instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Quite frankly

I have to say, ... well, actually, I don't have to say. And if I did say, I'd just be showing off how wise, or clever, I am. (Where "wise" means of or relating to something I wish I'd thought of, and "clever" means of or relating to something I too thought of.)

So instead, I'll just point out in an obnoxious manner that I'm not saying it. Pretty clever, if I do say so myself.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Now we begin to work anew

Cardinal O'Malley quotes himself from his presentation last week to the U.S. Bishops’ Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person:
The secular culture is defining the Church and its teachings for our people. We ask ourselves why we aren’t better able to reach them. Polls may tell us what people think, and how often they come to church but what is sometimes missing is the ‘why.’ Why do our people in the pews feel the way they do and how does that affect our capacity to transmit the gospel?
The thought occurs that the answer might have something to do with the fact that polls tell bishops what people think  Do our bishops not learn what people think by talking to people? Do shepherds read polls to find out what their sheep think? Are their children a matter of academic study for parents?

It's not an either/or proposition. Polls and similar sorts of data can help to quantify circumstances, clarify issues, solidify impressions, fill in or augment the anecdotal picture.

But what is my bishop to me, or me to my bishop, that I should listen to him? To paraphrase a laywoman I know, if my bishop is what he ought to be, he will set fire to all his diocese, and not only there.

Now, that laywoman would say the same about me, and I don't mean this as a "You first, your Eminence" post. But there's something about the way American bishops bishop -- at least in the giant archdioceses I've lived in -- that  makes it easy for their Catholic flocks to regard them as irrelevant.

Coincidentally (if you believe in that sort of thing), the letter containing St. Catherine's famous "set the world on fire" line begins this way:

Dearest son in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to thee in His precious Blood: with desire to see thee arise from the lukewarmness of thy heart, lest thou be spewed from the mouth of God, hearing this rebuke, "Cursed are ye, the lukewarm! Would you had at least been ice-cold!" This lukewarmness proceeds from ingratitude, which comes from a faint light that does not let us see the agonizing and utter love of Christ crucified, and the infinite benefits received from Him. For in truth, did we see them, our heart would burn with the flame of love, and we should be famished for time, using it with great zeal for the honour of God and the salvation of souls. To this zeal I summon thee, dearest son, that now we begin to work anew.


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

On voting, 2014 edition

In a post for CatholicVote,org,.Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln writes:
It seems to me that not voting, unless there are very grave reasons to abstain, is a sin—and when we fail to vote for reasons no better than apathy or forgetfulness, we ought to confess that.
It seems to me that a bishop should not publicly write, "It seems to me that [X] is a sin." A bishop is a teacher of the Christian faith. If, according to the Christian faith, [X] is a sin, the bishop should write, "[X] is a sin." Giving his personal opinion, while writing as a bishop, about whether [X] is a sin, conflates personal opinion with the Faith received from the Apostles.

Since I am not a bishop, I'll add that it seems to me that not voting in today's general election in the United States isn't a sin unless you do not vote for some vicious reason. The good that I can effect through my act of voting today is so slight and indirect that a similarly slight and indirect reason would justify not voting.

All that said, I do plan on voting today. It's the least important act on behalf of the common good, but it is an act on behalf of the common good (if I don't mess up).



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Like sheep without a shepherd

Catholics are freaking out.

I mean that as an [inexactly expressed] observation of an empirical fact. A good number of "faithful to the Magisterium" type Catholics are deeply unsettled by Pope Francis generally, and his extraordinary synod in particular.

Early in this papacy -- and the freakout started early, with every word of praise for the new Pope being treated as a spit in the face of the Pope Emeritus -- I saw it as mostly a matter of patients objecting to the bitterness of their medicine. Pope Francis seemed ideal for weaning a lot of Catholics off undue ultramontanism and excessive focus on the person of the pope in Catholic doctrine and practice.

When it began to show up, I was not sympathetic to the complaint that Pope Francis seemed to like non-Catholics a lot more than tradition-minded Catholics, that, while he was always finding disarming and bridge-building things to say to people far from the Church, he seemed to have only harsh words for those who had been defending the Church their whole lives. To me, the complaints sounded like they came from wounded pride, like people were mad that they weren't getting all the cuddling and skritching behind the ears that the best Catholics have a right to. There was an off note of the prodigal son's elder brother to all that -- and of course, when the parable was brought up, there was even more indignation and outrage.

Now, though, I think I was wrong.

I think I should have been sympathetic. Not supportive or encouraging, but willing to meet the people who felt that was where they were. I was too busy judging their unwillingness to take their Franciscan medicine that I didn't notice I'd been prescribed a dose myself.

