instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 31

St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, one of history's greatest preachers of the Rosary, offers this advice:
Before beginning a decade, pause for a moment or two [and ask] for one of the virtues that shines forth most in this mystery or one of which you are in particular need.

Take great care to avoid the two pitfalls that most people fall into during the Rosary. The first is the danger of not asking for any graces at all, so that if some good people were asked their Rosary intention they would not know what to say. So, whenever you say your Rosary, be sure to ask for some special grace or virtue, or strength to overcome some sin.

The second fault commonly committed in saying the Rosary is to have no intention other than that of getting it over with as quickly as possible. [The Secret of the Rosary, 45th Rose]
Custom has not found people content, however, with asking for graces for themselves. Praying a Rosary for someone else is as Catholic as lighting a candle for them, and done under the same circumstances of ill health or ill fortune.

Whole generations of Catholics grew up with the idea of praying the Rosary for peace -- an idea that had been endorsed as recently as Rosarium Virginis Mariae last month, in which Pope John Paul II teaches:
The Rosary is by its nature a prayer for peace, since it consists in the contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one who is “our peace” (Eph 2:14). Anyone who assimilates the mystery of Christ – and this is clearly the goal of the Rosary – learns the secret of peace and makes it his life's project.
When your Rosary intention is world peace, then, you become peaceful and a source of peace yourself.

But an intercessory Rosary need not be for something as grand as world peace, or even someone's health. Following St. Louis's suggestion to ask for a different grace at each decade, a different person (or a different need of the same person) can be prayed for at each decade. In this way, the Rosary becomes a prayer of charity toward others, and if the same general intentions are prayed for -- for example, your spouse or parents, children or siblings, parish, diocese, and whole Church -- as part of a daily Rosary, it becomes a habitual vehicle for holding those you are bound to pray for up to God for several minutes a day.



31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 30

The U.S. bishops, in their 1973 letter "Behold Your Mother," acknowledged the value of meditating on non-traditional mysteries while praying the Rosary. Perhaps the most popular of these were variations on the public life of Jesus, a subject that the laity of our times might have more interest in than did the laity of the Sixteenth Century.

Now that Pope John Paul II has recommended the Luminous Mysteries to the Church, what will happen to all the ad hoc mysteries out there? My guess is, to the extent they continue to be fruitful, they will continue to be used.

Had Rosarium Virginis Mariae not been released while I was composing this series, I would have recommended a Public Life of Jesus Rosary, meditating on the mysteries of the Baptism, the Temptation in the Desert, the Feeding of the Multitude, the Transfiguration, and the Entry into Jerusalem. No doubt if pressed I could have written a few words about what these mysteries have in common, but I selected them as more as highlights of Jesus' life than as a set of fundamentally related events.

To this extent, the Luminous Mysteries are more coherent. They consider "the person of Christ as the definitive revelation of God," as the Pope put it in his letter. I heard a homily recently in which the priest pointed out that they are all stories of transformation (water is transformed into something with sacramental power; water is transformed into wine; stony hearts are transformed into hearts of flesh; the appearance of Jesus is transformed into the appearance of the Son of God; bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ).

But there are still whole aspects of the Gospels that are not directly touched on by the Luminous Mysteries. The two that come to mind immediately are Jesus' parables and His miracles.

A Rosary of Miracles
  1. The Miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11)
  2. The Healing of the Paralyzed Man (Luke 5:17-26)
  3. Feeding the Five Thousand (John 6:1-15)
  4. The Healing of the Syrophoenician Woman's Daughter (Matthew 15:21-28)
  5. The Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44)

A Rosary of Parables
  1. The Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15)
  2. The Parable of the Wicked Servant (Luke 12:42-48)
  3. The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Luke 14:16-24)
  4. The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7)
  5. The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Luke 20:9-19)
These are not necessarily the optimal choices of miracles and parables for meditation, but any combination like the above -- supplemented by prayerful reading of the Gospel accounts -- will help to form a person into a more faithful disciple of Christ.

I think, by the way, that it would be better to select a particular set and stick with them, rather than mix and match as, so to speak, the spirit moves you. Although the entire premise of this series has been that there are countless legitimate and fruitful variations on the Rosary as a form of prayer and meditation, I find that repeated meditation on a limited number of themes over a period of time produces better fruit than meditation on constantly varying themes.



Don't sweat the minutiae

I think In Between Naps is at its best during naps, when Amy Welborn has the time to write more commentary than short introductions to various news stories. (Too often, I find, those news stories are for me an occasion to indulge my vice of curiosity.)

Today, Amy asks the question,
[H]ow can religious leaders and teachers walk the line, balancing the commitment to help the flock understand the totality of the faith commitment, yet avoid making statements on the minutiae of life that make them look at best silly and at worst, like frantic little totalitarians?
Let me make two suggestions (neither of which, the careful reader will notice, answer Amy's question).

First, I don't think bishops should avoid making statements on the minutiae of life, as long as the statements they make are true. Among the minutiae is where most of us spend most of our lives, and we can use concrete examples of how to apply the principles of the Faith to current circumstances. I don't believe the principle of charitable almsgiving, for example, can be effectively preached in a wealthy country without some specific recommendations, suggestions, and opinions. (Here is where the "as long as the statements are true" condition comes into play; if a statement is a suggestion or opinion, rather than a teaching or commandment, that needs to be made clear.)

Second, the faithful have their own responsibility to listen to their bishops without presuming silliness or totalitarianism. Christ has given His Church the episcopate to sanctify and govern Her, but no one can be sanctified against his will. It is up to each of us to listen to our bishops in a receptive -- though not passive -- manner. An attitude of receptivity, to my mind, accounts for the biases and failings a bishop may have, but it also acknowledges his authority and role in the Church. A hermeneutic of irrelevance won't do.


The triumphalism of the therapeutic

Greg Popcak has an interesting theory about parenting. Actually, he has both a theory and a metatheory.

His theory can be found in a book he wrote, which he describes as "genuinely the most important book a Catholic parent can read."

His metatheory is that his book is genuinely the most important book a Catholic parent can read. In other words, every parent has a choice between subscribing to Greg's theory of parenting or sending their children down the path of learned helplessness, depression, and despair.

Personally, I have chosen to send my children down the path of learned helplessness, depression, and despair. If it was good enough for me, it's good enough for them.


Manners good and bad

I expect you have seen Eve Tushnet's posts about Miss Manners, but I think this (from Miss Manners' Basic Training) is worth repeating:
Searching their hearts, most people came up with the idea of talking about themselves or of critiquing others.
The old fallen human nature thing.

If I were to recommend one book about teaching one how to live in society, it might be J. P. Donleavy's The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival and Manners. For entertainment purposes only.


Monday, November 25, 2002

"Bernard Law and his ilk have no moral authority left..."

"... it's impossible to take them seriously...."

Or so says Rod Dreher, commenting on Amy Welborn's comments on Glenn Reynold's rejection of basically everything the U.S. bishops say.

I honestly don't understand this way of thinking. First, it is entirely possible to take them seriously; it is even necessary, if one respects the charism of the episcopacy and believes the Holy Spirit is with the Church.

Moreover, this attitude presumes that "bishops seriously tainted by this [sex-abuse and coverup] scandal" -- the "ilk" of Rod Dreher's remark -- had moral authority to begin with.

We might ask what sort of moral authority Glenn Reynolds granted the bishops before the scandal broke. We might even ask why, as a prudential matter, we should care that he doesn't care what they say. It would be nice if he did, but the mission of the Church in America is not to convince Glenn Reynolds of the moral authority of the U.S. bishops.

Suppose the scandal had not broken, that sex abuse and coverups simmered along unnoticed by the country in 2002. Would the absence of public scandal have affected the prospects of a pre-emptive war against Iraq? If not, would it have stopped the bishops from writing letters on the matter? If not, would it have changed, substantively, the content of those letters? If not, would it have changed, substantively, the reaction to those letters?

My own answers to these questions are no, no, no, and no. As I see it, the primary effect of the scandal on the voice of the U.S. bishops is to give people another excuse to ignore it.

There are other, secondary effects as well, but I think all of these must be measured against the attention paid to the bishops' statements in the years before the scandal broke. People who enjoy feeling morally superior to others have a new group to insult and ridicule, assuming they hadn't already been insulting and ridiculing the bishops; foolish crypto-Donatists can persuade themselves that their bishop no longer has any authority over them, assuming they hadn't been paying attention and already rejected their bishop's authority.

There is, however, another substantial effect the scandal might yet cause, although whether it does remains to be seen. (And the voices saying, "There's nothing to be done but wait for this foolish and perverse generation of bishops to die off," are not cause for hope that it will.)

