instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, February 25, 2005

Putting it together

If you combine the last two posts in a certain way, you come up with this: Every event can be seen as God's will for us, as Fr. Vann writes, in which case it becomes something in which God's love and wisdom are active. This is as true when the event is one that brings suffering as when it is one that brings joy or satisfaction or rest or insight or triumph or growth.

It's just that we like satisfaction and rest and insight and triumph and growth, so we don't scratch our chins trying to understand what method might lie in the madness of God by which such events are granted to us.

It's only when things happen that we don't like that we demand an explanation of God, even though He has already explained it to us.


That your joy may be complete

A fine post at Dappled Things sketches out the Scriptural basis for the Catholic understanding of the role of suffering in the Christian life.
This is what St Paul is getting at in that fascinating line from the first chapter of his Epistle to the Colossians, that he in his own flesh is making up "what is lacking" in the sufferings of Christ, and that he, Paul, is doing it on behalf of Christ's Body, the Church. In the absolute sense, Christ's sufferings are all-sufficient and lacking in nothing. But, of course, St Paul is no heretic. In regard to individuals whose hearts are somewhat (or completely) hardened, those infinite graces do not have an infinite effect. As I begin to suffer for Christ's sake, my hard heart is softened so that Christ's Passion can be more perfectly fruitful within me. And we can offer up our prayerful sufferings for the good of others, as well, "for his body's sake, which is the church." This Scriptural notion of participating in Christ's own suffering is what is behind otherwise confusing Catholic ideas like co-redemption and intercession.
I suspect one key to unlocking much of the mystery of suffering lies in this statement of Christ:
"Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Or better, look at His statement in a slightly broader context (this is, of course, from the Last Supper Discourse):
"If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you... This I command you: love one another."
Taken all together, we are to lay down our lives for Jesus and for each other, and by so doing we will be friends of Jesus and our joy will be complete.

Without the suffering laying down your life entails, then, your joy will not be complete. (And what is incomplete is not in the eternal presence of God....)

But back to the single idea that laying down your life for others is the greatest human love: Why is this? What is it about creation that makes laying down your life an act of love? What makes it the greatest possible act of love? For that matter, what makes it even possible to lay down your life? And, a question that might be crucial in a discussion on the difference between Catholic and Protestant perspectives, when and under what conditions can it be said that you are laying down your life for others?


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The sacrament of the present moment

In The Pain of Christ and the Sorrow of God Gerald Vann, OP, writes:
We cannot afford to be less humble than God: what this scene in the Garden [of Gethsemane] again shows us is indeed precisely the completeness with which God emptied Himself of His glory and took on Himself the form of a servant. He did not become man, and enter as man the stage of history, merely in order to perform one or two dramatic actions in the sight of the world. He took upon Himself the helplessness of a baby, the ways of a child, the daily tasks and troubles and fatigues of manhood in a poor home, the dread of suffering. We shall become like him, not by trying, every now and then to do great and grandiose things for God, but by trying all the time to do all the little things of life for God, to give each of those in turn its sacramental value.
Sacramental value? This idea Fr. Vann explains a few paragraphs earlier:
Every event can be seen simply as a result of other events, a purely human thing; but it can be seen too as our Lord saw it: as God's will for us. And if we see it, and love it, like that, then it becomes something great and deep, something in which God's love and wisdom are active because we have made it an act of love, have made it part of the love-story.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

In the end

Karen Marie Knapp provides a dogmatic answer to the question of why we have to go to church: So that the faithful
  • "take part in the sacred action consciously, devoutly and actively,
  • that they be instructed by the word of God,
  • that they be nourished at the table of the Lord's Body,
  • that they give thanks to God,
  • that, offering the immaculate host not only through the priest but with him, they may learn to offer themselves,
  • and that, through Christ the Mediator, they may be drawn day after day into more perfect union with God and with one another, so that in the end God may be all in all."


St. Peter, pray for her

Later today, Terri Schiavo may begin to die of starvation. Who will be neighbor to her?

For updates, see Thrown Back and Blogs for Terri. The Old Oligarch offers some thoughts on the implications of Terri's case for "the gradual collapse of secular democratic liberalism" as foreseen by the First Vatican Council's Dei Filius.


Monday, February 21, 2005

The density of Good Samaritans

I came across an interesting sociological claim yesterday: that, independent of circumstances, 10% of people will help a stranger in need. Whether it be Polish Catholics being kind toward Jews during the Nazi occupation or motorists offering assistance to someone by the side of the road, nine people pass by for every one who stops.

I don't know whether this claim is true, either the part about there being a fixed percentage regardless of circumstance or the part about that percentage being 10%. Neither part seems patently ridiculous. If the cost-benefit ratio is roughly the same, I could believe people generally do easy things with mild benefits at about the same rate they do hard things with great benefits.

As for the exact percentage, even in the canonical example it only reached 33%. Do I, who am not like the rest of men, stop to help a stranger more than one time in ten?

