instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Only 113 Days Till Christmas!

That should be enough time for you to buy copies of Saints of the Jubilee for everyone on your Christmas list, travel the United States to get them signed by all the contributing authors, and get home in time for a reverent and fruitful Advent.

If you're too busy, though, just email me your credit card and shipping information and I'll order the books for you. No need to thank me, it's what I do.

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Cultic Catholicism

Bill Cork is "increasingly concerned by a growing cult of the Catholic celebrity."

So am I.

I can imagine two Catholics debating:
A: Scott Hahn.
B: Joan Chittister.
A: Scott Hahn!
B: Joan Chittister!
A: Hahn!
B: Chittister!
Then someone in the back of the auditorium shouts out, "Michael Davies!" and leaves in disgust.

I suppose life was ever thus, whether the name was Berrigan or Sheen or Houselander or Ward or Coughlin or Chesterton. Still, I've noticed many devotees of famous folk from all over the Catholic spectrum like to complain about the cult of personality surrounding Pope John Paul II while disparaging his "saint factory." Some who call themselves traditionalists rally behind Saint Philomena and others whose cults have been suppressed, while some who call themselves liberal have given up venerating the saints altogether.

Humans are creatures who want heroes. The Church recognizes that the best heroes are those who can be known to have won their races. But even among the saints the Church recongizes the need for discernment within the context of the living Tradition. If St. Augustine is not an infallible guide to the truth about God and man, what can be said of conference speakers in the U.S. today?

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The more I think about it...

...the more it seems to me like boycotting Samuel Adams beer because of the venality of the chairman and founder of the company that makes it isn't enough.

No. What we ought to do is not just drink other quality beers and ales, but drink more of them. That will cause the Boston Beer Company's market share to fall even faster.

On an unrelated note, football season is here! Go Irish!

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Friday, August 30, 2002

I think I get it now

Gerard Serafin posts two pictures of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which suggest to me the architectural principle used.

It looks to me as if the idea was to make the outside so ugly people would go inside so they didn't have to look at it. The inside looks okay.

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Dominican Fast for Peace

I am not a pacifist. But I do think that war is bad and even a just war is a lousy way to obtain justice. I also think that God is wiser than man.

So I have a great deal of sympathy for the organizers and participants of the Dominican Fast for Peace beginning this Sunday:
. For us, prayer and fasting are time-honored traditions of seeking spiritual clarity and focus. Jesus Christ taught us that prayer and fasting lead us on the path to nonviolence and peace. On Sept. 1, we will embark on an open-ended, water-only fast as a way of acknowledging our need for personal and communal conversion. We do so with the hope that others from across the country and across the world will join with us in saying through silence and prayer, "There must be another way."
There's a lot in their statement I could dispute, beginning with its title, "There Must Be Another Way." I do not think this statement is true, taking "must" in the sense I think they intend.

However, I cannot dispute their fundamental belief "in the transforming power of ... prayer and fasting."

It may be that there is no other way, that for example an invasion of Iraq is just and therefore necessary. But I don't think we can know this to be true without prayer, prayer of a depth consonant with the gravity of war. The arguments for and against are expressed in the words of men, which must not be listened to in the place of the word of God. Prayer and fasting are the God-given ways of hearing God's voice.

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A sonnet for my patron

Many thanks to dylan six-eighteen for posting "At Fra Angelico's sepulchre in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva."

(Oh, and also for directing me to CatholicAuthors.Com.)

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Thursday, August 29, 2002

That's what I'm talking about!

In his day job at HMS Blog, Mark Shea posts the response of a reader who had asked for advice in the face of near-despair over her parish's liturgy. I excerpt the important part:
As far as Dominicans [which someone had recommended as a safe haven], we had several installed at my old university church (in an effort by the Dominicans to keep the priory from being torn down.) They all clearly had the charism of preaching, with some exceptional homilies here and there. They even corrected some long standing community abuse although the crystal chalice used for consecration terrified me. I kept having nightmares of it slipping out of Father's hand and shattering on the floor.
See what I mean? The Dominicans: Good liturgy. Great preaching. The congregation on the edge of their seats. (And, incidentally, decent food and plenty of it.)

To deflect attention away from the crystal chalice, I'll tell a story I heard about a Dominican novice. Every spring, a certain Dominican priory holds a very special Mass during which certain friars make their permanent vows as members of the Order. The liturgy involves a procession, which includes a certain fancy candelabra carried by a novice and set down somewhere in front.

It happens that, two years in a row, the novice whose job is to carry the candelabra (a different novice each year) happens to somehow knock it over during the liturgy, making no small amount of clattering noise and distracting the crowd more than somewhat.

So as the date approaches for the ceremony on the third year, this young novice who has been picked to carry the candelabra is made very much aware of recent history. "Do not," the novice master informs him, "knock over the candelabra."

"I won't."

Come the day, the novice concentrates on one thing and thing only: To fail entirely to knock over the candelabra at any stage of the Mass. "I will not knock over the candelabra," he tells himself repeatedly.

He knocks it over.

Having righted it and soldiered through to the end of the liturgy, he slinks over to the novice master in the expectation that the novice master has noticed the tremendous disturbance he had caused. The novice master has indeed noticed, but all he says is,

"The Ninth Station: the candelabra falls a third time."

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A Simplified Casuistry of Leisure for the Third Millennium

Amy Welborn suggests a simple, self-administered test of our choices for entertainment:
Are you better off watching this, or watching the Marx Brothers?
Forget the V-chip, just make all TVs flash this question for five seconds every minute or two.

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New curdled order

There's a short story in which a mother superior complains to her confessor about all the dour-faced nuns in her convent. He tells her to invite them to join a new congregation he wants to form, whose members will dress completely in black, make vows against smiling, and carry onions in their pockets to help them cry all the time. When two sisters see each other, the greeting and response is to be:
"Die we must."

"And we know not the day nor the hour."
When the priest returns a few weeks later, the mother superior tells him all the nuns enjoyed the story of his plans, and now whenever one of them pulls a long face all it takes is for another to say, "Die we must, sister," to make them both laugh. The priest sighs theatrically and says that the same happens wherever he mentions his ideas, and he has not yet had one candidate for the congregation come forward.

I sometimes suspect, though, that these days he would be able to find a lot of lay associates.

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More backwash

As reported on Oak Leaves, Boston Beer Company Chairman & Founder Jim Koch feels our pain:
While not an acceptable excuse, I want you to know that I had no warning that a place of worship would be part of the show. I should have walked off the show and I didn't.
That, he says, was his "lapse in judgment." Not that his company was sponsoring acts of fornication in public. Not that he personally was participating in, and evidently richly enjoying, a pornoaudial broadcast. But simply "that a place of worship would be part of the show."

If his beer were as foul as his words, it would dissolve glass.

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When you're right, you're right

When Bishop Fred Henry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary expressed support for Fr. John Maes's refusal to marry a Catholic woman who works for Planned Parenthood, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada, Louise Hanvey, observed, "It's an indication of the Catholic Church's opposition to Planned Parenthood."

Hard to argue with that.

(As an aside, the CP article says of the young woman involved, "Since she was a small girl she has wanted a church wedding," and "after what's happened she won't go back to her parish and probably not any Catholic church." She seems to be under the influence of a Church-as-free-market-service-provider model. Bishop Henry is quoted as saying that, until she comes to the realization that it is wrong to work for Planned Parenthood, "there's not much the Church can do." It might not be much, but one thing the Church can do is teach that (and act like) it is not a free market service provider.)

(Thestar.com link via HMS Blog.)

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Not my job

I suspect that, if every Catholic in America took the same personality assessment test (Myers-Briggs, say, or DISC), there would be a statistically significant difference between the people who comment on Catholic blogsites and the people who serve as parish liturgists.