That effect is this: Catholic laity in America will no longer rely on the bishops to present the Catholic faith, and its attendant consequences, to America. We will grow up from adolescent whining -- "The Church won't let me do anything! I have the meanest bishop on the face of the earth!" -- to mature action, living lives of faithful witness to the Gospel. Then no one will care what the Catholic bishops say, for the simple reason that they are already persuaded by what their Catholic neighbor says.

To complain that the bishops -- or the Vatican, or religious congregations, or parish councils -- have lost their moral authority is to waste the time and energy God has given us to build up our own moral authority. If no one takes what Cardinal Law says seriously because inbred clericalism blinded his judgment, so what? Aren't there two million other Catholics in the Boston Archdiocese who should be saying, by and large, the same things he is?


Prayers for discernment

Bill White is trying to discern his vocation. Should he become a Benedictine oblate or a Dominican tertiary?

I sympathize with his problem, although for me the decision (between Dominican and Carmelite) was not particularly arduous even if it was unclear for a couple of months. (When, a month before my reception, I asked a friend, "If an angel laughs, does he stop laughing, and why?," she replied that there was no doubt I had found the right order for me. Now the rumor in my chapter is that, as a baby, I wore black and white diapers.)

Obviously, I can't tell Bill what he should do. He probably knows too much about both orders to make a decision without serious reservations. Perhaps what he should do is pray the Rosary daily during Advent and into Christmastide for the gifts of counsel, knowledge, and wisdom. Then, on January First, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, he will resolve to begin a postulancy with whichever order he feels closer to.

And may God bless him in his journey.


Saturday, November 23, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 29

Some people are fortunate enough to live near a church or shrine that features a "Stations of the Rosary," with a depiction of a mystery at each station. It might be outside or inside, but the act of praying the Rosary in such a setting is a miniature pilgrimage, a symbolic journey to the Holy Land, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

If you don't leave near a Stations of the Rosary site, you're in luck! You can urge your local parish or shrine to build one, and it will (unlike all the rest) include the Luminous Mysteries.

Failing that, any quiet garden or peaceful trail may provide a brief Rosary pilgrimage. Traditionally, pilgrims prayed as they walked from shrine to shrine, then prayed all the more at the shrines themselves. Praying the Rosary while walking symbolizes the journey we are taking in this life, which in turn is modeled on the journey of Jesus. (It also gives the body more to do, which can cut down on distraction.) Praying the Rosary while standing or sitting during a walk symbolizes the time we must set aside in our journey to focus on God.

And, too, many people find it easier to sense God's presence when surrounded by plants than when surrounded by walls.

One idea, given a suitable path with spots to pause, is to pray the decades of the Rosary while standing or sitting, then while walking from pausing spot to pausing spot to pray the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God [and Son of Mary], have mercy on me, a sinner." I usually add the words in brackets anyway, but they seem particulary suitable for praying between decades.) But as should be obvious by now, everyone should use what works for them.



Friday, November 22, 2002

Which of the Seven Dwarves are you?

1. Which adjective best describes your typical mood?









Easter, straight down the line

JB the Kairos Guy repeats a question: Are we "Advent People" or "Easter People"?

I've tended to think in terms of individuals having Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter temperaments. For either question, though, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Easter person.

At the same time, I've recently been thinking about St. John the Baptist a lot more than I did in the past, and I'm beginning to better appreciate the need for preparation to receive the Word of God. This need is not the same today in a society that has been evangelized as it was two thousand years ago before the Way was preached, but it still exists, both within ourselves and within those to whom we are to proclaim the Good News.


Money in the bank

When a bishop fails to speak with evangelical zeal, Catholics will criticize him. When a bishop speaks with evangelical zeal, Catholics will criticize him.

Always bet on criticism.

While there is jealousy and rivalry among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving in an ordinary human way?


Thursday, November 21, 2002

Binding and losing

I was asked, in a comment below that is only intermittently readable, whether I think the U.S. bishops' "Statement on Iraq" is binding on the consciences of American Catholics.

I think that it is absolutely clear that the bishops are not demanding assent to the proposition that "resort to war ... would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force."

As I see it, though, the matter is a lot more involved than deciding whether the laity are bound to agree with the bishops, and I've tried below to point out some of the complexities. The statement blends Catholic doctrine, prayer, exhortation, observation, and opinion. To interpret it based on an inaccurate headline summary ("Bishops Oppose War With Iraq") is, I think, to fail in one's duty to form one's mind according to the teachings of the Church.

Unfortunately, there are those who do not distinguish between forming one's mind according to the teachings of the Church and slavish adoption of inaccurate headline summaries. Some think the former implies the latter ("Catholics must oppose war with Iraq."), others think rejecting the latter implies rejecting the former ("What the bishops say is no more important than what your next door neighbor says.")

But what are we to do with statements like this:
In assessing whether "collateral damage" is proportionate, the lives of Iraqi men, women and children should be valued as we would the lives of members of our own family and citizens of our own country.
As I read it, this is a doctrinal teaching. In the abstract, it's easy to respond, "Er, yes, of course all innocents are equally innocent." But if we are inclined to act otherwise -- to, say, value the lives of our own children more than the lives of Iraqi children -- do we make an effort to reform our inclinations according to this teaching? Do we leave it as a theoretical ideal, an evangelical counsel perhaps, that we are only expected to follow approximately? Do we -- convinced by our own judgments, knowing the fatuity of the American episcopate, seeing the U.N. and Sadaam for what they really are, valuing Americans more than Iraqis -- decide that this isn't a teaching at all, but a faulty prudential judgment of the bleeding heart lefties of the USCCB?


Wednesday, November 20, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 28

If I were to sign a three-book contract with a Catholic publisher, one of the books I would deliver would be called The Prophet of the Rosary, a 50,000 word look at how the book of Isaiah prophesizes the mysteries of the Rosary. It's a catchy title, I think, but since the book of Isaiah prophesizes the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the book would practically write itself. (Although I've been known to miss a deadline or two.)

The easiest chapters would be those on the Sorrowful Mysteries, because the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) is practically a recitation of the mysteries in poetic form. In fact, if you aren't overly concerned with matching up the lines of the poem with the most suitable mystery, the Fourth Servant Song is a ready-made poem for a Scriptural Rosary:

The Agony in the Garden
  1. Behold, my servant shall prosper,
  2. he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.
  3. As many were astonished at him –
  4. his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
  5. and his form beyond that of the sons of men –
  6. so shall he startle many nations;
  7. kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
  8. for that which has not been told them they shall see,
  9. and that which they have not heard they shall understand.
  10. Who has believed what we have heard?
The Scourging at the Pillar
  1. And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
  2. For he grew up before him like a young plant,
  3. and like a root out of dry ground;
  4. he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,
  5. and no beauty that we should desire him.
  6. He was despised and rejected by men;
  7. a man of sorrows,
  8. and acquainted with grief;
  9. and as one from whom men hide their faces
  10. he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
The Crowning with Thorns
  1. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
  2. yet we esteemed him stricken,
  3. smitten by God, and afflicted.
  4. But he was wounded for our transgressions,
  5. he was bruised for our iniquities;
  6. upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
  7. and with his stripes we are healed.
  8. All we like sheep have gone astray;
  9. we have turned every one to his own way;
  10. and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
The Carrying of the Cross
  1. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
  2. like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
  3. and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
  4. so he opened not his mouth.
  5. By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
  6. and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
  7. stricken for the transgression of my people?
  8. And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death,
  9. although he had done no violence,
  10. and there was no deceit in his mouth.
The Crucifixion
  1. Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief;
  2. when he makes himself an offering for sin,
  3. he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days;
  4. the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand;
  5. he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied;
  6. by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous;
  7. and he shall bear their iniquities.
  8. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
  9. because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors;
  10. yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
As it happens, two other Servant Songs can be matched with two other set of mysteries -- Isaiah 42:1-4 with the Luminous Mysteries; Isaiah 49:1-6 with the Joyful Mysteries (as for the Glorious Mysteries, you could do worse than go with Isaiah 52:7-10) -- but these songs by themselves are too short to provide a full fifty lines for a Scriptural Rosary. Instead, an entire song can be recited (dare I propose chanted?) at the beginning of the Rosary, thereby invoking the past looking forward to the mysteries (just as our meditations today are the future looking back on the mysteries, making Jesus' life, death, and resurrection the central act of history).



Witness confusion

Mark Shea endorses Pavel Chichikov's statement, "I don't ever want to hear my bishops advocating or justifying war. I want them to urge peace up until the last moment.":
I think, more and more, that the witness for peace of the bishops is something like the witness of celibacy. It's not binding on the rest of us, but it still challenges us to think of things higher than realpolitik and to try to strive heroically for peace rather than just settle for war with a sort of tired sense of inevitability.

