instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What's in a name

When I read that Jim Manney, who blogs at People of the Book, included an essay by Rod Dreher in the Best Catholic Writing 2007 anthology he edited, I was mildly appalled.

Now, I understand that "Best Catholic Writing 2007" is Publishese for "A Collection of Things Written in 2007 or Thereabouts, Which Could in Some Sense be Categorized as 'Catholic,' and Which the Editor Really Liked and Thought Would, Taken Together, Make a Fine Collection." Jim indicates one important sense in which the selections could be categorized as "Catholic":
I included several Protestant and Orthodox writers because they write superbly with a sacramental, incarnational perspective that is properly called "Catholic."
So I wasn't bothered by the idea of non-Catholic writers being represented in the anthology.

But Rod Dreher isn't merely a non-Catholic writer. He is an anti-Catholic writer who for more than five years has gone out of his way to heap abuse on the Church and on those Catholics who did not join in his abuse.

As recently as yesterday, he took the opportunity offered by a scandal in his own Church, the Orthodox Church in America, to attack Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone by means of an attack on Bishop Gerald Frey, who retired seventeen years ago and died last week.

Just an inkstained journo doing his job and going where the story takes him? No; in the very same post, Rod writes that he "made a conscious prudential decision to keep [his] involvement with and concern in [OCA] church matters at arm's length." So scandal in the OCA is out of scope for his writing; scandal in the Catholic Church is, if no longer his bread and butter, at least good for leftovers.

It would do no one, least of all Rod, any good for him to do to the OCA what he has done and continues to do to the RCC. The choice he's made is certainly the lesser of two evils.

But it's just as certainly an evil. And to recognize him as, of all things, a Catholic writer, is simply perverse.

And in thinking about this, I find that I now am... well, still not bothered by the idea of non-Catholic writers in a book titled Best Catholic Writing, but in firm disagreement with that editorial decision.

I do agree that the presence of "a sacramental, incarnational perspective" can justify calling a piece of writing "Catholic," even if it's written by a non-Catholic. But calling a piece of writing "Catholic" and putting it in a book called Best Catholic Writing are two different things.

To my mind the former implies inclusion -- the idea "Catholic" encompasses the piece in some meaningful sense -- while the latter implies exclusion -- the idea "Catholic" encompasses the piece in a way contrary ideas like "Protestant" and "Orthodox" do not. The Orthodox are no strangers to a sacramental, incarnational perspective, so I'd say there ought to be some further criteria for including a piece written by an Orthodox.

(And yes, I know the Church would say that Orthodoxy's incarnational perspective is really the Catholic perspective, but this is a collection of popular writing, not a ecclesiological treatise.)

As a final point, there is not such a dearth of great writing by Catholics that an editor would have no choice but to turn to non-Catholics to fill out the collection. There would have been no appreciable falloff in the overall quality of the book had the choice been made to limit inclusion to pieces by Catholics. Not only would that have given more meaning to the collection (always recognizing that no subjective "best of" concept is all that meaningful), but it would also have given a small boost to the additional Catholic writers who would have been included. That seems like a good thing for a Jesuit apostolate like Loyola Press to do.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ave, Regina caelorum

On the Octave of the Assumption, the Church celebrates the Queenship of Mary.

As Queen of Heaven, Mary is Queen of the Nephos Marturon, the Great Cloud of Witnesses, which as you know includes both the Christian saints and their forebears in faith.

But Mary is no foreign queen imposed by force. She is, of course, the Mother of Christians; Catholics are used to that idea.

But she is also "the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel... the fairest honor" of Abraham's race, to quote an antiphon of the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is Mother of the Church and Daughter of Zion, the bridge that links the Old Covenant and the New, the one through whom the unity of the People of God is guaranteed.

Once God put His Plan B into motion, starting with those leather garments He made for Adam and Eve, He needed no new plans. Abraham, Moses, David, the calling of a people holy to the LORD: this was not for practice, the Angel Gabriel did not announce a divine mulligan to Mary at Nazareth. The coming of the Messiah was for the fulfillment and perfection of God's holy people, not for its abandonment or replacement. We're still on Plan B, not Plan C or even Plan B.1.

The patriarchs and the prophets of old are as much a part of our lineage, as much a part of the People of God, as are the Christian martyrs and Fathers. And Mary is the key -- or, if you prefer, the place where the two meet. Daughter of one, mother of another, in her queenship she makes both one. Through her, the faithful of the Old Covenant are able to have their faith made perfect, and we today are able to be joined by faith to the New Covenant.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Reeves and the Motu Proprio That Binds, cont.

My nerves were not soothed by MacDougal's new habit of ending his every remark with the words, "in jail."

"I can see, gentlemen, that you're all a bit soggy round the collar," I said soothingly. "But I can assure you that this sort of thing happens all the time."

Three pairs of eyes shot wide open, like school doors on the last day of term.

"That is to say," I added quickly," not all the time. Never, in fact."

"Look, Bishop --" MacDougal began.

"Except for today, of course," I added as a point of clarification.

"But one of your priests is in jail!"

"When you get down to it, you know, canonically and so forth, he's not really one of my priests."

