instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, November 07, 2002

What this county needs

Flos Carmeli cares enough to send the very best to the elected officials who will (or won't) be enacting pro-life policy for the United States over the next two years (or at least the next nine months, when thoughts of the 2004 presidential election will begin to dominate everyone's thinking).

I like the idea of Mass cards, although all of my seven state and federal representatives are pro-abortion. But a man blind from birth has been known to gain sight; the intractability of my co-religionist, the virulently pro-abortion U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, may yet yield to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

[This is something of a faith vs. reason paradox, in that it is utterly unreasonable to think Sen. Mikulski will abandon her objectively evil vote magnet of a position, yet our faith insists on the efficacy of prayer. Reason can only watch when faith operates in that region between improbable and impossible.]

I am envious [not jealous, as too many college-educated people would say] of those who live in states with a Right to Life party. It's a shame that there is no way of indicating on the ballot that, for example, no vote is cast in a certain race because all of the candidates support objective evil. (Or are otherwise unacceptable; my state doesn't have "None of the above" on the ballot, either.)

Someone with much better organizational skills than I have should put together a National Write to Life Network, to provide coordination and facilitation of write-in candidacies in contests with no pro-life candidate. Then those of us who want to make a statement (however faint, but surely louder on a per-vote basis than a vote for a candidate who gets a reportable percentage of the votes) can all make the same statement, instead of splitting into invisibility with individual write-ins, votes for the least bad, or no votes at all.

The write-in candidates don't necessarily need to be viable. I think it would be enough if it were known that every vote for a NWTLN-endorsed candidate meant, "There is no candidate named on the ballot whose position on abortion and other human life issues is acceptable to me," rather than, "I didn't have many friends in high school, either."

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Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Old yeast is, like, dead

On his cooking show Emeril Live, Emeril Lagasse often reminds viewers that, when using yeast, you have to check the expiration date. If the date has expired, chances are the yeast has expired, too, and you won't get much of a rise in your dough.

One hopes this is the case with the virulently pro-abortion EMILY's List ("EMILY" meaning "Early Money Is Like Yeast"). Sixteen of twenty-one virulently pro-abortion candidates this horrid organization particularly promoted in 2002 lost. Not necessarily because of their virulent enthusiasm for objective evil, but it's still an encouraging statistic.

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The lesser of two evils

... is evil.

Thoughts of politics bring the adjective "sorrowful" to mind, but reviewing the post below suggests instead praying the Joyful Mysteries, that all officials govern with faith, charity, humility, justice, and prudence.

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Tuesday, November 05, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 26

A traditional framework for meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary is to consider each mystery as an exemplar of a different virtue or gift, and pray for an increase in that virtue while reciting the decade. The following matches between mystery and virtue are from Robert Feeney's book The Rosary: The Little Summa, which is structured around reflections drawn from Scripture, St. Thomas, Vatican II, and Pope John Paul II.
Joyful Mysteries
The Annunciation: faith
The Visitation: charity
The Nativity: humility
The Presentation: justice
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple: prudence

Sorrowful Mysteries
The Agony in the Garden: religion
The Scourging at the Pillar: temperance
The Crowning with Thorns: love of our enemies
The Carrying of the Cross: fortitude
The Crucifixion: mercy

Glorious Mysteries
The Resurrection: the peace of Christ
The Ascension: hope
The Descent of the Holy Spirit: the gifts of the Holy Spirit
The Assumption: trust in Mary's intercession
The Coronation: grace of the present moment
(The Luminous Mysteries are not mentioned in the edition I have. Offhand, let me suggest chastity, joy, knowledge, holy fear, and reverence.)

Most of these are straightforward, I think. "Religion," for St. Thomas, is principally the offering of devotion and prayer to God. Temperance is the exercise of control over the appetite for pleasure. The "grace of the present moment ... opens our minds to the greatness of all those small things that bear a relationship to eternity," in the words of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP.

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WAW

Minute Particulars kindly draws water from St. Thomas's well for me, quoting the Angelic Doctor on government:
For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e. government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers.
In an astonishing coincidence, ranking right up there with St. Thomas's conclusions about whether the active life is more excellent than the contemplative, this is a fair description of the government of the Dominican Order, one of the oldest constitutional democracies in existence.

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WWAD?

Voting is easy. Prudent voting is hard.

Consider the choice facing the good citizens of Maryland's Eighth Congressional District. On the one hand, there is the virulently pro-abortion Republican incumbent. On the other hand, there is the virulently pro-abortion Democratic challenger.

Now, this situation is not unique to Maryland's Eighth Congressional District (though the fact that this election is still too close to call is unusual). There are several ways a good citizen could go. He could vote for the Republican, figuring Republican leadership in the House will be measurably (perhaps marginally) better on life-and-death issues. He could figure both parties are a wash on life-and-death issues, and vote for the candidate (or party) he feels will best direct the country otherwise. He could write in a candidate, he could not vote for this office, he could vote for a third party candidate.

Ah, the third party candidate.

Allow me, on this Election Day, to quote from the keynote statement from the third party candidate for Maryland's Eighth Congressional District:
For the past five decades the human race has been caught between two worlds, two paradigms. While millions of people worldwide have come to understand they are not alone in the universe, that an extraterrestrial presence has become manifest about the planet, the governments of the world, frozen in place by fear and indecision, have been unable to publicly engage this new reality. This cannot continue.

It is time for the United States of America, a nation which views itself as a leader of nations, to formally acknowledge this extraterrestrial presence....
What, then, would Aquinas do?

Erratum: I've corrected the spelling of "incumbent" above, having originally had "encumbent," perhaps due to a sense of being encumbered with a virulently pro-abortion Roman Catholic representative. Come to think of it, from now on I shall probably refer to my various elected servants as "encumberants."

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Friday, November 01, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 25

By special guest contributor Eugenio Pacelli

In vain is a remedy sought for the wavering fate of civil life, if the family, the principle and foundation of the human community, is not fashioned after the pattern of the Gospel.

The custom of the family recitation of the Holy Rosary is a most efficacious means to undertake such a difficult duty. What a sweet sight—most pleasing to God—when, at eventide, the Christian home resounds with the frequent repetition of praises in honor of the august Queen of Heaven! Then the Rosary, recited in common, assembles before the image of the Virgin, in an admirable union of hearts, the parents and their children, who come back from their daily work. It unites them piously with those absent and those dead. It links all more tightly in a sweet bond of love, with the most Holy Virgin, who, like a loving mother, in the circle of her children, will be there bestowing upon them an abundance of the gifts of concord and family peace.