No parish liturgist (rather an INTP and a DC), I side with the majority of commenters who do not warmly embrace the experience of being shamed into shaking hands immediately before Mass. (And it is shame, I think; the cantor isn't the boss of me.)

(While I'm being parenthetical, let me add that to say to shake hands in this way is to "greet Christ in one another" strikes me as, what's the word, cant. I wouldn't intentionally greet Christ with a handshake and a smile, then turn away and ignore Him for the rest of Mass. What we do, if anything, is to greet one another in Christ, isn't it?)

However:

On this day in this place, a "good Catholic" is anyone who usually attends Sunday Mass. Who has time for coffee and donuts after Mass, assuming the parish even offers it? Who is going to come back Sunday evening for Vespers, or Tuesday night for Bible study?

What has happened, I think, is that the entire social dimension of being Catholic in America has collapsed down into one hour a week. What isn't done in that one hour isn't done, and that includes "building a sense of community." It's not my job to ensure that a sense of community is built in my parish (though it is to help build it), but I can well imagine that those who do feel this responsibility will try everything they can to succeed.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2002

What I like about St. Augustine

Something to keep in mind in talking about this great Doctor of the Church is that St. Augustine was not a Doctor of the Church. He was a bishop, trying to understand the Catholic Faith well enough to teach it to those under his pastoral care so that they might enjoy eternal life.

One thing I very much like about his writings is that they are full of comments like this, from On the Trinity, I, 3:
Let me ask of my reader,
wherever, alike with myself, he is certain, there to go on with me;
wherever, alike with myself, he hesitates, there to join with me in inquiring;
wherever he recognizes himself to be in error, there to return to me;
wherever he recognizes me to be so, there to call me back:
so that we may enter together upon the path of charity, and advance towards Him of whom it is said, "Seek His face evermore."
St. Augustine did a lot of guessing. He had to; he was asking questions that had never been asked before, or at least demanding answers of a kind that had never been given before. When he wrote down his understanding of such uncertain matters, he admitted they were uncertain, even if he could see no other answer than his own.

This burning desire to enter together with others upon the path of charity and advance towards God is the proper spirit of the theologian, of the bishop, of the saint.

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"Is that the apprehension of beauty on your face or are you just happy to see me?"

Karl Schudt makes an interesting and counter-cultural observation about beauty.

I'd just add that, since beauty satisfies the desire caused by apprehending it, if you see something that makes you want to do something more than keep on seeing it, what you're seeing isn't beauty.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Anybody who writes a book on the good of leisure is a hero to me

Mark Shea is on a Josef Pieper roll. I hope he, and his readers, keep it up.

Everyone who can should read Pieper's The Four Cardinal Virtues. Everyone who can't should have it read to them.

In a rightly-ordered society, no one would have to read it because everyone would have been taught what's in it it in elementary school. Still, Pieper's book is what convinced me that man is not a rule-based, but a virtue-based creature.

More precisely, it's what made me ask the question of whether man's life is best governed by virtue. The answer is blindingly obvious, once the question is posed.

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No great surprise

Many people have expressed regret at the time and energy various adjectival Roman Catholics have spent criticizing each other over the past several months. (An "adjectival Roman Catholic" is someone who, in describing himself as a Roman Catholic, feels a need to prepend an adjective. In the present case, the adjectives are all "orthodox," "loyal," "traditional," and so forth; in other cases, they might be "progressive" or "modern.") "We shouldn't be turning on ourselves," the regretters say. "There are other enemies to fight."

But you don't get carrots from a corn field. If you develop habits of belligerence -- of thinking in terms of enemies to fight, for example -- then you will become habitually belligerent. If you develop habits of pride -- of publically telling one group what another group should be doing, for example -- then you will become habitually prideful. When habitually belligerent and prideful people turn their attentions on each other, they fight each other.

It is a situation to be regretted, but the solution isn't to keep their attentions turned on some common enemy. The solution is for them to develop habits of peace and humility.

And please don't tell me this cant be done.

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Monday, August 26, 2002

Mercy, salvation, God loves you, blah, blah, blah

I just came across this statement on Oak Leaves:
[National Catholic Reporter journalist John] Allen himself doesn't care for St. Faustina, and imagines her messages of mercy to be "banal."
Banal? The apostolate of the Divine Mercy is banal? There are many words to describe St. Faustina and her message. "Banal" is not one that would have ever occurred to me.

Yet there it was, in Allen's August 23 "Word from Rome": "Faustina’s appeal for mercy may be banal, but seen from here [a few miles from Auschwitz] it’s hard to argue that it’s irrelevant."

My first thought was that Allen must not know very much about St. Faustina, but I was mistaken:
I’ve read Faustina’s diary, all 600 pages of it, and I found little that seemed profound. On a spiritual level, the revelations largely repeat the basic gospel insight that humans should be merciful as God is merciful. In that sense, about the most one can say is that the Divine Mercy devotion is innocuous....
It seems that he knows plenty about St. Faustina -- so much, in fact, that he drops the "St." after its first appearance -- but jack-all about Divine mercy.

Consider these two Gospel verses:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. [Luke 6:36]

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:48]
That is how God is merciful: perfectly.

Anybody who thinks trying to be perfectly merciful toward others is an innocuous attitude has never tried to be perfectly merciful to others. Anybody who thinks the idea of trying to be perfectly merciful toward others is banal is a poor judge of ideas. Anybody who thinks the idea of God being perfectly merciful toward him is banal needs to brush up on his examination-of-conscience skills.

Allen writes, "To many modern Catholics, Faustina’s spirituality can seem terribly alien." Her spirituality seems terribly alien to me, too. Not because I'm a modern Catholic -- St. Faustina's sisters in the convents didn't find her visionary antics very endearing, and they were so old-fashioned they all wore habits -- but because I'm a sinful and selfish Catholic.

In all honesty, reading a biography of St. Faustina unnerved me, because of the completeness with which she gave herself to God. Visions, voices, talking crucifixes, none of that made much of an impression on me. But her willingness to give up everything that wasn't God -- in contrast to my own refusal to give up so much -- that is the message St. Faustina's spirituality has for me.

Allen's article reads like the product of a man almost entirely unaware that he is in the presence of a great mystery, like a tourist wandering through a cathedral snapping photographs of statues during a Mass.

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Why does beauty exist?

Adriano dell'Asta, professor of Russian literature and history at the Catholic University of Milan, is quoted by Zenit as saying:
Beauty exists because things exist. Beauty is concrete and real. Beauty is not fantasy. It is a concrete form that is seen and touched. Icons respond to this type of beauty.
He said this at last week's Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples, sponsored by Communion and Liberation, in Rimini, Italy. The theme of the meeting was "The feeling of things, contemplating beauty."

If I had known about the meeting in time, and if I had a valid passport and heaping piles of cash, I would have attended. As it is, I'll have to make do by nosing through the website.

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Kyrie rahamim

Fr. Jim Tucker quotes papal theologian Monsignor Bruno Forte's answer to the question, "What is mercy?":
There are two fundamental dimensions to the concept of "mercy." The first is the one expressed by the Greek word "eleos," namely, "mercy" as an attitude of compassion toward the misery of another; a heart that is sensitive to the needs of others. However, in addition to the above, there is another meaning, linked to the Hebrew word "rahamim," which has its root in the "maternal lap"; namely, it indicates the maternal love of God.
Note that Monsignor Forte doesn't use the word "forgiveness." Forgiveness is implied by maternal love, but mercy is a far greater thing than forgiveness. Maybe that's why it can triumph over judgment.

When the blind man called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" he was not asking for forgiveness. His blindness was not a judgment against him, a debt he owed to satisfy divine justice. He was seeking the compassion of the Son of David, whom he knew by faith to be an instrument of the Lord's rahamim, of the maternal love of God.

By the example of this blind man who was immediately given sight and who then followed Jesus on the way, we are taught to dare to ask God for His mercy. Yes, as sinners any request for mercy necessarily includes a request for forgiveness, but God doesn't want us to be satisfied with His forgiveness. He wants us to want His mercy, to cry out for nothing less than His love.

This is the revelation of Christ, hidden in the Law and prophets: the covenant God makes with each of us is as deep and eternal as we care to make it.

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Reeves and the Futile Spirit, cont.

“Bishop Booster’s plan seems to have worked, your eminence. I have just learned that five American cardinals are calling a press conference to argue against the prudence of giving the Conference of Catholic Bishops as currently constituted the powers of a plenary council.”

“Indeed?” For the first time in my presence, Cardinal Fratricidelli smiled. The smile looked as natural on his face as a moustache on a tomato, but I was glad at the sight of it. “Booster, I must get to a telephone. May I use the one in the library?”

“Oh, certainly, Cardinal.”

He walked to the door, then turned to squint at Reeves. “Tell me, Monsignor. You say this was Booster’s plan. Are you sure you didn’t think it up yourself?”

“Not at all, your eminence. In fact, when Bishop Booster informed me of his plan to speak to a reporter, I advised him against it.”

Cardinal Fratricidelli nodded, then winked at me. “Good for you, Booster!”

After he left, I took a deep breath. “What you said about the press conference is true, Reeves?”

“Yes, your excellency.”

“They called it because of what I said in the Post?”

“That was a contributing factor, your excellency.”

“Did you know all along that my attempt to help launch the council would get it scuttled instead?”

“I had considered that possibility, your excellency.”

“Remind me why you didn’t tell me Rome was dead set against the council.”

“You did not request my counsel concerning the matter, your excellency.”

I nodded, the details of the Indigo-Blue Chasuble Standoff returning. “Yes, quite so.”

And, because a Booster is always ready to do what must be done, whatever the sacrifice, I said, “Ah, Reeves, I’ve been thinking. You were quite right about the color of that chasuble. It’s entirely too light for the Assumption. You might pass it on to Father Conlan at St. Augustine’s. He always likes variety.”

“Yes, your excellency. Fr. Conlan asked me to convey to you his deep appreciation for your gift.”

“Then all’s well that ends well, eh, Reeves?”

“There remains one aspect of this matter that is not yet settled, your excellency.”

“There does, does there?” After my close shave with Cardinal F., I was in an expansive mood. “Then give it to me, and I’ll settle it.”

“I was told of the cardinals’ press conference by Bishop Berger’s chancellor. She informed me that she is travelling here to discuss the matter with you personally.”

I sprang into the air like a napping cat at the sound of G.K. Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin. “Sister Agatha? Coming here?”

“She arrives this evening, your excellency. She is expected at nine p.m.”

“Then there’s still time,” I cried. “But time for what?”

“If I may make a suggestion, your excellency, your invitation to attend the international convention of the Knights of St. Celestine in Madrid remains open. I have taken the liberty of reserving two seats on a flight that leaves this afternoon at four. We should arrive in time for the opening Mass tomorrow morning.”

“Right-o, Reeves, and if we need to, I’m sure we can find something else to do in Spain until Sister Agatha lifts the siege. Say, wasn’t there an exhibit at the Prado you had been hoping to see? Make sure you don’t come home without popping in.”

“Very well, your excellency.”

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Monday, August 19, 2002

A birthday wish

Make us know the shortness of our life
that we may gain wisdom of heart.

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Sunday, August 18, 2002

Putting the issue to rest

Minute Particulars presents a very good sketch of some of the theological issues arising from the Dormition of Mary, considered in the light of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. (I'm using "Dormition" rather than "Assumption" this time around, because there's little disagreement about the Assumption part of the doctrine.)

I'm glad Mark weighed in on this question, since he wrote some very interesting things a few weeks ago about the philosophical implications of death in the context of a discussion on cyrogenics. Obviously, many of these implications are in play while thinking about the Dormition, too.

I can't say anything against what's written there, but let me suggest considering the Immaculate Conception in the light of the Dormition of Mary. I see two reasons for doing this. First, the Dormition is prior to the Immaculate Conception in terms of historical understanding and recognition -- in particular liturgical recognition.

Second, considered as objects to reason about, I think the Dormition is an easier concept than the Immaculate Conception. More precisely, the idea of "the ever Virgin Mary... having completed the course of her earthly life" is simpler than that of her being "preserved free from all stain of original sin." I think we have a pretty good understanding of what death is, and of what not dying is, and I even think we have a pretty good handle on what an "apparent death" might be. But original sin is a much tougher nut, and Ineffabilis Deus's definition speaks of its "stain." Can one be free of this "original stain," but not of its effects?

Don't ask me. My whole point is that I understand the dogma of the Assumption a lot better than I do the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

If pressed for an answer, though, I'd say, "I can't see why not." Mark would seem to disagree:
One who is “preserved free from all stain of original sin” it seems to me is not subject to death because the integrity of human nature prior to The Fall is preserved in such a person.
I'm in over my head here, but the old Catholic Encyclopedia's article on original sin interprets Romans 5:12 as teaching that Adam's sin lead to the transmission of both death and sin, and goes on to state, "St. Paul, and after him the councils, regarded death and original sin as two distinct things transmitted by Adam." If so, then surely the Immaculate Conception as defined need not imply immortality.

Mark also mentions the dispute over the corruption of Christ's body, which has clear implications for the Dormition. "We can't know for sure," he writes, what happened to Mary's body, even assuming her soul left it.

True, not "for sure," but Munificentissimus Deus does teach repeat many Fathers by teaching that Mary was "preserved free from the corruption of the tomb." It's not dogmatic, but it's good enough for me in the absence of an extremely compelling argument to the contrary.

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Saturday, August 17, 2002

Exploring assumptions

Flos Carmeli has a suggestion for an argument against Mary's death that doesn't depend on any particular understanding of Original Sin:
If I were to frame an argument regarding Mary's Assumption, it would ... simply take the form of, "If God could choose to do this for His friends (Elijah and Enoch), surely He could do so for His own mother." This has no reflection on the immaculate conception, says nothing whatsoever about original sin. So arguments against the Blessed Mother's death do not have to be framed in those terms, they can be framed in terms of God's Will, without speculating on why He might choose to release His mother from the pangs of death.
This argument is framed in terms of God's power. I don't think anyone denies that He could have done this. But to move from "He could have" to "He did" requires explaining why the universal Church believed He did not for a millennium, how God's will was revealed to the person making the argument more or less out of the blue to be in contradiction to the faith of Christians everywhere about Mary's Assumption.

Karen Marie reports in a comment her experiences in arguments on this matter. I, too, have heard the claim from Orthodox writers that Catholic dogma elevates Mary into a demigoddess. I don't agree, obviously, and if anything the Eastern liturgies exalt Mary far more than do the Western liturgies. My objection to the "like Elijah" camp is that it appears to me to be a flat rejection of Tradition. I don't trust flat rejections of Tradition.

T.S. O'Rama asks:
It might be semantics, but can it be left that original sin is the cause of the physical corruption of the flesh, which, both parties can agree did not occur to Mary?
I think so, but I've read too many Church Fathers claim that original sin is the cause of human death (if not all physical death) to say much about the nature and consequence of original sin with much confidence.

Basically, my opinion is that Catholic theology needs Orthodox theology and tradition in order to correctly understand both Original Sin and the Immaculate Conception. I think the Assumption-without-death position unwisely ignores the wisdom and testimony of the East.

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Friday, August 16, 2002

Low Office mentality

Fr. Jim Tucker gripes about "Low Mass mentality": "It's as if the truest form of pre-Conciliar worship is the quiet Missa lecta, with only the celebrant and server hearing or saying anything." (Note that it's this mentality, not the Low Mass itself, that he's objecting to.)

