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Odds and ends from the staff of The Lamp.


✥ Those of us who go to the liquor store as a hobby are no doubt aware that for about two years now there has been a shortage of Chartreuse. It began on the margins. First it was difficult to find a bottle of the green V.E.P., then the yellow. But soon, even those unwilling to spend two hundred eighty dollars on a digestif felt the pinch as the standard version also became unavailable. Liquor store owners around the country explained to dissatisfied customers that this was a genuine supply problem; and they had no expectation of restocking what Quentin Tarantino called “the only liquor so good that they named a color after it.”

The reason behind the shortage is that the Carthusians of the Grande Chartreuse, who have made the liqueur more or less continuously since the seventeenth century, do not care to meet demand, which has increased in the past few years. They decided, after much reflection, that producing more Chartreuse was a distraction: “We wish to allow the monks to remain faithful to their primary vocation of prayer and solitude within their community and thus to preserve the balance of life at the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse,” a spokesman for the company that distributes the liqueur said. And, in any case, she added, growth isn’t everything: “Maintaining production at its current level also means refusing the race for infinite growth and favoring the future,” she said. “It also means keeping a business activity on a human scale.”

We agree with this reasoning wholeheartedly, even if it means one fewer bottle in our liquor cabinets. Still, we did want to have at least one bottle of Chartreuse in store. So we began making phone calls. Washington, D.C., was all emptied out. So was Northern Virginia. (The nearest bottle to Arlington was one hundred fifteen miles away.) Our representatives in Philadelphia and New York City turned up no results. (A liquor store owner in Union Square actually began cursing when asked for Chartreuse.) On a lark, we stopped at a grungy place in La Plata, Maryland, where there were two green bottles still on shelves. (We snapped them up immediately.) The Midwest was a little better. Although we couldn’t find a single bottle in Indiana, Illinois, or Iowa, the liquor stores of Nebraska came through. We called every place in Omaha and Lincoln before finally tracking down four bottles. The store owner said he had bullied the distributor into selling them to him.

Then we made the sweep back east: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania—all busts. One store owner in southeastern Michigan said that he’s been keeping a list of people asking for Chartreuse. It stretches back a year. He has no expectation that he’ll ever fill those orders. We can see those who placed them now, waiting, pale, unsatisfied, no doubt muttering the stanzas Matthew Arnold wrote while at the Grande Chartreuse:

Years hence, perhaps, may dawn an age,
More fortunate, alas! than we,
Which without hardness will be sage,
And gay without frivolity.
Sons of the world, oh, speed those years;
But, while we wait, allow our tears!

✥ While we’re on the subject, here’s Anthony Powell’s sketch of a typical Chartreuse drinker:

Hugo liked to “pose”—in his own word—as an “aesthete.” He used to burn joss-sticks in his rooms. He had bought a half-bottle of Green Chartreuse, a liqueur he “sipped” from time to time, which, like the Widow’s cruse, seemed to last forever; for only during outbreaks of consciously bad behavior was Hugo much of a drinker.

✥ The copyright on Winnie-the-Pooh lapsed last year, meaning that we can now, without fear of retribution from the Milne estate, present our bedtime story, “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Stuck in a Tight Place”:

Pooh always liked a little something at eleven o’clock in the morning, and he was very glad to see Rabbit getting out the plates and mugs; and when Rabbit said, “Honey or condensed milk with your bread?” he was so excited that he said, “Both,” and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, “But don’t bother about the bread, please.” And for a long time after that he said nothing . . . until at last, humming to himself in a rather sticky voice, he got up, shook Rabbit lovingly by the paw, and said that he must be going on.

“Must you?” said Rabbit politely.

“Well,” said Pooh, “I could stay a little longer if it—if you—” and he tried very hard to look in the direction of the larder.

“As a matter of fact,” said Rabbit, “I was going out myself directly.”

“Oh, well, then, I’ll be going on. Good-bye.”

