Satan freezes in the Ninth Circle of Dante's "Inferno," from a classic Gustav Dore' illustration

Satan freezes in the Ninth Circle of Dante’s “Inferno,” from a classic Gustav Dore’ illustration Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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The Polar Vortex joke today is that Hell has frozen over – as in Hell, a town in Michigan. Ha. But Hell, in Dante’s version later updated by Milton, was always cold, a frozen pit at its lowest point, with Satan half-buried in a river of ice, his varied wings blasting waves of frosty wind. (Take note, Oklahoma.)

After these past few days, we may have come to understand what the poets were getting at: As Milton puts it in Book 2 of Paradise Lost, “cold performs th’ effect of Fire” and is one of the torments used on residents of the netherworld.

Let’s hope the icy torments here on this side of Earth are easing a bit. Meanwhile…

The Papal Vortex continues

The Francis Effect has swept top-shelf Vaticanista John Allen away from his longtime home at National Catholic Reporter and into the secular arms of The Boston Globe, which is even considering a “free-standing publication” devoted to all things Catholic. All of that counts as a big earthquake in our relatively small media world. But still. Best of luck to our friend John, and to the Globe – and kudos to NCR editor Dennis Coday for his classy send-off.

Meanwhile, Father Tom Reese tells CNN he’s not convinced that Francis has really converted Washington pols when it comes to poverty: “My cynical view is that he’s so popular, they want to piggyback on him for their own political purposes!” Shocking. Oh, and if you need reassurance, yes, the pope is STILL Catholic — I have proof here.

Then again, Nathan Chase wonders if the pope’s simplicity has gone too far in liturgical matters:

Can I be honest? Sometimes the pope’s vestments are downright tacky. He reminds me of that relative who we all love, but who doesn’t understand that we don’t want the tacky sweater she gives us for Christmas each year.

New Catholic superheroes? “Guardians of the Altar”

On the other hand, the Trenton diocese in New Jersey has a new order of acolytes — only boys — who will serve only at liturgies presided over by the bishop. Rita Ferrone writes: “These Guardians of the Altar are ‘highly trained’ (in what?) to be the ‘elite of the servers.’ ” Well, as long as they don’t aspire to be monsignori as long as Francis as pope.

Besides, those boys have nothing on Father Z., who has installed electrified altar rails! (Okay, it’s too good to be true — but read it anyway.)

Obama is not the Antichrist … just his enabler

Robert Jeffress, the controversial pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, has a book coming out that says President Obama is NOT the anti-Christ – which will come as a relief to his family, no doubt. But he does say Obama’s reelection despite his support for gay marriage shows that Obama is paving the way for the Antichrist. And of course, as Jeffress has noted before, “the Antichrist is going to have much higher poll numbers when he comes.”

Photos upend stereotypes of the Middle East

Our own Omar Sacirbey reports on a photo exhibit now showing at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that features the work of 12 women from the Middle East “who shatter stereotypes with works that are provocative, beautiful, mysterious, and surprising, all at the same time.” And the NYT’s “Lens” blog has a nice photo essay, “Palestinian Pleasures,” on a photographer who shows Palestinians enjoying themselves — including these women doing yoga — while also asserting their views about their place in the region.

Teaching religion in public schools?

Religion & Politics hosts an excellent forum on the topic:

No gay marriage in Vegas

And the “Marriage Capital of the World” is suffering for Nevada’s ban on same-sex nuptials. I mean, how sacred can marriage be without a drive-through ceremony and an Elvis impersonator as your witness? While right next door, Utah — Utah! — may be the state where the gay marriage debate ends.

Question of the Day

From The New York Times’ “Civil Behavior” column:

Q. Dear Civil Behavior: I am a gay woman who tends to dress and identify on the masculine side. I’ll soon be attending a religious service at my extended family’s Orthodox synagogue, requiring modest attire, which means that women are not allowed to wear pants and can be denied entry. I think that as long as I dress respectfully and in the spirit of the religious mandates I should not have to compromise on my gender identity and expression. My family says that I’m being difficult and that “when in Rome …” Of course, there is no chance my relatives would dress according to a code I prescribed for an event if it conflicted with their religious identity. So why am I considered “difficult” for not compromising in the expression of my gender identity when they would be considered justified in not compromising their religious expression? — Name withheld

Read on for the response. Agree? Disagree?

The “Jewish Dwight Howard”

Speaking of Jewish attire, Aaron Liberman made NCAA Big Ten history by becoming the first player to sport a yarmulke during a basketball game in that league. The Northwestern University walk-on and Orthodox Jew played only a minute — and the team didn’t lose because of him, believe me — but still, it’s something to kvell on. He’s even been called the “Jewish Dwight Howard.” On the other hand, did you know there was a “Jewish Michael Jordan”?

Tweet of the Day

Yes, I’ll make one dumb cold-weather reference:

But I promise not to mention Dennis Rodman and his birthday crooning or his comments about an American missionary held in North Korea.

Yukon Cornelius, voiced by the late Larry Mann

Yukon Cornelius, voiced by the late Larry Mann From my daughter's personal collection, and my personal recollection

Yukon Cornelius, R.I.P

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention one last — warmer — Arctic blast from our recent Christmas past to note the passing of Larry Mann, who voiced Yukon Cornelius, in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” He died in Los Angeles at age 91. A talent better than silver and gold.

David Gibson

Categories: Culture

David Gibson

David Gibson

David Gibson is an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He is a national reporter for RNS and has written two books on Catholic topics, the latest a biography of Pope Benedict XVI.


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