Then the home of the Christian family, like that of Nazareth, will become an earthly abode of sanctity, and, so to speak, a sacred temple, where the Holy Rosary will not only be the particular prayer which every day rises to heaven in an odor of sweetness, but will also form the most efficacious school of Christian discipline and Christian virtue. This meditation on the Divine Mysteries of the Redemption will teach the adults to live, admiring daily the shining examples of Jesus and Mary, and to draw from these examples comfort in adversity, striving towards those heavenly treasures "where neither thief draws near, nor moth destroys" (Luke 12, 33). This meditation will bring to the knowledge of the little ones the main truths of the Christian Faith, making love for the Redeemer blossom almost spontaneously in their innocent hearts, while, seeing, their parents kneeling before the majesty of God, they will learn from their very early years how great before the throne of God is the value of prayers said in common.

[Editor's note: Five decades may well be too much for a family to take in one sitting, particularly if there is not already a habit of common prayer. Perhaps one decade a night, following the Seven Joys of Mary (see Way #4) beginning with the Annunciation on Monday, would be a more practical way to ease into gaining the advantages that Pope Pius XII mentions above.]

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31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 24

In the Fifteenth Century, the Carthusian monk Dominic of Prussia preached a form of the Rosary in which each Ave (which again, at the time, ended with the word "Jesus") had a short statement appended to it, to call to mind some aspect of the lives of Jesus and Mary.

This custom survives to this day and can be observed in a couple of different ways.

The more complicated way is to have a separate clause for each Hail Mary. Obviously, this requires either a phenomenal memory or a book. The book I recommend (for at least the third time on this site alone) is Through the Rosary with Fra Angelico, in which the 150 clauses are taken from the works of that great apostle of the Rosary, St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort.
A brief commercial: If it's all the same to you, you can order the book from the Dominican Laity of the Province of St. Joseph (Eastern U.S.). Wherever you get it, though, order two copies so you can give one away.
Only the first half of each Hail Mary is said, followed by the appropriate clause. At the end of the decade, the "Holy Mary, Mother of God,...." is said once, followed by the Glory Be.

The simpler way is to use a single clause, inserted into the middle of each Hail Mary, for the entire decade. Fred Kaffenberger has kindly drawn my attention to a web site he maintains whose prayer resources include the following suggested clauses:
Joyful Mysteries
Jesus, whom you, O Virgin, conceived of the Holy Spirit
Jesus, whom you, O Virgin, took to Elizabeth
Jesus, to whom you, O Virgin, gave birth
Jesus, whom you, O Virgin, offered up in the temple
Jesus, whom you, O Virgin, found again in the temple

Luminous Mysteries
Jesus, who was baptised in the Jordan by John
Jesus, who changed water into wine at Cana
Jesus, who preached the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus, who was Transfigured on the mountain
Jesus, who offered Himself as sacrifice at the last supper

Sorrowful Mysteries
Jesus, who sweated blood for us
Jesus, who was scourged for us
Jesus, who was crowned with thorns for us
Jesus, who bore the heavy cross for us
Jesus, who was crucified for us

Glorious Mysteries
Jesus, who rose from the dead
Jesus, who ascended into heaven
Jesus, who sent us the Holy Spirit
Jesus, who took you, O Virgin, up into heaven
Jesus, who crowned you, O Virgin, in heaven
Use of these clausulae helps to focus your attention on the particular mystery, and to lead you through the Rosary as an explicit progression of events. At the same time, the recitation is made a richer litany of praise to Jesus and Mary.

(My thanks also to Ray Marshall, for pointing out that the October 2002 issue of Magnificat has an article by Fr. Kevin J. Scallon, C.M., which discusses this method as practiced by German-speaking Catholics.)

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Change, by definition, is good

There are those who greeted news of the Luminous Mysteries with a clutch of the head and the groan, "Is there nothing that will remain unchanged?"

In meditating on this, I have come to realize that in fact a great deal does remain unchanged, and now is as good a time as any to change that.

The following represents only a beginning, but we must begin where we are. Although a reason is given for most of them, the primary motivation for all is that is seems like a good idea at this time:
  • To draw us closer to the Orthodox, the Sign of the Cross will be made from right shoulder to left shoulder.
  • To emphasize the universality of the Church, and to offer a means of unity with and within the Anglican Communion, the Holy See will move to Canterbury.
  • In recognition of the debt we owe to our elder brothers the Jews, the principal weekly celebration of the Eucharist will be moved from Sunday to Saturday.
  • As a good-will gesture toward the peoples of the world, the College of Cardinals will be expanded to include all national representatives to the United Nations.
  • Holy Water will be lightly salted.
  • To reduce confusion, the Roman Maryrology will be arranged alphabetically.
There. Doesn't that make you feel better?

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Thursday, October 31, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 23

There are certain qualities or characteristics that all forms of being -- rocks, humans, redness, poems -- possess. Since these characteristics transcend all boundaries, they are called transcendentals. The three most widely spoken of nowadays are goodness, truth, and beauty.

By now, you can probably guess how to pray the Transcendental Rosary. The first four Hail Marys of each decade are devoted to whatever meditation you have chosen, then two each are recited while meditating on how goodness, truth, and beauty are manifested in the mystery.

Certain mysteries seem to have a preferred transcendental. I have a hard time seeing much that is good or beautiful in the Scourging at the Pillar; the truth that by His stripes we are healed is about all I find. The more Marian mysteries, the Assumption most of all, are to me far more delightful than desirable, and therefore come across as more beautiful than good.

And yet, they are all present in each mystery. As I've written before, even the Crucifixion was pleasing -- in other words, beautiful -- to the Father. But while the Crucifixion is generally thought to be too horrible to be beautiful, the subsequent Resurrection and Ascension would seem to have been too beautiful for this life. Notice that Mary Magdalene seeks to cling to the Risen Lord, to keep Him before her, yet He insists that she let Him go. Later, the Apostles remain staring up into the sky after Jesus ascends to Heaven; angels must be sent to force them to look away. Not yet, they seem to say, that beautiful of a vision must wait. (Soon enough, St. Stephen will be granted that vision just prior to his martyrdom.)

The Miracle at Cana, perhaps showing Jesus at His most prodigal, was a sign of God's great, graceful goodness to those who have no claim on it; it was also a sign of God's presence, that what Jesus (and His mother) said was true; and of course it was simply beautiful, scores of gallons of the finest wine, just for the sake of celebration.

At the Transfiguration, when Peter was out of his mind with the beauty of the Lord manifested as the true fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, he could only babble, "How good it is for us to be here."

Goodness is that which we desire; beauty is that which pleases us; truth is a conformity between what is and what is in our minds. This is why we need never tire of praying the Rosary, because each mystery brings us into contact with these three things that enter into us and reform us into what we are to become.

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The children's parish

The following note, lightly edited, is from Connie Woods, the wife of a U.S. diplomat stationed in Almaty, Kazakhstan, through June 2003:
When Pope John Paul II visited Kazakhstan in September 2001, he praised the peaceful relations between Moslems and Christians. The small Catholic presence in the country today is the result of the Communist practice of exiling Poles, Ukrainians, Russians and Germans here to labor camps and concentration camps. These exiles kept the faith alive although religion was officially prohibited until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Today the Faith is flourishing, especially among the young, and the parishes are active in a variety of apostolates, charities, and catechism programs. The majority of priests are missionaries from Poland, Slovakia and Italy.

Kazakhstan, which was the second largest republic in the Soviet Union after Russia, covers a territory roughly one-third as large as the United States, bounded by the Caspian Sea to the West, Russia to the North, China to the East, and the other "Stans" to the South (Kirghizstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan). Once the Soviet Union broke apart, Kazakhstan became an independent country. It is therefore not covered by Aid to the Church in Russia.

Kapchagai is a small city of about 30,000 people located an hour's drive north of Almaty, the former capital situated in the southeastern corner of the country near China. The city of Kapchagai consists mainly of run-down Soviet apartment complexes. It is an impoverished area with an 80% unemployment rate. The chief attraction in the town is recreational boating and swimming at Lake Kaphchagai. The Catholic parish in the town met in private apartments until 1999, when the Immaculate Conception church was built. The parishioners built the church entirely by hand.

The church first opened a soup kitchen, then began providing shelter for the abandoned children who came there to eat. Today, just three years after the they began taking children in, the parish owns four houses in close proximity to the church that have been converted into dormitories for the children. The children keep coming, so the parish is hoping to purchase one more house down the street and to build yet another house on land they already own. They attribute everything to the speedy help of the Virgin Mary.

The children range in age from two to the mid-teens. Most are not true orphans, but come from abusive, broken or impoverished homes where they simply cannot be cared for. Approximately 50 children live in the dormitories, lovingly cared for by Sister Alma, a Franciscan missionary from Slovakia, Father Massimo from Italy, and six young women who also live full-time with the children. One of these young women, being an ethnic German, had the opportunity to emigrate to a better life in Germany, but has chosen to stay in Kapchagai and dedicate her life to the care of these children instead.

I first became acquainted with these children on a train ride to the capital city of Astana to see the Pope in September 2001, and then again in the summer of 2002 at a summer camp in the Tian Shen mountains near Almaty. The diocese was able to provide only part of the $700 dollar cost of the week-long camp, and Sister Alma begged and borrowed the remainder from her Slovak relatives.

At the summer camp, which was structured around daily Mass and catechism classes, I began to realize what miracles are being worked in these children. They are openly loving and generous. Though they have nothing, they happily share everything. They are well instructed in the Faith, eager to learn, and devout in a way that can hardly be explained. For instance, every Thursday the parish has all-night adoration. Without any grown-ups taking them by the hand, the children take turns keeping vigil at the church. All on their own they come to the church in the middle of the night to do the stations of the Cross on their knees. Who can these poorest of the poor be making reparation for, except for us and for the world? They have a special devotion to Our Lady of the Eucharist.

Like the general population here, the children come from Russian, Kazakh and other ethnic backgrounds. The image that best sums up their character for me is the daily rosary. From the youngest to the oldest they take turns leading the decades in a variety of languages: Russian, Latin, Italian and Kazakh. The sight of these Kazakh kids, little descendants of Genghis Khan, reciting the Hail Mary in Latin, gives some glimpse of the great things in store for the Church in Central Asia.

The parish has only about 100 people in it, of which 50 are these abandoned children. I am looking for parishes and organizations willing to provide some kind of regular support to supplement the ad hoc donations that keep them going. A few special collections a year would go directly for food and shelter for the children. There are several major projects the parish hopes to accomplish with the help of benefactors like you. They need US $25,000 to purchase the fifth house, and at least $50,000 to build a new house on land they already own.

If you are willing to support the Immaculate Conception parish, I have already arranged a way for contributions to be made through a U.S. address. Sister Alma's motherhouse happens to be in Pennsylvania, and the sisters there have agreed to forward any contributions earmarked to Sister Alma for her work in Kapchagai. However, to avoid lots of individual money transfers and accounting that is not part of their own budget, it would be better to collect checks from individuals and then consolidate them into one check before sending it to the sisters.
This is the sort of story that comes to mind when I hear people complain that the music at the 10:30 Mass is too contemporary.

Anyone who wants to contribute to Sister Alma's work can drop me a line. I can add individual contributions to that of my Lay Dominican chapter, which I believe can provide charitable donation acknowledgement letters, to reduce the paperwork for Sister Alma's motherhouse. If you've got an organization of your own, I can put you in touch with Connie Woods for information on donating directly to the motherhouse. If you're not in the U.S., I'm sure we can work something out.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 22

There's a standard way of generating a story plot: Think of a protagonist, and give him a goal. Then think of an antagonist, and give him a goal that conflicts with the protagonist's. The resolution of the conflict constitutes the plot.

This suggests the idea of a Dramatic Rosary, if you will, in which each mystery is considered from the aspect of a protagonist and an antagonist with conflicting goals.