The last day of term effect was repeated.

"He's sort of on loan, don't you know. The agency sent him round, in a manner of speaking. An expert on the old Missal, and all that. So naturally Monsignor DiPietro didn't know who he was."

"But he attacked him and had him put in jail!"

"Yes, well, you see, old Stinker DiPietro's a bit old fashioned. You can't just spring a chap like young Thos. on him and expect him not to counter with a left hook and a call to the lads at the station."

"I tell you, that old fellow's a madman! He should be locked away, not running a fine parish like St. Aldhelm's!"

"Ah, oh," I said with delicacy. "The former nuncio, you know."


"They're great friends. Knew each other in seminary, I gather." It was hard for me to imagine Cardinal Fratricidelli as a seminarian. My own days in seminary were passed mostly in paralyzing fear of dropping the heavy brass candlestick I carried in procession whenever a visiting archbishop offered Mass. Cardinal Fratricidelli might have squeezed a brass candlestick in two, but he would never have dropped one.

"In any case, the as-was nuncio had recommended Stinker for his current assignment." I passed a hand across the troubled brow. "They still keep in touch."



Life-changing books

Jackdaw that I am, I find any discussion on "a book or some few books that were life changing" irresistably bright and shiny. Shiniest nugget:
All of Emily Dickinson's poems can be sung to "The Yellow Rose of Texas."
Category: Too good to check


Monday, August 20, 2007

The roar of the cloud

While I'm on the subject, the Greek for "cloud of witnesses" warrants comment.

The phrase (modulo accents) is νεφος μαρτυρων, or nephos martyron.

We recognize the second word as the source for the English word "martyr," and we remember how the idea of being a witness to Christ became identified with the idea of being killed for one's faith in Christ (i.e., by correlation). That's the kind of faith God approves: not only is such a witness willing to shed blood, he is quite likely to be given the opportunity. (Little wonder two or three out of five family members aren't interested in it.)

This is the only appearance of the word nephos in the New Testament. Every other cloud is a nephele. I'm told that "nephele" denotes a single, distinct, bounded cloud, while "nephos" denotes a mass of cloud that fills the sky, which is why the NAB (following Douay-Rheims) translates the latter, not merely as "cloud," but "so great a cloud."

For practical purposes, then, the witnesses of faith who surround us are innumerable. They extend back in time, to the second son of Adam at the earliest, and out in all directions. They testify to faith in Christ in both word and deed. Catholics rightly think of this cloud as being around us in a particular way during Mass, but we would be wrong to think of them as not being around us always.


Fogged. At a loss.

When you hear these words at Sunday Mass:
Brothers and sisters:
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us....
The natural thinking is that this "cloud of witnesses" comprises the Christian saints in heaven.

But the pericope cuts out the first word of the verse, which is, "Therefore." I guess you can't very easily start a reading with, "Therefore," since it suggests you're boarding a train of thought in the middle.

In this case, Hebrews 12:1 is the middle of a train that begins back at Hebrews 11:1, the first word of which is, "Faith." Faith, in particular the faith of "the ancients" is the key to all of Chapter 11. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham -- Abraham above all -- Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Hebrews who followed him out of Egypt, Rahab: all are mentioned, and then in verse 32:
What more shall I say? I have not time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets....
If we put the end of Chapter 11 together with the beginning of Chapter 12, we can make sense of that "Therefore":
Yet all these, though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.
The "cloud of witnesses," then, refers to those who came before Christ, from Abel all the way down to St. John the Baptist (not named, but surely to be counted among the prophets who "went about in skins" and "wandered about in deserts").

What they give witness to is not the death and resurrection of Jesus for the salvation of the world, but, more simply, faith in God. An imperfect faith in God is, of course, a lesser thing than a perfect faith in God's Son, but for that very reason we who have received what had been promised must not be found less faithful than those who did not. Therefore, let us listen to their testimony and persevere.

Does this mean the expression "cloud of witnesses" doesn't also refer to the saints who came after Christ? Not at all. (I know; I had you worried there for a minute.) Their witness is no less relevant to those of us who have not yet finished running the race that lies before us.

But we should not forget the witnesses who came before Christ. They are as much members of the Church Triumphant as St. Peter or St. Francis of Assisi.


Friday, August 17, 2007

High tech pie crust

Elizabeth Lev has a good description of the hoohaw that arises whenever someone plays some meaningless computer games with an old painting or text (generally Leonardo, for some reason), then claims to have discovered its real meaning:
It seems like a high-tech version of seeing the Virgin Mary in a pie crust!
I wonder how many people there are who scoff at the holy pie crusts but eat up the digitized secrets with a spoon.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Reeves and the Motu Proprio That Binds, cont.

"It was the map, Reeves."

"The map, your Excellency?"

"Yes, the introduction of the map marked the point at which things went south." I took a healthy sip of bourbon and s. "Until that chap with the moustache pulled out his map, I thought young Thos. was going to pull it off."

"Did you indeed, your Excellency?"

I waved a defeated hand. "Yes, yes, Reeves. I know you were never under any such illusion yourself."