As a layman, I still think the war with Iraq needs to be fought. But I do not share the contempt so many conservatives seem to have for bishops because they urge peace. I wonder more and more what the hell else we should expect them to do?
I think Mark's comparison of "the witness for peace" to "the witness of celibacy" is uncharacteristically sloppy, confusing several things that need to be kept separate.

First is the characterization of the statements of the bishops, the Curia, and the pope as a "witness for peace." They are indeed, but they are not that alone. They go much further, applying just war theory in ways that challenge politically conservative American Catholics' interpretations of the principles of just cause and legitimate authority. They insist on the distinction between forcing a change in a government's behavior and forcing a change in its existence.

This mischaracterization leads to an improper comparison. Refraining from the unjustified killing of human beings -- which, after all, is what refraining from starting an unjust war is -- is not an evangelical counsel. It's not something a select few are called to, to inspire and challenge those who do kill human beings without justification to do so in a manner suited to their state in life. It is one of God's commandments.

The improper comparison leads to a too-facile dismissal of what the bishops are saying: "It's not binding on the rest of us." In fact, the bishops' witness for peace is binding on the rest of us, if we are to be faithful Christians:
Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war. [CCC 2307]
In their "Statement on Iraq," the U.S. bishops apply this principle, "We fervently pray that all involved will act to ensure that this UN action will not simply be a prelude to war but a way to avoid it."

(Here we have the bishops doing what politically conservative American Catholics have been lambasting them for not doing: teaching by doing. How do politically conservative American Catholics react? Many say, "The bishops should shut up about this." I don't see this as much more problematic than saying, "Good for them! They're doing what they're supposed to do, which is preach peace, and we're doing what we're supposed to do, which is ignore them.")

The last note of confusion in Mark's comments is sounded when he prefaces his opinion that a war against Iraq needs to be fought with, "As a layman." Whether a war against Iraq needs to be fought is a matter of prudence, not state in life. If a bishop believes a war needs to be fought, then he should preach (if prudence allows) that it needs to be fought; at the very least, he shouldn't preach that he doesn't think it should be fought. The obligation of all Christians to be witnesses for peace does not extend to bearing false witness.

Finally, there is nothing praiseworthy in poor judgment. One may, perhaps, praise another for following his judgment, while thinking that the other's judgment has reached an objectively imprudent decision; but unsound judgment itself is a bad thing, to be counseled against. To this extent, I agree with the politically conservative American Catholics who have left opposing comments on Mark's post: if war is the right thing to do, I don't want Catholic bishops saying it isn't.


Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Humility 101

Recently, Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S., posted St. Gaspar's 31 Maxims appropriate for the pursuit of the holy virtue of Humility, to be posted in each Precious Blood missionary's room and read aloud, one a day.

There is a great deal of wisdom packed into these maxims. However, the English translation was ... ah ... written in a style that I have difficulty embracing as material for meditation. So I thought I would attempt to repackage the maxims in a form that I can better come to grips with. Step 1 was to get rid of the rhymes wherever possible; step 2 to rearrange the maxims according to theme.

The result is below. The categorization is obviously not rigorous or unique; it's more of an outline (for what, maybe a sermon or book on humility) than a set of maxims for daily recitation; and each maxim doesn't necessarily say the identical thing in the original as in my modified version. Nevertheless, since humility is an extremely important virtue (even for layfolk), let me post it here. (The numbers are from the original list.)
Reasons to be humble:
1. To safely reach your final goal.
4. To acquire lasting peace of heart.
5. To acquire peace and consolation.

Temporal effects of true humility:
3. Your soul will wear all virtues.
6. Your heart feels neither grief nor bitterness.
11. Offense and scorn are soothing to your soul.
22. You are able to bear with others’ faults and with his own.

Eternal benefits of humility:
7. The Lord will impart eternal glory to the humble.
8. Bear mockery and contempt with humility, and you will find a rich and priceless treasure.
27. To hate our sins in true humility will win God’s love for all eternity.
29. God always delights in true humility.

Effects of pride:
2. Without humility all earth is nothing but glittering vanity.
14. You who are proud are hiding your utter nothingness from yourself.
18. I am a worm, born of ashes and dust, and yet so proud that I trust in my own strength.
25. To ridicule or disdain your neighbor is a sign of vanity.
31. How will human praises help you if after death the Lord censures you?

How to become humble:
13. Be quick to forgive offenses.
15. First call God to mind, then behold yourself.
20. Do not be attached to the views of your own mind.
21. Abstain from self-complacency.
23. Subject your will to others cheerfully.
24. Esteem your fellow man and disdain yourself.
28. Bear correction due your errors in peace and patience.
30. Acquire trust in God, not yourself.

