instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

An agonizing hope

To understand Christian hope, you need to understand it from several angles. You need to know what it means to hope at the Annunciation, at the Crucifixion, at the Resurrection.

The Crucifixion would seem to be the one moment in time when hope is most absent. Perhaps it would have been entirely absent, had the Blessed Virgin not been there. But it's precisely when all is hopeless that Christian hope -- the virtue of trusting in God's promises -- is most present; in a hopeless situation, you can't hope in anyone or anything but God.

But what is Christian hope seen from the perspective of the Agony in the Garden? Put another way, what would our Lady's hope have been if she were aware of her Son's agony?

The simplest answer is wrong. When Jesus said, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from Me," He wasn't expressing the hope that it would be taken away. You can't hope for the impossible, and it was for this sacrifice that He was born. Rather, He was making explicit the difference between His human will and His divine will, without which His passion would not have been an act of obedience, but one of agreement.

The aspect of Christian hope shown in Christ's agony, then, seems to be this: the hope that one's natural hope will be wholly overcome by one's supernatural hope. Not eradicated; the Christian remains human, and so retains his human will. But overcome, made obedient to, what he hopes for in Christ.

This indeed is an agony for holy people, the final defeat of that one last corner that holds out for something other than what God desires for us. Jesus Himself, whose humanity was perfect from the moment it came into being, wept tears of blood over what, for Him, was not resistance but merely difference. It's an agony that is probably literally inconceivable for those of us who aren't particularly holy and aren't particularly interested in becoming holy; it's the agony of purgatory.

And it is what we, as Christians, hope for.

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Talking about touching

Much could be said about the Washington Post-ABC News Poll on the views of Catholics toward Pope Benedict XVI, in which 81% of Catholics said they approve "of the selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict the 16th, as the next pope," and 73% said they would describe their feelings about the selection of Ratzinger as pope as very enthusiastic (27%) or somewhat enthusiastic (46%) (margin of error is 6%). (Post article here, more details here.)

For now, I just want to mention one question in the poll: "In general, do you think the Roman Catholic Church is in touch with the views of Catholics in America today, or is it out of touch?"

If I had been polled, my answer to this question would have been, "Um, what?"

More expansively, what does "in touch with" mean? Aware of? Consonant with? Guided by? Hep to?

Who decided that American Catholics do or should think in terms of whether the Church is "in touch with" their views? Do American Catholics actually think -- if that's the word I want -- in these terms, or did it merely emerge as a trope of post-conciliar therapeutic dissent, becoming adopted without much thought through repetition and familiarity?

The expression itself is suspiciously asymmetric: "I am out of touch with you" does not imply "you are out of touch with me." It suggests that there is something objective -- in this case, "the views of Catholics in America today" -- to which other things may relate via being "in touch with."

To the extent such groovy language should be used at all, it seems to me the objective something to which other things may relate ought to be the Church:

"In general, do you think Catholics in America today are down with the views of the Roman Catholic Church?"

Ah, but that would be too much like suggesting there's something other than me at the center.

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Hearing the News

One of the previously untranslatable documents from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri has turned out to be a fragment from the Gospel of Luke. There are some interesting differences between this version and other known manuscripts. Here is the fragment, with words not found in other manuscripts shown in italics and words missing in the new MS shown in strikethrough:
… Jesus had heard, he said to him: Yet one thing is wanting [to thee]: sell all whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. He having heard these things, became sorrowful; for he was very rich, said: Oh, you don't really mean that. And Jesus answered him: No, I really do. And the ruler said: Surely your words are being taken out of context. Do not worry; I will remain with you until you modernize your beliefs. And Jesus seeing him become became sorrowful, [and] said: How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God.
What effect, if any, this discovery will have on matters of faith and morals, it's too soon to say.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Mark

Here are the first words of each sentence in the first chapter of the Knox translation of Mark's Gospel:
The beginning
It is written
And so it was
And all the country
John was clothed
And thus he preached
I have baptized
At this time
And even as he came up
There was a voice
Thereupon, the Spirit
But when John
And as he passed along
And they dropped their nets
Then he went
So they made their way
And there
Hast thou come
I recognize thee
Jesus spoke
Then the unclean spirit
All were full
What is this
See how
And the story
As soon as
The mother
And all at once
And when it was evening
And he healed
Then, at very early dawn
Simon and his companions
And he said
So he continued
Then a leper
Jesus was moved
And at the word
And he spoke
But he
You need the rest of the words, of course, to get the full sense of the chapter. But these words as they stand give a pretty good sense of Mark's style, energy, simplicity, and directness.

Try this: Find a place where you can talk aloud to yourself. Stand up and read the first chapter of Mark out loud, in a brisk and lively manner, as though you were telling a story you had just heard to someone who hadn't heard it before.

If you do this, you will learn something about Jesus, something Mark has to tell you that the other Evangelists don't. You will also learn something about yourself. If nothing else, you will learn whether hearing the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, makes you want to hear more.

Mark is a book for reading out loud, standing up.

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

What do you mean, "we"?

Responding to the words of a self-described progressive Catholic quoted in a post below, one commenter wrote:
Maybe it was these people who the Pope had in mind when he spoke of a smaller but more devoted Church.
I'm not so sure.

His September 2003 interview with Raymond Arroyo has been referenced several times as evidence that Pope Benedict wants a smaller but more devoted Church. What did he say regarding the "New Springtime"?
And my idea is that really the springtime of the Church will not say that we will have in a near time buses of conversions, that all peoples of the world will be converted to Catholicism. This is not the way of God. The essential things in history begin always with the small, more convinced communities....

So, I think also today it should be an error to think now or in 10 years with the new springtime, all people will be Catholic. This is not our future, nor our expectation. But we will have really convinced communities with élan of the faith, no? This is springtime — a new life in very convinced persons with joy of the faith.

Smaller numbers [of Catholics], I think. But from these small numbers we will have a radiation of joy in the world. And so, it’s an attraction, as it was in the old Church.... And so, I would say, if we have young people really with the joy of the faith and this radiation of this joy of the faith, this will show to the world, "Even if I cannot share it, even if I cannot convert it at this moment, here is the way to live for tomorrow."
The vision he speaks of here is not one of a "smaller but more devoted Church." It's one of small, convinced communities that radiate the joy of faith.

Yes, he does say, "Smaller numbers, I think." But that strikes me more as a prediction than as any sort of desire, much less goal. "Very convinced persons with joy of the faith" will attract lukewarm Catholics as well as non-Catholics. I take the point to be that raw numbers is not something he is concerned with, and that if the focus is on building small, convinced communities with élan of the faith then the overall numbers of Catholics can reasonably be expected to fall (in the West, at least).

More importantly, what distinguishes these small, convinced communities is not doctrinal purity, nor is it warm feelings for the Pope. It is the joy of the faith. If "filled with the joy of the faith" is not how you would characterize yourself, then you aren't what the Pope had in mind when he was speaking about his hopes for the new springtime of the Church.

In the interview, Cardinal Ratzinger went on to say:
We have movements and new beginnings of the faith, new forms of the faith. On the other hand, I think it is important that these movements are not closed in themselves and absolutized; but have to understand that even if I’m convinced this is the way, I have to accept we are one way and not the way, and we have to be open for the others, in communion with the others. And essentially we have to be really present and even obedient to the common Church in presence with the bishops and the Pope. Only with this openness to not be absolutized with its ideas and to be in service of the common Church, of the Universal Church, can be really a way for tomorrow.
To the joy of the faith, then, we could add two more notes: openness to other ways of Catholic life; and presence and obedience to the common Church.

No wonder the Pope foresaw smaller numbers.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Fundamentalism, American-style

Do you know what, according to Maryland NOW, women's most fundamental right is?

You didn't guess, "The right to life," did you?

In today's Washington Post, there's a letter to the editor, set in its own box, with a nice big headline reading, "Endangering Women's Rights."

It's a measure of how screwed up this country is that all the above is a clue that something good has happened.

The letter concludes:
The passage of this legislation underscores why a strong and unwavering reproductive-rights coalition is needed to preserve women's most fundamental right.

