instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, September 15, 2014

The heaviest coin in the Christian's pocket

The homilist at Mass last Sunday -- when, as you recall, the Gospel reading was Matthew 18:15-21 -- made an interesting side suggestion while preaching on fraternal correction. He said it may be that the two hardest things for Christians to practice are fraternal correction and forgiveness.

Put another way, perhaps, the natural or humanistic concept of love most falls short of the fullness of Divine love in terms of correction and forgiveness. And if Christians, who are at least occasionally told they should correct and forgive in love, aren't great at it, what can we expect of those whose culture doesn't regard both fraternal correction and forgiveness to be virtues?


Crowdsourcing a Stork Bus

Rae Stabosz of Confessions of a Cooperator hopes to crowdsource the funding for a Delaware Stork Bus, a stork bus being "a medical vehicle equipped with a counseling area and a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine, which allows pregnancy centers to counsel and minister to women and show them an image of their baby."

If you'd like to donate, please do. And remember to pray for (and maybe do more for) those women who, seeing an ultrasound image of their child, change their mind about getting an abortion.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nobody said anything about interactive small groups

Sherry Weddell is coming to my parish this week to present the Catherine of Siena Institute's Forming Intentional Disciples mission. It's been two years in the making, which is how far ahead Sherry's schedule was booked when she was invited to come two years ago (our adult formation director is an old pal of Sherry (as am I, in the have-met-for-dinner-in-real-life sense)).

It should be a good mission, although I just now noticed the bit about "interactive small groups" in the bulletin announcement. I don't mind participating, but I don't really do sharing. We'll see how that plays, since I believe a large part of the whole Intentional Disciples program is learning to tell your story. As big as I am on the role story plays in human nature, and therefore in Christian evangelization and culture, I have to say my own story strikes me as irredeemably dull, not to mention terribly plotted, with all the character development of a wacky sitcom neighbor. (--And what happened when the young protagonist finally looked inside the small chest the old man at the bridge had given him? --If he ever does, I'll let you know.)

I'm also curious to see if I come away more convinced the Five Thresholds of I Once Was Lost -- trust, curiosity, openness, seeking, and intentional discipleship -- are as directly applicable to cradle Catholics as I think Sherry thinks they are. The smart money is on Sherry being right, but in my armchair ignorance I have to think the other two journeys she mentions in Forming Intentional Disciples -- ecclesial and active practice -- make the way Mass-going Catholics pursue the journey to intentional discipleship quite a bit different than the way unchurched people become intentional disciples in evangelical communities.

That aside, the fundamental message that Catholics need to be intentional disciples of Jesus, to have a true, lived relationship with Him, is one almost every parish in this country would greatly benefit from hearing. And I wouldn't be surprised if this weekend plays a role in more than one of my fellow parishioner's stories. Who knows, maybe even in mine.



Sunday, September 07, 2014

There's no such thing as a Copernican evolution

At this morning's RCIA class meeting, we watched the first video of ChristLife's "Discovering Christ" series. In the video, the presenter compares the difference between living for yourself rather than for God to the difference between the Ptolemaic Model and the Copernican Model. The question is, who is at the center of your universe?

Our RCIA leader pulled on that thread, pointing out how complicated an earth-centered model gets when you use it to account for all the observable motions of the stars and planets.

And yet, that's what everyone did.
It occurred to me that there is no way for a geocentric model to evolve into a heliocentric model. You don't keep adding epicycles until one day, presto, that's the Sun in the middle of your chart. You keep adding epicycles until one day, presto, you toss your Spirograph aside and say, "There must be a better way!"

A similar thing happens when people living according to a self-centered model examines their lives. It just doesn't really work, and you can't get it to work by adding incremental refinements and corrections to your self-centeredness. You have to toss aside yourself and say, "There must be a better way!"

Now, truth cannot contradict truth, so I don't mean to contradict the empirical fact that plenty of people living a self-centered life are altogether content with the way it works. Even people who know it's no way to go through life find it tempting.

Of course, the mere fact that people are content doesn't mean their contentment is well-founded. If your ideas about how to live are well suited to achieving your idea of what life is for, then you'll likely be content if you're following your ideas about how to live. And yet, if your idea of what life is for is wrong (or more likely incomplete), then your ideas about how to live are going to be wrong also.

What I think this means to Christian evangelists -- which is to say, to Christians -- is that we'll find people in two very different states. Some people will be, in one way or another, dissatisfied with what they've tried to put in the center of their lives; these people are waiting to be introduced to Jesus. Others, though, are satisfied, and they need to be introduced to the idea of Jesus, so to speak, to the idea of the true happiness, which we are not only capable of but for which we were created by a God willing to die in order for us to achieve it.

And the people we might meet in these two states may well be Christians themselves.



Friday, September 05, 2014

Venerable Fulton, pray for us

On the bright side, this sort of farce does make it easier to distinguish between hope in Christ and hope in the Apostles.

Representatives of the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Peoria meet to discuss the cause of Ven. Fulton Sheen.


Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season

A few days ago, Msgr. Charles Pope wrote a passionate post for the Archdiocese of Washington's blog about the corrupting effects of "all that 'old school' stuff that hangs on in a darkened world." Within a day, the post disappeared, and Msgr. Pope subsequently wrote:
I removed the post upon further reflection due to the strong nature of the language I had used in parts of it.
He added:
I remain concerned about the central point of the article, namely, how we as Catholics can effectively engage a culture that increasingly requires us to affirm what we cannot reasonably affirm.
I agree that his central point is valid. For that matter, I don't think the language he had used was too strong in nature -- though parts were... impolitic, by the standards of American diocesan communications.

Here, then, is a chunk of his post, with the impolitic parts excised:
Sometimes it takes a while to understand that what used to work no longer works

Let’s be honest: St. Patrick’s Day nationally has become a disgraceful display of drunkenness and foolishness in the middle of Lent that more often embarrasses the memory of Patrick than honors it.
It’s time to cancel the “Catholic” traditions that have been hijacked by the world. Better for Catholics to enter their churches and get down on their knees on St. Patrick’s Day to pray in reparation for the foolishness, and to pray for this confused world to return to its senses. Let’s do adoration and pray the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet unceasingly for this poor old world.

But stay away from all that “old school” stuff that hangs on in a darkened world. As for St Patrick’s Day, it’s time to stop wearin’ the green and instead take up the purple of Lent and mean it. Enough of the celebration of stupidity, frivolity, and drunkenness that St Paddy’s day has become. We need penance now, not foolishness.

Enough now, back to Church! Wear the purple of Lent and if there is going to be a procession, let it be Eucharistic and penitential for the sins of this age.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

The faith of the Gentiles

The story of the Canaanite woman and the story of the centurion make for an interesting comparison.

They start out similarly:
  • Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon."
  • When he entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully."
But then they veer off in completely different directions:
  • But he did not say a word in answer to her.
  • He said to him, "I will come and cure him."
Or... maybe they aren't so different.

St. Matthew writes of "a Canaanite woman" and "a centurion," but of course they were actual, individual human beings, not stock characters in a fable. Jesus doesn't treat them as objects with which to teach His disciples a moral. He treats them as actual individuals, and from his treatment of them as actual individuals His disciples are to draw the general lesson. From the particular, we arrive at the general -- but we can't skip over the particular when we're dealing with other persons.

Maybe the way to put it, then, is that the stories don't really start out all that similarly. "A Canaanite woman with a possessed daughter" and "a Roman centurion with a paralyzed servant" are not identical and interchangeable circumstances, and that's even before we get into the differences between this Canaanite woman and this Roman centurion.

Our wonder shouldn't be that Jesus responded differently to two very different people in different circumstances. More might we have wondered if He had responded identically, like the Divine Vending Machine we're always telling non-believers God is not.

Making no claim to originality, let me propose that Jesus' responses are actually similar, in an important way. They are both ways of testing the faith of the person who has come to ask Jesus for healing. They are, so to speak, both ways of asking, "You call me 'Lord,' but do you truly regard me as Lord, or am I just the closest miracle dispenser to hand?"

That the tests for two very different individuals weren't identical shouldn't be cause for scandal, and the similarities in the responses should reassure us that Jesus knew what He was doing in responding to each:
  • She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."
  • The centurion said in reply, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed."
Not being children of Israel, they could not prove their faith with filial trust. But a humble admission that they have no claim on Jesus, that they ask not for His justice but for His mercy: that is the faith of the Gentiles which Jesus desires and which He blesses:
  • Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed from that hour.
  • And Jesus said to the centurion, "You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you." And at that very hour his servant was healed.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nominal language

Here's the opening of an AP article published today:
Americans are wary of granting refugee status to children crossing the U.S. border to flee strife-torn countries in Central America....
What struck me is that this could be written as:
Americans are wary of granting refugee status to children who are refugees....
Granted, admitting that someone is a refugee and granting that person refugee status are two different things.

But in a land where we can transubstantiate things into other things by calling them the other things -- like marriage, or healthcare -- maybe we can also transubstantiate them into other things by not calling them what they are.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Why indeed?

Archbishop Chaput puts it well:
Why should anyone believe that the Gospel is good news when we live as if it weren’t?


What did you find?

A passing line from the homily I heard yesterday (on the Parable of the Buried Treasure):
Some of you will leave here today without your treasure.
That, I think, could make for a profitable sermon in itself.