The ideal is to reach 100% in any population of self-identified Christians; human progress is to do better today than we did yesterday. Christ Himself gives the context in which to understand the commandment to help strangers: the parable of the Good Samaritan is told in answer to the question, "And who is my neighbor?"

The moral implication of being a neighbor to another is that we are to love him, to act for his good, and in particular to treat him with mercy. The Christian implication is that everyone is a neighbor, so that everyone we see -- whether in distress or not, whether treating us as neighbors or as enemies -- are to be loved by us.

That might be too inert a way of putting it, though, since we've heard this all our lives and we can see how far that's gotten us. Let me try it this way:

The presence of another person compels the disciple of Christ to act.

Christians get around this in a lot of ways. We can in effect deny the personhood (the "neighborness," so to speak) of the other. We can deny his presence. We can resist the compulsion. We can relativize the act.

I suspect, though, that when we think we're getting away with not loving another person, the part we're really denying is the "disciple of Christ" part.


Tuesday night in Maryland

Just a reminder: There is a program of Evening Prayer followed by a talk on the Eucharist on Tuesday, February 22, at St. Andrew Apostle Church in Silver Spring, MD, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The speaker tomorrow night will be Fr. Joseph Barranger, OP, Prior of the Priory of the Immaculate Conception (a.k.a. the Dominican House of Studies in Washington). He will be speaking on The Place of the Eucharist in a Sacramental Church.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Name that commemoration

On the whole, I prefer February 18 to fall before Ash Wednesday, and if I can't have that it would still be okay if it fell on a Sunday.

But since I can't do anything about the fact that the Feast Commemoration of Beato Angelico is observed on a Lenten Friday this year, I'll make do by looking at some of his artwork.

And here is a painting not by Fra Angelico, but of him:

It's found in the corner of a fresco in the Cappella Nuovao of the Orvieto Cathedral. Fra Angelico (he's the one in the Dominican habit) is portrayed with Luca Signorelli, who finished the chapel's frescoes half a century after Fra Angelico began them.

Moniales, OP, has another portrait of Blessed John of Fiesole.


Thursday, February 17, 2005


A few words on Christ the Eternal Tekton, plus something distantly related to the idea that the communicant is transubstantiated.


Roadmap for the journey

Brad Haas is way more organized than I am.
It occurred to me that a week is a good measure to use to set goals and map out my Lent...

Week 1 - Penitence...
Week 2 - Supplication for grace / Entrusting myself to Him...
Week 3 - Purging / Fasting...
Week 4 - Meditation on our relationship...
Week 5 - Thanksgiving...
Week 6 - Adoration / Final preparations...
Sounds like a good way to arrive where you want to go. Better, certainly, than the "It's Ash Wednesday, so I'll head over in the 'no candy' direction for forty days and arrive at the Empty Tomb."


While they argued, their mother sat quietly in the mud

In a comment on open book, Neil Dhingra quotes the International Theological Commission's 2000 document "Memory and Reconciliation," which in turn quotes Pope John Paul II:
"Hence it is appropriate that as the second millennium of Christianity draws to a close the Church should become ever more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel and, instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal. Although she is holy because of her incorporation into Christ, the Church does not tire of doing penance. Before God and man, she always acknowledges as her own her sinful sons and daughters." These words of John Paul II emphasize how the Church is touched by the sin of her children.
Neil adds:
Have we acknowledged this solidarity in sin? Have we collectively confessed? Without a collective penance and renewal, there can be no "purification of memory" - past sins will continue to "make their weight felt and remain temptations in the present as well," there can be no liberation of our "personal and communal conscience from all forms of resentment and violence that are the legacy of past faults." Look at how the Scandal has intensified the polarizations in our Church.

If the Scandal is not to remain a bone in our throat, someone had better write a version of the Pope's May 12, 2000 Lenten liturgy - "We forgive and we ask forgiveness!" - for us. All of us need a day of atonement.
An interesting thought. We each and we all need to atone for the sins of each and all of us. It could even be taken further, by suggesting that those of us willing to atone must do so for those who are unwilling. Christ is owed a spotless Church; which of His priests (and remember: if you're baptized, you're a priest) will make the offering to Him in reparation for the scandal's grave disfigurement of His Church?

Neil's comment, however, prompted the expected response:
"Sinfulness of her children," my rump. I didn't abuse anyone. I didn't tamper with the Mass. I haven't lied to the cops. I didn't try to undermine the Catholic Church politically from the pulpit. Yes, I'm deeply sinful but I'm not going to jail anytime soon for sex abuse, Neil.

So don't lump me together with the *ladies* of Boston and Palm Beach, ok? I am at least trying to live a Christian life, even if I'm lousy at it.
In reacting to the state of the Church, many Catholics say, "We need another St. Catherine of Siena today!" They apparently think she spent all her time writing blistering letters to wicked bishops.

In fact, St. Catherine blamed herself for the sins of others, believing they would not have sinned had she been as holy as she ought to have been. Her constant prayer was for suffering, physical and spiritual, in atonement for the sins that disfigured the face of the Church.

Come to think of it, maybe we do need a few St. Catherines today.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Remedies for temptation

Mmmm... tables!

Herb Ely posts a table listing the three temptations of Jesus in the desert in the left-hand column. Subsequent columns work through how to recognize and deal with such temptations in our own lives. The final column contains the specific remedies.

I’m no spiritual doctor, but I’m sure the remedies listed are good for what ails you.


"Why do we have to go to church?"

This was the subject of Fr. Giles Dimock's talk last night at St. Andrew Apostle Church in Silver Spring, MD.

Of course, the ideal audience would have been the children of the parish, with their parents sitting beside them. But although the people who did come were the people who would come -- which is to say, people who already go to Mass at least once a week, and who know and believe in the Eucharist -- Fr. Dimock made the point that, in this Year of the Eucharist, we are to enter more deeply into this sacrifice that is the "source and summit of the whole Christian life." And it's a safe bet that no one alive has yet emptied the cup of this particular mystery.

Fr. Dimock quoted St. Augustine's adage that, while other food becomes a part of us, we become a part of the Eucharist. He suggested that Christ gave the Church bread and wine transubstantiated that those who eat of It may be transubstantiated. Of course, the effect in us is only analogous to the transubstantiation of the Eucharistic species; we remain substantially present even when perfected in glory.

But I think of St. Paul's "I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me." Under the appearance of an ordinary man is to be found Christ Himself, dwelling with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Not the identical Real Presence as in the Sacrament of the altar, but the same Person.
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.
Why do we have to go to Church? Because it is our glory.


When gods fight among themselves

Endlessly Rocking quotes Etienne Gilson on contemporary polytheism:
Just like the world of Thales and of Plato, our own world is "full of gods." There are blind Evolution, clear-sighted Orthogenesis, benevolent Progress, and others which it is more advisable not to mention by name. Why unnecessarily hurt the feelings of men who, today, render them a cult? ... Millions of men are starving and bleeding to death because two or three of these pseudo-scientific or pseudosocial deified abstractions are now at war. For when gods fight among themselves, men have to die.
It's a stock observation that atheistic materialism is a religion for many of its adherents. Gilson suggests, though, that atheistic materialism is also a religion for many of its Christian opponents. Which in turn suggests that it may be treated with all the open-minded deference we in the West apply to the religious beliefs of everyone we encounter.

All well and good as far as it goes; concord is a virtue.

But in exchange, men have to die.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Are you talking to me?

But what if we read Isaiah's prophecies as being directed to us, personally and specifically?
Remove from your midst malicious speech.
Or, using the Douay Rheims:
Cease to speak that which profiteth not.
Is anyone free of unprofitable speech?

And though it may just be a guilty conscience, I have the suspicion that, just as almost everyone overestimates the profitableness of his speech, almost everyone underestimates its malice.

For St. Thomas, "malice" simply means choosing to sin. (This choice is present in every sin, but other factors -- like ignorance and passions -- may contribute to causing us to sin.) It can also mean the evil present in human acts.

Nowadays, though, it connotes a particularly deep and malevolent evil, I think, of a kind only thoroughgoing villains engage in. The sound Thomistic principle, "Do not attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity," is expanded to, "Do not attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by any vice you care to name."

But can't we say "both"/"and"?

In this light, then, how rare is our "malicious speech"? And by "our" I mean yours, gentle Reader, and mine, not the professional spittle-fleckers. How unusual is it for me to say something with the intent to hurt or embarrass or belittle, or simply to puff myself up? Oh, with another, nobler intent as well, no doubt: to instruct, to enlighten, to entertain. But with malice as well, with a desire however slight to do what I ought not to do, as icing or laignappe -- or perhaps simply to make my words interesting enough to myself to bother to say them.

Cease to speak that which profiteth not.


Boilerplate prophecy

Last Saturday's first reading contains a bold promise from God:
If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land.

He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; "repairer of the breach," they shall call you, "restorer of ruined homesteads."
Now, the Bible in general and Isaiah in particular are full of such extravagances; who pays them much heed? It would be great were the gloom to become for us like midday, but really, "Repairer of the Breach"? Ever heard of the concept of oversell, Isaiah?

Maybe these passages come and go in the Lectionary because the promises all depend on us doing things we know we aren't going to do anyway. And by "we" I of course don't mean you and me; we don't oppress, or falsely accuse, or speak maliciously; we do feed the hungry and satisfy the afflicted. But our world, our society, our diocese isn't really about to do all these things. So the promises remain eschatological.


Monday, February 14, 2005

Evening prayer and Eucharistic lecture in Silver Spring, MD

Just as a reminder, tomorrow night (February 15) St. Andrew Apostle Church in Silver Spring, MD, will host a program of Evening Prayer followed by a talk on the Eucharist by Fr. Giles Dimock, OP. It begins at 7:30 p.m. and will end by 9 (except, perhaps, for some disputing in the vestibule).

I'll be the young fellow about my age leading the chanting. Identify yourself as a Disputations reader, and you'll get a free cookie.



The Eucharist as Trinitarian valentine.


Sunday, February 13, 2005

Offer it up, but to whom?

I don’t know if the priest today was in a good mood or a bad mood, but he laid down a blistering homily on the need for us to find and face the lies in our lives. The readings remind us of who the father of lies is, and of how freedom to choose between the truth and a lie becomes slavery the moment the lie is chosen.

It was very much a “rend your hearts, not your garments” homily, with a special emphasis on the point that rending your garments can be a lie – done not as a baby-step toward perfection but out of pride or idle habit – that makes rending your hearts impossible. It may well be, we were told, that it’s the devil who suggests you give up butter in addition to candy.


Friday, February 11, 2005

Office asceticism

For the true penitent: coffee pot vegetable stew.



Now this is what I'm talking about: A list of 228 virtues and 298 passions St. Peter of Damascus found in Scripture. (Proof that there really are more way to go wrong than right.)

If I pick one virtue to build up and one passion to bring under control every day, then start over again when I reach the end, and live to be about 180, I should be in good shape.

The lists themselves are worth reading in detail, but here is what St. Peter has to say about them in general:
To acquire all of [the virtues] is possible only through the grace of Him who grants us victory over the passions....

I have not tried, nor would I have been able, to arrange [the passions] all in order; this would have been beyond my powers, for the reason given by St. John Climacus: "If you seek understanding in wicked men, you will not find it."
(Link via Dappled Things.)


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Celebrating the Year of the Eucharist

From the Archdiocese of Washington's Secretariat for Parish Life:
Service and Outreach
  • Offer to bring a neighbor who does not have transportation to Mass on Sunday.
  • Plan time on a Sunday or another day each month to go out of your way to care for others. Do so as a family or with a parish group to which you belong. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2186) reminds us that "Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm and the elderly." Celebrating the Eucharist leads us to serve those among our family, our friends and our community who are in need. Likewise, serving others deepens our participation in the celebration of the Eucharist.
  • "Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week." (catechism, 2186) Spend time together as a family. Take care of chores, shopping and other work on Saturday and make the Lord's Day a day of rest and recreation.
  • Invite a family member or friend who has been away from the Church to return to the sacraments. Help him or her find a time to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance or to just talk with a priest.
Catechesis and Formation
  • Read and meditate on Scripture about the Eucharist. Appropriate passages include Matthew 26:1-2, 26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:22-69; and 1 Corinthians 16-21.
  • Read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the Eucharist in paragraphs 1322 through 1419.Read and discuss the Holy Father's 2003 encyclical, "On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church" or other papal or Church documents on the Eucharist.
  • Read the Holy Father's apostolic letter for the Year of the Eucharist, "Mane Nobiscum Domine."
  • See the Archdiocese of Washington website resources list for additional books, websites, etc.
  • Attend daily Mass once or more each week throughout the year or during Lent and Easter.
  • Celebrate the Sacrament of Penance to prepare yourself to receive the Eucharist. If it has been a while, ask the priest to help you remember what to say.
  • Participate in a Corpus Christi procession at parish or a parish near you.
  • Pray the Liturgy of the Hours as a family, with a parish group, a small Christian community or privately. Attend Sunday Vespers during Lent or Easter at your parish or a parish near you.
  • Make a weekly or monthly Holy Hour at your or another parish where Eucharistic adoration is available.
  • Visit the Blessed Sacrament to spend some quiet time in prayer, even if only for five to 10 minutes each day or week.
  • Attend solemn annual Exposition of the Eucharist (40 Hours) at your parish or a parish near you.


A hidden assumption

By the way, Fr. Rahner cites Revelation 12:14 as a Scriptural basis for the Dogma of the Assumption:
But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly to her place in the desert, where, far from the serpent, she was taken care of for a year, two years, and a half-year.
Three verses later,
the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus.
You need to read the last chapter of Our Lady and the Church to get his full argument, but the gist of it is that "it is plain in Scripture that the last day and final judgment have begun already" (e.g., John 12:31, 1 Peter 4:17), and therefore that the prophecies of Revelation have already begun to be fulfilled. The woman clothed with the sun of Revelation 12 is the Church, and therefore is also Mary. (And, Fr. Rahner goes on to suggest, also our own souls.)

Is it an argument that will convince anyone not already convinced? Probably not. So we just need to convince them already, first.


Programming note

Another post at Notes on A Key.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Is the mother of Jesus there?

In this passage, Hugo Rahner, SJ, starts off conventionally, asks a few timely questions, and winds up with a startling conclusion:
That is, then, the heart of the mystery of the Virgin Mary and the virgin Church: her faith. Her humble obedience of the heart, the opening of her heart in love, her complete trust in the Spirit that overshadowed her....

Here a vital question for our own spiritual life arises: is my own heart open to receive the Spirit? Is my heart a trusting heart? Is my heart a vessel ready to receive the Spirit poured out by the risen Christ? In other words, do I fully realize in my heart the meaning of the Incarnation and the gift of Pentecost? And this again can be resolved by the simple question: Is the mother of Jesus there? My understanding of the trusting heart of Mary is the measure of my love for the Church. [Our Lady and the Church, pp 106-107, emphasis added]
If, as Fr. Rahner writes in the foreword, "We must learn to see the Church in our Lady," then all Marian devotees ought to be devotees of the Church as well, loving the Church with the same filial love they have for Mary. And all those who love the Church must likewise love Mary.


Happy trails

We speak of Lent as a time of preparation; we speak of our "Lenten journey." If we are preparing, we must be preparing for something. If we are journeying, we must be going someplace. What is the thing, where is the place, Lent brings us to?

Scandal of Particularity quotes Fr. Schmemann's answer:
Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, "the Feast of Feasts."
What is Easter? It is Christ's resurrection. It is our own resurrection.

And how to we get there? We take the same road Christ took. We go to Jerusalem, we go to Golgotha, we go up on a cross, we go into a tomb.

If anybody knows of another way to arrive at Easter, I would love to hear about it.


Happy Lent!

The first note is up at Notes on A Key. You'll note it's a repost from last year. You get what you pay for.

Otherwise, there's not much I can tell you that you don't already know. Pray with Christ, fast with the Holy Spirit, give alms with the Father of All.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

In the monastery one does not merely observe Lent

One lives it.

(Link via Moniales, OP.)


It is as it was

You may have heard about a survey done for the BBC on contemporary attitudes toward the Seven Deadly Sins:
Most people believe the seven deadly sins are out of date, and that traditional transgressions such as sloth, gluttony and lust should not stop you passing through the pearly gates.

Cruelty is considered the worst sin anyone can commit nowadays, followed by adultery, bigotry, dishonesty, hypocrisy and selfishness. Of the seven deadly sins enumerated in their present form by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, only greed is still viewed as a reliable passport to eternal damnation.

Anger is the sin we commit most often, followed by pride, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth and greed. Not surprisingly, we rather enjoy lust and gluttony, but get the least pleasure from anger and envy, according to a survey of 1,001 adults for the BBC.
Where to begin? I know!

St. Thomas didn't enumerate the "seven deadly sins." He enumerated -- or, more precisely, repeated St. Gregory the Great's list of -- the seven capital vices:
...a capital vice is one from which other vices arise, chiefly by being their final cause....
I'd like the BBC to go back and ask those 1,001 adults what a final cause is before reaching any final conclusions about the import of this survey.

Still, taking the survey at face value, I think Ross Kelly's take is on the mark:
"We're less concerned with the seven deadly sins and more concerned with actions that hurt others."
But then, that's what you get when you shift your attention from vices, which are habits, to sins, which are acts. You lose the perspective of where sins come from and look only at the symptoms.

Which symptoms, by the way -- cruelty, adultery, bigotry, dishonesty, hypocrisy, greed, and selfishness -- the Angelic Doctor does treat.

I think, though, that we might make too much of the difference in attitude toward sin on the part of the general public. Should we think, for example, that people of the Thirteenth Century did not "rather enjoy lust and gluttony" or that they approved of cruelty? And, pace the surveyed, I suspect we get a lot more enjoyment out of anger and envy than we like to admit.

(Link via the informative, humorous, and creative Relapsed Catholic; also see the Curt Jester for other comments on this survey.)


Especially for Washington, Baltimore, and NoVa Readers

It's time once more for the Bishop Fenwick Chapter of the Third Order of St. Dominic to sponsor a Lenten Lecture Series on the Tuesdays of Lent at St. Andrew Apostle Church, Silver Spring, Maryland.

In observation of the Year of the Eucharist, the talks this year will focus on the place of the Eucharist in the lives of lay Catholics.

The first speaker and topic are
Fr. Giles Dimock, OP
"Why Do We Have To Go To Church?"

What does it mean to say the Eucharistic sacrifice is the "source and summit of the whole Christian life"? How is the Mass different from other forms of worship? What do these differences mean to us?
Tuesday, February 15
St. Andrew Apostle Church
Silver Spring, MD
7:30 p.m. -- Chanted Evening Prayer
8:00 p.m. -- talk begins
There will be time to ask questions of Fr. Dimock, an internationally known expert on liturgy and sacramental theology and dean of students at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, and refreshments (suitable to the season) will be served.

And I need hardly add that it's not every day you get to hear me chant the Divine Office in public.


Monday, February 07, 2005

The case for Marian devotion

In a comment below, Neil suggests that, regarding our Mariology,
the two real questions we have to answer are:

1. The Pope says that Mary is both "a member of the Church and "Mother of the Church." When do our claims for Mary's motherhood interfere with our ability to see her as a member of the Church in any meaningful way?

2. Lumen Gentium says that "while the Mother is honored, the Son, through whom all things have their being and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, is rightly known, loved and glorified." When does our honor for Mary threaten to "obscure or diminish this unique mediation of Christ"?

Without honest answers to these questions, I don't think that our Mariology will be convincing to others.
I replied that these "two questions ... are apologetical. I think the Church has spent several centuries defending her Mariology, at the expense of explaining it." Neil responded:
I did not pose my two questions as some sort of "apologetical" exercise. I intended them as the start of dialogue, a real "exchange of gifts" (Ut Unum Sint). As Cardinal Kasper has written, "Through every dialogue I do not only intend to impart something to somebody else, I also intend to impart what is most important and dearest for myself to him. I even wish that the other one partakes in it." Thus, it would seem no less than obligatory that we share with our Protestant "partners," just how, in our very own spiritual lives, seeing Mary as Mother intensifies our ecclesiology, and honoring Mary intensifies our Christology. This should be done in a way that invites them to "partake in it." And our answer really must be existential - "what is most important and dearest for myself" - not some abstract appeal to "several centuries."
I completely agree that we must share -- not just with Protestants, but also (and perhaps more importantly) with other Catholics -- how devotion to Mary intensifies our ecclesiology and our Christology.

I maintain, though, that the original two questions -- when does Marian devotion "interfere with" and "obscure or diminish" devotion to Christ -- are defensive.

My point is that, since the Reformation, the Church has been treating Mariology as a matter of apologetics at the expense of teaching Mariology as a matter of the living Catholic faith. To focus on the question, "When does Marian devotion make us bad Christians?" is to walk from the public square into court and sit down at the defendant's table.

I suggest we, as Catholics devoted to Mary, would do better to focus less on apologetics and more on fundamentals. The first question is not, "What is bad about Marian devotion?," but, "What is good about it?" And we won't convince many people of what is good about it if we start from a defensive posture by denying that it's bad.

But true devotion to Mary involves -- comes from and returns to -- mystery. Courts, apologetics, proof texting: these may have their place, but they don't really come to terms with mystery. What we need to do, then, is set aside questions on what is wrong with Mariology until we've first explained what Mariology is. And this takes time, and patience, and prayer. It might even require our partners in dialogue to be quiet a while, to listen to the story we have to tell ("have" meaning both "possess" and "must"), and to enter into the mystery of the Ever-Virgin Mother of God with us.


The Canticle of the Passion

Moniales, OP, posts St. Catherine de Ricci's "Canticle of the Passion."

Directions for use: Chant weekly for seven weeks, beginning this Friday.

A little more on this devotion, from William Hinnebusch's 1965 book Dominican Spirituality:
St. Catherine de Ricci, who for twelve years, from 1542 to 1554, experienced an ecstatic vision of the Passion every week, developed a devotion called the Canticle of the Passion. Its verses, selected from the Scriptures, are arranged as a summary of Christ's sufferings. The brief meditation made on each verse powerfully impresses the soul with the greatness of the Passion and brings it the fruits of redemption. This devotion is still practiced in some of the priories of the Order. At Santa Sabina, its headquarters in Rome, the Canticle occupies the period of mental prayer on the Fridays of Lent. The cantor, kneeling before the altar, begins the verses, which are taken up by the choir, or he sings them alone. Between each he pauses for some minutes to permit the friars to ponder the verse just sung. As a fitting close to the exercise, though not part of it, he blesses the community with a relic of the True Cross which, meanwhile, has been exposed on the altar, flanked by lighted candles.


Friday, February 04, 2005

A difference

In a comment below, Rob writes:
In his "New Seeds of Contemplation", Thomas Merton says this about Mary:
"In the actual living, human person who is the Virgin Mother of Christ are all the poverty and all the wisdom of all the saints." A bit later on he writes: "She was and is in the highest sense a person precisely because, being 'immaculate,' she was free from every taint of selfishness that might obscure God's light in her being. She was then a freedom that obeyed Him perfectly and in this obedience found the fulfillment of perfect love."
As a Protestant, I find insights like these to be, in a certain sense, more important than the 'mysterious' aspects of the Incarnation itself...
Mary's perfect obedience instructs us all in the humility necessary to love.
Which is kind of funny, since as a Catholic, I find insights like these to be unsatisfying, for pretty much the same reason Rob finds them important.

They're unsatisfying because, baldly stated, they are utilitarian. As Rob says, Mary instructs us in the humility necessary to love. That's fine, as far as it goes; we can all use all the instruction on that we can get.

But if that's all there is, if Mary's life is merely exemplary, two things follow. First, the Church has completely bungled its treatment of Mary. What kind of example can her immaculate conception set for me? What does her Assumption add but confusion to the dogma of the General Resurrection? What are the odds I'll be crowned Queen of Angels?

