instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, January 03, 2016

I confess

I am not particularly incensed about the state of the Liturgy. I have the luxury of living in a parish where the Mass is generally by the book (apart from a few idiosyncrasies that don't bother me, like a communal Hail Mary to conclude the Prayers of the Faithful; we also get the occasional "Folks, the Lord be with you," and I offer it up). When I see something that I happen to know is contrary to the book, I don't usually get too het up, since it's rarely done out of malice or wickedness.

As far as what's in the book itself, that's not something I concern myself too much about either. I've said for years, just tell me my lines and my blocking.

But if I had to write a post of complaint about one aspect of how the Ordinary Form is ordinarily celebrated at my parish, the complaint would center on the Confeitor. Specifically, the "Confeitor," the two words "I confess," which are often spoken only by the priest, as a signal to the congregation to join in at "to Almighty God." (Depending on the celebrant's cadence, we might hold off until, "and to you, my brothers and sisters.")

I will suggest that, on the whole, it's good for our spiritual health to say the words "I confess" out loud, to other people.

I'll go a little further and say that, while I'm American enough to appreciate the efficiency of the Ordinary Form, there is something of value in having the priest recite his Confeitor to the congregation, followed by the congregation reciting it to the priest (and the rest of the congregation). It makes it clearer that the Confeitor isn't just the prayer the book says to pray at this point, it's an actual confession, usable as evidence against us if God had a mind to. I would guess it particularly doesn't hurt a spiritually healthy priest to say it all by himself, at the beginning of a Mass he is offering.

(A similar congregational delay happens at the beginning of the Credo. Saying "I believe" out loud, to other people, is if anything more important than saying "I confess," but at least we get a few more "I believe"s later on.)

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Monday, December 21, 2015

30 minute lesson plan on the Dogma of the Trinity

  • 18 minutes saying how difficult and mysterious a subject this is
  • 9 minutes saying how hard it is to see what difference the dogma makes in your day-to-day life
  • 3 minutes reading CCC 253-255 out loud

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Saturday, November 07, 2015

Lending a hand

At RCIA last week, it was observed that it's kind of hard to know how to get to know Jesus, when He's not here physically to see and hear and touch. I proposed this allegory (it's too convoluted to be a metaphor):

Suppose you fall into a deep ditch in the dark. (I didn't say why you might be wandering around deep ditches in the dark; you either recognize that as the human condition in a nutshell, or you don't.) It's too muddy and slippery to pull yourself out. Then a voice says, "Here, take my hand," and you see the hand reaching down to grasp yours and pull you out.

At that moment, you don't know the person who's helping you. You don't have any idea of what they're like, except that they're willing to pull you out of a deep ditch in the dark. Once you're out of the ditch, though, you hope to get to know them quite well.

For the person who doesn't yet know Jesus, the Church -- the Body of Christ -- is like the hand and the voice, we are here physically and can be seen and heard and touched. ("Is like"? Wait, is this a simile?) We are supposed to draw others to Christ, so they can know Him and love Him themselves.

For the person still in that ditch, it may not yet quite be faith by which they're willing to listen to us and to come and see what we say we have, Who we say we have to show them. It might be trust or curiosity (those old thresholds of conversion). But our Incarnate God did leave an incarnate Church, and the more we in the Church live in a way we would only live if we believe what we preach, the more that person might suspect we really do have Someone they should meet.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Forgetfulness

Mark Shea has a post today on the question of whether "forgetting completes the Christian process of forgiveness." We know we are to forgive, but are we to forgive and forget?

Here's what I wrote as a comment on Mark's post:
In Psalm 25:7, we pray with David, "Remember no more the sins of my youth; remember me according to your mercy, because of your goodness, LORD."

If God forgets something, it's not just forgotten. It ceases to exist. More, it never did exist. That is the degree to which God, in His freely bestowed mercy, forgives us, and restores our relationship with Him.