DUCHY TRACHTENBERG
President
Maryland NOW
Silver Spring
What is the legislation that sends Duchy Trachtenberg to her typewriter to warn the reproductive-rights coalition to be strong and unwavering? Maryland House Bill 398, "Murder and Manslaughter-Viable Fetus," which allows that "a prosecution may be instituted for murder or manslaughter of a viable fetus."

Yes, it explicitly states that "nothing in this... applies to or infringes on a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy," and "nothing in this... shall be construed to confer personhood or any rights on the fetus."

Yes, even my own reliably pro-abortion state representatives voted for this bill.

But when your whole professional career is based on preserving the legal right of women to kill their children before birth, anything that even hints that a fetus should be treated any differently than a wart must be strongly and unwaveringly resisted.

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They don't make it easy

The self-described progressive Catholic jcecil3 gets something off his chest:
The election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI while George W. Bush is in the White House feels like the world is collapsing.

It feels as though Adolf Hitler is in the White House in control of the world's sole superpower, and Benito Mussolini is in the Papal Palace in charge of the largest religious institution on earth....

I also need to be clear that I cannot point to some specific act or word of his that makes him comparable to Mussolini, and I do not mean in any way to imply that Pope Benedict XVI is literally a Fascist. To the best of my knowledge, he is not a Fascist, and has done nothing to earn a reaction quite this strong....

This post is not rational. I confess my own irrationality in saying what I am saying. This post is an expression of feeling - feelings that may have nothing to do with reality as it is in the eyes of God.
So, yeah, I guess you could say Pope Benedict XVI is a polarizing figure.

It must be noted that what he's talking about here are his feelings. You can't be held responsible for your feelings as such, although there is such a thing as an improper feeling.

Still, there is something astonishing in his unabashed solipsism:
The most critical question running through my mind over the last day is whether the Cardinals of the Church realized that in electing Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope, that he would evoke such a reaction in many of us Catholic faithful?

Did the Cardinals intend to piss off millions of lay Catholics, and if so, why?

It would not surprise me in the least if the number of pissed off Catholics is in the range of 500,000,000 (literally half the Church).

On the other hand, if the number is smaller, I am convinced this is largely because many people are not paying enough attention to the Church to know who Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is.
His most critical question is, did the cardinals mean to piss him off? If half a billion people are not as pissed off as he is, it's largely because they're too ignorant. (Recall also the "To the best of my knowledge" in his gracious admission that the Pope may not literally be a Fascist.)

Even taking this as reflecting how he feels and not how he thinks, it's a remarkable act of self-aggrandizement. "The papal election is all about me. I am the proper measure of literally half the Church." It continues into his concluding words of reassurance and advice for the Holy Father:
Having got this off my chest, I already feel a little more open to allowing you a chance to earn our trust. Please look to Christ and imitate him!
I've spent the last three days urging charity and understanding toward Catholics whose guy Pope Benedict XVI is not. That can be easier to do in the abstract than in the concrete.

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"Venera You Siblings Cardinals!"

Okay, I don't know much about Romanitas or Bavarian etiquette, but I hope Babelfish is losing something in the translation of the Pope's speech to the most eminent gentlemen cardinals present in Rome.

Although I do empathize with Pope Benedict's "intimate need of Hush."

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Just how Internet savvy is he?

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First fruits can be sour

Boot-licking Vatican toadies like myself are generally even-keeled, but we really come into our own during papal transitions. Whoever emerges from the conclave, he's our guy. Whatever he stakes out at his priorities, we're with him. From his first hundred days to his last, we've got his pontifical back.

But Pope Benedict XVI is not everybody's guy. There are many Americans who, immediately upon hearing the news of his election, publicly expressed how much they despise him. They may have disagreed, even passionately, with the blessed John Paul II, but most of them observed some modicum of decency in discussing him personally. They feel no such restraint regarding Pope Benedict.

I think it is instructive to ask why this is. Why the hate and venom for a pope who, as pope, hasn't actually done anything yet?

Let me suggest two causes.

First is the sine qua non that many people, even many non-attentive non-Catholics, have heard of Cardinal Ratzinger. Following what on this blog will be called the Will Rogers Effect, all they know of him is what they've read in the newspapers, and what they've read in the newspapers is that he's a cold-hearted villain who hates everyone who isn't a celibate old man in a dress and hates everything that has happened since 1192.

(The related question of why this is what the newspapers have written is an interesting one, but I'll leave that aside for now.)

Well, I don't want a cold-hearted, hate-filled villain as Pope, either. And when you combine that pseudo-knowledge with the obsessive compulsion to loudly express opinions about everything as soon as they happen, it is understandable that a great deal of dismay has already been expressed in the forty hours since Pope Benedict XVI was introduced.

But there is another cause of the disgust and hatred directed at the Holy Father, and one that bears much consideration.

I frankly don't believe many self-described liberal Catholics hated and feared the thought of Cardinal Ratzinger becoming Pope just because he was hard-lined and inflexible. As has been observed many times, being hard-lined and inflexible is a trait that has been observed all across the theological and ecclesiological spectrum.

It's not the fact that hard lines were drawn that offends people, I'd say, but the fact of where Cardinal Ratzinger drew them. If the hard lines were drawn around the pet positions of liberal Catholics, liberal Catholics would welcome, indeed celebrate them (though perhaps a few words might be spared to regret the tone). I think this is apparent in the taunting some liberal Catholics have already engaged in, in reminding self-described conservative Catholics of what, as Cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI had to say about, for example, the war in Iraq.

What does this mean? If people hate Pope Benedict XVI because they hate where he draws his lines, and if he draws his lines around the Catholic faith, then they hate the Pope because he is Catholic. In other words, they hate the Catholic faith.

I regard this as a good fruit of Pope Benedict's papacy -- or, if you like, of the cardinal electors making the safe and easy choice. The masks are coming off, the indirection and equivocation are slipping away. People will continue out of habit to speak of "the Vatican" as the focus of their hatred and derision, but I expect it to become increasingly apparent to everyone that it is the Church herself -- note, herself, the Bride of Christ, not itself, the old foreign men in dresses -- that people hate and deride.

If so, then it will become increasingly necessary for Catholics to say to the opinion-makers, "If you hate my Church, should I accept what you say?," and for some Catholics, to say to themselves, "I hate my Church? Now what do I do?"

And those Catholics, non-dissenters and Ratzinger fans and boot-licking toadies, had better be prepared to help them answer their questions. If not, we will be the ones having much to answer for.

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"Why do they stay?"

Don't ask me. Ask them. They'll answer. Will you listen to their answer?

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A novena for the Holy Father

Once again, we are nine days away from the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena. A novena starting on April 21 would end on her feast day, which is also the day before the feast of St. Pius V. Either saint would be a fitting intercessor for a baby Pope.

Here is a simple novena to St. Catherine:
Heavenly Father, Your glory is in Your saints.
We praise Your glory in the life of the admirable St. Catherine of Siena,
Virgin and Doctor of the Church.
Her whole life was a noble sacrifice inspired by an ardent love of Jesus,
Your unblemished Lamb.
In troubled times she strenuously upheld the rights
of His beloved spouse, the Church.
Father, honor her merits and hear her prayers for each of us.
Help us to pass unscathed through the corruption of this world,
and to remain unshakably faithful to the church in word, deed, and example.
Help us always to see in the Vicar of Christ an anchor in the storms of life,
and a beacon of light to the harbor of your Love,
in this dark night of your times and men's souls.
Grant also to each of us our special petition...

(State your need here...)

We ask this through Jesus, your Son,
in the bond of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

One Our Father, One Hail Mary, One Glory Be.

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The Church I want

Thinking it over, I realize that I don't want the dissenters to leave. I don't want Catholics who think women should be priests to become Episcopalians. I don't think they're fools or liars if they stay in the Church.

I don't buy the notion of a smaller, therefore holier Church. Losing someone who thinks abortion should be legal doesn't make the Church holier. Believing contraception is immoral doesn't make anyone holy. More importantly, getting rid of people I think are preventing me from becoming holy won't make me holy.

