instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

What Christians do

Once a bunch of Lay Dominican inquirers were talking about when to say the various offices of the Liturgy of the Hours. You know, like if you sleep in till 10 a.m., do you go with Morning Prayer or Mid-Morning Prayer, or if you're out till 9 p.m. do you do Evening Prayer or Night Prayer.

The friar who for his sins had agreed to be the spiritual advisor of this newly-founded chapter, when asked for his opinion on these matters, shifted in his seat and answered, "Christians pray."

This may be the best two-word sermon I've ever heard.


Poles apart

Greg Popcak of Heart, Mind & Strength has an interesting diagnosis of two irrational behaviors exhibited by American Catholics. One is interventionism, according to which fixing the problems with the Church is entirely up to personal action of the interventionist. The other is inspirationism, a passive acceptance that the Holy Spirit will make everything better. People who find themselves bouncing between these two poles exhibit "Catholic Bipolar Disorder."

I, too, have noticed some irrational behaviors among American Catholics lately. The most common of these might be called inlocoparentism. An inlocoparentist professes absolute moral certainty of precisely what the Holy Father must do, today, to whom, and with what implement, if the Church in the U.S. is not to be wiped out tomorrow.

Another is indolentism, whose exhibitors insist that responding to the crisis is entirely up to some person or persons other than themselves, who after all have never molested a child nor covered up for a molester.

Some American Catholics also show signs of inextremisism, the belief that every bishop in the United States needs to be banished to a monastery to do penance for the rest of his life.

The most dire irrational behavior, however -- the one with the least hope of recovery -- may be influentialism, the sense that what the individual says should or does affect what happens in the Church.


Monday, June 17, 2002

Our duty too

Rod Dreher quotes Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln at last Friday's Catholics United for the Faith bishop's conference "postmortem report":
The avuncular bishop, who is considered a right-wing fringe figure by most of his colleagues, cited the 14th-century St. Catherine of Siena, "an illiterate nun who is now a doctor of the Church," as a model.

"She was brave enough to tell the pope off when he needed telling off," said Bruskewitz. "She did her duty. We must too."
I wonder what the CUF crowd would have thought had they been told that St. Catherine (who was neither illiterate nor a nun) explicitly taught that neither the laity nor secular authorities are to attack any priest or bishop, however evil he may be (which, in the 14th Century, may have been very evil indeed). Instead, they are to resort to prayer in perfect charity.


A holy fool's folly?

Emily Stimpson is disquieted by the spectacle of modern American bishops:
I’m tired of the bishops being politic, and I’m tired of ecclesiastics who remind me of all the congressman, senators, and bureaucrats I left behind in Washington....
I don’t want politic bishops. I want holy bishops. I want bishops who stand up for Christ and His Church, who loudly proclaim the truth of God’s teachings, and who do the right thing, publicity be damned.
I know that’s unrealistic and probably not even wise. The demands of a modern day diocese, current divisions within the Church, and the omnipresent press all seem to call for a bishop skilled in the art of prudential diplomacy.
I think it's probably a good thing, for the sake of the faith of many Catholics now living (myself included), that we don't have any videotapes of the vast majority of Church councils and synods. What might we think of the sight of St. Peter declaring that mistakes were made, or St. Paul upbraiding him while looking out of the corner of his eye for the cameras?

Emily writes, "There are few things I would love to see more right now than a holy fool in a mitre, a Saint Francis in episcopal garb."

I think that would be entertaining, and it would certainly give me something to talk about other than my own actions, but I suspect that St. Francis would have been a disaster from start to finish as a bishop, his successes as a teacher and sanctifier overshadowed by his failures as a governor.

Maybe not; God's strength is made perfect in human weakness.

Still, while we don't seem to have a Saint Francis in episcopal garb, we do have an Emily Stimpson in lay garb. I'm in lay garb, too, as are most American Catholics waiting for God to raise up a saint to lead the Church out of the current mess.

So why isn't God doing what we're telling Him to do?


He ain't heavy, he's my brother priest

Amy Welborn didn't like some of the things she heard last week:
The hesitancy to enact "zero tolerance" we saw in Dallas on the part of some bishops was explicitly stated as a reluctance to "rat on" priests (the Rockford guy) and a sense that it would be difficult to go back to the diocese and "face my brother priests" with this kind of policy.