And second, so what? As exemplars go, there is precious little known about Mary's life, and even if she did everything better than everyone else, the fact remains that there are countless saints who did everything better than I and whose lives are well known enough for me to learn all I have time in this life to learn. From a practical standpoint, what's the big deal about Mary?

But of course, learning how to act isn't all there is to Mary. (And I don't mean to imply that Merton -- or Rob, for that matter -- say it is.) I wouldn't even say it's the most important thing about her. What she is is more important than what she does, and what she is, I'm afraid, is a mystery.

As I suggested below, we probably use her title "Mother of God" too glibly. When we do stop to think about it, it's often in the context of the history of the Council of Ephesus or in terms of the "Communication of Idioms" theologians invoke to express the truth in absurd language. If the mystery is acknowledged, it may be regarded as a spiritual/mechanical puzzle or a philosophical paradox or as something that is simply to be accepted as unknowable.

If we never get past Mary as the first and best Christian, we won't see her as part of God's Revelation, and therefore as something not only good but true and beautiful, and surely a fit subject of contemplation for all Christians for her own sake.


Thursday, February 03, 2005

A note on Our Lady

In the foreword to Our Lady and the Church, Fr. Rahner writes, "The most important formative element in Catholic piety today [c. 1958] is probably the newly-found understanding of our holy mother the Church in her sacraments and her liturgy." The book was written to show that this element not only did not contradict the ever-growing Marian piety (remember, the Dogma of the Assumption was defined in 1950), but that they reinforce each other, and in a sense are the same idea.

I don't have my finger on the pulse of Catholic piety today, but I have the impression that neither Holy Mother Church nor Holy Mother Mary have quite the appeal, in the United States at least, they had among Catholics fifty years ago. To the extent either has any appeal, though, the ideas in Our Lady and the Church will surely strengthen both forms of piety.

But the book deals with a mystery, you could say with the mystery: the Incarnation. That places the subject outside the realm of human wisdom, and to really understand it requires, not study, but prayer.

I don't think American Catholics are really used to thinking about the Marian dogmas as mysteries. Mary was ever-virgin; what's so mysterious about that? Sure, we don't understand the mechanics of the Holy Spirit overshadowing her, but we don't understand the mechanics of our cars, and there's nothing beyond all human wisdom about them.

How many people, if asked to define the word "virginity," would do so without using a negative, like "not" or "never"? We have a mechanical understanding of virginity, and so can't really see anything mysterious about it.

So Catholics say, "It doesn't make any difference to my faith if Mary had other children." That may be true of their faith, but to the Catholic faith it certainly does. And if we fail to see this about Mary, we will fail to see it about the Church, ever-virgin because ever-faithful to Christ.


What's in Style today

If you don't subscribe to The Washington Post, you might reasonably assume that the Post is the Post, and that a car review is as Posty, as "the other newspaper of record"y, as what appears on A-1 above the fold.

In fact, though, the "Style" section has entirely different standards than the news sections, which may be why Tina Brown's columns appear in "Style" rather than on the op-ed pages. Whatever her virtues, she is not a deep thinker, and her role for the Post seems to be to provide a sort of "You Are There" sensation for liberal readers who don't attend New York magazine cocktail parties.

So it's not a surprise, exactly, to read this in her February 3 column:
Hillary Clinton's move to a sensitive centrism on abortion has beaten everyone's expectations about how long she would wait before starting Phase Two of her Permanent Campaign. The same big Manhattan donors who vehemently wrote her off at the end of last year after all the crusading for a red-state male are grudgingly admitting that the woman is a warrior. At this rate she'll be guest-hosting "The 700 Club" by Easter.
The impression I get, though, is that the people who read Tina Brown nodding their heads and saying, "Exactly!" honestly do regard Hillary Clinton's speech the other week as a "move to a sensitive centrism on abortion." After all, if you believe abortion is an inalienable human right, anything that goes much further than a law requiring teenage girls to be told about adoption options quickly becomes, not just right-of-center, but positively evil.

I even suspect that some readers did imagine a whiff of The 700 Club in Clinton's remarks. That the Christian Right is unlikely to embrace a proposal that amounts to, "We keep killing babies, and you fund universal health care," may not occur to them. After all, if they were the Christian Right, they'd jump at it, and so would all their friends.

Sharing space with the Tina Brown column was TV critic Tom Shales's review of the State of the Union speech. Now, I hate to pick on someone who writes about television shows for a living; it's a degrading enough job as it is. But Shales will go out of his way to make his (brace yourselves) liberal political and social opinions known -- last year he wrote that Mel Gibson will surely burn in hell for making The Passion of the Christ -- and when he does, what he writes is fair game for criticism itself.