"It did seem, your Excellency, that you had lined yourself with hope. I have long been of a mind that, in a theme so bloody-faced as this, conjecture, expectation and surmise of aids incertain should not be admitted."

"'Bloody-faced' may be a bit strong, Reeves, but the lads of Latine Dictum sure meant business."

"Their interests are of a singularly focused nature, your Excellency."

I stood up to pace. "Still, I insist that we were ahead on points until that bally map came out. Young Thos. seemed to grasp what was required of him from the opening bell."

"Fr. Connaughton has proven himself quite adaptable, your Excellency."

"His suggestion of a Latin Mass aimed at circus and carnival workers caught us all by surprise, I think it's fair to say, but once they got their heads around it the Latine lads were all for it."

"It did hint, your Excellency, at a revision of scope in their planning."

I nodded. "Planning they certainly had. In spades. All those lists and petitions and documents. And then there was the map, which pushed our blasted extraordinary use coordinator over the edge."

"He did appear visibly stimulated, your Excellency."

"And well he might be. Color-coded parish boundaries, population distributions, and who knows what else. To someone as scatterbrained and excitable as young Thos., waving around that much information was like waving a red flag in front of a bull."

"An apt simile, your Excellency. There was a note of the taurine in Fr. Connaughton's rush to examine the positioning of the high altar at St. Aldhelm's."

"Twenty-seven. That was what they agreed upon, was it not? Twenty-seven Sunday Masses according to the 1962 Missal."

"That was the last figure spoken of before they departed, your Excellency."

"And that questionnaire you mentioned you'd sent around. How many priests do we have who said they feel qualified for it?"

"Four, your Excellency. Additionally, a few of the younger priests expressed an interest or willingness to learn."

"So on a good day, we might be able to manage perhaps a third of the Masses my diocesan coordinator has pledged."

"That is an optimistic estimate, your Excellency. In addition to the priests, we require --"

The telephone interrupted the litany of unmet requirements, and I thanked God for this small favor. Reeves answered the phone, listened for a moment, then said, "Good evening, your Eminence. Yes, Bishop Booster is available. One moment, please, while I transer you."

He pressed the hold button and handed me the receiver. "Cardinal Fratricidelli would like to speak with you, your Excellency."

I started like a guilty thing upon a fearful summons. The cardinal had been the papal nuncio for years, in which role he became convinced that I was a barking looney. It was an understandable mistake, under the circs., but it did not make for warmly fraternal conversation between us. Nor did the fact that, at his cheeriest, he has the demeanor of a man whose thoughts are never far from his hobby of ripping apart iron girders with his hands.

"But he's not the nuncio any more!" I yipped. "He's been recalled to Rome for something or other. Why would he want to speak with me?"

"His Eminence did not confide in me, your Excellency."

"What exactly is his new job in the Eternal City?"

"Cardinal Fratricidelli is the president of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, your Excellency."

"Ecclesia Dei? Wasn't I just talking about that commission with someone recently?"

"Yes, your Excellency. It was mentioned several times in this morning's meeting. Its responsibilities include overseeing the implementation of Summorum Pontificum."

I gaped. "You don't think... young Thos. couldn't have... not so quickly...."

"The timing is certainly remarkable, your Excellency."

"Advise me, Reeves!"

"I should take Cardinal Fratricidelli off hold as soon as possible, your Excellency. Though it is difficult to judge for certain after such a brief exchange, his Eminence sounded like a man wrestling with strong emotions."



Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A mother's love

The importance of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary cannot be overstated.

Okay, that's an overstatement. The importance of devotion to Mary can be overstated. It's more likely, though, that a statement of its importance will be mistaken for an overstatement.

I think it's because devotion to Mary is, for people who don't have a devotion to her, just some facts: "The following activities are representative of the cult of the B.V.M." Those who do have a devotion to her, though, know that it's not just a devotion, but a relationship.

So let me propose this example of a statement about the importance of devotion to Mary that may strike some as an overstatement:
The Church will endure where, and only where, devotion to Mary endures.
The reason is that devotion to Mary both follows from and informs the Church's right understanding of herself. Where the devotion is absent, there the Church doesn't understand herself; and where the Church doesn't understand herself, there she is already in the process of turning into something else.

Much has been (and is being) written about problems related to liturgical reform after Vatican II. Too little attention, I think, is given to problems related to Marian devotion after Vatican II -- and most of the attention I've seen has been along the lines of complaining about "'experts'" figuratively taking Rosaries out of the hands of the laity.

Such complaints may be legitimate, but they suffer from the "Dynamic-Tension®" problem: They promise the laity can change from 97 lb. weaklings into real he-men by praying the Rosary, but don't really explain why that promise is at all credible.

And I admit that this post suffers from the same problem. Here I'm just claiming that Marian devotion is extremely important. I'm not prepared to try to explain why to those who don't already know.

So I'll finish by quoting (with added emphasis) Lumen Gentium:
This most Holy Synod ... admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and the practices and exercises of piety, recommended by the magisterium of the Church toward her in the course of centuries be made of great moment, and those decrees, which have been given in the early days regarding the cult of images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, be religiously observed.
Speaking of images, this 1547 icon by Master Oleksa came from here.

And finally: Assumption Poetry!



Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Reeves and the Motu Proprio That Binds, cont.

"Dash it all, Sr. Agatha, I won't --"

"Do be quiet, Willie. I did not travel all this way to listen to your blathering."

"But you can't expect me to --"

"What I expect, Willie, is that you will find a place in your diocese for young Father Thomas here."

I eyed the specimen, who sat perched on the edge of an armchair staring at the wall clock in rapt fascination. I would have said he had unhinged his jaw, the better to concentrate, but he lacked a visible jaw. The overall effect so strongly suggested a daydreaming fish that it was all I could do to refrain from offering him an ant egg.

"He wants some rounding, as I say, and the opportunities do not exist in our diocese. Something musical, perhaps, or the rector of a shrine. You do have shrines here?"

"Oh, rather," I said, my parochial pride a bit stung. "Some jolly fine ones, too. It's just that we're full up with rectors at the mo."

"Well, I'm sure you'll find something suitable." Sr. Agatha rose. "I shall check back in a week. Goodbye, Father Thomas."

"Hm? Ah." Father Thomas unmoored his gaze from the clock and smiled at the room at large.

"I am quite certain you will not disappoint me, Willie. Not this time," Sr. Agatha added, with a look that could make a cardinal deacon feel the sleeves of his rochet were too tight.

Then she left the room, if "left" is the mot juste for someone who moves with the self-possession of a Romanesque abbey.

I sank back into my chair with a sigh. It was too early in the day for a restorative, so there was nothing for it but to survive the after-effects of a visit from Sr. Agatha on my own natural resources.

We Boosters are made of stern stuff, but I was already feeling stretched thin when a disembodied voice, speaking at my elbow, sent me a foot and a half straight into the air.

"I say, old man, I thought she'd never leave."

I pivoted the loaf, and, discovering Father Thomas at the side of my desk, remembered I wasn't alone in the room. He was tossing a commemorative coin the Knights of St. Barnabas had given me in the air and catching it, with a great deal more vim than I had thought him capable of. In place of a daydreaming fish there stood before me a fish ready to spit on his fins and get cracking.

"So tell me, bish, what does a cleric do for fun in these parts?"

My mind, not satisfied with reeling, boggled. "Fun?" I managed to say.

"I always felt I could do great things at a Newman Center. Or maybe one of those specialized ministries." He peered at me through his round spectacles. "Do you have any Gypsies here? Or marriage support groups?"

I shook my head. "While I appreciate your... your enthusiasm, I think perhaps it would be best if --"

A shimmering near the door informed me that Reeves had entered. "Ah, Reeves, just the man I was wanting."

"That is gratifying to hear, your Excellency. The departure of Sr. Agatha did not go unnoticed by the gentlemen whose appointment her arrival delayed. They have requested that I confirm your intent to see them."

"Blast it, Reeves, my mind's on other things right now." I glanced meaningfully toward young Fr. Thos., who had picked up an old copy of the diocesan newspaper and was reading the advertisement on the back page. "Who are these men again?"

"They represent the diocesan chapter of Latine Dictum, your Excellency. They are here to discuss your plans for implementing Summorum Pontificum."

"Or if the cemetery needs a chaplain," Fr. Thomas murmured thoughtfully.

"Do I have plans for implementing Summorum Pontificum, Reeves?"

"You have not revealed any to me, your Excellency."

I am aware that in some quarters it is whispered -- and in other quarters, it is called across the courtyard -- that, while I will do in a pinch for confirmations and consecrating new churches, Monsignor Reeves is the real brains of the diocese.

It's certainly true that I rely on his advice to pilot me around the shoals that threaten our ecclesial ship. Still, I have been known to have an idea of my own once in a while, and the idea I had at that moment was red hot.

"Very well, Reeves, show the Latine Whatsit chaps in. I'm sure they'd love to meet our new, er, Diocesan Extraordinary Use Coordinator." I gestured toward Sr. Agatha's protege, who was nodding his head vigorously at something in the business notices of the newspaper.

To say that Reeves stiffened would not be strictly accurate; he was already as upright as possible. But there was a slight hesitancy before he said, "Very good, your Excellency," that told me the wisdom of my plan was not immediately evident to him.

While he went to fetch the visitors, I turned to young Thos. "So, tell me, young -- er, Father. Any chance you know a spot of Latin?"



Monday, August 13, 2007

Reeves and the Motu Proprio That Binds

If there's one complaint I have about my diocese, it's that the weather is dashed inconsistent. If the morning is nothing but sunshine and blue skies, no sooner will I have rearranged my schedule to accommodate an afternoon constitutional across the links than a V-shaped depression will enter from off-prompt to soak with rain whatever doesn't get blown across the river.

The weather inside the chancery can be even less predictable.

So it was one morning, when I looked up from my eggs and b. to admire the dappled sunlight in the garden outside. I can't swear there was a snail on a thorn within view, but I definitely saw a lark on the wing.

I was asking myself, not for the first time, what it was about thorns that snails found so attractive, when I became aware of the presence of Monsignor Reeves, my secretary.

"What ho, Reeves," I said, toasting him with orange juice.

"Good morning, your Excellency," Reeves answered. "If I may say so, you seem in high spirits today."

"I am indeed. You know, Reeves," I went on, since the occasional comment has led me to suspect that Reeves is not altogether satisfied with the average depth of conversation in the house, "it seems to me that Aquinas could have saved us all a lot of trouble if, instead of going into the whole Five Proofs of the Existence of God wheeze, he had merely said, 'Sunny summer mornings, Q.E.D.'"

"An insightful observation, your Excellency. You are perhaps alluding to the thought of Richard Swinburne, whose book --"

I set down my glass firmly. "Now, Reeves, I'm not as well read on all these poets as you are, but I do recall something about this Swinburne fellow, and I hardly see what any of that has to do with a beautiful morning."

"You would seem, your Excellency, to have in mind Algernon Swinburne, the Victorian poet whose verses --"


"Yes, your Excellency?"

"I was merely commenting upon the fine weather."

"Yes, your Excellency."

"Swinburnes should not be multiplied beyond necessity, wouldn't you say?"

"A prudent policy, your Excellency."

Reeves is a capital secretary, but if you give him his head in these matters, in no time he will be informing you of the trade policies of King Kapataputti of Ongalangala, died 1405, and their influence upon the harmonic minor scale. All fascinating stuff, of course, but a bit much to follow before you've finished your second cup of tea.

We went on to discuss my schedule for the day, neither of us imagining that the day was lurking behind the door in my office swinging a sock filled with sand.



A useful question

If you ever want to stump a Dominican, say, "I know what Franciscan spirituality is, and Carmelite spirituality, and Ignatian spirituality. But what's Dominican spirituality?"

It's a tough question -- maybe even a trick question, since at least some who should know have said that there is no such thing as "Dominican spirituality."

Sherry Weddell has posted an essay at Intentional Disciples in which she describes how she prays, and how she doesn't pray:
The prayer of quiet, as described by the Carmelite masters of spirituality, was simply incomprehensible to me. The pursuit of spiritual union, of mystical marriage, which seemed to be the Catholic ideal of holiness, seemed utterly beyond my desiring, much less my grasp...

It was my Dominican pastor who gave me the first indication that there was a way out of my dilemma. He told me that there were historic Catholic spiritual paths to holiness that were primarily centered around mission rather than mystical marriage. Dominican spirituality was such a path, centered as it was around the apostolic mission of preaching and being useful to the souls of others. I now know that many of the ways in which I pray are typically "Dominican".
Sherry mentions the idea of study as contemplation and St. Dominic's own habits of prayer on the move as fitting her own temperament. She concludes:
I now understand that to be of use to others is nucleus of my own spiritual path and therefore of my prayer. The miracle is, that under the Mercy, even my walking and my wondering have been transformed into real prayer.
The study prescribed by the Order is intended "to be useful to the souls of our neighbors," to quote the prologue of the Friars' Primitive Constitutions. And I personally have jokingly adopted Semper Opifer -- Always Helpful -- as my motto.

But that's "usefulness" as a standard for what Dominicans do. I hadn't thought of it as a standard for what Dominicans are.

That would, though, explain why Dominican spirituality is so tough to describe. A style of prayer that is useful for one may not be useful for another. No one needs to adopt all nine ways of prayer of St. Dominic (or even any) to have a Dominican spirit.

Maybe another way to attract vocations, in addition to asking, "Habesne veritatem?," is asking, "Have you always wanted to help?"


Friday, August 10, 2007

Man on a mission

Sherry Weddell points out a minor mystery:
Dominicans writers like Simon Tugwell have observed that as charismatic a figure as Dominic was, Dominic the man does not loom nearly so large in the minds of his followers as the mission that he gave them. Unlike St. Francis, Dominic himself did not become the focus. The focus was and still is the mission.

Let me propose two (non-exhaustive) reasons, one external and accidental, the other internal and essential.

The external and accidental reason is St. Francis. The Dominicans and their founder are inextricably bound, by historical and ecclesiological ties, to the Franciscans and their founder. St. Dominic is indeed "one of the coy saints," in Fr. Tugwell's phrase, but his self-diminishment isn't particularly remarkable in the history of the Church. It's only when set next to the outsized impression St. Francis makes (largely due to his own acts of self-diminishment, it should be said) that St. Dominic's historical figure seems suddenly too small.

But it's not all just a trick of perspective. I think there is something in the very concept of the Dominican Order that works against having the founder loom too large. To quote the Master of the Order, Carlos Azpirpz Costa, OP, once more, that something is "the freedom Saint Dominic and his first Friars bequeathed to us."

The Fundamental Constitution quotes the Prologue of the Primitive Constitutions stating that the Order "is known from the beginning to have been instituted especially for preaching and the salvation of souls." Even before the idea of an Order came to him, St. Dominic was trying new and creative ways to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. He saw to it that the constitutions of his Order permitted, even encouraged, his Friars to respond in similarly new and creative ways when faced with new situations.

From a Dominican perspective, then, there would be little to be gained by the first Friars through imitating their founder's preaching, either in content or style. The proper content depends on the circumstances, and the proper style depends on the individual preacher.