And I have to wonder whether Pope Francis takes all of his own medicine. Stipulating that Catholics are wrong to freak out, should the Pope leave them to climb down off the ceiling themselves? Or should he take his own words to heart:
The Church ... is not ashamed of the fallen brother ... but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Not to tell them they don't have to take their medicine -- that would be "a deceptive mercy [that] binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them." But to assure them of his love for them, a love that wills their healing and wholeness, when all they see is disdain.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

"You Follow Me"

Julie Davis at Happy Catholic quotes St. Katharine Drexel:

It is a lesson we all need—to let alone the things that do not concern us. He has other ways for others to follow him; all do not go by the same path. It is for each of us to learn the path by which he requires us to follow him, and to follow him in that path. Let us remember our Master's injunction, and we shall be saved from many pitfalls: "What is it to you? You follow me" (John 21:22).
The question Jesus was responding to -- "Lord, what about him?" -- comes from an immature faith. He had just finished commissioning Peter as His vicar, concluding by saying, "Follow me," when Peter turned away and got distracted by the sight of John.

Was Peter simply scatterbrained, perhaps dazed by Jesus' foretelling of his death, or was he just trying to take his mind off the weight of the key he had been given? Maybe even get Jesus to change His mind?

Whatever the case, it's always been easy to take your eyes off Jesus when He is giving you your own personal mission. For that matter, it's always been easy to never look at Jesus long enough to realize He is giving you your own personal mission, and to think our own thinking about others is a mark of virtue, like St. Dominic's tearful question, "Lord, what will become of sinners?"

If with the years I grow less inclined to ask, "Lord, what about him?," it's probably less to do with my own faith maturing than with the lack of success I've had getting that question answered -- particularly when I've tried to answer the question myself. I can't say my faith is all that mature, because I haven't yet come through the night of wrestling with the question, "Lord, what about me?"


"Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, ..."

"... and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."

-- Bl. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41


Apathetic ignorance

For years, I've used the term "idiot" to mean "someone who doesn't know that he doesn't know what he's talking about." In that sense, calling someone an idiot isn't [necessarily] an insult, it's an assertion of an empirical fact. Like the word "liar", "idiot" used this way categorizes behavior, not persons. (Though, like "liar," the habit of idiocy can weaken that distinction.)

It now occurs to me that one reason there's so much idiocy -- I say "90% of everybody is an idiot" -- is that people so often talk about things they don't care about. If you don't care about golf, or campaign finance reform, or the French, not only will you not care to know what there is to know about that topic, you won't care that you don't know.

(I'm using "care about" vaguely. I mean something more like "value" or "rate as important." You might not care about something because you're indifferent to it, or because you're opposed to it. It's often useful to distinguish between indifference and opposition, but here it doesn't much matter, since neither indifference nor opposition necessarily encourages people to learn about things.)

The problem is that topics you don't care about are often related to topics you do care about, such that you can't help but mention the former when you talk about the latter.

So: Just because someone says something idiotic doesn't mean that they care that it's idiotic.

I bring this up because people say idiotic things about the Catholic Church, and Christianity in general, all the time. They misrepresent Church teaching or misinterpret some action, and often there's no getting them to come back and reconsider their mistake, because they just don't care. For a lot of people who talk about Catholicism (including some Catholics), it's simply not worth correcting a thought they have. Not only would it be a waste of time (might as well memorize Klingon verb conjugation), but it would knock them out of step with everyone else who just doesn't care what the truth of the Catholic Church is.

Hence the ubiquity of the errors (most simply repeat the errors of the handful of people who bother to invent them), as well as their persistence.

And hence also, if our response to these errors doesn't go beyond factual correction, those making the errors aren't likely to be corrected. If we don't give people a reason to care about the truth of the Catholic Church, they will remain susceptible to falsehoods.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

There's no pleasing some people

For years, they make fun of the way the Church uses the words "ordinary" and "extraordinary."

Then the Church finally has an "Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops" that is extraordinary, and they complain.

(There's no pleasing me, either. Are there no Italian-to-English translators who know the difference between "which" and "that"? If not, ask the Germans.)


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Not reality. Actuality.

I've just checked, and it's been more than six years since we've heard from Bishop Booster and Monsignor Reeves. They were born of the vision, in the years after the Scandal broke, of the USCCB as the Drones Club, filled with privileged bachelors who were generally good hearted but mentally negligible and seemed always to get themselves into the most implausible soup.

Now is not the time to resume telling those tales, though, since the Real Housecardinals of Rome show makes the current bench of American bishops look like these guys: