controversy this past year: “I would love to stop debating it and get back to making it.”

The whiskey we review today is Jack Daniel’s Green Label Tennessee Whiskey. Their green label bottle is a bit more difficult to find, and is lighter and less mature than the standard black label.

Type: Tennessee Whiskey
Proof: 80
MSRP: $21

Color: Light Bronze
Aroma: Vanilla, charcoal, burnt toast, cereal, sulphury
Palate: Initial vanilla. Cereal and sulphur throughout. Short finish.

Andrew: The first thing I noticed was the unusual aroma: not being a bourbon, there was no strong honey notes, and instead there was a mix of cereals and sulphurs. The taste was mild and simple, and while the finish was short it had a notable lack of any harsh spices. Overall I was very happy with the Jack Daniel’s Green Label and would certainly consider it as a base for whiskey cocktails.
Michael: Green label has become a personal favorite of mine for cocktails.  It has enough taste to provide a strong foundation for a mixed drink without utterly dominating the other flavors present.  That is a hard combination to find in reasonably priced whiskies.  A lot of people consider Green Label to be a cheap imitation of the “real thing” or Black Label, but in my humble opinion these folks have no idea what they’re talking about.  Just because Green Label does not grab ahold of your tongue and drag it around a coal mine for a mile and a half does not mean that it is doing you a disservice.  I am quite happy to have found Green Label in Pittsburgh and will almost certainly purchase it again.

Verdict: Mars, the 5th level of Paradiso.

Easter Drinks: The White Russian

White Russian

The Easter Season is a time of great joy and celebration, and, of course, the return of our Easter Drinks series. I begin this Easter season with one of my favorite dessert drinks, the White Russian.

The White Russian, as you might guess by the use of vodka, is a modern drink, born and raised in the late 20th century. But don’t let that deter you – it’s an excellent after dinner cocktail and one of the few decent drinks made with vodka.

Most modern cocktails find their roots in the classics, and this is no exception. The White Russian is predated by the Alexander, a drink made with 1/3 brandy or gin, 1/3 white crème de cacao (a chocolate liqueur), and 1/3 cream. Replace the brandy or gin with vodka (hence “Russian”) and swap the chocolate liqueur for coffee liqueur – and there you have it, a White Russian, sometimes referred to simply as a Russian. Subtract the cream and you have a Black Russian.

A properly prepared White Russian should layer the cream on top of the spirits. Cream is one of the easier ingredients in any layered cocktail because it naturally floats above higher proof liquors. The trick is to slowly pour the cream over a spoon after you’ve poured in the vodka and coffee liquor. Then give it a single slow stir before serving. Careful preparation of a layered cocktail lends much to the aesthetics of the drink.

Happy Easter!

Good Catholic Goods: Brigittine Chocolates

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The Brigittine Order was founded by St. Brigit of Sweden in 1346.  St. Brigit, a princess who generously donated her own estate for the foundation of the order, also formed a strict rule for the monks and nuns who would flock to the contemplative lifestyle.  The strict contemplative lifestyle endorsed by St. Brigit has uniquely armored her order for success in every age, including in modern times.  The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, states that the Brigittines are the only pre-reformation Catholic order in England to survive to the current day.

In our present cultural age, the Brigittine Monks are a rare ray of hope that the contemplative lifestyle so important to the life and development of the Church will not be lost in our generation.

The Brigittine monks in the United States live according to the Rule of St. Augustine.  Adhering to the customs of ancient times, the monks do not ordinarily receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  Silence is generally observed.  Although the Mass is the apex of the day, each monk strives to help make the monastery a self-sufficient economic unit.  The monks in the United States are sustained through the sale of chocolate, which we highly encourage our readers to purchase.

There is something simply wonderful about a religious order that produces a superior product.  Attention to detail in daily work can be reflective of attention to detail in the spiritual life.  The chocolates are wonderful, some of the best I have ever had, and the boxes and wrappings are worthy of the product inside.  Perhaps the highest compliment one can give the monks on their handiwork is to say that the chocolates are so delicious and delightful that eating the Brigittine chocolates is the proper way to commemorate a liturgical season in which Mother Church commands us to celebrate.

Scotch Review: Kilchoman Machir Bay

Kilchoman

Kilchoman is a relative newcomer to the Islay whisky scene, but is already drawing favorable reviews equivalent to its elder island cousins, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg.  Beginning production in 2005, the distillery orders the same malt specifications as Ardbeg but employs a drastically different vision to its product.  Without wholly abandoning the peaty identity that Islay whiskies have become known for, Kilchoman markets a younger, fresher spirit to whisky enthusiasts.

Machir Bay is the flagship Kilchoman release.  The release uses malts from Islay’s famous Port Ellen distillery and does not contain an age requirement.

Type: Islay
Proof: 92
MSRP: $58

Color: Straw
Aroma: Honey and caramelized sugar with chestnuts, dry apples, and peat smoke as tertiary aromas
Palate: Light and slightly fruity initial taste with cool, sweet notes extending to the middle taste.  There are medicinal overtones in the middle taste and peat smoke on the long, oily finish.

Andrew:  Kilchoman is breath of fresh air when it comes to Islay whiskys. I like strong peat and smoke as much as anyone else, but Kilchoman proves that an Islay can be just as interesting as the more complex Speysides and Highlands. Excellent single malt, and I’m looking forward to their future releases.

Michael: You can tell by the color of the whisky that this is not a product that has been aged for long.  I think that younger whiskies get something of a bad reputation in the spirit world and are considered less desirable by people who think that the only thing that matters to taste is the number of years the whisky has been in a barrel.  I really enjoyed this whiskey and would certainly consider purchasing it as a “change of pace” Islay.  It maintains a certain freshness without losing the smokey peat I enjoy.  Directly comparing it to Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and Lagavulin might be unfair but of the four Kilchoman still has some catching up to do.

