#ActonU 2017: Day 2

Day 2 started, as always, with Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

In another room, there is the Ordinary Form (I think they use electric piano over there).  There is also, this year, an Orthodox Prayer service and a Protestant.

Day 2 also started with me being freer than yesterday.  My faculty duties are mostly done (except of course for the mingling and answering questions, which is fun).   Lot’s of people introduce themselves as long time readers here.  You hear many languages.  Today I was waiting for a talk to start on Secularism.  Two Gentlemen From Lebanon (not a play title) came in and introduced themselves (Maronites), as I heard behind me a conversation in Chinese (Mandarin – I got part of it) and at the end of the row a couple were speaking in Spanish, I think Argentinian.  We have any number of African languages around us too.  There is a group from Israel, including a couple of rabbis.  This is a seriously international gathering.  There are priests here from all over the world, many of them on fellowships.   It is ecumenical as well.  Quite a few of the (great) talks I have heard were by Protestants.

Today an amusing thing happened.  One of the presenters made a less than felicitous comment about the post-Constantinian (Catholic obviously) Church in the Middle Ages.  As I shifted in my chair, a friend of mine sitting behind me, an Orthodox priest, patted me on the shoulder and said “There there.”

Meanwhile, these are lovely long evenings, perfect for conversation etc.

Acton U runs ON TIME.  Every session starts and ends on schedule.  That shows RESPECT for participants.  By contrast I remember a beautiful place out West for a conference … disaster.

Good food – for over a thousand.

Panel discussion.


I’ve returned from the post-supper, post-panel, post-mingle activities which were great.  I wandered to where I knew I might find some interesting folks and I found them.  We had two Israeli rabbis, a Muslim, a couple of priests and assorted laymen (including two of the smart Acton staff I know).  The conversation was incredible.   I spent a quite a lot of time parked with a strongly conservative rabbit and the muslim talking about… lots of stuff.  I asked a lot of questions and got a pretty good education.

This was one of those perfect, a Jew, Muslim and a Priest walk into a bar moments….

Anyway, one of the rabbis, who reminded us that they can’t be with us tomorrow for more of the same, told me about this.   We all watched it together on a phone, but here it is. I remember this from when I was pretty young. Transplanting it into this age of screens is… disturbing. This video has something deep for our families to consider. It is from a different tradition. It is from an older tradition. It is from a valid tradition.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mario Bird says:

    By all the miracles of St. Sharbel
    And all the favors granted to our realm
    By that most august Queen of Heaven — nay,
    By Hiram’s cedars, those adoptive trunks
    Which made us spiritual Semites — by all these
    If thou wert not my friend and fellow gent
    I would rebuke thee for thy Western bent
    That ill-prefers the Holy Mass of Trent.

    How comes it thus, coz? Whence such bold critique?
    Had I foreseen your liturgical pique,
    Spurred by that blogging father – surnamed Zeke? –
    I’d liefer kept St. Maron’s rites mine own
    And pressed my suit to bring a priest from home.

    [I LOVE this blog!]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. JimP says:

    What are the religious views of a conservative rabbit? :)

  3. LarryW2LJ says:

    Simon and Garfunkel were eerily prophetic. Time to put down the phones, tablets and PCs for a while and enjoy each other ……. while we can.

  4. APX says:

    (I think they use electric piano over there)

    The only thing worse than a piano at Mass, is an electric piano. They make everything sound as if it’s being played with formaggio. Blegh!

  5. ejcmartin says:

    The name of the singers are the Maccabeats.

  6. The Egyptian says:

    per the video, one word


  7. samwise says:

    I was glad to meet Fr. Sirico on my family’s latest visit to GR. We ran into him after the ordination of my son’s godfather, and he told us of the tradition of priests giving their mother’s the chrism and stole to present at judgment in proof of their having given the Church a priest.

    Additionally, we visited his Sacred Heart Parish whose feast is today! Between his responsibilities at Acton and Sacred Heart, I would venture to say that Fr. Sirico is close to bi-locating.

  8. Glennonite says:

    S & G really nailed-it so many decades ago. Thanks go to the MaccaBeats for bringing this into focus. Very insightful.

  9. SanSan says:

    Thank you for sharing Father. Especially, the haunting video of days gone by…..