Some people suggest that it is only by leaving the Church that some dissenters might be saved. That may be, but if you can't tell me which dissenters they are, then all we know for sure when one leaves the Church is that the Church is smaller and the dissenter is cut off from the fullness of life in Christ.

The Church I want has everybody. The dissenter, the indifferent, the Christmas-and-Easterer, the adulterer who abstains from adultery on Fridays for Lent... and me. Because the Church is Christ's, and Christ wants everybody. Can someone be His and still hate the pope or think all religions are equal? Maybe not in the end, but we aren't in the end. And if Christ is willing to put up with me until then, I'm willing to put up with them. And with you.

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To speak with His I

From the Pope's last homily as cardinal:
The Lord addresses these wonderful words to us: "No longer do I call you servants ... but I have called you friends" (John 15:15).... The Lord defines friendship in two ways. There are no secrets between friends: Christ tells us everything he hears from the Father; he gives us his full confidence and, with confidence, also knowledge. He reveals his face to us, his heart. He shows us his tenderness for us, his passionate love that goes to the folly of the cross....

The second element with which Jesus defines friendship is the communion of wills. "Idem velle -- idem nolle," was also for Romans the definition of friendship. "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). Friendship with Christ coincides with what the third petition of the Our Father expresses: "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
When I've thought of Jesus' statement, "You are my friends if you do what I command you," I've always thought of it as a condition or a promise or a covenant: "The party of the first part will fulfill the commandments of the party of the second part (see appendix); the party of the second part will invite the party of the first part to inherit the kingdom prepared for the party of the first part from the foundation of the world."

But that's not really it, is it -- at least, it's not all there is. In a sense, all Jesus is doing here is making an observation. Since what Jesus commands us to do is to love as He loves, if we do this it follows that we have the same love Jesus has, and two people with the same love are by definition friends. Jesus isn't so much promising to become our friend; He's pointing out the means by which we necessarily are His friends.

As the Pope pointed out in his homily, that definition of friendship is not unique to Christianity. What is unique to Christianity, the real promise Jesus is making, is that it is possible for us, fallen and sinful as we are, to love as He loves, to love with His very Spirit, and so to be joined through the God-made-Man with the One Father of All.

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An outside view

From Camassia:
I don’t know what the name Benedict means to Catholics, but it somehow just conveys something totally different to me than the name Ratzinger. It’s almost as if The Rock renamed himself Boopsie.

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In the clear light of dawn

A few thoughts on Day 2 of Pope Benedict XVI's reign:
  • I hope this papacy will see the end of the institutionalized "wait till the next pope" attitude, the false hope, based on an improper distinction between "the Vatican" and "the Church," that Catholic doctrine will change. Obviously, I want people to believe what the Church teaches, but too many Catholics don't seem to even believe that the Church teaches what she teaches. The more people see things as they really are, the better, for the individuals and for the Church.
  • It's a safe (and, I think, non-excommunicatable) bet that Pope Benedict will disappoint many people. The "wait till the next pope" people, obviously, but also the "it's a bird, it's a plane, it's SuperPope" people. My hope for the SuperPope wishers is that they learn from the Holy Father, and not merely approve of him. When he does something conservative Catholics don't expect or don't like -- and perhaps, more importantly, when he doesn't do something they want -- I hope they ask themselves whether he has something to teach them in this, instead of simply dismissing it with, "Well, he can't do everything," or, "Nobody's perfect."
  • Speaking of bets, the over-under on number of years till the blessed John Paul is canonized must have dropped to about 0.35.
  • I suspect Pope Benedict XVI is destined for the fall and rise of many opinions of the blessed John Paul's papacy, that people will have to confront the question of how superficial their admiration of the late Pope was.
  • I will admit that, the instant I saw Pope Benedict XVI coming out onto the balcony, my first thought was, "He looks a little sad to be taking his good friend's place." Probably mostly a matter of me imputing to him my own feelings.
  • We shall soon see, perhaps, whether the common wisdom about the conflict between Cardinals Ratzinger and McCarrick last summer over giving the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians was correct. In July, Cardinal McCarrick turns 75 and submits his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI.
  • Speaking of which, Cardinal McCarrick's statement on Pope Benedict XVI's election is here.
  • Are we going to go with "Pope Benedict XVI" in informal speech and writing, or just "Pope Benedict"? Somehow a "II" seems easier to slip in than an "XVI." Just a matter of habit, perhaps.
  • Finally, Spiritual Depth Charges, while indeed celebratory, do not readily admit to excessive consumption, at least not among those old enough to remember the last papal election.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The wrong foot

One thing that has marred this day on which the Universal Church has been given a new Holy Father is the ugliness of many commenters who gleefully await the insufficiently pure's public repudiation of their membership in that same Church.

That is wickedness. It is the fruit of a sinful heart, and deserves rebuke.

When the spiteful discover their acclaimed hero does not share their spite, they will lose either their spite or their hero. We should pray it is their spite they lose, and soon.

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"He’s the whole package"

So says Fr. Augustine DiNoia, OP, about his former boss Benedict XVI. (And who's to say he won't be working directly for him again?)

Meanwhile, the Dominican Province of St. Joseph's student brothers seem to have taken the news in good spirits. Those Summit nuns, however, haven't fully settled down yet.

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Habemus scopum

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To celebrate

Spiritual Depth Charge

1 oz. Benedictine, in shot glass
12 oz. Bavarian lager, in beer mug

Drop shot glass into beer mug. Drain mug.

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Pope Benedict XVI

Good for him! Good for the Church! Ad multos annos, Papa!

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Monday, April 18, 2005

All the news that fits their point of view



(Idea stolen from Jay Anderson.)

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TIA

Does anyone know the process for choosing a new pope?

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"Will you marry her?"

As an experiment, let me extract from a fine post on the religious vocation at Moniales OP, and make a few substitutions (indicated by underline):
A call to married life is about answering the Shepherd's invitation. It is about saying YES with the entirety of ones life. It is responding to the call to become like Christ Crucified in self-sacrificing love. A vocation is about love: Christ's unconditional, total love for us and our response to Him. What matters is this exchange of love. Everything else: the "where", the "what" will follow if we first respond in love.

The question we often get is, "Mister, but how did you know?" Just as each vocational call is personal and unique the "knowing" is pretty much the same. Very few, if any, of us were thrown down to the ground and heard a voice from heaven. For some, there was an immediate inner assurance the moment they first met their spouse. For others there was a struggle but the key is that each one of us in married life had to respond to the grace to give a courageous YES, often not knowing what that YES would mean but knowing that I could and must trust the One who loved me so much He was extending this invitation.

And it IS an invitation. Too often, men and women spend all too much time not moving forward because, "I don't know if this is God's will." Discerning a vocation from that angle implies that a vocation to the married life is not an invitation but a command. It also can be a way of avoiding taking the next step, a way of putting off my response. One need only to look at Mary at the Annunciation as the model for responding to God's invitation. Gabriel was anxious for Mary's response and St. Bernard in one of his sermons tells Mary to make haste: the whole world is waiting for its Saviour!

Christ, too says to you, Make haste! I am waiting for your love. I am waiting to give you Myself. I am waiting to give you souls so that together we can lead them to the Father. Nothing gives the Good Shepherd greater joy than when we hear his voice and follow him!
Hmm. Not a perfect fit -- marriage and religious life aren't interchangeable, like the blue and red cars in The Game of Life -- but there is stuff there that might be profitably preached to married Catholics who, life the fellow who didn't realize he spoke prose, don't realize they are living out their Christian vocation.

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Watch your language

While listening to a homily today on Christian vocations, I had a thought about a semantic indicator of how little American Catholics accept the notion of marriage as vocation.

Suppose a priest breaks his vows or in some way scandalizes the faithful. We would say he has "betrayed the priesthood." If a married man breaks his vows, however, we would say he has "betrayed his wife," perhaps "betrayed his marriage," but I don't think we would say he has "betrayed Christian marriage" itself. Doesn't that suggest we regard marriage as, yes, something blessed by the Church and with obvious public consequences, but also as essentially a private matter between the married couple?