Why is the existence of this self-protective ethos, that sees loyalty to the brotherhood as the highest value, so difficult for lay people to admit?
I think another important question is this: Why is the sense that it will be difficult for bishops to face their brother priests with this kind of policy interpreted as a self-protective ethos that sees loyalty to the brotherhood as the highest value?

Priests are not bishops' employees, nor are they merely their assistants. According to the Vatican II decree Christus Dominus, the bishop together with diocesan clergy
form one presbytery and one family whose father is the bishop... The relationships between the bishop and the diocesan priests should rest most especially upon the bonds of supernatural charity so that the harmony of the will of the priests with that of their bishop will render their pastoral activity more fruitful. [CD 28]
It isn't hard for me to imagine that a bishop telling his spiritual sons he may disown them if they hug the wrong child could injure the harmony of wills necessary for their pastoral activity to be more fruitful. It isn't hard for me to imagine a father expressing concern about exposing his sons to a risk of grave injustice.


Sunday, June 16, 2002

I was thinking more along the lines of, "Happy 25th Anniversary!"

Mark Shea mentions his friend Greg Krehbiel's letter, and instructs us, "Go thou and do likewise."

You can read Greg Krehbiel's letter and make your own decision. As for me, my next letter to my bishop -- Cardinal McCarrick, the same as Mr. Krehbiel -- will look substantially different.

In particular, I will not be listing conditions that the Pope must meet -- such as laicizing bishops who do not live up to my standards -- in order for me to support my local church at more than a token amount. This, to me, would be too much like me telling my father I won't help take care of my sister until my grandfather makes my uncle stop drinking.

In fact, if someone sent me this letter anonymously, I would probably think that it betrayed a very confused ecclesiology, one according to which a parish in one diocese can reasonably be penalized for the behavior of the bishop of another diocese and the same extra-diocesan authority that allocates administrative duties within a diocese also allocates preaching and teaching duties to the bishop of that diocese.


Friday, June 14, 2002

He's gone mad

The heavy weather across the region in recent days has caused Steve Schultz to lose his mind.

He has announced a contest for the worst original free verse poem.

Speaking as a former high school literary magazine editor, I can say that there is no such thing as "the worst free-verse poetry." If you can't find your copy of the 1982 edition of The Gryphon, then you can verify this by reading the poems published by the International Library of Poetry. (N.B.: The ILP is not, in my judgment, a company that makes a fetish of corporate integrity.)

In short, there is no lower bound to the bad poetry humans are capable of. Any poem can be made worse; most poems are.

(The same absence of a lower bound holds for human fatuity as well. I used to think, each time I learned of a new low, "That's it. That's as big of an ass any human being can make of himself." Then I found out that there are English-speaking people who, in all sincerity, refer to the Supreme Being as "Godde." This in itself is merely silly, but the reason they do this is to split the difference between "God" and "Goddess." Any species capable of that is capable of anything, and worse.)


Fun with numbers

Emily Stimpson says this story "says the loopy, lefty, blatantly hereretical group, Call to Action, is the largest lay movement in the country." A reader counterclaims that the Knights of Columbus holds this distinction.

What the story says, though, is that Call to Action is "the nation's largest Catholic Church reform organization." I don't think the KoC will challenge CtA on that.

This brings to mind various claims about how the only vocations crisis the more traditional religious congregations and the more "conservative" dioceses have is where to put all the novices and seminarians. (Why do such claims always include the expression "bursting at the seams"? Do they all share a common source, perhaps a Wanderer article from 1993?) The conclusion, of course, is that tradition leads to vocations, while non-tradition doesn't.

I am sympathetic to the conclusion, but I think we need to be careful about arguing from statistics.

Say there are ten religious congregations; one is "traditional" (habits, silence, however you want to define it), the other nine are not. Now suppose there are ten postulants; three are "traditionally"-inclined, the other seven are not. Evenly distribute the postulants among the congregations, according to inclination. Then the "traditional" congregation gets three postulants, seven "non-traditional" get one each, and two "non-traditional" get none.

One way to interpret this is that the "traditional" approach (again, defined however you like) draws on average more than three times the number of postulants that the "non-traditional" approach does, and therefore there are more people interested in "traditional" vocations. I'd argue, though, that the correct way to interpret this is that the supply of "traditional" congregations does not meet the demand. If four of the "non-traditional" congregations fold, and four new "traditional" congregations spring up (encouraged, perhaps, by the phenomenal growth of the existing "traditional" one), but the ratio of "traditional"-to-non among postulants stays the same, then we'd see "non-traditional" congregations geting more than twice as many vocations, on average.

These are made-up ratios, of course, although in the claims I've heard there usually are fewer than six "orthodox" dioceses; if there really were only six "orthodox" dioceses, then they'd have about three times the number of vocations as the others even if only 10% of the seminarians were "orthodox." But my point is that the Holy Spirit isn't necessarily speaking to us through quoted statistics.

Another obvious consideration is that quality, not quantity, is what is needed. St. Thomas More once complained that there were too many priests in England, meaning too many men who entered the priesthood as a comfortable profession rather than a holy vocation. He was correct.


Thursday, June 13, 2002

What the scandal is really about

Fr. Jim Tucker provides another reason for keeping the Roman Catholic priesthood [mostly] celibate: It leaves priests free to receive big shipments of books from without having to sneak them onto the bookshelves and hope no one notices. Celibate priests have the time to make sick calls that might otherwise be spent trying to explain how, since Jungmann's Mass of the Roman Rite is really more of a reference book, when you think about it, it shouldn't count against the "one book in, one book out" rule.

Let's call this what it is: bibliophilia. Attraction to books, books, books, books, and books.


Whisky and cigars? Talk about a throwback.

Fr. Robert Johansen likes Laphroiag and dislikes sauerkraut.

I am with him on the whisky (as my wife asks, "Is that the one that tastes like dirt?"), but can it be that the reverend father disdains that noblest of human sandwiches, the Reuben? (The cheesesteak is, of course, a gift of the angels.)

As for his dislike of suffering fools, while I myself don't often react to foolishness with the gladness demanded by charity, I am extremely grateful toward those who do.


Wednesday, June 12, 2002


Greg Popcak calls me a "coy, but groundless, commentator" for calling his posts about bishops committing mortal sin an invitation to play Spot the Mortal Sin!.

He is mistaken.

I am not coy. I have not been coy since I don't know when. Coyness irritates me almost as much as spunkiness. If you think I am being coy, I am probably merely failing to be subtle.

Am I groundless? That depends on where I am standing.

I have no reason to believe that I am capable of judging whether another person's particular act was a mortal sin, specifically whether performing that act cut off that person from God's sanctifying grace. I do have reason to doubt that news reports contain sufficient information to judge whether Cardinal Law committed mortal sin in 1993. Therefore, for me to speculate in public on the matter would be nothing more than play, and perhaps calumnous play at that.

Greg says he is "exercising the proper lay office to be a prophet." As I told him by email, I have no reply to that; that is his discernment to make. I have no more received prophetic insight to condemn him than I have Cardinal Law.

In an email message, though, Greg seems to go further and insist that my refusal to come to judgment about Cardinal Law's 1993 act is a cop out. I do not agree, since for the reasons I've just given it might well be sinful for me to do this. Furthermore, as I am neither a resident of the Boston Archdiocese nor in a position of authority or influence in the Church, I do not believe that I have any positive duty to study the matter and come to even a tentative judgment on this.

Finally, I find Greg's entire argument about whether Cardinal Law committed mortal sin, and his reasons why it matters, unconvincing:

1. He writes, "In other words, these priests would probably not have continued to abuse others, and certainly would not have been able to abuse others as priests without at least the "implicit formal cooperation" of their bishops." But according to the definition he quotes, formal cooperation is participation in an act "either for its own sake or as a means to some other goal." Since it cannot be credibly said that Cardinal Law's decisions enabling pederasty were made for the sake of pederasty, or to use acts of pederasty as a means to some other goal, his decisions cannot credibly be called formal cooperation of any kind.

2. Of course, this leaves the possibility of material cooperation of one kind or another, but since I am not a moral theologian my doubts concerning further aspects of Greg's analysis are more tentative. The website Greg references defines immediate material cooperation, which is morally illicit, this way:
Immediate material cooperation occurs when the cooperator participates in circumstances that are essential to the commission of an act, such that the act could not occur without this participation.
I don't think this applies to assigning a pederast to parish ministry; my guess is the word "circumstances" has a more restricted technical meaning here (i.e., "who, what, where, by what aids, why, how, and when;" see ST I-II, 7, 3). Otherwise, we could say that, in giving birth, a woman immediately materially cooperates in every act her child performs during their lifetime. If, then, we are driven all the way back to mediate material cooperation, we are in very murky waters indeed if we try to judge an act in which all circumstances aren't known.