  10. Giuseppe says:

    Not sure about a Conservative Rabbit, but here’s an Orthodox Rabbit:

  11. Sandy says:

    What amazing people you are with, Father Z! Regarding the video, it was touching and thought provoking. So much these days seems to bring a tear to my eye knowing what we have left behind, as you say, older and valid traditions. We are in a hurricane, whirlwind, or whatever you want to call it! It takes so much effort to focus on the Lord and His blessings and not be disheartened. We must remember all the heroic people out there, such as all these leaders you are hearing. May their voices multiply.

  12. m.e.santos says:

    Pope Francis doesn’t like Conservative Rabbits. They breed too much.

  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    Glennonite wrote:

    “S & G really nailed-it so many decades ago.”

    Here, I had planned a nice little day working on a research paper, but it seems I got distracted by the video of the Jews in the City. While I applaud their application of Simon and Garfunkel’s, The Sound of Silence (SoS), to the problem of the distractions of modern mass media, it caused me to get interested enough to research the song, and that caused me to have something to say about it. I know this is a long comment, but hear me out (get it…the sound of silence…how very Zen).

    Many people seem to think that the song, essentially, is about listening to the silence as a way of connecting to something greater than themselves – which, as an exercise in meditation leading to contemplation is exemplary. Many people, including the Jews in the City, hear it that way. I was disappointed, however, when I examined the song lyrics in more detail, because, while the song can be haunting when attached to the music, a study of the actual lyrics shows it to be what one would expect from a talented, but inexperienced 21 years old Paul Simon writing from the late 1950’s – a good idea in need of editing.

    Words need to communicate, clearly. Rhetoric is the cherry-on-top of clarity. The SoS was a flop when it was first released in 1963 until it was smaltzed-up by overdubbing a back-up band to it and re-releasing it in 1965. The rest, is history. The song is a social justice song, not a plea for mystical engagement with God or Silence. As such, it was popular, initially, with college students (first, in Boston and, later, traveling down the coast). That led to it being re-issued in 1965. America had just come out of the Beat generation and was entering the turbulent social justice-saturated 1960’s. The song, on the surface, is about the voicelessness of the alienated and was a hit, especially with the Counter-culture movement, so much so that it got incorporated into one of the most iconic movies of the genre – The Graduate, for which it won the Grammy award for best score for Simon in 1969.

    The lyrics are all over the map, however. I have a friend who is a poet and his poems are clear, concise, and deep – even if I don’t always agree with their content. Let’s look at Simon’s lyrics- I am not trying to ruin the song for anyone – I am trying to de-emotionialize it, because visceral responses without common sense can get people in trouble, as we saw in the 1960’s. I think if one analyzes the lyrics, one comes to see that, far from being a simple social justice song, it is, actually, quite revolutionary.

    The first stanza is:

    Hello darkness, my old friend
    I’ve come to talk with you again
    Because a vision softly creeping
    Left its seeds while I was sleeping
    And the vision that was planted in my brain
    Still remains
    Within the sound of silence

    Okay, the singer is, apparently, talking to Darkness, his old friend because some vision was planted in his brain while sleeping, hence the need to reconnect with Darkness, so that he can remember the vision. This, however, is a visual phenomenon, so the first stanza should have ended:

    Still remains
    Within the light of darkness

    but the singer shifts the sensory modality to silence, suddenly and inexplicably, re-orienting the song from a visual experience to an auditory experience, or lack, thereof. Does he mean to imply that the vision is a silent vision? If so, how could anything remain within the sound of silence, if there were no sound attached to the vision, to begin with?

    So, he is revisiting his dream/vision, which leads to the next stanza:

    In restless dreams I walked alone
    Narrow streets of cobblestone
    ‘Neath the halo of a streetlamp
    I turned my collar to the cold and damp
    When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
    That split the night
    And touched the sound of silence

    Okay, first, the streets are narrow and of cobblestone, which implies that there are buildings on either side. Now, cobblestone is very reflective and the light from the sodium D-line of the streetlamps of the time was intense yellow, so much so that the halo would have obliterated or at least washed out most colors. It was, also, cold and damp, meaning that there was a lot of water vapor in the air, contributing to the scattering of the light from the lamp (hence, the halo effect). The singer, then, claims that his eyes were stabbed by the flash of neon light. Now, the yellow color of sodium street lamps, occurs at 589 nanometers, while neon lights emit at a frequency of between 613 to 763 nanometer, also in the reddish – yellow region, so a true neon light would never have split the night. it would have: a) been scattered by the water vapor in the air and, b) would have been washed out by the intense yellow color of the sodium street light, especially in such confined narrow cobblestone streets. Blue, “neon,” lights are actually, typically mercury-based. They are not, however usually, intense.