Then, too, failure and success in a priestly vocation is seen as intimately affecting the Church in a way that failure and success in a married vocation is not. We speak of "the priesthood" in a way we never speak of "the married;" we speak of priest failing the Church in a way we never speak of married persons failing the Church.

We even judge the priesthood in a way we never judge the laity. Not that lay Catholics as a class are loath to judge each other, but I've never heard anyone say, "I really hope my son doesn't want to be a layman when he grows up. They're all adulterers."

I think the things we say and don't say indicate that we haven't completely torn down the priesthood yet. But we've got a long way to go to build up marriage to bring it into proportion even with the sorry stature of the priesthood in this post-Scandal era.

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Friday, April 15, 2005

Rigorism

In a wide-ranging discussion about sterilization, the relevance of silence, and rigorism vs. laxity, Kevin Miller writes:
The burden of the Church's rejection of rigorism is that if there's a solid probability that something is ok, then doing it is definitely not sinful. Period. It might not be the best or "safe" option. But by definition - unless you're a rigorist - when there's such a probability, one can't say that one knows that the action is objectively wrong, and if one doesn't know that something's objectively wrong, then doing it can't be sinful (for an act to be sinful, the act not only has to be wrong, but has to be capable of being known to be wrong).
This is true, but, since I think I was the one who introduced the term "rigorist" into the discussion (Zippy seems to prefer "scrupulosity" to "rigorism"), let me distinguish between rigorism as condemned by the Church, rigorism as I used the term, and what I think Zippy's position is.

Rigorism as condemned by the Church is, as Kevin points out, the position that, if any doubt about the morality of an act exists, the act is illicit for everyone. Rigorism as I used it below is the personal choice to refrain from the act whenever any doubt about the morality of an act exists; this concept has not only not been condemned by the Church, it is celebrated by many approved spiritual writers. (Obviously, a personal choice to refrain in the presence of doubt may be in conflict with a moral duty to act, in which case the condemnation of rigorism would mean I must set aside my personal rigorism.)

I don't think Zippy has either of these ideas in mind, though. If I'm not misreading him, his argument is not, "Since there is not certainty, the act is illicit," but, "The act is illicit." This is not rigorism of any kind, but the conclusion of an argument that may or may not be sound.

I'd further say that, "The act may be illicit, so don't do it," isn't rigorism either, but generally good spiritual advice. It's only (I think) when you get to, "The act may be illicit, so it is illicit," that you get to a condemned position.

Finally, I'd modify Zippy's formula, "If you don't know whether or not scrupulosity/rigorism is a good idea for you, it is a good idea for you," to, "A little more personal rigor often leads to a little more personal virtue."

Update: Zippy corrects me:
Well, my position is not "the act is illicit". I am undecided on that question, actually.

My position is "the arguments that the act is licensed are unsound".
In which case, there are two questions, and I may not be putting this correctly: Is the act moral? Is the act licit (i.e., can I do the act)?

The first question looks at the objective nature of the act, and in the absence of definitive Church teaching, different people may come up with different answers. Equivalently, one person may come up with different arguments, none of which is indisputable, that arrive at different conclusions.

Now, if the arguments that "yes, the act is moral" are reasonable and not refutable -- if, say, they're based on premises or judgments that we can't know are true or false, but that have a strong probability of being true -- then the answer to the second question, "Is the act licit?," is, "Yes." (More precisely, "Sure, if you're a stinking probabilist, which the Holy Spirit has not yet seen fit to have the Church anathematize.")

The tricky thing, I suppose, is making sure that you don't let your answer to the second question determine your answer to the first. That is, you can't say, "If it's possibly moral, then it's licit. So it's possibly licit, so it's possibly moral."

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Unintended relativism

Zippy draws attention to what he calls ultramontane moral relativism, the
claim that certain moral matters are settled just because the Church has not said anything about the matter…

Our only moral duties, in the view of the ultramontane moral relativist, are those things explicitly required of us by the Magisterium.
He is right to distinguish between what is morally licit and what the Church does not say isn't morally licit. In fact, "moral facts exist objectively and [the Church] reveals ([only] some) of them to us authoritatively." This goes to why what I call virtue-based morality is better than rule-based morality: a man of virtue can operate in areas where there are no rules.

Then, too, authoritative Church teaching on specific moral acts can be a slippery thing. The Church teaches, not just through doctrinal letters, but through liturgy, through custom, through canon law. Even when the Church does give an authoritative doctrinal position on some matter, this usually follows a period in which individual moral theologians and pastors propose various theological and pastoral analyses of the matter, and the prudent Catholic does not ignore these for want of an "authoritative Church teaching."

Now let me qualify all this by suggesting that, if the Church has not spoken on the morality of a particular act, that fact may be included in one's prudent reasoning on whether that act is moral. If "everyone does it," and the Church has not condemned it, that may be evidence that doing it is moral. It doesn't prove it, of course, and the "it" that everyone does may even be moral for most people in most situations yet immoral for me in my particular situation.

Still, Christian freedom includes freedom from scrupulosity and legalism. As part of one's spiritual discipline, one may choose to be a rigorist -- to refrain whenever absolute certainty is not assured -- in matters not bound by explicit Church doctrine, but rigorism is not demanded of us.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Handicapping the conclave

There are three rules of betting that must never be broken: never bet more than you can afford to lose; mortal locks aren't; and, most importantly, never bet against your team.

Since my bishop will be returning from the conclave a cardinal, I won't be betting on who will be the next pope. As a service to others, however, I offer the following, admittedly sketchy, gracing form:
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, currently 80-1: Everyone discounts him because he's an American. A more sound reason is this: the conclave is going to want a visibly happy Pope, and Cardinal McCarrick would never be happy traveling as little as a Pope does.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 6-1: I'd hold out for longer odds. My guess is, after twenty-some years, "Si, Papa," are not the words more than 78 cardinals can't wait to say to him.

Christopher Cardinal Shoenborn, 25-1: Tempting, but steer clear. We get the bishops we deserve, and who really believes the Romans have been good enough to deserve a Dominican?

Marc Cardinal Ouellet, 80-1: I've heard nothing but good things about him, but with 20 Italian cardinals and 11 American cardinals, I just can't like the chances of someone who is French and Canadian.

Agostino Cardinal Cacciavillan, 125-1: All's I'm saying is, he's getting worse odds than the archbishop who got married in a Moonie mass wedding.

Godfried Cardinal Daneels, 20-1: Belgium? Yeah, I know, Poland. But seriously, Belgium?

Giacomo Cardinal Bertollini, 33-1: This Italian cardinal doesn't actually exist, but he'd be a good bet if he did. Ordinarily, an Italian would be a mortal lock. The question is, which Italian? A question no English speaking person can answer, since all we know about any of the Italian cardinals is what Sandro Magister has decided to tell us.

Claudio Cardinal Hummes, 7-1: There are two reasons why he's worth considering. First, how cool would it be to have a betting chit proving your money was on some Brazilian guy no one has ever heard of? Second, betting on him would be a vicarious participation in the unbelievable party Brazil would throw if you won.

Francis Cardinal Arinze, 3-1: The favorite, which according to common wisdom means he doesn't stand a chance. But if he doesn't stand a chance, then he's the favorite. Which seems to prove that his election would be a logical contradiction.
Please note, this post is for gambling purposes only. I am saying nothing about the personal sanctity or worth of any of these men.

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Iconology 101

In a series of comments below, Han Ng presents a primer on icons from an Eastern Christian perspective. Since comments eventually disappear, and Han's comments should not be allowed to disappear, I am reposting them with some light editing, pasting together responses to other comments.


Whether one wants to make use of the real grace that flows from an icon or whether one imagines that one's theosis is already complete is not really the issue with regard to icons. Similarly, whether someone improperly venerates an icon is neither here nor there.