While we're on the subject, what about "Low Office mentality," the idea that praying the Liturgy of the Hours involves, for the individual, reading aloud the words on the page while seated?

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But I've found my own private prayer of the Liturgy has been greatly enhanced by a few simple additions.
  1. Standing and kneeling: I stand at the beginning, until after the first antiphon, sit while reciting the psalms and canticle, stand for the Gloria Patris (while of course bowing for the first half), psalm prayers, and antiphons (yes, this makes for a lot of up-and-down), sit for the reading and responsory, then stand for the rest of the office. I kneel during the examination of conscience at Night Prayer, and on days when I feel like I should be kneeling.
  2. Chanting: I chant the opening bits, the closing bits, and the antiphons. On feast days, I chant the Gospel canticles, and on rare occasions I chant the parts from the psalter, too. I couldn't say what tone, if any, I use.) When I know the tune, I sing the hymn.
  3. Candle: A small votive candle adds a great deal to the sense that what I am doing is not just reading a book or thinking about God, but an offering to him as part of the priesthood of the baptized.
What these additions to the unadorned rubrics of the Liturgy of the Hours do is make my praying it more liturgical. The Divine Office is not just another form of private prayer for me, it is a private participation in the public prayer of the Church. My experience has been that, the more I engage my whole person, spirit and body, the better I can pray.

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That's why they call it the Dormition

Karen Marie Knapp, in her reflection on yesterday's feast, writes:
There is a pious disagreement among believers about the details, which is part of why this feast has two names. Some say that Mary died, and was resurrected from death to be taken into heaven by her Son; others say that she was just taken when her time came, like Enoch and Elijah (and, some say, Moses) were. The Church has refused to define this part, since it truly makes no difference; both opinions are legitimate.
Yes, both opinions are legitimate. And yet...

The opinion that Mary did not die is wrong.

Let us go back, say, eight hundred years, to 1202, and take a whirlwind tour of Christendom. Can a place be found where anyone claims that Mary did not die? Not, clearly, in the East, where August 15 has been known for centuries as the feast of Koimisis tis Theotokou, the Dormition of the Mother of God. (And any argument that "dormition" here signifies anything other than "death" will be treated with the ridicule it calls upon itself.)

Nor indeed in the West, where theological overspeculation has not yet led to the rejection this explicit belief in Mary's death that is universally held and goes back as far as records exist. By what act of presumption could this unrelieved weight of the univocal testimony of centuries be overturned?

Yes, yes, you say, but Munificentissimus Deus was careful to leave this question undefined:
...we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
"Having completed the course of her earthly life" can be read to mean that, when she was done living on earth, she was assumed into heavenly glory without first dying.

So it can. But Munificentissimus Deus itself cannot be read that way:
...the holy Fathers and the great Doctors...offered more profound explanations of [the doctrine of the Assumption's] meaning and nature, bringing out into sharper light the fact that this feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death.... [20]
Pope Pius XII quotes St. John Damascene, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Alphonsus di Liguori making explicit references to Mary's death. He himself writes:
Hence the revered Mother of God...finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven.... [40]
In the very document invoked as evidence that the Church does not explicitly teach that Mary died, the Pope explicitly teaches that Mary died.

Karen Marie is right that one may legitimately believe that Mary didn't die, although one would be hard pressed to justify this belief in the face of the evidence to the contrary. But I think she is wrong to claim that "it truly makes no difference."

The arguments against Mary's death are, as I understand them, based on a certain way of understanding her Immaculate Conception, which in turn is based on a certain way of understanding Original Sin. There is a chain of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that Mary's death is unreasonable; if Mary did in fact die -- as centuries of universal tradition held, as all but a handful hold to this day -- then there is something wrong somewhere in the chain, something wrong in the reasoning about the Immaculate Conception or about Original Sin. These errors may well be leading to other false conclusions on matters unrelated to the Assumption; they may also interfere with ecumenical efforts by the Roman Catholic Church to reach out to both the Orthodox and Protestants.

This is why I don't think broad-mindedness is wise in this matter of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It's not an academic question, sealed off from any serious issues, but one end of a thread that, if pulled in the wrong direction, could unravel a lot of the work the Church is called to do: preach the truth and draw all men into unity in Christ.

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Spiritu tuo

Just to clear up a point: Whether a man likes American-style malted rice water and whether there is something unmanly about a man are, as far as I can tell, unrelated questions. I happen to like American-style malted rice water. It possesses many virtues, including quaffability and congeniality with many kinds of food.

It has been suggested that whisky has "protestant origins." Nonsense! Whisky predates the Babylonian exile, making it a thoroughly pagan drink, and if there's anything Protestantized Roman Catholics in the U.S. need it's a good, healthy dose of genuine paganism via spirits that don't come from an alternate dimension. (As for the origins of gin, let us pass them by in silence.)

Hillaire Belloc's principle of not drinking anything first produced after the Protestant Rebellion may have served him well, but I find certain occasions are much improved by a glass of champagne. (Wednesday evenings, for example.) And Belloc himself may have been a little flexible with exact dates in the case of Benedictine.

It is interesting to note that one post on alcohol generated more comments than the previous week's worth of blogging. Maybe I should contact some breweries and distilleries about advertising.

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Thursday, August 15, 2002

Pushing it toward the tippling point

Apropos of nothing, no one could seriously dispute that there's something unmanly about a man who doesn't like beer.

(I say nothing about the malted rice water widely available in the United States.)

Then, too, there's something unwholesome about disliking wine.

Liking distilled spirits, though, is a different matter. God has given different gifts to us all, and we are not to understand in this life why some are blessed with a taste for whisky, while others must walk this vale of tears with only a thirst for gin.

But in honor of today's solemnity, let me propose a toast of
Assumption Swizzles
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 oz. simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated till sugar dissolves, then cooled to room temperature)
  • 4 oz. light rum
  • 6 oz. blue Curacao
  • seltzer water
Pour lemon juice, syrup, rum, and Curacao into tall quart-sized glass pitcher filled with crushed ice. Add seltzer to fill the pitcher. Swizzle with palm frond or wooden cooking fork until frost forms on the outside of pitcher. Pour into four cold, tall, 8 oz. glasses and serve immediately on the verandah.

The blue recalls our Lady, the rising bubbles signify her Assumption -- but drink only for cheer, lest it lead you to sin, and drink only one, lest it lead you to dormition.
For more on swizzles, visit my swizzle page.

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Struggle, conflict, and art

Steven Riddle, in giving far more attention to my thoughts than they're worth, makes a very useful distinction:
Doubt, I maintain is not the cause of great novels, rather struggle, in internal dynamic that has not yet found resolution.
I'll sign up to that.

But now let me suggest this: In the Twentieth Century, in the West, religious doubt was the key internal dynamic that had not yet found resolution. Doubt in God, doubt in His love, doubt in man's privileged nature. (And I mean actual doubt, genuine uncertainty, not a dull certainty that God doesn't exist.)

So when Foote looks at what he considers the great novelists and finds a common spirit of "further seeking, not a sense of having found," what is driving the seeking is likely to be religious (in a broad sense) doubt.

Steven is also right that we shouldn't accept the opinions of Shelby Foote -- whose name, frankly, I'd previously come across only in parenthetical lists of "other Southern writers" in articles on O'Connor and Percy -- as received truths, and in fact I'd say Foote was simply wrong when he wrote, "The best novelists[' ...] only firm conviction ... is that absolute devotion and belief in the sanctity of art."

While devotion to art (in the Scholastic sense of recta ratio factibilium, "right reasoning about a thing to be made") is necessary to craft a great novel, devotion only to art is almost never sufficient. Why? Because for such a person the struggle that causes great novels is not really important; it's merely a plot device or Macguffin, an excuse for writing the novel. (The one case when devotion to art is sufficient for greatness is when the struggle is about the art of novel writing; writing a novel, though, is not a natural subject for a great novel. (Contrast this with plays about staging plays and movies about movie-making.))