3. He writes, "I am not so sure that it is as obvious to the bishops, and it is certainly not obvious to them that this sin could be mortal." If it is not obvious to someone that their act could be a mortal sin, then their act is not a mortal sin. Thus we can set aside Greg's concerns about the effect of mortal sin upon the bishops' souls in this case.

4. He writes that any mortal sins committed by a bishop in this matter should be forgiven, but "certainly not before being required to do real and public penance for their very real and public sin." But mortal sin is forgiven when the penitent is absovled. We could demand more than God does, probably we often do, but I don't think we should be setting policy based on our own hard-heartedness.

5. He writes, of the man who fails "to heal the damage to the Body of Christ which his actions have caused":
...the Church tells us that upon his death, he will wait in Purgatory for the wound he has inflicted on the Body of Christ to heal itself, desperately and painfully longing for the fullness of the Beatific Vision, which could take generations upon generations upon generations if his children and/or his children's children repeat his mistakes or continue to suffer the consequences of them.
I don't say that the Church doesn't tell us that this is what happens; I only say that the Church has never told me this, and that it is quite different from the things the Church has told me about purgatory, and even from some of the more mystical teachings that have been approved without being confirmed.


What kind of ex-seminarian are you?

A. Well-adjusted husband and father; only lingering effect is occasional cuss in Latin.
B. Embittered Feeneyite crank; booted out for cussing at the modernist rector in Latin.
C. Mild neurotic; sometimes wonders why no one ever hit on him.
D. Loyal son of the Revolution; those 2 1/2 years confer full authority to proclaim that the Church is Wrong about Everything!
E. Nostalgic; leaving was the right decision, but misses the showers.

More questions: Is it possible that, even counting the women, more Catholic bloggers are or were seminarians than not? Do men who attended U.S. Catholic seminaries blog at a rate higher than the general population? Should we be concerned?



Rod Dreher has a piece on National Review Online today that I expect will be widely lauded -- although, considered as journalism, it's not much more than a rehash of what has been written about this for months, right down to the opinion that "the pope is too enfeebled to give the matter the close attention it deserves." (Imagine him wasting his time kissing up to some foreigner named Bartholomew when something important is happening in the United States!)

But one sentence in the article stands out for me:
The uncomprehending stares Deal Hudson received from Vatican insiders when he tried to explain to them what's happening to the Church here are more unsettling, at least to me, because it shows how cut off the leaders at Catholicism's central command are from the reality on the ground in America.
Is this true? Is Catholicism's central command really Vatican City? I always understood it to be in heaven, with by the love of God an equally real presence in tabernacles throughout the world.

If Catholicism's central command is truly the Vatican, then the bishops should cancel their meeting and go fishing.


Tuesday, June 11, 2002

I have to be careful

John Betts vamps further on St. Thomas More, concluding with a paragraph on his friend St. John Cardinal Fisher. (It is on the anniversary of St. John's dies natali that their joint feast is observed.)

I've read St. John's Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms (the mind boggles at the thought of an American bishop nowadays giving a series of sermons like this) but haven't had a chance to read an extended biography on him. I'm not even sure I should, because I already have eighteen patron saints, and I have the impression that he could easily become another.

This does remind me that I need to come up with a recipe for St. John Fish to serve for dinner next Saturday. For some reason, what's coming to mind is baking a whole monkfish in aluminum foil, with herbs and butter, topped with halved Roma tomatoes (with one tomato half placed firmly on the head).

Dessert will, of course, be St. Thoma S'more Pie (graham cracker crust, chocolate pudding, marshmallow fluff, chilled).


Memento mori

I've been on a St. Thomas More kick lately, as a lead up to his feast day next Saturday. I just finished Peter Ackroyd's biography, saw A Man for All Seasons over the weekend, and am now reading The Last Letters of Thomas More, edited by Alvaro de Silva. (I'm pleased to learn, courtesy of a Zenit link from John Betts, that the Prince of Wales is getting into the More is Better spirit, too.)

Ackroyd's book was excellent, as all the reviewers said, but I couldn't help but think that he joins most of the other commentators in using too simple a key to unlock St. Thomas. Specifically, I think his explanations of More's actions as being driven simply from devotion to tradition are in places overly superficial. Ackroyd certainly gives us a three-dimensional picture of St. Thomas, in contrast to the more common one- or two-dimensional caricatures, but I have a feeling that it takes more than three dimensions to fully capture him. (I think I prefer the R. W. Chambers biography; I haven't yet read Richard Marius. John Farrow's pious biography is available online, as is the life by William Roper, More's son-in-law.)