The real issue is the truth that every orthodox Christian must affirm the appropriateness, even necessity, of iconography because the condemnation of the icon is an implicit denial of the Incarnation of Christ, and a de facto slide into gnostic manicheanism. We believe that the Second Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity truly became man -- the humanity of Christ was not simply a cover, or a shell; it was not an illusion, but rather Jesus' humanity was essential to His person. Inasmuch as God condescended to assume our flesh, He chose to glorify His own image -- for man was created in the image and likeness of God. Moreover, by his Transfiguration on Tabor and Ascension to heaven, Christ transfigured creation and demonstrated that the flesh is not some evil encumbrance that the "true" man must escape (the gnostic and manichean view), but rather an essential part of the human person.

If one truly loves God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, one must love Him with his body -- not only with one's mind, and one's heart, but with one's eyes, and nose, and tongue. Furthermore, one must love God's body. While this is especially true in the Holy Eucharist, the Eucharist is hidden under the appearances of bread and wine. It is by love of the icon of Christ that one demonstrates to himself his love for the body -- the person -- of Christ. Similarly, God has deigned to glorify His saints, making them His agents in His Kingdom, and our brothers and helpers on earth. God has transfigured and glorified their bodies, and so who are we to contradict God by rejecting the icons of his saints?

The veneration of saints through their icons does not take away from God. God is, in His essence, a community of Persons. One's relationship with God, then, is not perfect unless one's private relationship is complemented by a relationship with the rest of God's family -- His Church. We have seen that God brings salvation through other people. Did He not take flesh from the Virgin? Did He not reveal Himself to the world at the hands of the Forerunner in the Jordan? Did he not send His apostles to preach the Kingdom and perform miracles? Is the commandment to love one's neighbour as oneself not as great as the commandment to love God with all one's heart? It is only by loving other people that we love God. If we imagine that our communion with others takes away from our communion with God, we might not really love God, but rather we use God for our own purposes. If one cannot give oneself to one's spouse, or brother, or neighbour, whom we can see, how can one give oneself to God whom we cannot? If we cannot love the saints, whom God has glorified, how can we love He who glorifies?

[T]he veneration of icons of God and His saints is not peripheral to the proper worship of God, but rather it goes to the heart of the matter. For this reason, the Church makes the first Sunday of Great Lent the Sunday of Orthodoxy, when we sing the kontakion: "No one could describe the Word of the Father, but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos, He accepted to be described, and restored the fallen image to its former state by uniting it to divine beauty. We confess and proclaim our salvation in word and images."



… [The use of icons] is about affirming the dogmatic truth of the Incarnation -- not as some sort of myth, some sort of metaphor, or some sort of philosophy, but as a real historical event. One can look on creation and either see divinity everywhere (and be a pantheist) or look on creation and see the handiwork of God everywhere (and be a Jew). However, except for in the icon, nothing one can see affirms the dogma that the unoriginate God became created.

…[I]deal forms, for Plato, were unapproachable, and the best man could do was long for this ideal and attempt to possess it… This Neo-Platonic eros falls short of Christian agape, because the Unapproachable in historical fact made Himself imminent -- a fact that St. Paul noted was "foolishness to the Greeks." If one is a Hellenist, the quality of the icon is relevant to the truth, since the Ideal is unapproachable, the best one can do is get as close as possible through brilliant execution. For the Christian, however, the quality of execution, while important, does not affect the dogma.

Quintessentially, icons are not aids to prayer or channels for grace (they are, but these are secondary); rather, icons are a confession of faith.

… While the veneration of icons may be an optional part of any particular person's piety, it is not an optional part of the Faith. In other words, if one goes into church and sees someone make two small poklons before an icon, kiss the icon, then another small poklon and thinks "that's weird" (many Latins have this feeling when they go into an Orthodox church), that is fine; however if one sees the same thing and thinks "that's wrong," then one either is ignorant of the dogmatic teachings of Nicea II, or one knows, but does not share the faith of the Universal Church.

As for the saints, we venerate them because God has glorified them. It is like attending someone's graduation ceremony -- the saints have completed the race, they are more alive than we, and they partake in the divine nature with a perfection that we have yet to achieve. We venerate them because the Kingdom of Heaven is not a wheel with a hub (God) to which every spoke (us) is connected without touching other spokes, but it is a family, in which our communion with God is inseparable from our communion with the saints (just as one cannot be the son of one's mother without also being the nephew of one's mother's brother). Moreover, we venerate the saints because, as participants of the divine nature, and being filled with the uncreated energies of God, we worship God though the veneration of His saints. By sharing His glory with the saints, God only increases His own, and by venerating His saints, we cannot but glorify God.

So if it is meet and right to venerate the saints, why should we venerate them in icons? We do so because we venerate the saints themselves, not their memories (although we do this too). Because we confess the resurrection of the body, and the transfiguration of this same body, it is proper to venerate the image of the saints' transfigured bodies. In this way, the veneration of an icon of a saint is both similar, and at the same time quite different from the veneration of the saint's relics, and both have their place. In relics, we recall the saint's memory and celebrate the saint's earthy life. Our closeness to the physical remains of the saint remind us that the saint was a real person, not a myth. In an icon, on the other hand, we see the saint's glorified body. We venerate the saint's present and eternal beatitude, and call to mind the joy for which we hope. In venerating the icon, we acknowledge that the Kingdom of Heaven is now, and that the saints are not dead, but alive forever now. This is why in the time of the old covenant, it was inappropriate to make images of dead persons -- even righteous persons. Before Christ, these righteous souls were not yet glorified, they were awaiting release from death in hell, but though His life-giving passion and glorious resurrection, Christ destroyed death by death and shattered the gates of hell. Those saints in their graves before Christ were translated to life and glory, and because hell can no longer hold men captive, those who die (in holiness) after the resurrection are also translated to life and glory. In venerating their icons, we confess our faith in the resurrection of the body, as well as glorify those whom God has glorified, though the symbols connected with them.



… I agree that some might take their iconodulia a bit too far, but this does not appear to be a widespread danger today. I also find it interesting that accusations of idolatry get directed towards the Roman Church today (I guess the Orthodox are too few, or too remote, for anyone to care). I cannot remember who it was, but some Roman Catholic, in response to such an accusation, replied, "Don't you know? We worship felt banners now." From an Eastern perspective, the veneration of icons by Latins, even before the felt banner era, seems rather restrained. There is no widespread kissing of icons in the West (to my knowledge), and icons are not treated as a necessary part of church architecture or liturgical worship. Indeed, … it seems that Latins pray with icons as a sort of lecto divina -- a springboard for meditation and prayer, whereas in the East, we pray with icons by praying in the presence of icons. Since real grace flows from the icon because the saint (or Christ Himself) depicted is spiritually present in the icon… praying in front of the icon is more like wearing the Miraculous Medal.
The icons in this post are taken from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America's Icon Gallery.

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Friday, April 08, 2005

All over but the shouting

I'm with Kevin Miller. What was shown to two billion people today wasn't only a funeral Mass, it was also an act of canonization.

While waiting for the de jure to catch up with the de facto, I will refer to the late pope as the blessed John Paul.

Now to the novena.

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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Dogma is not a dirty word

There are two kinds of people in the world: the kind who realize they are dogmatists; and blockheads.

This editorial cartoon, with the title "Mixed Blessings...," is strong evidence that the cartoonist is a blockhead. That doesn't make him a bad person -- he seems to have a great deal of respect for the late Pope -- but his thinking on the matter of dogma is clearly muddled.



In Chesterton's well-known words, "Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas.... Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded." Someone who doesn't believe in dogma has nothing to teach us. Literally.

But criticizing the Catholic Church for being dogmatic is particularly foolish, because the Church doesn't merely accept that it's in her nature to be dogmatic, she revels in it. Being dogmatic is the Church's purpose, and therefore her glory.
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
If the Church weren't dogmatic, she would be nothing.

This, in turn, further compounds the foolishness of that cartoon. John Paul II didn't introduce dogmatism to the Church. It may be true that he reminded some that, without dogma, there is no Church; it may be true that some weren't happy to be told that. But their unhappiness wasn't with dogmatism as such, it was with the specific Catholic dogmas the Pope reminded them of, the same dogmas they've been dogmatically denying.