It's up to you to choose the roles and the goals, but here's an example for the Sorrowful Mysteries:
  • The Agony in the Garden: Jesus as man wants the cup to pass from him. The Father wills otherwise.
  • The Scourging at the Pillar: Pilate has Jesus scourged to placate the Jewish leaders. They, however, insist that He be crucified.
  • The Crowning with Thorns: The King of Kings makes no claim to kingship. The Roman soldiers insist upon it, for their own amusement.
  • The Carrying of the Cross: Simon of Cyrene simply wants to go about his business. The soldiers want him to help them with their business.
  • The Crucifixion: The Jews and the Romans both want this unpleasantness to end this very day, on this very cross. For Jesus, the Cross is the foundation of the Kingdom.
By the way, something interesting can happen with the Glorious Mysteries. We think of the Rosary as a meditation on Christ, but see how He can be cast as the antagonist:
  • The Resurrection: The women want to prepare Jesus' body; Jesus prevents them. (Or, Mary Magdalene wants to hold on to Him; He tells her to let go.)
  • The Ascension: The Apostles want Jesus to restore the kingdom to Israel; Jesus wants to return to the Father.
  • The Descent of the Holy Spirit: The Apostles want to keep a low profile; the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus, wants them to proclaim His Name.
  • The Assumption: Mary's mourners bury her; Mary's Son raises her.
  • The Coronation: Mary regards herself as the handmaid of the Lord; the Lord regards Mary as His Queen.
Considered as drama, the Good News can be told as the story of humans who want less going against a God who insists on more than they could possibly imagine.

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Veritas

Fr. William Hinnebusch, OP, wrote a book called Dominican Spirituality in which he identified six characteristics of Dominican life (ultimately concluding, if memory serves, that there isn't a simple or single thing you can point to and call "Dominican spirituality").

One of the characteristics is that Dominican life is doctrinal. Catholicism is a faith based on revealed and reasoned truth, and Dominicans are expected to know and preach the truth. In a talk to my Lay Dominican chapter, a friar proposed asking, "What are you reading?" as a way of gauging how much attention we're giving to this doctrinal aspect of our way of life.

But significantly he added, "What are you reading that you don't agree with?" In the tradition of disputatio, he pointed out the importance of being able to listen to another's argument, identify the truth within it, tease that out from the error, and so help the other -- and yourself -- to advance toward a fuller understanding of the truth.

The advantages of such an attitude -- regarding a disagreement as a joint exploration in search of the truth rather than as a debate to be won or lost -- are numerous and clear.

The disadvantage is that it doesn't satisfy personal competitiveness, but that too turns out to be an advantage.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 21

A good way of emphasizing the Christological basis of the Rosary is to pray a Scriptural Rosary. Before each Hail Mary, a brief Scriptural verse (related to the mystery, of course, and sometimes in the form of versicle and response) is recited. By their nature, Scriptural Rosaries require following along in a book or other written guide, which makes them more suitable for small, regular groups, such as the family.

There are many on-line Scriptural Rosaries, including a straightforward version from RosaryCreations.com, a paraphrased version for children, and a whole series of printable downloads from the Apostolate of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

The effect of a Scriptural Rosary is distinctive. It is less meditative than the traditional Dominican Rosary, more of a litany of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. It impresses upon the mind the holy words of Scripture by which each mystery is related, which in turn provides food to chew on during the day (a habit also fostered by lectio divina), and especially when you pray the Rosary in a more traditional manner. If, for example, while doing the dishes I am meditating on the Visitation, asking myself why Mary visited Elizabeth, a habit of praying a Scriptural Rosary will bring to mind Elizabeth's words, "Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled."

(And note how the various ways of praying the Rosary interact. I can pray the Scriptural Rosary (#21) with my family (#25), and later pray a part (#16) of the Circumstantial Rosary (#20) at a time when a Scriptural Rosary is impossible.)

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Metablogging: Programming notes

The 31 Days, 31 Ways series will be completed -- I've got the remaining dozen ways sketched out already -- but not by the end of this month. Fortunately, Pope John Paul has announced that this is the Year of the Rosary, so I think it will be okay if it takes me an extra week or so to post them all.

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Friday, October 25, 2002

But wait, there's more

Sean Gallagher had a discussion recently with A. Believer about how Catholics use the term "anti-Catholic" while Protestants don't use the term "anti-Protestant." I think some good points are made by both sides (and by JACK in a comment to Sean's post).

My general approach to these things is to ask for a definition, then see if it applies. I don't see any reason, in principle, why a particular Catholic apologist couldn't act in an anti-Protestant manner (with "anti-Protestant" given a definition equivalent to "anti-Catholic").

But here's my thought about why "anti-Protestant" behavior isn't perceived by Protestants as often as anti-Catholic behavior is perceived by Catholics:

Catholicism isn't anti-Protestant.

If I were to draw a Venn diagram of Catholicism and Protestantism, the Protestantism circle would lie entirely within the Catholicism circle. The rest of the Catholicism circle would represent those elements rejected by Protestantism: the Sacraments, the papacy, and so on.

Arguments between Catholics and Protestants, then, involve, fundamentally, Protestants trying to remove things from Catholicism and Catholics trying to add things to Protestantism. Imagine two sculptors critiquing each other's clay statues; the first tries to cut off parts of the second's statue, while the second tries to add globs of clay to the first's. Neither likes what the other is trying to do to his statue, but the things they're doing are essentially different from each other.

This essential difference in argumentation leads, naturally enough, to an essential difference in how Protestants and Catholics experience each other's arguments.

Furthermore, it suffices for the Catholic to show the necessity of Catholicism -- which, since it contains Protestantism, implies the necessity of Protestantism (interpreted in a Catholic way, if you follow me). A Catholic can argue against Protestantism without ever mentioning Protestantism.

The Protestant, though, is arguing for both the sufficiency of Protestantism (its necessity already granted, in a fashion, by the Catholic) and the excess of Catholicism. If a thing costs ten dollars, then having ten dollars is sufficient to buy it, but if I have twenty dollars I can buy it as well. The Protestant arguing against Catholicism must, metaphorically speaking, argue that if I have more than ten (or, allowing for freedom in uncertain matters, fifteen) dollars, I cannot buy the ten-dollar item. This means he has to talk about what's wrong with having twenty dollars. (The Catholic could content himself with demonstrations that the item costs twenty dollars, without ever directly considering a ten dollar price point.)

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Thursday, October 24, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 20

Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando
These, as St. Thomas notes, are the seven circumstances of human acts as recorded by Tully.

They suggest what might be called the Circumstantial Rosary, wherein each mystery is considered according to a given circumstance:
  • Who is involved? Jesus, of course, and Mary. Unexpected insights can often be found by thinking in terms of other persons associated, perhaps only incidentally, with the mystery.
  • What is the effect of what is done? What changes as a result, and how have these changes affected history down to this day?
  • Where does the mystery take place? Is it a likely or unlikely place? Where in my own life do I find such places?
  • By what aids is the mystery effected? How do the supernatural and the natural work together to make the act possible?
  • Why does the act occur? What is the end for which the actors act? Is this end achieved?
  • How is it done? With what emotions, what movements, exercising which virtues or vices?
  • When does it happen? What makes it timely, how does it relate in time to the mysteries it follows and precedes?
Choose one of these circumstances and stick with it for all the decades recited during a week. The following week, choose another circumstance.