How to avoid pride and bear wrongs and humiliation:
9. Consider well your utter wretchedness.
10. Remember you are but of lowly station.
12. Remember that you are made of worthless dust and ashes.
16. Remember that all gifts you have been given are favors flowing from God’s hand.
17. Recall that it is God who sends us gifts of every kind.
19. Behold the dismal grave awaiting you.
26. When you fail in your work, remain calm and humble; God is still in control.
The two that speak loudest to me are numbers 18 and 31, which in the original translation look like this:
A worm am I, of ashes born and dust,
And yet so proud that in my strength I trust.

Of what avail will human praises be
If after death the Lord will censure thee?


Amor a primera vista

Hernán González describes his visit to the Convent of San Marco, where he came face to face with the frescoes of Fra Giovanni da Fiesole:
I was. Dazzled. Love at first sight. Perhaps by slightly superficial reasons (those roses and blues of Fra Angelico, that so-fresh beauty, so cheerful and yet so deep; and, admittedly, that spectacle of the convent: the tiny cells, each one with its fresh air painted in the wall, like a "decoration" of the outdoors ... in order to cheer to the monk, and to feed the devotion; an image of the sky).
He also quotes religious historian Mircea Eliade's reactions to the paintings. Eliade writes, "I feel unlimited admiration for the theological and metaphysical genius of Fra Angelico." Why? Eliade gives his reasons.

For me, Fra Angelico's genius is in creating paintings that are as true as they are beautiful. Take Eliade's observation that the boyish faces of the saved in "The Last Judgment" signify the eternal youth of the saints. This is a doctrinal lesson, expressed in a work of art, but it is expressed as art, in the language of painting, not in a pedantic or superficial manner that sacrifices art for truth's sake. The balance of truth and beauty makes Beato Angelico's paintings objects of contemplation, suitable for friars to study as they moved about the convent, drawing out meaning and understanding day by day, supported by and supporting their prayers and study, all feeding the preaching that is the purpose of Dominican life.


Monday, November 18, 2002

All in the Family

There are rumors circulating to the effect that Dominican nuns are doing silly things.

But while Dominican nuns, being human, are no doubt doing silly things, they are not doing the silly things people are saying they are doing. Dominican nuns are cloistered, which greatly reduces their availability for trespassing on federal property and for giving theraputic massages.

The Dominicans whose activities have made such good press recently are apostolic sisters, a distinct branch of the Dominican Family. (Yes, yes, a mixed metaphor. I am told good Thomists have been working for decades to straighten out the terminology used to describe persons associated with the charism of St. Dominic; so far matters are still in committee.)

There's a saying, "If you've seen one Dominican, you've seen one Dominican," and that's particularly true with the apostolic sisters. Each congregation (there are more than two dozen in the U.S.) has its own primary vocation -- teaching and healthcare are very common, for example -- and each sister may have her own individual work that contributes to the mission of the congregation as a whole.

All of this can make for a very readable clippings folder.

But while there are some things some sisters do that I cannot countenance -- not that anyone has asked me to (but homeopathy?) -- in the end it is up to each of us to work out our own salvation. Giving labyrinth workshops is, as far as I can tell, no worse than muddling through the day the way I do. If that's the work someone else chooses to do, let her do it. It's hardly my place to say she should be doing something else with her life.


Do we do what we believe?

Everyone knows that American society respects people who are materially successful, not those who dedicate their lives to helping others.

Everyone is wrong.

It seems to me that Americans do respect, and sometimes revere, those who give themselves in loving service. We just don't want to be them. We want to be the rich people, so inter alia we can write big checks at gala receptions in honor of those who give themselves in loving service.

The irony is that, while we can't become rich simply by choosing to be rich, we can become charitable by choosing to be charitable. I am as loving as I choose to be. Or, to put it more starkly, I do not choose to be any holier than I am.

Perhaps this is why Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem was followed so soon by His shameful departure under the weight of a cross. Few of us in this world are heralded as kings. I'd have a great excuse for my behavior if my salvation depended upon other people spontaneously throwing me a parade.

But what is it anyone lacks -- due to bad luck or accident of birth or poor financial planning -- that prevents them from following Jesus to Paradise by the only way He gave us: the way of the Cross? Jesus accepted only one crown while He walked the earth; it's a crown that will fit any of us, and it is offered to each of us. We respect those who wear the crown, and yet so often refuse it ourselves.