It may be noteworthy that the priests in the cartoon all appear to be middle aged or older and unhappy. Perhaps the cartoonist doesn't know any young or happy Catholic priests. Maybe he just needs to get out more.

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A self quiz

What kind of a Catholic are you? Find out now:
You see a friend at Mass and ask him how his trip to Italy went. He holds up a small glass case containing a mummified hand and says, "Meet Saint Giacomo Bertollini, a Seventeenth Century Benedictine." You reply:
A. "Nnnngggyyyaaauuuggghhhh!"
B. "Oh, please! And I suppose you're wearing the custom hairshirt from the Little Sisters of Torture?"
C."Wow! Shouldn't that be made available for public veneration?"
D."Cool! We need to process this through the streets. The Assemblies of God church down the street will absolutely freak!"
E. "Huh?"
Now check your answer:
A: You are a Protestant. Or a convert from Protestantism. Or English. At the very least, your grandmother wasn't raised in the Old Country.
B: You are a thoroughly modern Catholic. Your affectations would sit easier with others if you could talk about your faith for five minutes without shaking your world-wise head over Galileo.
C: You are a healthy, right-thinking Catholic. Incidentally, no, that mail-order cilice really isn't a good idea.
D: You are pious and overly devotional. But remember: sometimes weird is just weird.
E: You are an ordinary Catholic. Why are you reading this blog?

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Guests on the Bridge

Under the figure of the Bridge, St. Catherine of Siena identified three stages of the spiritual life, which can be differentiated by how the soul perceives God. The mercenary soul sees God as a severe judge whose punishments are to be feared. The free soul sees God as a benevolent provider of good things. The filial soul sees God as a loving Father.

There's another kind of soul, though, one apparently common today, which we might call the guest soul. This soul sees God as something of an indifferent host whose one concern is the pleasure of those he is hosting. From this perspective, whatever makes us happy in this life makes God happy, and God will see to it that we are even happier in the next life.

Where might the guest stage fit into St. Catherine's scheme?

One way to understand the progression she describes is as one of increasing knowledge of God. The mercenary soul's perception of God is not false so much as a half-truth. When she comes to perceive the Divine Mercy, she moves forward to serve God in freedom, and once she knows God as Father she no longer cares much for the consolations serving Him can bring.

From this perspective, the guest stage would seem to be at the very first step of the Bridge. It expresses some truth -- God exists, God desires our everlasting happiness -- but that truth is still coated in a great deal of muddy falsehood. God is not indifferent to our actions now, nor is our happiness in the next life unconditionally guaranteed.

Another view of St. Catherine's three stages is one of increasing love of God. "Imperfect" mercenary souls do not love God, they only fear Him. "More perfect" free souls do love Him, but more as the source of good things than for Himself. "Most perfect" filial souls love Him for His own sake.

As measured by love, guest souls seem to be a bit further along than mercenary souls. They do love God, or at least they would say they do, though it's perhaps more a matter of affection that imposes no obligations. At the very least, they see Him as lovable, if not to the fanatical degree of the filial souls.

What interested St. Catherine, though, was not descriptive taxonomy, but getting as many souls as possible across the Bridge and through the Gate of Heaven. Guest souls must come to a true understanding of the covenant God has made with them if they are to truly love Him rather than their false image of an indifferent host -- if, for that matter, they are to serve Him at all in this life.

So perhaps the guest stage can best be represented as a narrow spur that joins the Bridge partway across, a spur from which it is easy to fall or jump into the river of falsehood below.

And... so what? Is there a pressing need to extend a venerable but already unwieldy metaphor to accommodate this one variation of spiritual outlook I've thought of?

So two things. First, I think the position of a guest soul is more precarious than we (or, okay, I) often think of it as being. St. Catherine's Bridge has walls of stone and a roof, protecting those who walk along it from the rain of divine justice. Those who presume on God's benevolent neglect are by no means assured of that protection.

Second, St. Catherine suggests that every stage can be present within a single soul at the same time. If so, those of us who might consider ourselves safely on our way, however haltingly, across the Bridge should also consider whether some part of ourselves doesn't remain on this spur, or somehow back near the beginning where the guest stairs lie.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Passing on the keys

Fray Nelson Medina, a priest in Columbia, identifies nine keys to the papacy of John Paul II that, once recognized, make studying him "laborious but noncomplex."

The nine keys are: Christ as the true face of humanity; the intrinsic value of all human life, and therefore of the family; the bond between truth and freedom; the essential value of mercy for the health of the Church; reading the ministerial priesthood from the life of the parish; the value of suffering; Christian unity and interfaith unity; "a bet by youth" (again, Babelfish provides a translation that can't be improved upon); and the Marian motto, Totus Tuus.

Link via esperando nacer.

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Word choice

I've seen a couple recent examples of someone being called another person's "nemesis." I won't say that that word does not mean what the people who used it think it means; I will say that it shouldn't.

Nemesis is the Greek goddess of divine justice and vengeance. It should follow, then, that a nemesis be a person who deals justice to or wreaks vengeance upon a wrongdoer, with the added notes of implacability and relentlessness.

According to this usage, then, to say someone has a nemesis is to say that person is being pursued by another who will see to it that he pays for the wrong he has done. Saying, "He is my nemesis," would be a remarkably frank admission.

Merely implacable and relentless opposition to a person, though, isn't what characterized Nemesis, and so should not be what characterizes a nemesis. Perhaps "antagonist" or "adversary" would be the mot juste, or one might dust off "oppugnant" to signify hostility toward another not necessarily on equal footing.

Note, though, that I don't say how these words "ought" to be used. English is a descriptive language, and using "nemesis" to mean someone implacably and relentlessly opposed to another is well attested. In English, etymology doesn't and shouldn't prescribe meaning.

Still, I do say "should," because English is a descriptive language and it's a shame to lose the ability to describe something in a single word.

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The thought occurs

Is it possible that, despite all Pope John Paul II's efforts, relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church could grow no stronger as long as he was pope because of his role in bringing down Soviet communism? I don't know enough to criticize the Russian Orthodox hierarchy for what it did or did not do under the Communists, but I wonder whether John Paul might have in a sense signified a personal rebuke to them, or at least a comparison with them. Might we have had something of an "anybody but Nixon can go to China" situation, on the personal level?

Time will tell, I suppose, if more knowledgeable commenters do not.

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Brothers remember Papa

The student brothers at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, have put up a page of images and reflections on the life and death of Pope John Paul II. Included are pictures of the shrine the brothers arranged on an altar in the chapel.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The magnificent and the mean

St. Thomas, following Aristotle, identifies "magnificence" as a part of the virtue of fortitude:
...to do something great, whence magnificence takes its name, belongs properly to the very notion of virtue....

Now magnificence agrees with fortitude in the point that as fortitude tends to something arduous and difficult, so also does magnificence... Yet magnificence falls short of fortitude, in that the arduous thing to which fortitude tends derives its difficulty from a danger that threatens the person, whereas the arduous thing to which magnificence tends, derives its difficulty from the dispossession of one's property... Wherefore magnificence is accounted a part of fortitude.
The vice opposed to magnificence is "meanness," in the old sense of being cheap:
... the magnificent man intends principally the greatness of his work, and secondarily he intends the greatness of the expense, which he does not shirk, so that he may produce a great work... On the other hand, the mean man intends principally to spend little.... As a result of this he intends to produce a little work, that is, he does not shrink from producing a little work, so long as he spends little.
Magnificence is a virtue because it embraces the means proportionate to the end it seeks of doing something great. Meanness is a vice because it allows its end to be determined by the means of spending little.

Would you say that Pope John Paul II was magnificent? In other words, did he seek to do something great without shirking the cost of doing it?

In contrast, I can only regard the responses of certain Catholic organizations, including organizations of consecrated life, to his death as literally mean, as products of a desire to spend little time or effort remembering him.