One effect of this method is an increase in awareness of the profundity of God's plan in sending His only Son into the world to suffer and be raised to glory. I have found the "where" and the "when" circumstances to be particularly fruitful for this.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 19

What to do with your old 15-decade rosary once the new 20-decade set arrives from Italy?

Why not use it to pray the Stations of the Cross?

There is nothing that prevents you from praying the Stations outside of Lent and by yourself. In fact, the Church encourages it by offering a plenary indulgence, subject to certain conditions. And while there are numerous excellent collections of readings and prayers to be used for the Viae Crucis exercitium, the ones used at the Lenten parish Stations I've attended have not been particularly meditative. A decade of the Rosary in place of, or in addition to, the prayers in a "Way of the Cross" book adds nearly an hour of interior meditation on the passion and death of Christ to this devotion. At the same time, it directs the mind to the Marian dimensions of the Passion.

Now, no doubt, all Protestant and a few Catholic readers are rolling their eyes. "It's the passion and death of Jesus! Can't we lay off this mariolatry even for that?"

But the Marian dimension of the Passion is not a matter of watching Mary while she watches her Son suffer and die. Rather, it's a matter of watching her Son suffer and die through her eyes. It's not a focus on Mary, it's using Mary to focus on Jesus. We say to her, "Teach me how a Christian understands the Crucifixion," and we find that it is not so much about God dying on the Cross or the atonement for our sins as it is about the Person loved most in life dying out of love for the Person He loved most.

There are, as you know, fourteen stations in the Way of the Cross, but a multiple of five decades on most rosary beads. With the relatively new custom of the "fifteenth station," the Resurrection prayed at the tabernacle, you can finish with a traditional number of decades. If the indulgence is not important, or not possible (as when you do it in a place without the required fourteen crosses), or if you otherwise prefer, you can of course also use Pope John Paul II's Scriptural Stations.

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Helpful Tips for Helpful Protestants

If you or someone you know is a Protestant who wants to witness to a Catholic that Catholic Marian dogma is evil, here are a few dos and don'ts to keep in mind:
  • Do choose your Catholic carefully. They are not all equally likely to see the indisputability of an argument like, "Mary is dead. Don't pray to her." Dominicans, members of the Rosary Confraternity, and people with web pages devoted to Mary are just some of the Catholics you can expect to be intransigent on the subject of Mary, even in the face of an impassioned email message.
  • Don't bring up apparitions. Apparitions are far from the top of the list of Marian things you disagree with. You should begin by demonstrating that invoking the saints is contrary to the will of God (and don't forget that your Catholic won't believe that "contrary to the will of God" and "not explicitly taught in Paul's epistles" are identical concepts). Arguing that Fatima's message is demonic is like trying to cut down a tree with a drill. You need to strike at the roots!
  • Do think about timing. The month of the Rosary is, all in all, not a good time to bring up how displeased God is with those who pray the Rosary, particularly if your Catholic is in the middle of a series of reflections on how to pray the Rosary in ways pleasing to God.
  • Don't use the lame "Satan is a deceiver" response to the personal witness given to you by your Catholic of how devotion to Mary has made his love of God bloom. That simply serves to remind him of how little you understand about devotion to Mary. Similarly, don't tell your Catholic that praying the Hail Mary is worshipping Mary. Witnessing to the truth is difficult enough without making the one you're witnessing to snicker.
  • Do think about the battle you're choosing. Sure, Catholics promote Mary out of all sensible Protestant proportion -- but they believe the Eucharist is God Himself! Are you sure you should be worrying about the risks Catholics run of placing a human ahead of God when Catholics explicitly teach and affirm that bread becomes Jesus?
I was going to add, "Don't respond to eighteen centuries of solid evidence of Marian devotion with accusations of satanism in Harry Potter," but that one seems a little too obvious.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 18

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
If in the Luminous Mysteries the truth that Christ is the light of the world "emerges in a special way," as Pope John Paul II writes in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, then surely John the Baptist bears witness to the Luminous Mysteries:
  1. The Baptism of the Lord. It was John's ministry, a response to a call from God received in the womb, that provided the setting for the first public revelation of Jesus' divinity. As the Baptist says in John 1:31, "for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel."
  2. The Miracle at Cana. Jesus' first miracle was to provide an astonishing abundance of the finest wine, but John in the desert came neither eating nor drinking. The fasting of the groomsman precedes the feasting of the Bridegroom. This is a lesson as important to those awaiting the return of the Groom as to those who looked for His first coming.
  3. The Preaching of the Kingdom. John, too, preached the coming of the Kingdom, though since he was not the light his preaching was preparation, not revelation. Indeed all preaching is preparation, until the Son of God should reveal Himself and His Father to those whom He chooses.
  4. The Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is the second great theophany of Jesus' public life, prefigured by John's vision at Jesus' baptism: "I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him." Though no Apostle, John was the greatest of the prophets, and was not reduced to babbling as was Peter on Mt. Thabor; instead, he knew and bore witness that this Jesus was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist. Once more, John's witness is the fast before the feast of the Eucharist. In this, the least member of the Kingdom Jesus revealed is greater than he -- how could he not be, with God Himself as his food -- but it is a greatness wholly and freely given by God.

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Thursday, October 17, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 17

When learning to pray the Rosary, it's common to be uneasy about the disconnect between the words spoken and the thoughts pondered. There's nothing in the Hail Mary obviously related to the Crowning with Thorns, and Jesus Himself warned, "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words."

The theological answer is that the prayer is not the words, but the entire human act of praying the Rosary -- movement, vocalization, meditation -- and that the spoken words act as a sort of "sacred music" accompanying the contemplation of the face of Christ. But theological answers are not always entirely satisfying.

A simple compromise for those who catch themselves worrying that they're saying words that have no meaning to them is to allow some of the words to have meaning. After pronouncing the mystery, pray the Our Father and one Hail Mary as prayers to the Father and to Mary, paying attention to the words. Then pause a moment to focus on the mystery, and recite the remaining nine Hail Marys while meditating. Finally, pray the Glory Be as a genuine prayer of praise, in thanksgiving for answering the prayers that began the decade with the graces you received during the rest of the decade.