His prayer life was observed and preserved, but more as a description than a prescription. Neither St. Dominic nor his successors as Master believed that such personal habits should be imposed on the whole Order.

Dominican liberty leads to Dominican variety. A well-known expression in the Order is, "When you've met one Dominican, you've met one Dominican."

Here's some speculation: Generally speaking, Dominican saints resemble their holy father Dominic in not looming too large in the minds of those who came after them. St. Albert outlived St. Thomas, who had no great students of his own. St. Catharine had plenty of followers, but they could only follow her teaching; her prayer life and her preaching led her on a path for her alone.

So if St. Dominic was, by temperament and circumstance, destined to have his ideas outshine his person, I think he has bequeathed that same destiny to his Order.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Borrowing trouble

This post should have a better introduction.

The more ardent J. K. Rowling apologists create a dilemma for themselves. If the Potter books are as filled with Christian themes as they say, then the consequentialism of the books (and more generally, all the un-Christian themes) becomes a problem. And so we find parents fretting about the hero being rewarded for misbehavior, as if that never happens in children's stories.

But if Harry Potter is primarily a story, then it should be admitted that it's not a particularly Christian story. The virtues it exemplifies are natural virtues; in particular, the love that plays such a significant (and improbable) role is natural love, not Christian charity.

Which is as it should be, in the non-Christian world Rowling has invented.

The rush to baptize the climax of the last book brings along its own problems. To list all the Christiany aspects is to invite listing all the non-Christiany aspects. Again, non-Christiany aspects are no big deal at all in a story; they only become so if the story is supposed to be somehow more profoundly Christian than any other good-vs-evil fantasy.

I'm also somewhat bemused by the claim that there aren't many good children's books with a reasonably sound moral center. It seems to me that I read a childhood's worth of them growing up, and my kids have found plenty of them written since I was their age. Maybe this is more of a problem in "Young Adult" literature, but... no, I'd say anyone who pays much attention to the "Young Adult" label deserves what they get.


The things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?

Summer means thunderstorms. Thunderstorms mean lighting strikes. Lightning strikes mean forest fires.

Here's a picture from a day or two ago of a fire in Montana:

Photo credit: Anne Medley

See that little dot in the middle of the smoke cloud? That's a helicopter. The smaller dot below that is a bucket. The helicopter dips the bucket into a nearby lake, then dumps the water onto the fire.

It takes a while.*

This fire is, for now, the #1 priority fire in the country, which means that it has first dibs on whatever national firefighting resources become available. It's good to have high priority, because it means you get a lot of resources, relatively speaking. It's bad to have high priority, because it means the fire is threatening a lot of property. About 700 houses have been evacuated -- or, I should say, are under mandatory evacuation orders; not all Montanans obey mandatory orders -- and the whole town of Seeley Lake could be ordered to evacuate at any time.

Among the evacuated houses is one where my mother lives half the year, which is why I happen to know about this fire. (I couldn't even tell you what time zone the #2 fire in the country is in.) There's reason to hope that her house won't be burned to the ground; God willing and the winds behave, very few houses will be. (The last report I heard was of one residence and several outbuildings burned, and several additional buildings damaged.)

It's an odd feeling to have this in the back of your mind while listening to the readings from Sunday. It kind of makes the whole "one's life does not consist of possessions" less of a platitude and more of a challenge.

*. As of today, the fire is said to be "10% contained"; best not to think too hard about what less than 100% containment actually means. The prediction for 100% containment is September 15, six weeks after the fire started. And I should say that most of the work of fighting these fires is done on the ground. There are nearly five hundred firefighters working on this, only a few of whom are in the air.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sing a new song
"Saint Dominic Went Walking"

Saint Dominic went walking
About this time of year.
He met a wretched heretic,
Who said, "What have we here?

"A grubby looking preacher,
One of the Pope's own spies?
I'll lead him on a merry chase
To teach him just who's wise!"
Saint Dominic, Saint Dominic,
O raise your voice in prayer!
Lead all good souls back to the fold,
And chuck the rest down there!
The heretic approached him,
And said, "Sir, you look lost.
I know this country front and back,
I'll help you get across."

The Saint, he said, "God bless you!
Lead on," and off they went.
T'was one with songs of praise to God,
And one with ill intent.
Saint Dominic, Saint Dominic,
O raise your voice in song!
And wretched souls who mock the Lord
Can go where they belong!
The heretic he led him
Through every briar patch,
'Cross every stone and thistle bush
That might his bare feet scratch.

Saint Dominic, he smiled,
And said, "All praises be
To God for sending you to teach
Me true humility."
Saint Dominic, Saint Dominic,
O bless all those you meet!
God's chosen ones will feel His love,
The rest can feel the heat!
The wicked guide was trembling
As he beheld the saint.
He said, "Whatever else he is,
A hypocrite he ain't."

He begged him for forgiveness,
With Christ he reconciled.
So Dominic led this lost son
Back home from in the wild.
Saint Dominic, Saint Dominic,
O preach and bless and praise!
That all who sin may see again
The beauty of God's ways!


Happy Feast of St. Dominic!