Saturday, November 16, 2002

Why, certainly!

What does the Catechism mean when it says damage must be "certain" for military force against an aggressor to be just?

Let's try some role-playing:

Scenario #1
Sheriff Truegood of Placid, Montana, is sitting on the front porch of the jailhouse when he sees the two surviving Casey brothers ride into town, looking as ornery as their murderous clan ever did.

Truegood says to himself, "Say, them six-shooters the Caseys got could be used to plug Hiram Baker, the man whose testimony sent their older brother Clem to the gallows." Truegood then draws his Peacemaker and shoots both Caseys through the heart.
Scenario #2
Sheriff Truegood of Placid, Montana, is sitting on the front porch of the jailhouse when he sees the two surviving Casey brothers ride into town, looking as ornery as their murderous clan ever did.

Truegood watches as the Caseys stop outside Hiram Baker's barbershop and draw their six-shooters. "Come on out, Baker!" Andrew Casey calls.

Baker walks out of his shop, his hands trembling in the air. The Caseys shoot him. Truegood draws his Peacemaker and calls out, "Okay, boys, drop 'em!"
It seems to me that Scenario #1 has the sheriff acting well before he is certain, while in Scenario #2 he acts long after.

As I read it, the certainty of damage the Catechism mentions is moral, not epistemological. Those who have responsibility for the public good, to whose prudential judgment the evaluation of the conditions for a just war belongs, must be morally certain that the aggressor has or will inflict lasting and grave damage.

Such certainty is distinguished from fear that a potential aggressor might attack, or knowledge of the damage the potential aggressor might do. It is not the product of a cost-benefit or risk analysis. Certainty is not conferred by determining that, statistically speaking, the expected number of deaths is minimized by a preemptive attack.

This doesn't seem fair. It isn't. In matters of justice the bad guy has a distinct advantage. We are called to fight justly, not fairly, and one aspect of justice is that it is categorically unjust to punish someone for something he has not done.


Friday, November 15, 2002

Politically Conservative Catholics' Minds Not Changed by Bishops' Statement on Iraq

In other news, Area Dog Barks at, Chases Cat.

It's not that minds (politically conservative or otherwise) ought to change upon reading the "Statement on Iraq". But if the purpose of reading it is to have the excuse to say, "Yeah, and if we'd listened to those head-in-the-sand peaceniks twenty-five years ago, we'd all be speaking Russian today," it's probably best left unread.

One criticism of the "Statement on Iraq" that I find entirely unwarranted is that no one cares about an opinion on Iraq offered by the same men who brought us the child abuse and coverup scandal. Frankly, I don't see much evidence that anyone cared much about the opinions of these same men before the scandal broke.

To my mind, the three most significant statements in the Statement are these:
  1. "As a body, we make our own the questions and concerns raised in Bishop Gregory's letter, taking into account developments since then, especially the unanimous action of the U.N. Security Council on November 8th." This elevates the importance of the September 13 letter, which can no longer be dismissed as the braying of yet another USCCB committee.
  2. "In our judgment, decisions concerning possible war in Iraq require compliance with U.S. constitutional imperatives, broad consensus within our nation, and some form of international sanction." Again, Church authorities repeat the requirement for international sanction, which as a practical matter means UN sanction. I've read a lot of griping about the moral vapidity of the UN in recent months, but not very much about why some form of international sanction is not required.
  3. "We are deeply concerned about recent proposals to expand dramatically traditional limits on just cause to include preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with weapons of mass destruction."
This last strikes me as the key point of the whole document, indeed of the whole response of the Church's teaching authority since full-scale war with Iraq began to be talked about.

Unfortunately, most of the arguments I've seen for making such a dramatic expansion in the traditional limits on just cause take a form similar to this: "So what, we have to wait until Iraq nukes us before we can do anything?" This is question begging in its purest form, using the very question being begged as an argument.

The Catechism states that a just war can only be fought against an enemy inflicting "lasting, grave and certain" damage. "Certain" does not mean possible. It does not mean probable. The United States cannot morally begin a preemptive war against Iraq out of anxiety for what tomorrow may bring.



I'm in the middle of a Little Rock Scripture Study program on the Acts of the Apostles. (LRSS relies on the Collegeville Bible Commentary, which I find uneven; the Book of Isaiah, for example, is treated like a curious artifact from a long-vanished society, while the commentaries on Mark and Acts are pretty good (at least from the perspective of someone who knows very little about Mark and Acts).) (Since the goal of LRSS is not to make scholars, but saints, I'm not particularly concerned by whatever academic bias the commentary might have.)