Human forgetfulness doesn't work that way. If you forget some wrong I've done, that doesn't mean I didn't do it. The effects of my act remain. It may well be the case that those effects are negligible, in which case we can speak of human forgetting in the same metaphorical sense of Divine forgetting, to signify the full restoration of a relationship. But there are also cases where the effects aren't negligible and the full restoration of the relationship is not within our power.

Our responsibility as Christians is to do what lies within our grace-aided power, but not what lies beyond.
So I guess I'd say the answer is yes and no. Yes, forgetting completes the Christian process of forgiveness, but no, that process isn't always complete this side of heaven.

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Counter-biased self-checks

Zippy Catholic comments on my previous post:
It seems to follow that the following are also sound self checks in discussion with others, and need to be given just as much consideration to avoid biasing the sound self checks:

Am I being too slow to find fault with this person who disagrees with me?
Am I being too slow to find doctrinal aberrations in the position of this person who disagrees with me?

Of course to be sound self checks the emphasis ought to be counter-biased to the biases of the self doing the checking.
Yes, indeed. I had this in mind at one point while composing the post, but my stream of thought wound its way instead into the concluding bog you see.

The idea that, as a class, the American bishops are biased toward answering either of Zippy's questions with a yes would be a hard sell to a lot of American Catholics. In this light, Cardinal Wuerl's "don't be so quick" parameters sound about as necessary to tell a bishop as, "Don't forget to eat lunch." (I jest, your Excellencies. I jest in love.)

I'll suggest that a  bias in the other direction is encouraged by on-line conversations, which provide a safer environment than work and socializing to scratch that "Burn the witch!" itch.

How might "don't be too quick or too slow" be put in positive terms? Maybe something like this: "Make sound and timely judgments." (Sorry, that's still pretty tautological.) A sound judgment means you have enough knowledge to judge; a timely judgment means you've gathered that knowledge in time to support the need for your judgment.


A common way to fail the "enough knowledge" condition on-line is this: Person A reads Person B's blog post, which quotes the headline of an external link that refers to Person C. Person A performs the natural human pattern matching on the headline and concludes that Person C sounds just like Person D, who has known fault X. Person A promptly and publicly asserts that Person C has fault X.

Suppose you know "P" is true. Then you hear someone say "not P." I don't think you can be "too quick" in noticing the contradiction; really, you noticed it (at least implicitly) back when you learned that "P" is true. What you might be too quick in doing is saying, "This person is wrong to say 'not P.'" That you hear "not P" doesn't always mean the other person said it.

Often enough, though, people really do by golly say "not P," and they mean it. Again, you can't not know -- and you shouldn't pretend -- that they're wrong about that. To this point in the hypothetical, that's the only fault you've found, and you haven't necessarily announced it yet. The conversation may well go in two very different directions depending on whether you respond, "You are wrong to say 'not P,'" or, "Why do you say that 'not P'?"

There are circumstances in which you may be right to aim for the first conversation, and other circumstances in which you should aim for the second. (And still other circumstances in which you should drop it altogether.) An internal judgment may have a different timeliness than a public judgment.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Every old parameter is new again

In an interview with David Gibson, Cardinal Wuerl expressed hope that the recent Synod "set some new parameters in the conversation," specifically:
Don’t be so quick to find fault with the people who disagree with you ... and don’t be so quick to find doctrinal aberrations in the positions of people who disagree with you.
He is responding to Synod Fathers who, in his opinion, were overly quick to find fault and doctrinal aberrations. I expect people will think these new parameters are a good idea to the extent they share Cardinal Wuerl's view of the Synod.

A parameter of the form "Don't be so quick to [X]" is nearly a tautology. "Too quick to [X]" is always wrong; that's what the "too" means. But you can also be "too slow to [X]," which is also always wrong. (If X is always wrong in itself, then the "too quick" and "too slow" are impossibilities, which are wrong in a different way.)

Cardinal Wuerl is saying the "so quick" of some Synod Fathers was too quick. I can't speak for what all the Synod Fathers may have been up to, but I did see examples of Catholics outside the Synod that I judged to be too quick to find fault and doctrinal aberrations, and I don't know think Synod Fathers are necessarily free of faults that other Catholics have.