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All over but the pouting

A. Hernán González points out that Rosarium Virginis Mariae contains several ideas he and I each thought up, without citing either of us.

B. So does Fr. Jeffrey Keyes's article, "The Rosary as a Prayer of Communion". Must be some sort of clerical entitlement thing.

C. The Constitution of the Friars of the Order of Preachers states, "They shall recite daily a third part of the rosary in common or in private." With the addition of the luminous mysteries, this would mean stopping after the words "Holy Mary, Mother of" in the seventh Ave of the Wedding at Cana decade, then after the words "blessed are you among" in the fourth Ave of the Carrying of the Cross decade. I'm guessing they'll devise a more creative solution.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2002

That's gratitude for you

After all I've done for the world's blogreaders, no one bothers to tell me about Tenebrae.

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31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 16

The Rosary is a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness, but what should people do if they don't have time to pray it?

First, they should probably examine their theory of time management. What I don't have time for is what I don't make time for; odds are the same is true of people who say they don't have time for the Rosary.

Beyond that, though, notice what the Enchiridion of Indulgences has to say about obtaining an indulgence for praying the Rosary: "The recitation of a third part only of the Rosary suffices; but the five decades must be recited continuously." This suggests that, if the indulgence is not required, the five decades need not be recited continuously.

And of course, as a private devotion, there is no "right way" of praying the Rosary (although there are approved ways, customary ways, and ways that have proven fruitful).

At any time, day or night, you may call to mind a mystery and recite a decade's worth of prayers. If your schedule is regular enough, you may find that there are five times each day when you can meditate for four minutes, taking you through a complete set of mysteries and, after a fashion, sanctifying your day much as the Liturgy of the Hours sanctifies the day for the whole Church. If you've got a ten minute drive to work, pray two decades on the way to work, one sometime during the day, and two on the drive home.

I have a friend who plays chess in a club; he keeps a rosary in his pocket, and will pray it during his opponent's turn. He doesn't obtain the Rosary indulgence (though I suppose he gets one for using an object of devotion), but he does manage to spend a few minutes in contemplation of the life, death, or resurrection of Christ, which is a pretty good deal.

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Categories of judgment

Some have suggested, and no doubt more believe, that my comments below can be taken to imply "that being a Catholic meant completely annihilating your own conscience and deferring to the Pope's opinion on everything."

That is not my meaning. This is:

Catholics should strive for integrity, the integration of all the aspects of their lives -- political, social, personal -- into a single, cohesive whole based on their transformed lives in Christ.

I detect, among politically conservative American Catholics, a tendency to disintegrate the political from the religious. In particular, this disintegration manifests itself in the categorical rejection of the United Nations as a pertinent authority in the moral analysis of a military attack on Iraq. It seems to play out like this:
  1. The U.N. is bad. (Axiomatic for the purposes of the moral analysis of an attack.)
  2. The Pope, various Vatican officials, and numerous bishops have expressed the opinion that the U.N. is a legitimate authority in this analysis.
  3. Therefore, the Pope & Co. are manifestly out of their depth on this matter.
  4. Therefore, nothing they say about whether the U.N. is a legitimate authority need contribute to this analysis.
The net effect is to systematically ignore any papal, curial, or episcopal statement containing the words "United Nations" or the abbreviation "U.N."

Without getting into the question of whether the U.N. is bad and how that might affect the overall moral analysis, I think this sort of reasoning represents a failure to form one's mind according to the teachings of the Church.

The Catechism states that formation of conscience is to be "guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church." Certainly, the statements made by the hierarchy are not authoritative in a strong sense of categorically binding, irreformable, or demanding of religious submission of will. Nevertheless, as Fr. Jeffrey Keyes pointed out to me, they are expressions of the minds of those in authority.

To say, as many have, that they are indications of the poor quality of the minds of those in authority is to fail to be guided by them to the extent that they are authoritative. Since the statements were intended to provide guidance, they cannot be categorically dismissed.

It seems to me there is a great deal of room between categorical dismissal and categorical deference. In particular, there is the region where prudence both takes counsel from magisterial statements and judges according to individual conscience.

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What is this thing called sanctity?

Amy Welborn reposts her reflections on St. Gerard Majella's act of heroic virtue in the face of grave calumny -- remaining silent -- an act which reportedly led St. Alphonsus Liguori to declare prophetically, "Brother Gerard is a saint."

One of the lessons she draws is "it may strike us that there's a bit of self-righteousness" in St. Gerard's silence.

A commenter adds that "Gerard sounds like a tiresome prig. I guess it proves that all kinds of folks can achieve holiness, not just the ones with attractive personalities."

This is dumbfounding.

So I won't say any more.

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Speaking of fine art

Wallace and Gromit are back! They're in a series of ten "Cracking Contraptions" short films. "The Soccamatic" is available on-line.

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On Rosarium Virginis Mariae

The Rosary of the Virgin Mary is a powerful, beautiful, prayerful, hopeful, Christ-filled, apostolic, pastoral letter, a fine and generous gift of the Holy Father to the Church on his anniversary, as is his proclamation of the Year of the Rosary, running through October 2003.

The Pope's endorsement of the luminous mysteries will trouble only those who don't trouble themselves to read the letter and those who read the letter looking for trouble.

[And yes, the word "luminous" may take some getting used to, especially for those of us who habitually append the word "rabbit" to it. Fortunately, a Dominican has already prepared the way. Study the paintings of Fra Angelico, the original painter of light, to see how luminous those events in Jesus' life were.]

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Tuesday, October 15, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 15

Of course, you could always meditate on the luminous mysteries, each of which is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus:
  1. The Baptism of Jesus
  2. The Miracle at Cana
  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom
  4. The Transfiguration
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist
The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light. Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became “sin” for our sake, the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son, while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out.

Another mystery of light is the first of the signs, given at Cana, when Christ changes water into wine and opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary, the first among believers.

Another is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust: the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church.

The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to “listen to him” and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit.

Finally there is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine, and testifies “to the end” his love for humanity, for whose salvation he will offer himself in sacrifice.