Today, he identifies one of the things in President Bush's speech that grates on his Posty nerve:
Bush soon divided the hall again when he said he supported a constitutional amendment "to protect the institution of marriage," which was a euphemism for banning same-sex marriages, though Bush didn't mention them. The man who likes to speak, as he did in this speech, of America's great "compassion" and who has been holding forth loudly of late on the sanctity of freedom apparently believes both compassion and freedom should have their limits.
From which we conclude what? Mostly that Shales was writing on deadline, I suppose, and threw the first brickbat that came to hand, however absurd it might be.

Is it possible that Tom Shales doesn't believe both compassion and freedom should have their limits? Should compassion for producer and director Gary Marshall, whom in another column today Shales calls an "obnoxious huckster," move a fan of "Happy Days" to kneecap Shales? Should Kathy Lee Gifford, whom Shales unloaded on like a Nineteenth Century Know-Nothing venting against the Irish when reviewing her Christmas specials, be free to unload buckshot into his hindquarters?

No, of course not. Compassion and freedom must have their limits, if a society is to have any of either. So we are left with Shales's meaning to be that he disagrees with Bush on where and how compassion and freedom should be limited regarding marriage.

Well, no kidding. Is there anyone writing for the Post (outside a few opinion columnists) who doesn't?


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Well, but these things happen

I haven't read much in the way of reaction to this story from people who cheered the success of the elections in Iraq.

Let me suggest that very few Christians adequately value the Sacrament of Baptism. It's such an awesome mystery, how could we? But even relative to other things, I suspect many Christians severely underestimate what Baptism means. There is a misplaced impulse in interfaith relations to downplay union with the Body of Christ, and a certain embarrassment regarding the Gospel has bleached nearly all meaning out of the dogma of the absolute necessity of Baptism for salvation. There are those who seem to regard Baptism as the way you keep score, and when another game is being played, Baptism doesn't count.

Which binds us more tightly to others, faith in democracy or faith in Christ?



I've got a week before Lent starts to read Our Lady and the Church, by Hugo Rahner, SJ. Written shortly after the promulgation of the Dogma of the Assumption, it is an exploration of the Patristic doctrine that what is true of the Blessed Mother is true of Holy Mother Church.

The Fathers were not given to hesitancy in their teaching. The idea is not that Mary is kind of like the Church, since both give birth, so to speak, to the Body of Christ. If I understand them correctly, the teaching is that everything that can be said in faith of the Church in general can be said of Mary in particular, and everything said in faith of Mary can be said of the Church.

You might, as an experiment, try thinking of the "Hail Mary" as being directed to the Church:
Hail, Church of Christ, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among the nations, and blessed is the Fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Church, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
It works, doesn't it? The Church is full of grace, the Lord is with her, she is uniquely blessed, she is holy, she does pray for sinners now and at the hour of their death.

The idea of the Church as Mother of God might sound a bit odd to us, but it is found throughout the Fathers. It may be that Mary as the Mother of God doesn't sound odd enough to us, that reclaiming the doctrine of this book will help us to see how strange and wonderful the familiar title for the Blessed Virgin really is.

A few pages into the book, I find that the spotlessness of the Church as taught by Scripture points to the spotlessness of our Lady as proclaimed by Ineffabilis Deus. In Ephesians 5:27, for example, when the Church is described in the NAB as "holy and without blemish," the Vulgate has "sancta et inmaculata." And whom do we know as the Immaculata?

I wonder, this morning, where this book will take me regarding the "fifth Marian dogma" of the Blessed Virgin as "Co-redemptrix, Advocate, and Mediatrix of all Graces." If what is true of the Church is true of Mary, I may have to rethink my opinion that this goes too far....


Take two

So a while back, I got an email from John O'Leary, the publisher of Zaccheus Press, who told me they're following up on their successful publication of Abbot Vonier's A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist with a reprint of Hugo Rahner's Our Lady and the Church.

Terrific, I replied, I have a copy of that book somewhere, and I'll read it and give you a plug when your edition comes out.

Then time passes, as it will, and yesterday I find a package from Zaccheus Press containing, not only their new Rahner book, but another copy of the Vonier book -- from a printing including a blurb from me:
"An excellent book. Abbot Vonier’s writing is profound enough to yield a deeper meaning each time it is pondered."
Naturally, I promptly showed my name in print to my wife, who read the blurb, laughed, and said it sounded awfully pompous. A just reaction, since it's hard to take seriously the ponderings of someone who, at least twice a week, loses track of his coffee cup on his way from the kitchen to the garage.

As it happens, my blurb came from a post in which I proposed to go through A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist for Lent. And, as it happened, I got about twenty pages and one week into it before that plan fell apart.

This year, though, I'm going to make pondering the book part of my Lenten discipline, and set up a separate blog (seeded with the posts I wrote last year back) to keep track of it.

So I once more invite people to read A Key along with me, during the Lenten Season of this Year of the Eucharist. And if I don't keep up, you can send me sharply worded emails, CCing my spiritual director.