“Mardi Gras may never end!” So spoke the winning quarterback Drew Brees after his New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Surely Mardi Gras began early in the Crescent City and will continue with parades, festivities and jazz until the stroke of midnight on the the morning of Ash Wednesday. After the destruction of Katrina and years of frustration in professional sports, New Orleans finally has something to celebrate.
Not too far from those celebrations lies Haiti and the city of Port-au-Prince, another former French colony known for its Mardi Gras festivities. Will Haitians have the energy for celebration this year? Dare they celebrate? A golf course has become a tent city for thousands of homeless. Orphans seek families to care for them. Amputees try to put their lives together. Obviously, Mardi Gras celebrations will be subdued, yet Haitians will and must celebrate because it is deep in their Catholic tradition. So strong is faith in Haiti, that even as earthquake victims were pulled from the rubble, many Haitians sang God’s praises.
Lent begins with ashes. Yet it ends not with the suffering and death of Good Friday, but with Easter, the day of resurrection. For Catholics, Mardi Gras serves as a reminder and minor anticipation of resurrection joy and life.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans and even in Haiti this year is possible because God’s love is deeper and stronger than suffering, destruction and even death.Turning Back the Clock
Anscar J. Chupungco, O.S.B., may not be a household name, but the internationally known liturgical scholar commands respect among his peers. So when he called the Vatican’s recent liturgical decisions an “attempt to put the clock back a half-century” and “a reform of the post-conciliar reform,” liturgists took note. Father Chupungco, a Benedictine priest and former president of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’Anselmo in Rome, was speaking at the inauguration of a liturgical institute in Brisbane, Australia, in January. He did not mince words. Recent Roman documents “are becoming increasingly perplexing,” he said, lamenting their “absence of a historical and cultural approach to the liturgy” and “the inability to fuse together the two basic concepts of Vatican II’s liturgical renewal, namely sound tradition and legitimate progress.”
The recent changes—including Pope Benedict XVI’s document on the increased use of Latin in Masses and the upcoming revisions of the English translation—are not alterations that concern only liturgical scholars. They will be felt by all Catholics. Perhaps that is why Father Chupungco, who directs a liturgical institute in the Philippines, spoke bluntly. “Liturgical reform requires serious academic work,” he said, “not mere romantic attachments to the past that close the eyes to the reality of the present time. The drive for legitimate progress makes us run towards the realization of Vatican II’s liturgical reform,” he concluded, “but we should not run as if we did not carry on our shoulders the weight, both heavy and precious, of sound tradition.” Sound tradition, in other words, includes not only an appreciation for centuries-old practices, but a scholarly emphasis on both the ressourcement and aggorniamento that characterized the Second Vatican Council.Tracks to Nowhere
Anyone who has been stuck in traffic on California-coast roads between Los Angeles and San Francisco likely longs for a faster, more reliable option for regional travel. President Barack Obama hopes that high-speed trains may be the answer. He has stated his intent to improve the U.S. rail system and is backing this up with $8 billion from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The allocation is meant to jump-start high-speed rail projects in California and 12 other regional corridors across the country and to provide additional funding for improvements to existing infrastructure in a total of 31 states.
The project is a worthy one: High-speed trains could not only dramatically cut travel times but also decrease the gridlock on roads surrounding cities like Los Angeles, thus decreasing the amount of fuel wasted and the productivity lost by commuters. Unfortunately, the down payment is not enough to complete a single one of the proposed projects, and it is unlikely that cash-strapped states will have the funds to finish the work on their own.
California’s plans are the most ambitious, with a line planned between San Francisco and Los Angeles and a second phase connecting the line to Sacramento and San Diego. The state received $2.3 billion in federal aid, and in 2008 voters approved another $10 billion in state funds. But the estimated cost for completion is $45 billion.
Taiwan and Spain, among other countries, made great strides in building and rebuilding their infrastructures, but only after their governments made modernization of the rail systems a priority. With the proper funding and commitment, high-speed trains can and should be a part of American life within the next decade.