    Now, how does a neon light touch the sound of silence? How does one touch a sound? Does the singer mean that the neon light distracted him from the sound of silence? I though he was wandering the streets in restless dreams, getting in touch with the vision – which, apparently, was of him wandering through narrow streets. Does he mean that the neon light startled him in the dream? What does that have to do with silence, at all?

    And in the naked light I saw
    Ten thousand people, maybe more
    People talking without speaking
    People hearing without listening
    People writing songs that voices never share
    No one dare
    Disturb the sound of silence

    Great. He was just shocked into awareness by a neon light in a narrow street, but, apparently 10,000 people can fit on that street, because he saw them in the naked light. Does he mean the naked neon light, or has another light entered the picture that we don’t know about? One must assume that if the neon light, “stabbed,” his brain, then it must be the neon light. How, then, did 10,000 people suddenly show up on the narrow street without him bumping into any of them as he was walking? Just two stanzas, before, he said he was walking alone. Wasn’t the street lamp bright enough to see even a few people? I think this calls for a letter to the county divisions of streets.

    People are talking without speaking and hearing without listening. This could indicate telepathy of some sort. People write songs they are afraid to sing. No one dared disturb the silence, but apparently, since they could talk without speaking, why can’t they sing without making a sound? They don’t need to disturb the silence, then, do they. I don’t see the problem and why anyone would be afraid, since they can communicate without making a sound.

    The singer is trying to get the point across that voices of protest are being silenced, but the way he expresses himself points to something other, entirely, as I will explain, below.

    “Fools” said I, “You do not know,”
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence

    First, he was all nice about silence. His vision remained within the sound of silence. The light touched the silence. Suddenly, silence is evil. It is growing like a cancer. “Fools,” say I, “You do not know…” If this is a silent dream, why is he bothering to try to speak to them? He says that his words fell like silent raindrops? Duh? It’s a silent vision. What did he expect? They echoed in the wells of silence. If a word falls from your mouth and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? He seems to be imploring the people to hear him or touch him, but apparently, these 10,000 people are specters, ghosts, possibly from another dimension, since they can’t hear him and he can’t touch them. Notice, that he says nothing else about material contact. Why is this song not about the feel of nothing instead of the sound of silence? We’ve mixed our sense from the beginning – the light of darkness to the sound of silence to the touch of nothing. Most confusing. There is more information to clear this up, however.

    And the people bowed and prayed
    To the neon god they made
    And the sign flashed out its warning
    In the words that it was forming
    And the sign said “The words of the prophets
    Are written on the subway walls
    And tenement halls
    And whispered in the sounds of silence”

    Apparently, the people bowed and prayed to a neon God that they made. Hmm…of course, this indicates idolatry of a high order, but maybe only the light of that wavelength could penetrate into the other dimension. The singer goes to great length to excoriate the neon god and, being a false god, must be a liar, yet the singer says that the neon light is flashing out a warning in the words that it forms – wait, was part of the neon light turned off? Neon lights don’t normally, turn on piecemeal. Okay, so we have a false god, so, whatever he says, we should ignore, right? Yet, the singer wants the 10,000 people in the pocket universe to pay attention to the message. The message is that the words of the prophets are written on subway ways and tenement halls, but of course, since these are false prophets from a neon god that the people made up, does that mean the message should be ignored? So, instead of implying that the Poor are prophetic, the way the song reads, actually contradicts that. Carried to its logical conclusion, this neon sign says the words of the prophets are written on subway walls, but since the sign is not a god, then the prophets to which it refers must either be false or be part of another set of prophets for another God. So, apparently, even if their conclusion about the godliness of the neon light is wrong, it communicates an essential truth, just one that the people in the pocket universe don’t understand. These prophetic utterances are whispered in the sound of silence – but, I thought he just said that they were written on subway walls. Who is reading them? Why whisper them in the sound of silence if you can read them in the light of day? No one seems to be being threatened for merely reading them. Perhaps sound has something to do with it. Since the people in the pocket universe communicate telepathically, maybe the sound of people in our universe reading the words disturbs them and they have become taboo in the pocket universe.

    Okay, from the available data we can reconstruct a plausible meaning of the song.