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Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Doubt, conflict, and art

T.S. O'Rama replies to my irruption into the discussion on novelists and faith:
Obviously a novel has to have conflict but that surely doesn't preclude non-doubters from writing beautifully of conflict, does it? The greatest conflict of all time, is the spiritual one between good and evil and to describe that I'm not sure why being a doubter 'helps'.
Certainly non-doubters can and do write beautifully of conflict. My suggestion was merely that, all things being equal, they are less inclined to do so than doubters, because they themselves are relatively less conflicted.

As long as I'm throwing out completely unsubstantiated notions, I might as well add this one: The more a novelist doubts, the better he must serve his art, because the less he feels there is anything else to serve. Again, this would be a relative intensification of an underlying motivation rather than a direct cause of an increase in artistry. And again, this is not necessarily the case in other art forms, which offer a more personal relationship between artist and viewer.

Perhaps that's another difference, that the novel is less personal and therefore a poorer medium for expression by someone with a strong personal relationship with God?

Last idea for now: Foote's statement was, "The best novelists have all been doubters." But Foote's judgment, and literary judgment generally, was formed in a culture of doubt. Our choice of "the best novelists" may say more about us and our culture than it does about whether doubt causes great art.

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Pushing it toward the tipping point

A few years ago, I picked up a nifty idea from a book of spiritual direction:

Pick a companion book, a book to reread every year or so throughout your life to help you to keep those promises to God you made the first time you read it.

I asked around for some suggestions for lifelong companion books, and one that was mentioned a couple of times was The Sinner's Guide, by Ven. Louis of Granada.

I hadn't heard of it before, but I've since begun to read it on the Web and seen it in bookstores. And just yesterday I came across a couple of references to it, at Sed Contra and Everything is Grace. So I thought I'd mention it too, and give it another nudge toward being the must-read book of Fall 2002. (And with a title like that, how can it fail to be a bestseller?)

As pointed out on Sed Contra, just the table of contents is a rich mine for meditation. And if the sensibility is somewhat distant from contemporary Western culture, still the content remains the Catholic faith and how you can live it.

The life of Ven. Louis is also inspiring. He was one of the few who combine extraordinary intellectual gifts with extraordinary pastoral gifts. According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia:
Among the hundreds of eminent ascetical writers of Spain, Louis of Granada remains unsurpassed in the beauty and purity of his style, the solidity of his doctrine, and the popularity and influence of his writings.
He also observed the Dominican custom (not universally followed) of refusing offers to become a bishop.

Incidentally, I did not pick The Sinner's Guide as my lifelong companion book; I'm going with St. Catherine's Dialogue. Still, I think reading Ven. Louis's masterpiece is good for everyone. The other recommendation I remember getting was for St. Francis de Sales's Introduction to the Devout Life, which is also very well suited to regular re-reading. Perhaps more recommendations will show up in the comments below.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Reeves and the Futile Spirit, cont.

My little witticism glanced off Cardinal Fratricidelli like a toy arrow off a rhinocerous. “I will ask you one more time, Booster. Are you not the unnamed bishop in this article?”

He waved the rolled-up newspaper inches from my face. I was expecting him to swing it at my nose like a three wood, not neglecting the follow-through, when a sound like a sheep coughing on a distant crag alerted us to the fact that Monsignor Reeves had entered my study and was clearing his throat.

“If I may answer for Bishop Booster, your eminence, he was the source for the quotations.”

As I quivered at Reeves’s betrayal, the words of the Psalmist came to my mind: “Put not your trust in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.” I knew just how he felt. Had the Psalmist walked into the room just then, I would have shaken his hand.

Meanwhile, the papal nuncio unfurled the paper. “Are you saying this blot on the Apostles’ escutcheon actually told a reporter for the Washington Post that –“ he scanned the article quickly for some of the riper bits – “that, ‘American bishops aren’t shepherds. They aren’t even respectable sheep.’? Or, ‘Rome is a nice city, but the weather softens the head. I know it does mine.’? Or, ‘No, I wouldn’t call it a revolution, exactly. No, yes I would. I will call it a revolution. It is a revolution.’?”

“Yes, your eminence. Those are the words of Bishop Booster.”

Cardinal Fratricidelli swivelled his glare back to me, like a cobra trying to decide which mouse bit its tail. “And why did you tell the reporter all that?” he hissed. It isn’t easy to hiss that question, but he managed to do it.

“Oh, I don’t know, you know, don’t you know.”

“Bishop Booster’s intent was to use the power of the press against the call, from certain other members of the episcopacy, for a plenary council, your eminence.”

“How?” shouted the cardinal. “By making all the American bishops look like idiots?”

“Not all of them, your eminence. Just some of them.”

And here the two paused to glance at me in a way I would have objected to strongly had the circs. been less strained.

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Multiply, but don't divide

Shawn Tribe expresses support for a robust multiplicity of rites within Roman Catholicism; Fr. Jim Tucker expresses support for Shawn.

I think the key is Fr. Tucker's term "harmonious coexistence." It's difficult to argue against harmonious coexistence. My question is: Would offering several variations on the old and new missals actually produce harmonious coexistence, or would it rather produce a set of parallel, segregated, and at times antagonistic communities within the Church?

The historical examples of the multiplicity of rites don't age well, in my opinion. Yes, the Sarum Rite was a success, but Fifteenth Century England didn't have the Chunnel. People move around a lot more nowadays than they used to.

Also, rites used to vary by region; if you go to Milan, you expect the Ambrosian Rite. My understanding of Shawn's proposal is that all the rites would, to the extent possible, be available to every Catholic. if I travel to Denver on business, I check to see which Roman Catholic churches have Masses according to which rites when. I'm concerned that the practical result of this might be that I only rub elbows (or shake hands, depending on the rubrics used) with people outside my Mass of personal preference when I absolutely have to.

A third difference between then and now is that the multiplicity of rites originally arose more or less naturally. The Gallican Mass differed from the Roman Mass just because they did things differently in Lyons than they did in Rome. Nowadays, the motivations for multiple rites are theological and emotional. This rite is objectively better than that rite, or this rite makes me feel better. Neither type of motivation, in my opinion, suffices for manufacturing a multiplicity of rites where none now exists. A rite that is objectively worse, theologically, should not be used; and resurrecting a rite to make people feel good is to subjectivize the one thing in this world that is most objective.

Now, none of this demonstrates that "the co-existence of different uses of the Roman liturgy" is a bad or unworkable idea. We already have it, after all, albeit on a smaller scale than Shawn Tribe seems to be imagining. If we want to grow this variety while looking to history as our guide, though, we need to understand how past circumstances differ from present circumstances.

Correction: As originally written, the last sentence in the paragraph above beginning, "Also, rites used to vary by region," could be read to suggest that only rubbing elbows "with people outside my Mass of personal preference when I absolutely have to" is part of Shawn's proposal. I added a few words to make it clearer that I meant that I'm afraid this might be an unintended consequence, rather than something he advocates.

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Monday, August 12, 2002

It's not just a good idea, it's the law

The Law of Androcomplexity states that, over time, men will take something and make it more complicated.

That law is being kept at the Jesus Journal, which has issued a Christian Weblog Manifesto calling for an association of Christian webloggers, complete with a formal committee, a code of conduct, training, and a master list of Christian weblogs. The purpose is to accentuate the positive aspects of Christian weblogging.

Here I thought the lack of formal committees was one of the positive aspects of Christian weblogging. If St. Blog's had parish council meetings I'd change to a different virtual parish, if not a whole new diocese.

From what Bene Diction reports, my attitude is not unusual.