Although I'd read and enjoyed the script of the original play, I was a little disappointed by the multi-Oscar winning movie of A Man for All Seasons. Robert Bolt, the playwright and screenwriter, somehow manages to show More's wit without his humor, and there's a certain, er, disjointed linearity to the way the story is told -- the king is nuts, Cromwell grinds More in the mills of the king's justice, Rich sells his soul ("But for Wales!" A great line.), More loses his head -- that robs the story of much of its intelligibility. Bolt (a non-Catholic, like Ackroyd and Chambers) intended his story to be about the triumph of the self, and at this I admit he succeeded, but the Thomas More he popularized is too flat to have ever conceived Utopia.

You can't think about St. Thomas for long without thinking about conscience. Of the acts available to fallen man, acts of conscience are among the most peculiar. It's sometimes thought of as the little voice in your head that tells you what you should do, but often people seem to be more interested with what the little voices in others' heads are saying.

To say that your conscience does not permit you to do something is to invite the inference that everyone's conscience ought not permit them to do it, too. But this inference misses an important distinction. Conscience tells me, "It is wrong for me to do this," not "It is wrong to do this (and hence, it is wrong for you)."

It can be difficult to recognize the difference. You might say, "I'm not claiming it's wrong for you. That's for you to decide," but to some that sounds a lot like, "Since it's wrong for me, it's wrong for you. If your moral compass is too screwey to see that, don't blame me." If we had a good theory of how conscience works, we might be able to avoid such misunderstandings.

On the other hand, Tudor England had a perfectly good theory of conscience and it didn't save St. Thomas More. At least, it didn't save his life.


Putting granny out of my misery

Louder Fenn is doing yeoman's work challenging USS Clueless on euthanasia, but I think he makes a small mistake when he writes of USS Clueless captain Den Beste, "He is relying on an emotion, namely love."

I'd say the emotion is not love (but then I would, wouldn't I, since I don't think of love as primarily an emotion), but compassion.

Com-passion. Shared suffering. This, I think, is the emotion we feel when someone we love (that's supposed to be everybody, right?) is in pain. And while it is a noble emotion, before we let it rule our will we should recognize that, if we are feeling compassion, then ending the other's suffering ends our own suffering as well.

For someone who sees suffering as the greatest evil, this might seem like a benefit. For someone who sees suffering as potentially redeeming, or as a potential source of meaning in one's life, this might make the good of euthanasia more doubtful.


Monday, June 10, 2002

Turning the cheek

Greg Popcak of HMS Blog, having read that I'm not joining the Spot the Mortal Sin! game he's proposed, asks by email, "What exactly is wrong with calling sin a sin?"

To which I can only answer, simply and precisely, I think there is nothing wrong with calling a sin a sin.


You there! Admire me!

I've received an unsolicited testimonial from Bene Diction, Martin Roth's Canuck sidekick, to the effect that something I wrote in answer to the question "Do Catholics worship Mary?" was "a clear and intelligent response" that "gets high praise for answering in a way young evangelical Protestants can identify with."

I mention this not just to impress upon you my wit, prudence, tact, and broad marketability against the day I show up on your doorstep with a book proposal, but also for whatever benefit what I wrote might offer should you ever be asked questions by a young evangelical Protestant.

Even if (as seems likely, judging by the caliber of people who read Disputations) you're already familiar with Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium, young Diction's reaction suggests that an artless response quoting the words of the Church can be all that's needed to answer honest questions from non-Catholics of good will.


Sunday, June 09, 2002

Play along at home!

Over on Heart, Mind, and Strength, Gregory Popcak invites us to play Spot the Mortal Sin! Episcopal Edition.

I'd love to join in, but in our house we have a rule that you can't play Spot the Mortal Sin! unless your homework is done, your bed is made, you are free of all attachment to even venial sin, and you receive a prophetic revelation from the Holy Spirit. And I haven't made my bed today.



The Washington Post has a front-page article today, reporting the results of its survey of the number of priests involved in sexual abuse of minors. (Praying the Post has more on this article.)