Meanwhile, of course, the U.S. bishops have been meeting and discussing and voting on a variety of things.

I was very surprised to read a number of Catholic bloggers, in commenting on the bishops' resolutions, write things to the effect that "there's nothing we layfolk can do about it now."

Recognizing the informality with which these statements were made, they still make a startling contrast with the actions of the infant Church. The response to the crises the first Christians constantly faced was prayer. After Herod had James killed and Peter arrested, for example, "prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on [Peter's] behalf." (12:5)

Was there really more hope that Peter would emerge alive from Herod's prison than that Bishop Rittle of Heartland will deal with accusations against his priests in a just and merciful way? No doubt there are many today who would bet on Peter and against Rittle, but the first disciples had their own doubts. When Peter, having been miraculously freed from prison, knocked on John Mark's mother's door, everyone thought the maid who heard his voice was out of her mind. Even people who believe in the need for prayer are often astounded by its power.

Catholics like to say that the Holy Spirit guides the Church. Well, the Holy Spirit isn't some sort of mystical compass; He is God, all-good and all-loving. Ask, and He will give it to you.

Prayer is never nothing. Often enough, it is everything.


Thursday, November 14, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 27

Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

The oneness of God finds expression in the integrity of the man Jesus. "Integrity" here doesn't mean honesty, but undivided unity. Jesus did not assume one persona in public and another in private. All aspects of His life were directed toward the end for which He had been born.

(I think the idea of integrity is tremendously important. Being multi-faceted is generally considered a good thing, for people as for gemstones, but a person who is fully integrated would appear the same from any view, like a perfectly round pearl. And a perfectly round pearl, with appropriate color and luster, would be of great price....)

All that said, we would expect the mysteries of Jesus' life to be integrated. And in fact, we can pray the Rosary by meditating on the relations the various mysteries have with each other. For example:
  • The Annunciation and the Proclamation of the Kingdom (announcements of God's plan)
  • The Visitation and the Baptism of the Lord (Jesus and John meet)
  • The Nativity and the Resurrection (Jesus emerges)
  • The Presentation and the Baptism of the Lord (Jesus comes before a prophet)
  • The Finding of Jesus in the Temple and the Institution of the Eucharist (where to find Jesus)
  • The Baptism of the Lord and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (the Holy Spirit made visible)
  • The Miracle at Cana and the Visitation (Mary presents Jesus to others)
  • The Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Carrying of the Cross (Jesus preaches the fullness of God's will)
  • The Transfiguration and the Ascension (Jesus in glory)
  • The Institution of the Eucharist and the Crucifixion (Jesus' sacrifice for our sake)
  • The Agony in the Garden and the Annunciation (preparation for the redemption of mankind)
  • The Scourging at the Pillar and the Transfiguration (others help Jesus to prepare for His death)
  • The Crowning with Thorns and the Nativity (tributes Jesus received during His lifetime)
  • The Carrying of the Cross and the Ascension (Jesus on His way to where He must be)
  • The Crucifixion and Finding Jesus (Jesus going about His Father's work)
  • The Resurrection and the Visitation (the joy of Christ's presence)
  • The Ascension and the Nativity (angels tell men where the Messiah is to be found)
  • The Descent of the Holy Spirit and the Presentation (God answers the prayers of those who wait)
  • The Assumption and the Ascension (Mary as perfect disciple of Jesus)
  • The Coronation of Mary and the Transfiguration (Mary following in Jesus' glory)
There are some interesting relations that run through the above pairings. We can, for example move from the Annunciation to the Proclamation to the Carrying of the Cross to the Ascension to the Assumption, which suggests that the Annunciation and the Assumption really are two ends of a single thread containing Jesus' ministry in word and deed.

Some mysteries are more strongly related (e.g., the Assumption and the Ascension) than others (e.g., the Agony in the Garden and the Annunciation), but they all speak of the same good news of salvation. As different mysteries tend to speak more or less strongly to us at different times, being able to meditate on one mystery in the light of another (however flickery that light might be) can help support us on those arid decades. (Personally, I don't think I've ever had more than a surface thought on the Scourging at the Pillar, but the Transfiguration is a mystery I can get something out of.)



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."


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.


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.


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.




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.



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."


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.]



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.)



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?