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All ye know on earth

Lady of Shalott is disturbed by Shelby Foote's statement, "The best novelists have all been doubters.":
Against all modern evidence to the contrary, I want to disbelieve that "a sense of having found" kills good art.
As counterexamples, she gives St. Augustine and Dante.

Ah, but Foote was speaking of novelists, and novels have different rules than autobiographies and poems.

Beauty is that which, being seen, pleases; when someone encounters the beautiful, he desires to rest in it. A novel about resting in beauty is unlikely to be a great novel; it may be very poetic, but it probably won't be very interesting. Novels tell stories, and stories are about conflicts, and where there is no conflict -- and only the perverse are conflicted about resting in beauty -- there is no story.

So yes, the modern evidence is that great novelists are not greatly devout; even the great Catholic novelists have not, as a class, been marked by their sanctity. But I think it's wrong to interpret this evidence, as some do, as meaning that Catholicism is somehow opposed to great novels, much less to great art. Rather, I think that doubt strengthens a desire to novelize, while trust weakens it. (Provisionally, I'd say doubt and trust work the other way round on the desire to versify.) Given that, the evidence follows as a simple matter of statistics.

(Steven Riddle at Flos Carmeli also makes the point that Foote's statement is weaker than it appears, since many of the worst novelists have been doubters, too.)

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Thursday, August 08, 2002

Reeves and the Futile Spirit, cont.

“Well, how about it, Willie?”

“How about what?”

“The council! Will you help us pull off the council?”

“I don’t know, Berggo, I’m not sure it’s a sound idea.”

“Come on, Willie. We were at seminary together!”

“Yes, but still –“

“We need your help!”

I looked at him solemnly. “A plenary council, Berggo, is a grave –“

“I don’t mean you personally, of course,” Berggo interruputed. “No one listens to you anyway, with that baby owl expression of yours. What I mean is, can we count on your secretary Reeves helping us?”

I drew up sharply. I was still stung by the falling out with Reeves over the matter of the indigo-blue chasuble, and I felt Berggo’s words to be salt in my wound.

“Monsignor Reeves,” I said with quiet dignity, “is unavailable to assist with your project.”

“Oh, good heavens! What have you done now, you ass? Whatever it is, apologize like usual, then unleash Reeves on the nuncio.”

I cleared my throat. “As I was saying, Bishop Berger, Monsignor Reeves is unavailable to assist with your project. I, however, am available, and I believe you will find that my assistance will provide you with all the, er, assistance required to bring the council off.”

Berggo looked at me a moment, tossed down the rest of his g. and tonic, and said, “All right, God help me, I’m just that desperate.”

“Desperate?” I eyed him sharply. Stouthearted and true though he may be, the only thing the Most Rev. Patrick Berger would ever be considered a genius at was falling into the soup. Taking in his manner now, which resembled that of a peasant in a Russian novel who is by no means certain he will outrun the wolves, I realized that there was something more behind his idea than he had let on. “What makes you so desperate to hold a plenary council, Berggo?”

He fiddled with his empty glass. “Well...”

“Come, come. Let’s dissolve into a flashback. Tell me all.”

“It’s just that I, er, rather promised my chancellor that there’d be one, that’s all.”

“Your chancellor?” I gasped. “You don’t mean...”

“Yes,” he replied, looking like a halibut that had been out in the sun for too long. “Sister Agatha.”

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Guess what day it is!

The documents for the canonization process of St. Dominic are on-line in English, and make fascinating reading for people who are fascinated reading such things.
Dominic always wished to dispute, talk or read about God or to pray while journeying.

Dominic passed the greater part and frequently the whole of the night in prayer while weeping freely.... On account of the many vigils, he frequently nodded at table.

[Dominic] rarely spoke, except with God, that is, in prayer, or of God.

He was always cheerful and pleasant; a comforter of the brethren, he was patient, merciful and kind.

But over and above all this, his holiness and virtues were universally recognized and publicly spoken of wherever he had visited during his lifetime....
By all accounts (no, I mean literally, all accounts; read 'em yourself), St. Dominic was consumed with zeal for preaching the Word of God, and for sanctification through strict observance of the Order's rule of life. He prayed more than he slept, and as he prayed -- at Mass, during the Office, or alone at night before the tabernacle -- he wept for sorrow, sighing, "Lord, what will become of sinners?"

Yet he was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and loved by all, "with the exception of heretics and enemies of the Church." (And he was not the torturer of the Black Legend; he fought against them "by word and by the example of a good life.")

As a preacher first and foremost, St. Dominic left very little in the way of writings, just a couple of letters and his contributions to the early Consititutions of the Order. These don't make good devotional reading, and his role in the Dominicans is not comparable to those of Benedict, Francis, Ignatius, and other great founders. (His brethren didn't even seek his canonization until after St. Francis was raised to the altars. And if you think Bl. Josemaria Escriva's cause was fast-tracked, what's to be made of the haste in these 13th Century cases? It never hurts when the reigning Pope said your founder's funeral Mass.)

What St. Dominic has left his children are the example of his own zealous and holy life and a Rule ideally suited, in any age, to the work of the Order: preaching and the salvation of souls.

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The story so far

Down through the centuries, Christian layfolk desiring to live holier lives have looked to the vowed religious for guidance, example, inspiration, and support. In many different ways, they became affiliated with religious houses: living in the houses under unvowed and voluntary religious observance; joining in the prayer life as far as possible; accepting spiritual direction and counsel from a monk or nun.

Over time, certain forms of attachment became regularized and regulated. Benedictine abbeys, for example, accepted oblates who made promises to the abbot and lived according to a certain rule. (A "rule" in this sense is actually a set of rules describing the obligations and responsibilites -- in terms of daily prayer, lifestyle, charitable works, governance of the community, and so forth -- of the one living under the rule.)

By the Middle Ages, it was common for religious orders to have congregations of men and of women, living under similar but not necessarily identical rules. Within a single canonical organization, the congregations of men were called the First Order, the congregations of women the Second Order. As layfolk associated with an order were organized into officially recognized associations, they became known as the Third Orders.

In this terminology, then, I am a Third Order Dominican. (Except that the Dominican Order no longer uses this terminology, lest it give the impression that First, Second, and Third signify worth or rank rather than a simple ordering. So I identify myself as a Lay Dominican -- or, more properly, as "Dominican Laity, Professed." The rule we use is called the Regula fraternitatum laicalium Sancti Dominici, but for whatever reason no one seems to speak of Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic.)

Anyway, many other religious orders and congregations have formal lay affiliates: tertiaries (members of Third Orders), oblates, associates of individual congregations or houses, membership in different confraternities (Rosary Confraternity members are considered members of the Dominican Family), and so forth.

There are also secular institutes, a relatively new form of life, whose members promise to follow the evangelical counsels -- poverty, chastity, obedience -- while living a secular life out in the world.

Then there's a host of other associations for lay Catholics -- some relatively new, some fairly old -- that seek to help sanctify their members according to different spiritualities and emphases.

Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been recognition throughout the Church that these lay associations of the faithful are not just old ladies' prayer clubs, but that the sanctification and formation of the members can contribute to the sanctification of the world that is the primary mission of the Church in general and the laity in particular.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Reeves and the Futile Spirit

I was just tucking in to my second helping of eggs and b. when Monsignor Reeves shimmered into the room.

"Ah Reeves, good morning!"

"Good morning, your excellency."

I eyed the salver he held, on which lay a few assorted envelopes and the morning newspaper. I was eager to get at the solution to yesterday's crossword -- 18 Down had been a particularly devilish one -- but protocol demanded that I first ask, "Nothing important in the mail, I suppose?"

"There is a letter that might prove to be of some import, your excellency."