In these mysteries, apart from the miracle at Cana, the presence of Mary remains in the background. The Gospels make only the briefest reference to her occasional presence at one moment or other during the preaching of Jesus, and they give no indication that she was present at the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. Yet the role she assumed at Cana in some way accompanies Christ throughout his ministry. The revelation made directly by the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan and echoed by John the Baptist is placed upon Mary's lips at Cana, and it becomes the great maternal counsel which Mary addresses to the Church of every age: “Do whatever he tells you”. This counsel is a fitting introduction to the words and signs of Christ's public ministry and it forms the Marian foundation of all the “mysteries of light”.

[Many thanks to the men who suggested this way and provided the above commentary.]

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Sound familiar?

Deal Hudson of the magazine Crisis explains why you can remain a good Catholic despite ignoring the clear, univocal message of the American bishops, the Pope, and the Vatican that a unilateral American attack on Iraq would be morally illicit:

Because Richard McBrien said you can.

No, sorry, my mistake. It's George Weigel. Deal Hudson says George Weigel says you can.

When I read this, in an email sent to me and 10,000 of Deal Hudson's closest friends last week, I thought there was something not rigorously correct in his analysis, which characterizes the various statements made by bishops and Vatican officials as "pretty ridiculous" and "nonsensical." Kevin Miller has done an excellent job giving shape to my vague misgivings.

But I think my least favorite paragraph in the letter is this one:
In the affairs of public policy, the bishops are operating with no more authority than the average lay Catholic, and oftentimes with less understanding of the situation. Twenty years ago, when Crisis was just getting started, the magazine objected to a different letter of the bishops -- this time, one that called for full nuclear disarmament as a response to the Cold War. But it was through the wise leadership of President Reagan, not the opinion of the bishops, that the Cold War was won in 1989. Where would we be had we followed the advice of the bishops on a political issue that they barely understood?
First, the whole Reagan leadership wheeze is simply ends-justifying-means reasoning, not the sort of thing I expect from Catholic sources. That the ending of the Cold War was a good thing doesn't mean that what caused it to end was good.

Second, I find the claim that the bishops "barely understood" the morality of nuclear disarmament unpersuasive; it is too drenched in the writer's manifest pride in his own superior understanding in supporting "the wise leadership of President Reagan."

Finally, if nuclear disarmament or preemptive war are simply "affairs of public policy" in which "the bishops are operating with no more authority than the average lay Catholic," then why should I particularly care what Deal Hudson -- or George Weigel, for that matter -- has to say about them? They have no more authority than the bishops -- or me, for that matter. Shouldn't I get my news and information on affairs of public policy from public policy news and information sources, rather than Catholic journalists and theologians? Isn't that like asking Brookings Institution fellows their opinions on predestination?

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The Power of Positive Prayer

Driving home the other evening, it occurred to me that St. Anthony of Padua would be an appropriate saint to invoke in praying that the person or persons responsible for the Washington region sniper attacks be found. (It's not a wholly academic exercise for me, as I live in the Washington region.) After all, I have almost always found what I was looking for after asking for St. Anthony's help.

Well, okay, I have lots of silly ideas that I don't blog about (like my dream of opening a chain of retail stores that sell only peanut butter and jelly). But then when I got home I found a piece of junk mail from some Franciscans that was stuffed with devotional material for St. Anthony of Padua.

"My what a coincidence," I thought, since when two more people have been murdered and I have posted a spirited defense of the fundamental importance of prayer for Christians who seek change in the world.

So I think I will start a perpetual novena to St. Anthony until the sniper is caught.
O Holy St. Anthony, gentlest of Saints, your love for God and Charity for His creatures made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited on your word, which you were ever ready to speak for those in trouble or anxiety. Encouraged by this thought, I implore of you to obtain for my neighbors and me the arrest and confinement of those responsible for the murderous sniper attacks on the innocent people of this region. The answer to my prayer may require a miracle, even so, you are the Saint of Miracles. O gentle and loving St. Anthony, whose heart was ever full of human sympathy, whisper my petition into the ears of the Sweet Infant Jesus, who loved to be folded in your arms, and the gratitude of my heart will ever be yours. Amen.

Our Father, ...

Hail Mary, ...

Glory be ...

Pray for us, St. Anthony, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

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The end of civilization as we know it

Of the criticisms I've read of impending doom in the form of papal endorsement of a fourth set of mysteries of the Rosary -- the details of which none of the critics know -- the least substantial amounts to the claim that humanity achieved immutable perfection in prayer when the Fatima Prayer was added to the Dominican Rosary.

But there is another criticism that stands out as particularly pernicious: That the prayer life of Christians isn't important enough for the Pope to waste time on.

This may be a more charitable way of phrasing the criticism than some I've read. There are those who have all but claimed that prayer is powerless in the face of the problems facing the Church, that the thing for the Pope to do is to stop praying and start acting. In short: salvation of the Church through works.

I reject this notion. Firmly, categorically -- and, in private, with vulgar language.

It's been said too often to have much impact now, but the Church is not an incorporated business. In particular, we are not stockholders to grouse about bottom-line performance, the CEO, or regional vice presidents. We are priests, prophets, and kings, and in my opinion far too many American Catholics are far too eager to play the prophet without first serving the Church as priest.

I'll set aside the protective "we" and admit that I do not pray enough. I do not act enough, either, but if I acted more without praying more I would at best be doing my work, not God's.

What a letter on the Rosary, whatever it contains, will do -- assuming it is received by those to whom it is given, and not ignored or opposed -- is teach us to pray, which is to transform ourselves into other Christs, which is to bring God's power and presence more fully into the world around us. With God's power and God's presence, we will be prepared to transform the Church and the world. This, I think, is how the universal call to holiness is answered, not by telling the Pope, "I'll pay, you obey -- and don't tell me how to pray."

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31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 14

St. Thomas the Apostle is one of my patron saints. His experiences, both canonical and apocryphal, are exemplary, although his timing is terrible.