“Well, good-bye, if you’re sure you won’t have any more.”

“Is there any more?” asked Pooh quickly.

Rabbit took the covers off the dishes, and said, “No, there wasn’t.”

“I thought not,” said Pooh, nodding to himself. “Well, good-bye. I must be going on.”

So he started to climb out of the hole. He pulled with his front paws, and pushed with his back paws, and in a little while his nose was out in the open again . . . and then his ears . . . and then his front paws . . . and then his shoulders . . . and then—

“Oh, help!” said Pooh. “I’d better go back.”

“Oh, bother!” said Pooh. “I shall have to go on.”

“I can’t do either!” said Pooh. “Oh, help and bother!”

Now by this time Rabbit wanted to go for a walk too, and finding the front door full, he went out by the back door, and came round to Pooh, and looked at him.

“Hallo, are you stuck?” he asked.

“N-no,” said Pooh carelessly. “Just resting and thinking and humming to myself.”

“Here, give us a paw.”

Pooh Bear stretched out a paw, and Rabbit pulled and pulled and pulled. . . .

“Ow!” cried Pooh. “You’re hurting!”

“The fact is,” said Rabbit, “you’re stuck.”

“It all comes,” said Pooh crossly, “of not having front doors big enough.”

“It all comes,” said Rabbit sternly, “of eating too much. I thought at the time,” said Rabbit, “only I didn’t like to say anything,” said Rabbit, “that one of us was eating too much,” said Rabbit, “and I knew it wasn’t me,” he said. “Well, well, I shall go and fetch Christopher Robin.”

Christopher Robin lived at the other end of the Forest, and when he came back with Rabbit, and saw the front half of Pooh, he said, “Silly old Bear,” in such a loving voice that everybody felt quite hopeful again.

“I was just beginning to think,” said Bear, sniffing slightly, “that Rabbit might never be able to use his front door again. And I should hate that,” he said.

“So should I,” said Rabbit.

“Use his front door again?” said Christopher Robin. “Of course he’ll use his front door again.”

“Good,” said Rabbit.

“If we can’t pull you out, Pooh, we might push you back.”

Rabbit scratched his whiskers thoughtfully, and pointed out that, when once Pooh was pushed back, he was back, and of course nobody was more glad to see Pooh than he was, still there it was, some lived in trees and some lived underground, and—

“You mean I’d never get out?” said Pooh.

“I mean,” said Rabbit, “that having got so far, it seems a pity to waste it.”

Christopher Robin nodded.

“Then there’s only one thing to be done,” he said. “We shall have to wait for you to get thin again.”

“How long does getting thin take?” asked Pooh anxiously.

“About a week, I should think.”

“But I can’t stay here for a week!”

“You can stay here all right, silly old Bear. It’s getting you out which is so difficult.”

“We’ll read to you,” said Rabbit cheerfully. “And I hope it won’t snow,” he added. “And I say, old fellow, you’re taking up a good deal of room in my house—do you mind if I use your back legs as a towel-horse? Because, I mean, there they are—doing nothing—and it would be very convenient just to hang the towels on them.”

“A week!” said Pooh gloomily. “What about meals?”

“I’m afraid no meals,” said Christopher Robin, “because of getting thin quicker. But we will read to you.”

Bear began to sigh, and then found he couldn’t because he was so tightly stuck; and a tear rolled down his eye, as he said:

“Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness?”

So for a week Christopher Robin read that sort of book at the North end of Pooh, and Rabbit hung his washing on the South end . . . and in between Bear felt himself getting slenderer and slenderer. And at the end of the week Christopher Robin said, “Now!”

So he took hold of Pooh’s front paws and Rabbit took hold of Christopher Robin, and all Rabbit’s friends and relations took hold of Rabbit, and they all pulled together. . . .

And for a long time Pooh only said “Ow!” . . .

And “Oh!” . . .

And then, all of a sudden, he said “Pop!” just as if a cork were coming out of a bottle.