These words sent a shiver down the Booster spine, as not since word came that the Bishops' Subcomittee on Complimentary Norms' semiannual meeting was cancelled had good news been found in a letter of some import delivered before the end of breakfast.

Still, though my brow was sad, my eye beneath flashed at Reeves like a something from its sheath as I said, "Oh, ah?"

"Precisely, your excellency." He set the letter -- a bally long one, too -- on the table next to my teacup.

I pronged at it with my fork. There were more than a half dozen pages, and the margins were none too generous. Whoever had sent it seemed not to have gone to any effort to tighten up the writing.

I set down my fork and pushed my plate away. The uneaten eggs, I was sure, would have turned to ashes on the way to my mouth.

"Is there a Reader's Digest version of this available, Reeves?" I asked. "I've got an anniversary Mass to get to by eleven."

"Several of your brother bishops are calling for the convening of a plenary council, your excellency. They wish to know whether you would care to support them."

"Plenary council?" I asked in surprise.

"Yes, your excellency. A plenary council is a national ecclesial synod --"

"Reeves," I cut him off coldly, "I am fully aware of what a plenary council is."

"Yes, your excellency."

"When I said, 'Plenary council?' I was not asking what a plenary council is," I went on. Sometimes it is necessary to remind Monsignor Reeves that, although I rely on him for occasional assistance with difficult situations, I am still a fully capable bishop. "I was merely reacting in suprise. A plenary council hasn't been called in this country in, what, --"

"One hundred eighteen years, your excellency."

"Yes. Precisely. Not in one hundred eighteen years. And if a fellow isn't allowed to be a bit surprised when he is hit between the eyes at the breakfast table by an idea that hasn't seen the light of day in one hundred eighteen years, then when is he allowed to be a bit surprised?"

"I couldn't say, your excellency."

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Order your life however you like

It has been suggested that I am on a crusade to make you all Dominicans.

I answer that, Not everyone is called to be a Dominican, and in fact there are advantages to answering different calls. The Franciscans, for example, have more and better food. You get more peace and quiet with the Carmelites. Opus Dei offers a vigorous and rigorous formation for living in the world. The Jesuits have some very pleasant retreat houses. The Benedictines have fifteen hundred years worth of spiritual treasures to draw on, and some mighty fine liqueurs and foodstuffs.

Jack at Integrity gives the structure his prayer life took during law school, and asks what approaches others have taken. I became a Lay Dominican in large part precisely to give a structure to my own prayer life. It being my life, the structure has to suit me, and the Dominican structure fits me like a glove (albeit one with plenty of room to grow). But it doesn't fit everyone.

As I wrote in a comment at Integrity, "disciple" and "discipline" both come from the same Latin word (discipulus, meaning "student"), and there aren't many good disciples who don't have good discipline. Living according to a rule is a form of discipline I think all laity should consider, whether it be a formal rule approved by the Church or a private one developed from the spiritual wisdom accumulated by the Church over the millennia.

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Top Ten Reasons to Join the Dominican Order

It being St. Dominic's Eve, let me count the ways your life would be better if you picked up the Dominican habit:
10. Everyone looks better wearing black and white. (Not necessarily good, but better.)

9. It adds depth and resonance to all those great Jesuit jokes.

8. November is Party Month! (St. Martin de Porres, Nov. 3; All Dominican Saints, Nov. 7; St. Albert the Great, Nov. 15)

7. They validate your parking at Santa Sabina.

6. You can learn the correct way to spell and pronounce "Schillebeeckx."

5. You do expect some sort of Spanish Inquisition.

4. Buying lots of books doesn't count (much) against the Dominican spirit of poverty.

3. When Cardinal Ratzinger summons you to Rome, it's to ask you to be his secretary.

2. Arguing in bars is part of the founding spirituality of the Order. (See para. 15 of the Libellus.)

1. If you do it right, you go to heaven.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Flos daily

Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli was feeling despondent about the lack of visible reaction to his reflections on St. John of the Cross. He's since seen this feeling in the light his vocation as a Carmelite.

At the risk of interfering with Steven's ascent of Mt. Carmel, I encourage everyone to join me in visiting Flos Carmeli frequently. It's a remarkable blog, even if no one's told Steven.

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For the record

John McGuinness places Disputations in "orthodox blog land." In a related note, Mike at Enemy of the Church? is resisting
the temptation to grill the more "orthodox" members of St. Blogs about the way it sometimes seems they wallow in hostility and blamesmanship. I wonder how can they live with what appears to be such constant anger and with the caustic combination of being convinced most of the members of "AmChurch" are fools and being unwilling to suffer fools (hence most of "Amchurch") gladly.
While I do consider myself orthodox -- which, after all, merely means "having right beliefs" -- I don't think I ever identify myself as an "orthodox Catholic." I find the use of the term "AmChurch" wearisome. My favorite description of me, from a list someone wrote describing members of a Catholic mailing list I'm on, is, "Average Catholic, likes St. Thomas." I will also raise my hand when someone asks if there are any boot-licking Vatican toadies in the house.

I don't have any insightful or non-negotiable opinions about liturgy, translations, enneagrams, EWTN, or Cardinal Law. What I will object to strenuously, though, are Catholics who demonstrate no faith in the Catholic faith.

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Subjunctive sophistication

A popular hypothetical question directed to Christians is, "What if they found Jesus' bones in a tomb?"

One common answer is, "This would have no significant effect upon my faith, which is based on a personal encounter with the Divine, not a rigorous and literal reading of Biblical texts. Certainly the Resurrection event, as experienced by the disciples in the years following the crucifixion, would therefore not have been one of experiencing Jesus physically, but of experiencing his spiritual presence in their community, none the less real -- and in a sense much more real -- of a presence for it not being defined by the spatial limitations of even a glorified human body."

A moment's thought shows this to be a nuanced, flexible, and cowardly answer more suitable for belly-crawling corporate yes-men two years from retirement than for faith-filled disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, more for people whose faith consists merely of vague and ambiguously subjective emotions than for those whose faith is of Christ and Him crucified.

The correct answer, it seems to me, is (borrowing a phrase from Flannery O'Connor), "Then to hell with it." Or, as someone else once put it, "If Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith."

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Not only isn't it miraculous...

...it doesn't even make an interesting story.

John McGuinness on Man Bites Blog urges restraint on the rhetoric swirling over the miracle of sharing" interpretation of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In response to Rod Dreher's claim that "we are in the middle of a war for the survival of the Church. The lack of fidelity is the root cause for all our woes," John writes:
First of all, the root cause for all our woes is priests who sexually abused children. Period.
I think John misses the scope of Rod's claim, which is not about the abuse-and-coverup scandals, but about the survival of the Church. Priests who sexually abused children did not cause attendance at Sunday Mass to fall to whatever dismal fraction it was last December; they did not cause large numbers of American Catholics to be so poorly catechized, to support legal abortion, to avoid the sacrament of reconciliation, to believe that any religion is about as good as any other.

I'm not sure that Rod's claim (borrowed, perhaps, from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus) that infidelity is the root cause for all our woes says all that much; it seems to me to be derivable from, "Not being holy is the cause of us not being holy." Still, being the creatures we are, we need to be reminded of such things from time to time.

John goes on to wonder at the vehemence with which the Woodstock moment interpretation of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is rejected:
What I do think is worth examining is why this interpretation is so threatening to people. What would it mean if someone could factually verify that it was in fact a miracle of sharing? Would that change what we believe in?
First, I reject the assertion that I find the sharing interpretation threatening. I do not find it threatening. I find it foolish and ignorant and self-centered and damaging, but not threatening.

The first question to ask of a Scriptural passage -- and this is Catholicism 101, going back explicitly pretty much as far back as Christians asked questions of Scriptural passages -- is, "What is the literal meaning of the passage?"