Verdict: Saturn, the seventh level of Paradiso.

Man Skills: How to Fold a Silk Pocket Square

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A neat pockets square is one of the best suit accessories a man can have.  More subtle and certainly less expensive than a nice watch or cuff links, a well-folded pocket square is an easy way for a man to set himself apart from his peers.  There are at least two ways to fold pocket squares.  Personally, I fold cotton handkerchiefs into actual squares, and they are my preference for daily dress, particularly when going to work.  Silk handkerchiefs are typically tri-folded and are perhaps best used for more formal occasions.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Folding a Silk Handkerchief:

Step 1: Lay the handkerchief flat. 

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Step 2: Fold over the handkerchief twice such that it is now 1/4 of its original size.  Fold so that when finished the tag is on the top outside edge. 

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Step 3: Fold the top sheet of the handkerchief down such that the top left corner meets the bottom right corner. The tag is now on the bottom.

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Step 4: Pull apart the three peaks in the top left corner such that all are showing.  It is easiest to do this by pulling the top peak to the right and the bottom peak to the left. 

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Step 5: Fold the right and left edges of the handkerchief toward the middle.  This is so the pocket square actually fits into the pocket of a suit jacket. 

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Step 6: Fold the bottom of the handkerchief toward the middle, again so that it fits into a suit jacket.  

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Step 7: Place the pocket square into the suit jacket so that the side that was facing down now faces out. Some adjustments will be necessary. 

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BPI: Paschal Homily

Piero della Francesca's Resurrection

Paschal Homily by St. John Chrysostom:

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival. If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord. If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!

You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into Hades and took Hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: “Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions”.

It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body and came upon God! It took earth and encountered Ηeaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!

O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept. To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Scotch Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas: Port Wood Edition (2013)

Laphroaig Cairdeas

Our love of Laphroaig is well known, so we were very excited to review the distillery’s special edition series entitled “Cairdeas.”  Cairdeas means “friendship” in Gaelic.  Gaelic is still intermittently used in parts of Scotland, especially in the northwest of the country.  I was surprised to find Gaelic road signs and radio stations during my travels there.

Laphroaig releases a Cairdeas edition each year, which Andrew and I very much look forward to.  Andrew has developed a habit of bringing me a bottle of Cairdeas for special occasions — wedding, baptisms, and the like — and it has certainly become a way to celebrate our friendship.

Type: Islay
Proof: 102.6
MSRP: $80

Color: Port red with a hint of copper
Aroma: Very sweet off the nose with peat smoke, sea salt, and medicinal overtones
Palate: Matches aroma to perfection.  Initial taste has butterscotch, spice, and rhubarbs.  Peat smoke dominates the middle taste but gives way to a wonderfully long, oily, port-sweet finish.

Andrew: There are few better whiskys with which to celebrate the Easter season. The Cairdeas 2013 is one of Laphroaig’s best, with its perfect blend of peat and port. I wouldn’t have imagined that the traditional Laphroaig could be improved so much, but this edition magnifies the beautiful aromas and taste of the original to create a wonderfully unique and exceptionally enjoyable Islay single malt. While I look forward to every subsequent Cairdeas which Laphroaig will produce, I doubt they will be able to produce something more perfect than this.

Michael:  The 2013 edition of Cairdeas achieved a level of perfection unrivaled at the price point.  Simply put, this bottle is a masterpiece and if you can still find it you should absolutely buy as many as you can get your hands on and put them away for very special occasions.  Without question this is the best whisky I have ever had.

Verdict: Empyrean Heaven, the tenth level of Paradiso.

BPI: Holy Saturday

The Descent into Hell, Salvation of Old Testament People, by Fra Angelico

Today is Holy Saturday, a day of deep mourning, and yet one in anticipation of the Solemn Easter Vigil which will begin after Sunset tonight. It is the time between our Lord’s death on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead, when he triumphantly descended into hell to bring salvation to captive souls. From the second reading of today’s Divine Office, an ancient homily on Holy Saturday:

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

BPI: Maundy Thursday and Seven Churches

Communion of the Apostles by Fra Angelico

Today is Maundy Thursday (Maundy is from the Latin mandatum, “command,” referring to the new commandment to love one another which our Lord gave after washing the disciples feet at the Last Supper). Also known as Holy Thursday, it is on this day that holy oils are consecrated and at the Mass of the Last Supper we remember Christ’s institution both of the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood.

At this Mass, the Gloria is sung and bells are rung for the last time until the Easter Vigil. While the Celebrant washes the feet of twelve men, the choir sings “Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis invicem, sicut dilexi vos, dicit Dominus…,” “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another, as I have loved you, saith the Lord.”

After Mass the Priest replaces his chasuble with a white cope and, during the singing of Pange lingua gloriosi Corporis, carries the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose where our Lord will remain until Holy Communion at the Good Friday liturgy. When the Celebrant returns from the Altar of Repose he announces “Dividunt sibi vestimenta mea: et de veste mea mittunt sortem,” “They parted my garments amongst them, and upon my vesture they cast lots.” While Psalm 21 is sung, the Altar and side altars are stripped and then “Dividunt sibi…” is repeated before the Celebrant returns to the Sacristy.

Following the repose of the Blessed Sacrament, it is traditional in many cultures to visit our Lord for adoration at seven Churches throughout the night. This pilgrimage to adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament reminds us of His words when he went to pray in Gethsemani:

Then Jesus came with them into a country place which is called Gethsemani; and he said to his disciples: Sit you here, till I go yonder and pray. (Matthew 26:36)