And Christopher Robin and Rabbit and all Rabbit’s friends and relations went head-over-heels backwards . . . and on the top of them came Winnie-the-Pooh—free!

So, with a nod of thanks to his friends, he went on with his walk through the forest, humming proudly to himself. But, Christopher Robin looked after him lovingly, and said to himself, “Silly old Bear!”

✥ In a recent Apostolic Letter on Blaise Pascal, Pope Francis defended his old hero, whom he has expressed a desire to beatify, from charges of Jansenism:

I must mention Pascal’s relationship to Jansenism. One of his sisters, Jacqueline, had entered religious life in Port-Royal, in a religious congregation the theology of which was greatly influenced by Cornelius Jansen, whose treatise Augustinus appeared in 1640. In January 1655, following his “night of fire,” Pascal made a retreat at the abbey of Port-Royal. In the months that followed, an important and lengthy dispute about the Augustinus arose between Jesuits and “Jansenists” at the Sorbonne, the university of Paris. The controversy dealt chiefly with the question of God’s grace and the relationship between grace and human nature, specifically our free will. Pascal, while not a member of the congregation of Port-Royal, nor given to taking sides—as he wrote, “I am alone. . . . I am not at all part of Port-Royal”—was charged by the Jansenists to defend them, given his outstanding rhetorical skill. He did so in 1656 and 1657, publishing a series of eighteen writings known as The Provincial Letters.

Although several propositions considered “Jansenist” were indeed contrary to the faith, a fact that Pascal himself acknowledged, he maintained that those propositions were not present in the Augustinus or held by those associated with Port-Royal. Even so, some of his own statements, such as those on predestination, drawn from the later theology of Augustine and formulated more severely by Jansen, do not ring true. We should realize, however, that, just as Saint Augustine sought in the fifth century to combat the Pelagians, who claimed that man can, by his own powers and without God’s grace, do good and be saved, so Pascal, for his part, sincerely believed that he was battling an implicit pelagianism or semi-pelagianism in the teachings of the “Molinist” Jesuits, named after the theologian Luis de Molina, who had died in 1600 but was still quite influential in the middle of the seventeenth century. Let us credit Pascal with the candor and sincerity of his intentions.

This Letter is no place to re-open the question. Even so, what Pascal rightly warned against remains a source of concern for our own age: a “neo-pelagianism” that would make everything depend on “human effort channeled by ecclesial rules and structures” and can be recognized by the fact that it “intoxicates us with the presumption of a salvation earned through our own efforts.” It should also be pointed out that Pascal’s final position on grace, and in particular the fact that God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” was set out in perfectly Catholic terms at the end of his life.

As I noted earlier, Blaise Pascal, at the conclusion of a life that was brief yet extraordinarily rich and fruitful, set the love of his brothers and sisters above all else. He felt and knew that he was a member of one body, for “God, having made the heaven and the earth which are not conscious of the happiness of their existence, wished to create beings who would know that happiness and constitute a body of thinking members.” Pascal, as a lay Christian, savored the joy of the Gospel, with which the Spirit wishes to heal and make fruitful “every aspect of humanity” and to bring “all men and women together at table in God’s Kingdom.” When, in 1659, he composed his magnificent Prayer to Ask of God the Proper Use of Sickness, Pascal was a man at peace, no longer engaged in controversies or even apologetics. Gravely ill and at the point of dying, he asked to receive Holy Communion, but that was not immediately possible. So he asked his sister, “since I cannot communicate in the head [Jesus Christ], I would like to communicate in the members.” He “greatly desired to die in the company of the poor.” It was said of Pascal, shortly after he took his last breath on 19 August 1662, that “he died with the simplicity of a child.” After receiving the sacraments, his last words were: “May God never abandon me.”

All the more remarkable considering that Francis is a Jesuit himself.

✥ The long-suffering Commanders may see yet another name change in the next few years, said one of the team’s minority owners in July. We suggest a return to tradition: The Washington Football Team.

