In a post from last year I discussed the joys of finding music from the 1930s and ’40s using LimeWire and iTunes. Since then, I’ve gone even further back, discovering Celtic tunes and especially the polyphonic liturgical music of Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), William Byrd (1543-1623), and Giovanni Pierluigui de Palestrina (1526-1594). I first sang Palestrina years ago while in the choir of another parish I attended, and I first heard Tallis and Byrd on a public radio classical music show some years later. When I discovered I could find just about anything using LimeWire and iTunes, I jumped at the chance to find some of this great music. It makes the contemporary Catholic music of the St. Louis Jesuits and Marty Haugen, whom I had previously admired, sound rather penny ante by comparison. The trouble with Tallis, Byrd, Palestrina, et al., however, is that you need a large choir of well trained singers to sound good. Almost anybody can sing SLJ, Marty Haugen, David Haas, Carey Landry (gag!), and the like.
One of the things I admire most about Tallis and Byrd is that they were English Catholics in a time when an English Catholic was a dicey thing to be. Both Tallis and Byrd were well-connected socially and politically and could have easily advanced themselves by becoming Anglicans, but they chose to remain Catholics, a choice that could get them arrested, jailed, executed, or deported if they weren’t careful. I believe Tallis and Queen Elizabeth reached a sort of “understanding” that Tallis could continue composing music for the Roman Catholic liturgy in Latin if he also composed music for the Church of England in English. Naturally, I have a soft spot for the Catholic stuff in Latin. Gotta get one of his albums on CD! But which one?
I gave up TV for Lent because I became disgusted with all negativism behind much of the programming and advertising. Although there are some good shows out there, as I said in my Star Trek post, most of what’s on TV today is trash. If “Survivor” and its ilk are considered “reality TV” I’ll take good old-fashioned unreality any day. You put total strangers in a completely artificial, contrived situation, follow them around with cameras hoping they’ll do something dishonest or perverted in order to win the game, and call that “reality?” No thanks. Cop shows push the message that the world is full of serial killers, drug dealers, terrorists, rapists, and perverts. Advertising constantly pushes the message that what you need to be happy in life is to buy more stuff. If you buy the right stuff, you will have more sex and be happy. Anyone with half a brain and half a heart knows this is false, but people like me who live alone continue to watch TV because the light, motion, color, and sound create the illusion that there are others with you. They create the illusion that you are not alone.
I turned off the TV, but I was still uncomfortable with the silence in the evening. I discovered Catholic internet podcasts as an alternative to the inane jabber of TV. I’ve become a podcast junkie. My favorite has to be the Rosary Army with Greg and Jennifer Willitts. They make and give away rosaries made from twine and teach others to do the same. Their podcasts are obviously about the rosary, but they also talk candidly about their day to day adventures and struggles of trying to maintain a home and a family in today’s world. In the past year, they’ve tried unsucessfully to sell their house, Greg has lost his job and taken another one, Jennifer had a miscarriage, one of their sons has been diagnosed with autism, and another with epilepsy. Yet they have tried to face all these trials with humor and faith. Occasionally, they’ll do skits featuring their original Catholic superheroes Captain Catechism and Merry Medal. Listening to one of their shows is like spending a few minutes with your pleasantly crazy Catholic neighbors from down the block.
Runner-up for my favorite podcast is Mark Shea’s Rock Solid. These are daily 5 to 7 minute reflections on some aspect of history or culture and how they relate to the Catholic faith. His favorite tactic is to find something significant in history that happened on the date of the podcast and use it as a springboard for reflection. The guy must scour Chase’s Calendar of Events or The Catholic Almanac looking for material!
I also listen occasionally to The Daily Breakfast with Father Roderick, a priest from the Diocese of Utrecht in the Netherlands. I’m not as enthusiastic about this show. Father Roderick is a young priest (from the photo on his website, I’d say early 40s, tops) and he is plainly trying to reach teens, twentysomethings, and thirtysomethings with this show. He speaks very colloquial, idiomatic English, plays new pop music, and talks a lot about movies, TV, computers, and video games. Along the way, he sneaks in information and commentary about the Catholic Church.
I don’t know how I feel about this. On the one hand, it’s good that a priest is trying to talk to young people (I sound like such an old fuddy-duddy when I say that. “You young people should turn that noise down! My goodness! What’s the world coming to?”) about things they care about and are interested in. They need to hear the voice of Christ amid all the yammering that is pop culture. On the other hand, if I want to know about the latest in pop culture there are any number of secular sources I can go to for that information. Why do I want to hear about it from a priest? What I want to hear from a priest is what a priest should know best: How I can know Christ and love Him and serve Him better? I think I’d enjoy Father Roderick more if he had less pop culture chitchat and more clearly Catholic stuff.
There you have it, friends. My thoughts on TV, podcasting, and pop culture. This concludes this test of the Emergency Ranting System. We now return you to your regularly scheduled lives.