If such is the case, if these statements "of poor shabby inferior quality or status" and "worthy of little regard" are, not hasty and temporary placeholders until something more thoughtful and considered can be produced, but as good as they will ever trouble themselves to make over the likes of him, then it might have been better for them to have said nothing. The lack of any statement is more charitably explained than the endurance of a shabby one.

In some ways, even an aggressive rebuttal to claims of Pope John Paul II's magnificence might have been better. Catholics aren't obligated to be fond of a pope, and a forthright lack of tact can be preferred to a grudging work of meanness.

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I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did

I said I didn't know.

The following was proposed as a question for Disputations, but the answer won't come from me:
When we pray for the Holy Father's intentions, during the Rosary or for an Indulgence, for what intentions do we pray when the Holy Father is dead and a successor is yet to be chosen?

John Paul II's current intentions in heaven? His intentions before he died? The intentions of the Cardinals now running the Vatican? The intentions of the next Pope? All of the above?

And what does this tell us about the nature of the papacy and its relationship to the church?

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Monday, April 04, 2005

Receptum est in recipiente per modum recipientis

There's nothing quite like the death of a man whose life and work far outstripped all of his commentators to bring home the truth of the old principle that what is received is received according to the mode of the receiver.


Weighing his legacy.


When people say Pope John Paul II doesn't fit into the usual "conservative" or "liberal" categories, the lack of fit isn't due to his shape, but to his size.

You can't encompass his full breadth and depth in a newspaper article, public statement, or television interview. All of these, then, are in a sense confessional commentary. What people select of the Pope's legacy to discuss is less a reflection on the Pope than it is on the selectors themselves.

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Whiplash

We had to hurry up and finish the Christmas cookies before Ash Wednesday, then came a Holy Week where suffering and death was the top story, then two sequential Easter Octave death watches. My church's sanctuary yesterday was a cacophony of symbols: Easter lilies and a Divine Mercy lithograph and a portrait of the Pope and the Vatican Flag and there in front the Paschal candle still tall enough to last a year.

And behind it all, the tabernacle.

Then today comes a word spoken so softly and so privately that it's no wonder if it goes unheard. We return to the beginning, to the source of everything else; and rather than being a respite during Lent, it strikes an unexpectedly unexpected note in a sorrow-filled season of joy:

"Be it done to me according to thy word."

This feast is not called the Conception, or the Incarnation, or the Divine Irruption. One of the greatest Marian feasts, it's not named for anything the Blessed Virgin did. Strictly speaking, it's not even named after anything God did. We make a big deal, and rightly so, over the fact that, through Mary, God in effect asked permission of mankind to save mankind, and the fact that Mary's fiat is the means by which salvation has come. But we don't call this feast the Request, or the Acceptance.

Instead, the feast is named for perhaps the least consequential part of the whole story: Gabriel's speech.
"Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God."
If you read this, though, you might notice two things: God isn't really asking Mary to allow this, He's telling her what will happen; and nothing is said (beyond the elliptical name "Jesus") about the salvation of mankind.

And yet, we understand. We understand that Mary's acceptance of God's plan is also her permission. We understand that, when the holy Son of God is born into the world, He will not stop short of saving the world. We understand because these points are central to our faith.

Daily, though, are angels sent from heaven to tell us of the birth of the Son of the Most High, and that of His kingdom there will be no end. Listening daily to these annunciations, in silence and privacy, and answering daily, "I am the Lord's servant," we form ourselves in Mary's likeness, we conceive Christ within us, and we become bearers of the Word Incarnate to a world already but not yet saved.

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By evening it withers and fades

My wife and I are in the midst of reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to our children, two chapters at a time. Saturday night's first chapter was "The Triumph of the Witch."

This chapter, you may recall, features all the wicked creatures of Narnia taking their best shots at Aslan. But the terrified young girls watching them in hiding can't help but see how cowardly and shabby their best shots are.

This scene comes to mind as I read some of the jeering commentary by small-souled persons who seem to count it a great personal triumph that they did not die before Pope John Paul II. You may be angered or upset by their antics, but I think it would be better to regard their pettiness as an inverse measure of the greatness of this Pope and the Church he served.

And, if you've read the book, you may draw some comfort from what happens in the next chapter, "Deeper Magic from Before the Beginning of Time."

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

An elephantine papacy

Five men met at a candle rack in the cathedral.

"I am lighting a candle for the soul of a philosopher and theologian," the first man said. "A great light of learning has gone out of the world."

The second man said, "I am lighting a candle for the soul of an advocate for the poor. A great light of justice has gone out of the world."

The third man said, "I am lighting a candle for the soul of someone who held all mankind close to his heart. A great light of love has gone out of the world."

The fourth man said, "I am lighting a candle for the soul of a crusader for life. A great light of wisdom has gone out of the world."

The fifth man said, "I am lighting a candle for the soul of a holy man. A great light of sanctity has gone out of the world."

The five men lit their candles and went home, privately wondering who the others were praying for.

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Friday, April 01, 2005

Nolite Timere!

At a time like this, we all share according to our means.

In a pousse cafe glass, layer the following from bottom to top:
  • Grenadine; red represents the martyrs' witness to the Gospel.
  • Blue Curacao; blue is the color of Our Lady.
  • Whipping cream, the papal white of purity.
  • Polish vodka, representing clarity of vision.
Drink it with a hearty "Vivat Papa!" and plenty of nolitetimery, or absence of fear.

UPDATE: If you combine 1/2 oz. each of grenadine, blue curacao, heavy cream, and vodka in a shaker with crushed ice, shake and strain into cocktail glasses, you get a drink that looks and tastes like black raspberry ice cream. Let's call this drink a Duc in Altum.

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The Bridge

In The Dialogue, St. Catherine of Siena gives us an extraordinary, elaborate image of Jesus as a Bridge that "stretches from heaven to earth," from "the most high to the most lowly." This Bridge, built when Jesus was crucified, is the only way for man to reach the Father.



The Bridge is lined with walls, built of "stones of true solid virtue" held together by mortar tempered by Jesus' blood. The walls, along with "a roof of mercy," protect the traveler from "the rain of divine justice."

At the far end of the bridge is a gate through which one enters the Father's presence; the key to this gate is Jesus' blood.

"The way beneath the Bridge is not the way of truth but of falsehood." There flows a river which none can cross, although many try; those who do not give up and return to the Bridge drown and are lost.

The Bridge encompasses three sets of stairs, to which St. Catherine gives a complex and heavily-layered meaning. Fundamentally, though, the Bridge represents Christ Crucified and the three stairs are different parts of His crucified Body.








First StairSecond StairThird Stair
Corresponds to...
Christ's nailed feet
His side and heart, opened by a spear
His mouth
Where the soul is...
stripped of sin
dressed for virtue
tasting peace
Power of the soul represented:
Will: "Once desire is stripped of selfish love, you rise above yourself and above passing things."
Understanding: The "enlightenment of the mind... sees itself reflected in the warm-hearted love I [the Father] have shown in Christ Crucified."
Memory: You "find peace and quiet, for memory is filled with My [the Father's] love and no longer empty... it is filled with Me, and I am all good."
Divine Person represented by the power of the soul:
Holy Spirit
Son
Father
Level of the soul's perfection:
imperfect or mercenary
more perfect or free
most perfect or filial
The soul acts through...
Slavish fear: "When they see the penalty that must follow upon their sin, they climb up and gather together their powers"; thy serve "only for fear of punishment."
Love for a good master: "They serve Me with love," but it "is imperfect, for they serve Me for their own profit or for the delight and pleasure they find in Me."
Love of a child: They "serve Me without regard for their own interest... I will love them as My children, because with whatever love I am loved, with that love I respond."
Can fail through...
fear of suffering through discipleship
laxity in service
abandoning prayer
Can advance to the next stair by...
thinking on the Divine mercy
dwelling in the cell of self-knowledge



There's a lot to this, obviously. Here I'm just trying to get the overall structure of the image down. I hope to write more on this later.

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En verite il est ressuscite!

"Christ has died," we say, but, "Christ is risen."

"As to His death, He died to sin once and for all," St. Paul teaches. "As to His life, He lives for God."