    Based on the evidence, the song is referring to a person, the singer, who, apparently, is able to contact a pocket universe when he is in the dark or sleeping – it is unclear. Light of certain wavelengths and words of certain vocal inflections bleed over into the pocket universe, which is, apparently, both dark and silent, being inhabited by telepathic beings. Imagine their surprise to see this amazing light and hear these frightening sounds. How could they not think this was the light and sounds of a god and worship them? The singer, desperately, tries to contact the people and explain that the light is not a god, but that the sounds of the words are true. Unfortunately, they can’t hear him because he has not found a way to telepathically contact the people, relying, instead, on vocal communication, which they cannot perceive, being deaf, except for the very specific frequencies of sounds of the words written on subway walls that are able to penetrate into the pocket universe.

    It is a sad song, but hopefully, with enough contact with the darkness and practice, the singer might be able to establish contact with the people in the pocket universe and make them aware that there are people in this universe.

    Oh, I know that most people think that the song is about listening to the silence because silence is the only thing that the poor have and that one can only hear the poor in their silence. That is very Biblical, but the writing doesn’t really support that point. If you only hear the words that pop out at you when the music is performed, one might come to that conclusion. That would make this a social justice song, no question, but as our analysis shows, the song really is one of the first true science fiction songs!

    This makes so much more sense. See, now the Jews in the Street are, really singing about how cell phones are sucking us all into a temporary pocket universe where we lose contact with all but a few sights and sounds of this universe, which we worship. Hmm…say, that reminds me of the plot to a Dr. Who story – The Bells of St. John. Ah, I sense a law suit…

    Sometimes, one should not think too deeply about things, I guess.

    The Chicken

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    I hope I didn’t violate copyright law by my comment. I thought commentary/satire was protected under fair use. Not so sure, now.

    The Chicken

  15. Kerry says:

    Masked Gallus, “MacArthur’s park is melting in the…”
    Oh, never mind.

  16. pj_houston says:

    The jewish tradition is valid? [There’s not much to go on in this question. One might rejoin: In what respect? Our Lord certain thought so.]

  17. Justalurkingfool says:

    For this old man, the song is about listening to the beautiful harmonies of Paul and Art(in the original), who were fans of the brothers, Everly; Phil and Don. Upon whose harmonies Paul and Art cut their teeth

    I never will tire of such vocals/music. The words, I knew. But the music was so much better and their harmonies, simply delicious.


  18. Ipsitilla says:

    This reminds me of a parody version I wrote several years ago:

    Hello cyberspace, old friend
    I just logged on to you again
    Because a cell phone loudly beeping
    Woke me up when I was sleeping
    To inform me someone posted on my wall
    Or tried to call
    From in the cloud of data

    In our binary comfort zone
    We are connected but not known
    And we see ourselves as superheroes
    There amid a sea of ones and zeroes
    With a thousand friends that we don’t look in the eye
    No need to try
    Within the cloud of data

    And in that second life I see
    Ten thousand avatars like me
    Users displaying no decorum
    Users trolling on every forum
    Users writing words they’d never dare to say
    By light of day
    Outside the cloud of data

    “N00bs,” said I, “You’ll never know,
    Watch one more Youtube video
    Angry Birds will entertain us
    Silly memes will explain us”
    But my tweets were swallowed by the din
    And vanished
    In the cloud of data

    And my generation prayed
    To the glowing screens they made
    Gates or Jobs became their great teacher
    Their “Amen” was in the “Like” feature
    They believed that the sum of their being was written on their Facebook walls
    And FaceTime calls
    Existing in the cloud of data

  19. Imrahil says:

    Dear Chicken,

    interesting. Can you attach any meaning to the fact that in the lines “and the people bowed and prayed / to the neon god they made”, there is a sudden break in grammar?

    I mean, naturally even an idolater makes his idol first and worships it afterwards, hence we would expect “and the people bowed and prayed / to the neo god they‘d made”, “had” being abbreviated to keep in the meter.

    (And even if the idolaters are of a rather strange sort which makes and worships their idols at the same time, then the appropriate tense in the subclause would be the progressive form, “were making”…)


  20. pj_houston says:

    Fr. Z,
    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you mean, but the Jewish tradition is not valid in the respect that they reject the Logos. This “dialoguing” with Jews and Muslims, as our pope seems to have a bizzare fetish for, doesn’t really accomplish anything. We are obligated as Catholics to tell them that their souls are in jeopardy, not honor their traditions.

    [Yes. I think you are misunderstanding.]

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