Why do I love St. Dominic? Gratitude.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I don't meme, but "Why I Love Jesus" seems like a topic I ought to be willing to discuss if asked.

Except that a few moments' thought suggests that "Why" is not at all the correct question to ask about love. And in fact, tracing things back to the start of the meme (assuming it has a start, which philosophy tells us it must, though sometimes I have my doubts about philosophy, but anyway), you can see "Why I Love Jesus" emerge from "What I Love About Jesus," which emerged from "What I Dig About Jesus."

An attempt to use the progression from "what I dig" through "what I love" to "why I love" as an interpretive key to Deus Caritas Est would surely be far more interesting than a list of five things I dig, or even love, about Jesus.

That said, I love Jesus because He is perfectly lovable and I am imperfectly lovingable.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Thinking of the readings

Sunday's second reading, from Colossians, included this statement:
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
Here, "Think" translates the Greek "φρονειτε," give or take an accent, which I'm told is an inflected form of the verb phroneo, meaning:
1. to have understanding, be wise
2. to feel, to think. a) to have an opinion of one's self, think of one's self, to be modest, not let one's opinion (though just) of himself exceed the bounds of modesty; b) to think or judge what one's opinion is; c) to be of the same mind i.e. agreed together, cherish the same views, be harmonious
3. to direct one's mind to a thing, to seek, to strive for. a) to seek one's interest or advantage; b) to be of one's party, side with him (in public affairs).
This kind of thinking, then, isn't an act so much as a habit or disposition. It's not a one-time use of your intellect, like thinking of a number between one and ten, but a way of using your intellect that St. Paul expects you who were raised with Christ to adopt.

To direct your mind to what is above is contrasted with the cast of mind mentioned in the first reading from Ecclesiastes:
For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest.
A man's mind, says Qoheleth, is never at rest when it is directed to what is on earth. Jesus confirms that this is vanity with the parable of the rich fool:
"Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God."
But to think of what is above does not mean to ignore what is on earth. It matters to God that those who take His Name care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien.

Nor does it mean that Christians are obliged to ignore their own earthly needs or to pretend they have no earthly wants. But our earthly needs and wants look much different when our minds are striving for what is above.

I point this out because the bare statement, "Think of what is above, not of what is on earth," sounds, not only impossible (think of not thinking of an elephant), but impractical. We are, perhaps, too ready to ignore anything from Scripture that smacks of impracticality, but as is often the case this verse, when properly understood, is extremely practical. It tells you what to do, and not do, with literally everything.

By the way, here are all the verses in the New Testament that use "φρονεω":
Mt 16:23: He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
Mk 8:33: At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
Acts 28:22: "But we should like to hear you present your views, for we know that this sect is denounced everywhere."
Rom 8:5: For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit.
Rom 11:20: That is so. They were broken off because of unbelief, but you are there because of faith. So do not become haughty [i.e., "υψηλα φρονει," "think highly [of yourself]"], but stand in awe.
Rom 12:3: For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned.
Rom 12:16: Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation.
Rom 14:6: Whoever observes the day, observes it for the Lord. Also whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while whoever abstains, abstains for the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Rom 15:5: May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus....
1 Cor 13:11: When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
2 Cor 13:11: Finally, brothers, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Gal 5:10: I am confident of you in the Lord that you will not take a different view, and that the one who is troubling you will bear the condemnation, whoever he may be.
Phi 1:7: It is right that I should think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, you who are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
Phi 2:2: ...complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.
Phi 2:5: Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus....
Phi 3:15: Let us, then, who are "perfectly mature" adopt this attitude. And if you have a different attitude, this too God will reveal to you.
Phi 3:19: Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their "shame." Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
Phi 4:2: I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to come to a mutual understanding in the Lord.
Phi 4:10: I rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you revived your concern for me. You were, of course, concerned about me but lacked an opportunity.
Col 3:2: Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
To say, "Think of what is above," then, connotes having a perspective according to, being concerned with, holding in regard, observing or following, being in agreement with, having the mind or attitude of, being occupied with, understanding what is above.


I'm guessing it's the wisdom of God

The Dominican House of Studies, the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, and Eerdmans Press are sponsoring a symposium next April on "The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Anti-Christ or the Wisdom of God?"

The Dominican Province of St. Joseph's Vocations blog quotes some of the questions raised by this topic:
Is there any "natural" knowledge of God available to the human person, apart from Christian revelation, or is all knowledge of God given to human beings uniquely in Christ? Is Christianity irrevocably wed to the classical metaphysical tradition, or can God's nature and character be rethought in distinctly modern ways, based upon a renewed reading of Scripture? What relationship or likeness, if any, exists between created nature and the grace of God? Does Christian theology presuppose a natural philosophical "capacity" for knowledge of God in the human person?
It sounds like a great way to spend a weekend, doesn't it?


How to do it

"Here I am in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area," you are saying to yourself. "How can I observe the Feast of St. Dominic on August 8, which is this Wednesday?"

You can hie yourself to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in the Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel of which the Mass of St. Dominic will be offered at 6 p.m.

No need to thank me. It's what I do.