✥ Right now in the United States, one round of in vitro fertilization costs about twenty thousand dollars. There are fourteen states that require insurance to cover the treatment (five years ago it was only nine). Four in ten employer insurance plans offer IVF. Those who cannot afford IVF in the United States often go abroad, where regulations on egg retrieval are more relaxed. The Czech Republic, Mexico, Thailand, and, until somewhat recently, Ukraine, are popular destinations. Private equity, however, has sensed a “market gap” in the baby business and is trying to bring much of this business back to the States (about a third of IVF cycles in America are done through clinics affiliated with private-equity funds). The future, investors promise, is in “automated” IVF, meaning a process guided by artificial intelligence. One venture capitalist claims that, given the cash, he could raise the worldwide number of IVF babies from sixty-four thousand per month to more than one million per month. Another claims that artificial intelligence could reduce the costs of IVF by as much as seventy percent in America. The operating term in both pitches is the word hope—a hope that for most women seeking IVF is ill-founded. For women under thirty-five, the success rate of IVF after the first try is about forty-one percent. That’s the bright side. For women older than forty, the success rate is just over eight percent. It only plummets from there.

✥ “I’m surprised that your first wasn’t in a tent somewhere or in somebody’s basement.”

Readers can be forgiven for thinking that this remark is not the sort of thing a priest friend ought not to have said to me recently. But context is everything. Here “first one” meant my first episcopal consecration, and his words were occasioned by hearing that I would be attending the consecration of Edward M. Lohse as the next bishop of the Diocese of Kalamazoo.

As it happened I found my “first one” very interesting. I sat next to a delegation from the Knights of Columbus, jolly, big-bellied mustached fellows wearing the old-fashioned regalia. I had forgotten how long the distribution of Holy Communion takes in the absence of altar rails. I ended up having to leave before the recessional (“O God Beyond All Praising,” according to the booklet, which is surely the most enjoyable of the post-conciliar “hymns”), which I regretted at first because I had hoped to attend the reception that was supposed to follow. But another friend later informed me that there were no drinks, only dessert, a reality that, perhaps even more than the use of the vernacular in the conferring of the fullness of holy orders, brought home to me how much the Church has changed.

Enough about me. The principal consecrator was Archbishop Vigneron. My Lord of Detroit spoke movingly of the bishop-elect. “You are not to be an ecclesiastical civil servant.” This more than anything else is the lesson that the world’s bishops must take to heart. But “civil servant” is precisely how the office is often conceived, and it is certainly what it tends to become in practice even for those who resolve upon proceeding as successors of the Holy Apostles.

Bishop Lohse can hope for no better guide than his predecessor. As readers of this publication will know, Paul Bradley was the last bishop in the United States to suspend public Mass and the first to restore it. He has done the Church many another service, including several which cannot be discussed at present.

We ask readers to pray for Bishop Lohse and for all the episcopate.


✥ An exercise from Bradley’s Arnold meant to test the student’s knowledge of the use of the Latin infinitive as a noun. Translations should be sent to Grading will be strict!

i. It is always delightful to parents that their children should be praised.

ii. He said that it was disgraceful to break one’s word, but keeping one’s promises was always honourable.

iii. Both your brother and you have told many falsehoods; falsehood is always vile.

iv. It is one thing to be praised, another to have deserved praise.

v. To be praised by the unpatriotic is to me almost the same thing as to be blamed by patriots.

vi. Feeling gratitude, says he, is one thing, returning thanks another.

vii. Procrastination, which in all things was dangerous, was, he said, fatal in war.

viii. Pardoning the wicked is almost the same thing as condemning the innocent.

ix. Procrastination in showing gratitude is never praiseworthy; for myself, I prefer returning kindness to being under an obligation.

x. Happiness is one thing; success and prosperity another.

xi. Brave fighting, says he, will today be the same thing as victory; by victory we shall give freedom to our country.

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