Christ's Resurrection is not a one-time event, something that happened early one morning long ago. It is enduring, ongoing, eternal, always present. He is the Lamb that was slain.

The language of Scripture, the language of the Church, reveals that Christ's life is not merely a resumption or continuance of the life He lived before His death. It is an everlasting life-from-death. Yet, somehow, it is also the eternally begotten Life from Life.

In the "mystery of faith," those words we recite by rote memory at Mass, lies a proclamation of Christ's unending triumph over death, and also of our own destiny, and even of the hidden life of the Trinity itself.

"I AM the Resurrection," Jesus tells Martha. "Do you believe this?"

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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Not a happy ending to a sad story, but the beginning of a new story

scandalofparticularity quoted some Easter words from Archbishop Rowan Williams. I like his observation (emphasis added) that the Resurrection stories, for all their "apparent confusion and unclarity," do make something clear:
that meeting Jesus of Nazareth is possible, ... and that if you do meet him, there is an influx of some vision and energy that takes you beyond your normal frame of reference.
Of course, Christians believe meeting Jesus of Nazareth is not just possible, it's inevitable. I wonder, though, how often and how much we believe it's possible to meet Him at any moment in this life, and how prepared we are to go beyond our normal frame of reference to accommodate Him.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Matins of the Resurrection

I received the following announcement by email:
Christ is Risen!

In the Byzantine Church, the first service of Easter (Pascha) begins with Matins. It is called the Service of Paschal Matins or Matins of the Resurrection. The text of this can be found at:

http://www.byzcath.org/faith/worship/matins-pascha.html

The Cantor institute of the Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh has just put online this recording (mp3s)of the Service of Paschal Matins (21 tracks):

http://www.metropolitancantorinstitute.org

The recording is entirely in English sung by the Schola Cantorum of St Peter the Apostle. If you want to get a sense of how the other "lung" of the Church celebrates Easter this would be a great introduction!
Indeed it is. There's even a PDF file of the Matins of Saint Thomas Sunday (i.e., next Sunday), which, the Cantor Institute says, "is one of the most beautiful services in our tradition; even if you do not celebrate it in church, we recommend that you sing/pray the service at home."

Oh, and while I'm looking to the East, here is a list of the Paschal Greeting -- "Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is risen!" -- in 59 languages. Just in case.

Eirgim!

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"Love you? I took you to a movie, didn't I?"

St. Catherine of Siena teaches us that most people go through a stage of loving God for the pleasure it gives them before they love God for Himself. For such people (have you ever met one?), God is a "useful good," the means to a desired end.

And God is not the only one treated as a useful good:
Do you know how you can tell when your spiritual love is not perfect? If you are distressed when it seems that those you love are not returning your love or not loving you as much as you think you love them.
I love that "as much as you think you love them." The difference between what we do and what we think we do can be great, which is why St. Catherine constantly preaches the need to dwell in the cell of self-knowledge.

We speak rather casually and knowingly, in a second-hand way, of the Dark Night of the Soul, in which God withdraws His consolations and we are left to love Him without evident profit or pleasure. Much less is said, though, about dark nights of the soul when another human whom we love withdraws their consolations. The exceptions are cases where the other is incapable of offering consolations, as when they are very ill or a teenager.

We might learn something about ourselves if we thought about what we would do if the person we love most in this life were to stop returning our love, or even love us less than we think we love them.

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To suffer is to be

In playing with the idea of the unbridgeable gulf between, on the one side, God and life and being and beauty and truth and goodness, and on the other side, sin and death and non-being and ugliness and falsehood and evil, and how without a positive choice for God -- by crossing the unbridgeable gulf on the Bridge of Christ's Passion -- you necessarily wind up mired in sin and death and ugliness and falsehood and evil, this thought occurs:

Only the living suffer. Where there is suffering, then, there is something on God’s side of the gulf.

A culture that has rejected Christ is on sin’s side of the gulf. As a sign of life, suffering is radically incomprehensible to that culture, which will consequently do all it can to drive suffering out. And, to efface this sign of life, what more obvious means, in a land of sin and death and non-being and ugliness and falsehood and evil, than death?

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Monday, March 28, 2005

Whose story now?

I think almost everyone would agree that the story of Terri Schiavo is a tragedy. What I don't get, then, is why it’s being told as a melodrama.

The key difference here is that, while a tragedy doesn't need one, a melodrama absolutely insists on a villain; the more villainous the better. And this story, if told a certain way, has a villain straight out of Central Casting: a murderous, cold-hearted, avaricious lecher, a master criminal who will never rest until all evidence of his fiendish crimes is destroyed.

While we're at it, we can throw in a few more stock villains -- the crooked judge and the devil's advocate -– to make the story more emotionally charged.

Meanwhile, those who support the objectively grave evil of preventing Terri Schiavo from receiving ordinary care tell a melodramatic tale with hypocritical politicians and lunatic anti-abortionists as the villains.

Now, it may be that some of those involved in this story are villains. I don't know enough to say for sure, and I don't think the vast majority of those who tell each other this story as a melodrama know enough, either. Nor will it do to say, "Just look at the facts;" it's not the facts, but the look that determines who the villain is.

If the role of villain is the key difference in telling a story as tragedy or melodrama, the key difference in hearing it is emotional response. A melodrama stirs up desire for heroic action, action the audience itself joins in, if only through cheers and hisses. We expect, perhaps even demand, a happy ending in which the heroine is rescued from the villain's clutches.

Seeing a tragedy, by contrast, is a much less active experience. The audience may suffer along with the protagonist, but there's no real hope for anything but defeat. You may be moved to fight against injustice, but how do you fight against bad luck?

It's easy to see why someone who wants people to take action when they hear his story would tell a melodrama, and I think we can accept that most people who present this story with villains do so in good faith. There are risks to this, however, that I'm not sure everyone who’s telling the melodrama appreciates.

For one thing, it puts the focus of a critical audience -– one willing to listen to what is said, but not prepared to accept everything that is said on the authority of the storyteller -– on secondary matters: Is this person a villain? How should I decide this? What if he isn't a villain? And what if he is? If the problem is a crooked judge, say, then there's no need to wonder whether the laws aren't rotten as well, and what to do about the former is a much different question than what to do about the latter.

Another risk is that it demands a large emotional response from the audience. If the audience is not prepared to make that response, the story has failed. And even if it is, will it be prepared when the next such story is told? Will it even listen the next time, particularly if this story does not have a happy ending?

Perhaps the biggest risk, though, is that looking at this case as a melodrama makes it difficult if not impossible to look at it as a tragedy. The fact that preventing a patient from receiving ordinary care is objectively immoral and always wrong gets lost in all the other facts and allegations. The impression may be that objective immorality by itself isn't enough to make an action wrong, if indeed a case for the objective immorality can get made without wandering into charges of villainy. Throwing in yet another argument when the ones you've already made don't convince your audience is an understandable impulse, but the result may be that your audience will never understand your first and most fundamental argument.

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The timing is out of joint

There is something utterly irrelevant about the meditations on Good Friday posted throughout St. Blogs, when read on Easter Monday.

Perhaps they should be reposted in a week or two, since most of us, Easter people though we be, are not yet entirely crucified.

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

The guarantee of your own resurrection

If you think you're happy about Jesus' Resurrection now, just wait! As St. Catherine records the Father saying in her Dialogue:
I have told you of the good the glorified body will have in the glorified humanity of my only-begotten Son, and this is the guarantee of your own resurrection. What joy there is in His wounds, forever fresh, the scars remaining in His body and continually crying out for mercy to Me, the high eternal Father, for you!

You will all be made like Him in joy and gladness; eye for eye, hand for hand, your whole bodies will be made like the body of the Word My Son. You will live in Him as you live in Me, for He is one with Me.

But your bodily eyes, as I have told you, will delight in the glorified humanity of the Word my only-begotten Son. Why? Because those who finish their lives delighting in My love will keep that delight forever.
And our everlasting delight will not merely be intellectual and emotional, nor even only spiritual. It will be in our bodies as well as our souls. And only then -- and then, forever -- will our Easter joy be complete.

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