Friday, August 03, 2007

"This is good."

Again from the State of the Dominican Order report:
Our preaching has to be promoted as Dominican Family. ... If the horizon of the mission is unlimited, the horizon of the association of the laity in different feminine Dominican Congregations, the aggregation of Institutes, the desire of belonging is also broadened. This is good.
The horizon of the Dominican Family was broadened in a rather concrete way a couple of weeks ago with the formation of Dominican Young Adults USA.
This group is formed to help those who are Dominican by their formation -- in Dominican High Schools, Colleges, Universities, parishes and other Dominican experiences-- to continue their connection with the Order. The connection includes deepening their relationship with God and the world through the four pillars of study, prayer, community and ministry. Each group of young adults will have as a mentor a friar, sister, associate, laity or nun.
This new organization plans to become officially affiliated with the International Dominican Youth Movement, which itself is younger than most of its members but already has affiliates in eighteen other countries.

Prayer, study, community, and preaching. There are all kinds of ways of living these in the free spirit of St. Dominic.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

In hac lacrimarum valle

I've just learned (from Mark Shea's blog) that Karen Marie Knapp died last night.

I "met" her on more than a decade ago, and with her Anchor Hold blog she continued to be a voice on the Internet that spoke of peace.

When I went rummaging through the Anchor Hold archives for the above picture, I came across another post from 2003, the result of a quiz she took. And no, Karen Marie, there could be no doubt.

May she know forever the peace she spoke of to the world.


The freedom bequeathed

At the end of his report on the state of the Dominican Order, Fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa, OP, Master of the Order, mentions four "themes which have been incorporated definitively into our life and mission thanks to the freedom Saint Dominic and his first Friars bequeathed to us."

They are:
  • "Juridical liberty, expressed in the law of the dispensation, was introduced in the beginning as a constitutional element;"
  • "moral liberty, for the Order wants that its laws do not bind under pain of sin so that the brothers may accept them with mature understanding, not as slaves under the law but rather as men living in freedom under grace;"
  • "liberty of initiative is expressed in the ius petendi et proponendi;" (roughly, the right to petition and to propose)
  • "historical liberty is expressed in the legislative or dynamic mobility itself of historical adaptation."
This freedom is absolutely fundamental to the Dominican Order. It predates the founding of the Order, since Bishop Foulques of Toulouse gave St. Dominic the freedom to do what he thought needed doing years before the Order of Preachers was formed. St. Dominic in turn intentionally and explicitly incorporated freedom into his new Order; he once said he'd take a knife and cut out of every copy of the Rule any words a Friar thought bound under pain of sin.

But it's a challenging freedom. A Dominican can't say, "I'd love to, but...
  • "...I've got to go pray now."
  • "...I'm morally bound to do something else."
  • " one's told me I could."
  • "...we've never done that before."
Not only does Dominican liberty take away a lot of respectable excuses, it comes with the risk of losing Dominican identity. The freedom bequeathed by St. Dominic exists in tension with the regular (i.e., ruled) life he insisted on for all the Friars. Less dramatically, Dominican freedom only makes sense within the context of overall Dominican life, and it's generally a matter of prudence rather than law to remain within that life while exercising that freedom.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A thought from the Master

At each General Chapter, the Master of the Order of Friars Preachers is to present a report on the state of the Order, and the report for Bogota 2007 can be found here.

It's an illuminating read. While I'm baffled by Mark's take on it -- "self destruction (as seen by Fr. Groeschel) of the order continues unabated" -- I do think it describes a disheartening capacity for the Order at all levels (individual, house, province, region, branch) to turn inward and focus only on the projects at hand, with little attempt to situate oneself (one's house, one's province, one's region, one's branch) within the Order as a whole.

"Ignore it and it will go away" seems to about sum up a certain attitude toward the Acts of General Chapters and the decisions of the Master and his Curia. It's an attitude not completely without warrant; the Constitutions of the Order state:
A particular statute shall be considered as a constitution only when it shall have been accepted by three successive general chapters and, indeed, by way of inchoation in the first chapter, approbation in the second, and confirmation in the third.
So even a change to the Book of Constitutions and Ordinations might go away if it doesn't seem like such a good idea six years after it was proposed.

But the inward focus, as natural as it is, becomes hard to justify in a globalized world. "I'm here and they're there" isn't a sufficient excuse for ignoring them when I can be there tomorrow. All those nice thoughts about being brothers of our holy father Dominic take on a certain sharpness when any of those brothers might show up at the door at any time, asking for fraternal help.

It's a particular challenge, I think, for an Order whose mission is as universal as "preaching and the salvation of souls." St. Dominic's personal dream was to see the Friars Preachers well established, then head east to preach to (and, with any luck, be martyred by) the Cumans. From its very founding, the Order has taken a very catholic approach to the selection of souls whose salvation it worked for.

But all I really wanted to do in this post is to quote this, from Fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa's report:
... docility does not imply "to be in agreement" but rather "to know how to allow somebody to tell you something" ...
It's a remarkably modest concept, I think. Rare in the wild, too. But even such a simple little thing as allowing someone to tell you something could make a tremendous difference -- and not just among Dominican friars.