But this is not a question the sharing interpreters ask -- or, if they do ask, they don't care about the answer. They cannot possibly care, because in all five of the passages recording a miraculous feeding of a multitude, the literal meaning is unambiguously and undeniably that the entire multitude ate their fill from a very small number of loaves and fishes, and that the leftover scraps from those self-same loaves and fishes amounted to far more than the very small number they were to begin with. This is what the Gospels say. This is what the priest or deacon proclaims to the congregation -- explicitly and unequivocally -- when he reads the Gospel passages.

How, then, can someone even arrive at the thought that the "real miracle" is one of sharing? It's not in the Gospels. In fact, it explicitly contradicts what is in the Gospels. It's not in the Church Fathers. It's not anywhere in the Church down through the centuries.

Instead, it comes from men outside the Church whose foremost dogma was, "Miracles have never happened."

Now, if miracles have never happened, the exegete has a problem with the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He needs a non-miraculous explanation of how a multitude ate. Well, obviously there must have been a multitude of food, despite the stories explicitly stating that there was not a multitude of food.

But the exegete also needs an explanation of why such an uninteresting story would be recorded five times in four Gospels. He seizes on this: "It is a miracle to get people to share with each other."

The problem with this, as has been pointed out by others, is that it is not a miracle to get people to share with others. It just isn't. People help other people in need; haven't you noticed?

The claim that sharing with others is miraculous may say something true about the person making the claim, or about his opinion of the people around him, but it is demonstrably false in itself.

So, from my perspective, anyone asserting that the Gospel stories of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is really about Jesus coaxing the crowd into sharing what they had
  1. has never read the Gospels with any level of attention.
  2. bases his assertion on a dogma that contradicts the Catholic faith.
  3. is a lousy observer of human nature.
  4. reduces Jesus from the source of our life to a good example.
Given that, I think it's clear to see why I do not want to hear (or hear of) Catholics preaching this nonsense to other Catholics.

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Monday, August 05, 2002

Washington area get-together

As seen on Catholic Light: This Thursday, August 8, St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Great Falls, Virginia, will be the site of a special liturgical program. The public Rosary (good under the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence) at 6:30 will be followed by chanted Vespers at 7 p.m., then a chanted Latin Mass at 7:30 p.m. The Washington Capella Antiqua (featuring Catholic Light's Steve Schultz) will do much of the singing, which is good news for people like me who -- well, let's just say who wouldn't be invited to a second audition with a group like the Washington Capella Antiqua.

I will be there, God willing, faking my way through the Latin responses with gusto. I hope to meet Steve and any other blogfolk who can make it. (There's a phone number to RSVP on the web page.) I'll be the one wearing a small Dominican shield on my lapel, in honor of the Feast of St. Dominic.

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God is not good

There's an old saw that mysticism begins in a mist and ends in a schism, and it's widely thought that this is just what happened with Meister Eckhart.

Eckhart was a Fourteenth Century Dominican friar and mystic whose startling and original style of preaching left him open to charges of heresy. One of his famous statements is, "I am good, but God is not good," and he goes on to claim that it is untrue to say that God is wise or even that He exists. His point, of course, is that words cannot adequately describe God:
Be silent therefore, and do not chatter about God, for by chattering about him, you tell lies and commit a sin. If you wish to be perfect and without sin, then do not prattle about God. Also you should not wish to understand anything about God, for God is beyond all understanding. A master says: If I had a God that I could understand, I would not regard him as God.
If you've read the Tao Te Ching, this may well put you in mind of its opening line: "The Tao that can be named is not the read Tao."

Syncretists, of course, love to find similarities between different traditions, and Eckhart is a mine of difficult or ambiguous sayings that bear at least a surface similarity to a lot of non-Christian mystical writing. Add to that the cachet of the condemnation of several of Eckhart's propositions by the Church as heretical -- after his death, to be sure, and with explicit recognition of his submission to the judgment of the Holy See, but not all wise Catholics can be burned by the Church -- and you can see why Meister Eckhart is a popular authority among Western Postchristians. (You can also see why he is referred to as a pantheist by Western fundamentalists.)

The Dominican Order, which has never disowned its Meister, has been working toward obtaining a papal declaration to the effect that Eckhart's writings are "an expression of authentic Christian mysticism and ... trustworthy guides to the Christian life according to the spirit of the gospel." There is even a fifteen-year-old Eckhart Society whose goals include the promotion of Eckhart's writings and the scholarly study of his life and works. (The goals also include promotion of Eckhart's teachings in interreligious dialogue, so even should a papal declaration be given the pantheist charge will survive.)

More excerpts from Meister Eckhart's works can be found here.

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The sole concern of the Church

JB the Kairos Guy expresses concern about the states of souls:
I could really use some help with mine, for instance, and I imagine yours is in much the same shape. That guy down the street needs some help, too. And the person on the way to work this morning…And the woman who…
As with air masks that drop down from the ceiling in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, the saving of souls works best if you take care of yourself before assisting those around you.

The Fundamental Constitution of the Dominican friars, quoting the Order's Primitive Constitutions, states that "the Order of Friars Preachers founded by St. Dominic 'is known from the beginning to have been instituted especially for preaching and the salvation of souls.'" St. Dominic understood that the salvation of souls begins at home. A preaching friar who saves thousands of souls, but not his own, isn't a very good preaching friar.

Fortunately, the way things are set up is such that saving your own soul makes it much easier to save other souls. You have the help of the graces that come to a soul that is right with God, you are more likely to do what is effective for others if your own mind and heart are properly ordered, and you are simply more attractive to others who are open to the Spirit.

I don't think I'm writing anything contrary to what JB wrote. We can't wait until our souls are irreversibly saved to start worrying about others. I'm just making the obvious point that the holier we are, the holier we can help others to be.

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Yes, it's Monday. Could you tell?

The conversation at In Between Naps turned to the "naturalistic" explanation of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes: that the "real" miracle was that everyone shared their food with everyone else.

I'm pro-miracle by temperament. I like to say that not all miracles are miraculous, meaning that God's actions in our lives don't always take astonishing or inexplicable forms.

But this multiplication-by-sharing wheeze is playing Scripture backwards, taking something that is clearly related as a miraculous miracle and downgrading it into a soft-focus moment of gosh-darned neighborliness brought to you by your local Coca-Cola bottler.
I'd like to teach the world to share
Their barley loaves and fish.
To get my friends to love and care
Is my one greatest wish.
The absurdity of the non-miracle position is made worse by the fact that it makes utter hash of the story.
"Martha, have you heard? That healer, Jesus of Nazareth, is in a boat near a deserted place not far from here. Perhaps if we bring young Jude to him, he will be able to heal Jude's withered arm. Let us go!"

"Okay, but first let me pack a picnic basket."

"Good thinking. While you're at it, pack more food than we'll need. I can use the exercise carrying that extra weight."
As I understand it, Catholic belief in non-miracles can be traced to (at least) the 19th Century dogmatic denial of miracles by men who considered themselves theologians. As with most things, Catholics complicate the simple idea that Jesus performed no miracles by believing that He is nevertheless God's Son. The result smacks of Pelagianism: "Gosh, Jesus showed others how to be nice. I'm nice, too, and I can show others how to be nice. Heaven, here I come!"

What we have, then, are trendy theologians teaching 150-year-old oxymorons to people eager to hear that they're God's children, too. This is bad theology. When a theologian does bad theology, what's left?

(It occurred to me yesterday that the Attack of the Workshopped Liturgists is, too often, the story of liturgists who don't know liturgy. And I don't mean they do bad liturgy, I mean they flat don't know the liturgy. When a liturgist does something that is explicitly contrary to liturgical norms, she is not demonstrating creativity or sensibility or prophetic vision, she is demonstrating ignorance. If liturgists don't know liturgy, what are they good for except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot?)

(Er, I mean, if they don't know liturgy, why are they considered liturgists?)

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