(Oh dear, I'm finding fault with people who disagree with me. Am I violating a new parameter? Of course not. I don't find fault too quickly, or too slowly. I am the Baby Bear of fault finding rate.)(I should probably revisit that assertion.)

In any case, if we abstract the parameters from the context, I think we're left with sound self-checks in discussions with others:
  1. Am I being too quick to find fault with this person who disagrees with me?
  2. Am I being too quick to find doctrinal aberrations in the position of this person who disagrees with me?
These call to mind both Fr. Murray's dictum, "Disagreement is not an easy thing to reach," and the Scholastic maxim, "Never deny, seldom accept, always distinguish." If a person disagrees with me (not a purely hypothetical consideration), and we only ever argue about the consequences of our disagreement, we're unlikely to get anywhere. And once we've denied what someone is telling us, we've made it much more difficult to discover whatever might be worth considering about it.

I am begging the question of the purpose of an argument, which I think ideally is something like "to arrive together at the truth." Well, I suppose some people do have practical arguments, with purposes like "to agree on the best thing to do." Even when the argument is more like a debate, where you're trying to reach agreement with some third party rather than the person who disagrees with you, your own position will be stronger if you can acknowledge what's true in the other position and see the point at which it goes wrong. The third party may well see that truth and resist your arguments if you deny or ignore it.

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"Sir: Ross Douthat is a poopyhead. Respectfully, the American Catholic Academic Community"

If "professional qualifications for writing about the subject" are consistent with signing the Clown Letter Contra Douthat, so much the worse for professional qualifications.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

He is who we thought he was

I'm cool with Pope Francis, and what interest I had in the Synod was driven by curiosity, not concern. Reading Pope Francis's concluding speech in that light, I thought it was excellent in what it said about the place of divine mercy in the Gospel and the need for sound doctrine expressed in comprehensible ways.

Granted, it's still largely a bishop talking to bishops about bishops and what bishops are going to do about talking about "the family." But I gather that, in the small group discussions, the sheep themselves came up, not just theories about different kinds of sheep, and if "to conclude the Synod means to return to our true 'journeying together,'" then maybe some bishops will be talking to each other about their practice from here on out. (I'm a 20th Century American Roman Catholic, though, so all I really expect from my bishop is a confirmation once a year and a new pastor every six years; anything else is gravy.)

Many who are less cool with the Pope and more concerned about the Synod found much to criticize about the concluding speech, especially the criticisms. And there is a lot of criticism in the speech, largely directed -- as Pope Francis's criticisms tend to be -- at "closed hearts," "superiority and superficiality," false "defenders of doctrine .. who uphold its letter, but [not] its spirit."

Questions of tone aside, I don't see that the Pope is actually wrong to criticize what he criticizes. Everything the Pope says shouldn't be done is being done, or at least advocated, by Catholics who consider themselves fine Catholics. Correcting the flock is what the Pope is supposed to do -- and if you haven't noticed that the Catholics he's correcting have been stubborn in resisting his correction, you haven't been paying attention.

Granted, the speech does nothing to redress the fact that the Pope sure seems to spend more time and force correcting rigorist Catholics than laxiist Catholics. To the extent we are all (depending on wind direction) smouldering wicks, I think that tendency regrettable.

Still, there is a good amount of (at least implicit) correction of laxism in this speech, with references to "marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility," "dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium," "defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults," "the danger of relativism," "the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments," and "necessary human repentance, works and efforts."

I suppose people who consider this papacy a disaster for the Church aren't going to change their minds based on anything that happens, or fails to happen. Nor will those who see Francis as the Great Left Hope. I've seen people in each group say, "Sure, the Synod has foiled the Pope's plans for now. But just wait!"

I hope, though, it's not too much to expect at least a little lessening of the suspicion and doubt directed at  Pope Francis among those who aren't all in on his mendacity.

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