Allow me, then, to offer the Belatedly Glorious Mysteries According to St. Thomas:
  1. The Resurrection. For Thomas, either Jesus was dead or Jesus was God. That's a Christology that rules out a lot of the heresies to come (some of which are still among us). We may be too used to thinking of Jesus as our heavenly friend to full appreciate what it would have meant to a Galilean Jew to discover himself standing before the LORD.
  2. The Ascension. After the Ascension, St. Thomas was thrown back into the company of the rest of the whiners, quitter, brown-nosers, and blockheads who were together the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among them. St. Thomas's own stock couldn't have been very high. And yet somehow, the shared experience of the company of the Risen Lord brought these people together, with Mary the mother of Jesus, to pray in an upper room in Jerusalem, waiting for the promise of the Father. They managed to be the Church.
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit. According to legend, after Pentecost St. Thomas was chosen to preach the Gospel in India. He was not eager to go, and it wasn't until Jesus appeared and tricked him into being sold as a slave that he started on his eastward journey. I have received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. How eager have I been to go where the Spirit is calling me?
  4. The Assumption. According to an apocryphal work, St. Thomas was late again at the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin, arriving in Jerusalem just in time to see her rising to heaven. In answer to his prayer, she dropped her belt to him (some would say on him) from heaven, and he bore news of her Assumption to the other Apostles. We, too, are not in time to assist in Mary's burial; we too, may call upon her anyway, confident that she will give us her blessing.
  5. The Coronation. If Jesus is Thomas's Lord, then Mary is his Lady. When, having evangelized Persia and India, St. Thomas was martyred, he would have come before his King and Queen to receive his own glorious crown. A similar, if less exalted, destiny awaits those of us who remain faithful to God's call.
You'll note that in these reflections I am not particularly interested in questions of historicity. I think there is a time and a place for such questions, but they do not include devotional prayer.

St. Thomas the Apostle, companion of the Lord, pray for us!

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Monday, October 14, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 13

The mysteries of the Rosary take us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and on into the establishment of His eternal kingdom. These, Christianity teaches, are the central events of creation, prefigured in the lives of God’s chosen people and preordained to be reflected in the lives of all of Christ’s disciples.

In a sense, these mysteries are to grand to be limited to a few minutes or hours al falling within several decades of each other several centuries ago. They reverberate through time, forward and backward. As Pope John Paul II teaches in Dies Domini, the Resurrection is the antitype of the First Day of creation and the prefigurement of the Last Day, the day with no evening.

It makes sense, then, to meditate on these mysteries through time, to break them open and listen to their echoes across the ages.

One technique for doing this is to identify four time frames for each mystery: the time before the event; the time of the event; the time after the event; and today. Meditations on all mysteries for a given week are relative to the same time frame (i.e., before, during, after, or today), and the time frames cycle through every four weeks.

An easy way to keep track of these time frames is to key them to the 4-week Psalter: the before meditations are done on Week I; the during on Week II; the after on Week III; and the today on Week IV.

That is, it’s an easy way if you’ve already figured out the 4-week Psalter. If not, you can key them to the Sundays of the month (the week of the first Sunday being before, and so on). When there’s a fifth Sunday in a month, use the time frame of eternity.

The during and today time frames are straightforward (well, the during for the Coronation is a bit tricky), but what about the before and after? There are two distinct approaches.

First, you can choose something well away from the mystery in time, an Old Testament story for the before and something from Acts or the early Church for the after. For example, Hannah’s story prefigures and Ananias’s vision echoes the Annunciation.

Second, you can think of the times immediately before and after the mystery, and meditate on how God’s actions changed the status quo and began to propagate their effects through time. For example, prior to the Annunciation Mary was, to all outward appearances, an ordinary maiden, yet she had been prepared from eternity for her role as Mother of God; after the Annunciation, she went in haste to serve the Lord on a path she did not yet fully comprehend.

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31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 12

As is true of any fully human prayer, the Rosary is fundamentally incarnational. Its soul comprises the unspoken meditations, thoughts, and prayers. Its body are the spoken words, the fingers moving the beads, perhaps the reading of a Scriptural Rosary (coming soon to this series) or the listening of a choral Rosary.

Another way of adding body to the Rosary, so to speak, is through the use of sacred art. Praying the Rosary with representations of the mysteries before you adds a visual dimension that can also feed the spiritual dimension.

I find studying Fra Angelico's "The Mocking of Christ", for example, both focusses my mind on the Crowning with Thorns and brings out aspects of the mystery (in this case, the Marian dimension in particular) I would not have thought of myself.

I am, predictably, partial to the paintings of Fra Angelico, my namesake in the Dominican Order -- and handily printed in the little book Through the Rosary with Fra Angelico -- but there is no shortage of artistic depictions of the mysteries of the Rosary.

Similarly, one could listen to sacred music while praying -- perhaps a Mass of the Annunciation, or Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ -- although the connection to the particular mystery is likely to be looser.

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Dziêkujê, You Holiness

Amy Welborn reports that Reuters reports that the Pope's pending letter on the Rosary will formalize a fourth set of mysteries from Christ's life.

It's very considerate of the Holy Father to assist me in my on-line project. I already have a "public life mysteries" way planned; it will be interesting to see how close it is to what the Pope will announce.

Note, incidentally, the historical credulity of the Reuters reporter, who claims that this will mark a change to the Rosary "for the first time in nine centuries." Pace St. Louis de Montfort, the history of the Rosary is more complicated than that. The version prayed in 1102 consisted, as you know, of the Angelic Salutation recited 150 times; even Elizabeth's words, "and blessed is the fruit of thy womb," often weren't used. The notion of decades, the addition of the Pater noster, the choice and manner of applying mysteries, the addition of the Gloria: all these came centuries later. The division of mysteries into joyful (white roses), sorrowful (red roses), and glorious (gold roses) came about barely five hundred years ago.

Anyway, I'll take this as magisterial approval of the whole "31 Days, 31 Ways" idea, since I don't think Pope John Paul would make such a change if he had not personally confirmed its fruitfulness by praying the Rosary in a different way than what he was taught as a child.

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31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 11

Here's a very simple idea: Pray the Rosary while listening to the evening news.

The news provides a steady stream of prayer intentions. There are likely to be several sorrowful reports, of war, famine, pestilence, and death. But there may well be one or more joyful reports, of anticipations or births or happy endings. Once in a while, something both glorious and newsworthy happens, too.

Even the sports and weather reports can be prayed over. As ephemeral as sports is, the outcome of an event can have a pronounced effect on the moods of many for days, and sometimes years. We give thanks for good weather, we pray for perseverance in bad weather -- and almost any weather can be good or bad, depending on whether we're prepared for it.

What I've found praying the Rosary during the news does is to make both the Rosary and the news more real to me. The news, because I am no longer passively listening, with an occasional fleeting, "Oh, no!"; I am praying to God over the stories that I hear. And the Rosary is no longer simply a discipline I use to think of the things of God for a few minutes a day; the beads become a weapon in my hands as I invoke the mercy or the justice of the Lord in the faith and hope of being heard.

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