Just to set the scale, 573 priests have been removed from their ministry for these acts. Of these, 218 (38%) were removed since January 2002, which shows a certain responsiveness to the signs of the times by the bishops. The Post reports that 34 priests guilty of sexual abuse of minors remain in ministry, which is 5.6% of the total (i.e., 573 removed + 34 not removed). A total of 866 priests have been accused since the 1960s (about 1.5% of the 60,000 priests).

I have no strong opinions about what to do with the priests who are guilty, but I think it's worth noting that, judging by the Post's figures, the number of priests currently active in ministry who are believed to be guilty of these isn't huge, considered absolutely (34), as a percentage of those believed guilty (5.6%), or as a percentage of active priests (<0.1%).

No, this isn't a "What's the big deal?" argument. I think the effectiveness of the scandal in pulling 38% of the offenders from active ministry in the past six months speaks for itself.

What this is is an argument that, while issues of what to do about sexual abuse of minors is important for the U.S. bishops to resolve beginning Thursday in Dallas, they do not (pace Michael Kelly) constitute the Church's "greatest existential crisis since the Reformation."

The risk I see is that the bishops will be satisfied by settling these issues, one way or another, without embracing the opportunity for purification and reformation that this crisis offers. That the opportunity, which seems to be widely recognized by bloggers, will not be lost -- by bishops, priests, or laity -- will be the focus of my own prayers this week.


Friday, June 07, 2002

By the way

Cardinal McCarrick of Washington has this to say about the draft charter:
My initial reaction to the draft charter is favorable. It is a strong document that includes core principles I feel are important, including care for victims, removal from ministry during an investigation, reporting to civil authorities and having a primarily lay-staffed review board in all dioceses.


You can't even quit the game

Domenico Bettinelli is among the bloggers who have criticized the U.S. bishops for releasing the draft charter "in order to allow bishops to gauge the response from Catholics in their dioceses":
Does this bother anyone else? To gauge response? Do they believe in the policy or not? They should be the spiritual Fathers they have been called to be and do the job. If my dad sat me down as a teen and floated a proposal for groundings by me to gauge my reaction, I would have thought he was daft. He's the dad. He's supposed to make the tough decisions and I should be able to trust him to do it. This smacks of Clintonian focus groups, wet fingers in the wind, and so on. Has the bishops' conference hired James Carville and Dick Morris when I wasn't looking?
I don't understand this criticism. What is the alternative? To ignore the response from Catholics in their dioceses? To slavishly follow the response from Catholics in their dioceses?

Yes, it is the bishop's job to make the tough decisions, and yes, we should be able to trust him to do it. But that trust has been lost, among a large and vocal portion of the laity; and even if it had not been lost, consulting the laity on this matter is a simple act of prudence.

If the objection is that the specific expression "to gauge the response" calls to mind unsavory politics, I'll note that those are the words of the New York Times reporter, not necessarily of Archbishop Myers, and that what a phrase calls to mind says at least as much about the listener as the speaker.


Thursday, June 06, 2002

Christ's prayer to the Father!

John McGuinness of Man Bites Blog writes:
Orthodox Catholic liturgical police are fond of reminding us that the Mass is "Chirst's prayer to the Father." Therefore, any "innovations" such as modern music or inclusive language reveal stunning arrogance on the part of the innovator, since the innovator must think he or she can improve on what Jesus has given us. Putting oursleves ahead of Jesus is blasphemy, so all liturgical innovations must be stridently opposed.

Looking at the liturgy, it occurred to me that this is somewhat bogus. Lots of what we do at even the most orthodox liturgy was not done by Christ.
I'm not really sure which orthodox Catholic liturgical police he has been listening to, but I know I've said that the Mass is Christ's prayer to the Father, and when I did I didn't mean that the Mass is a verbatim recital of prayers Jesus offered before His ascension.

According to the Catechism:
The word "liturgy" originally meant a "public work" or a "service in the name of/on behalf of the people." In Christian tradition it means the participation of the People of God in "the work of God." Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church. [CCC 1069]
The previous paragraph quotes Sacrosanctum concilium, which refers to "the liturgy, 'through which the work of our redemption is accomplished.'" (This, in turn, contains a quotation from the secret of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.)

The point of all this is that, if it is the liturgy -- "most of all...the divine sacrifice of the eucharist" [SC 2] -- that accomplishes the work of our redemption, then the liturgy must belong to Christ. It must be Christ's work, or it is nothing but the empty words of empty souls.

This does not mean that every word and every gesture is somehow made in persona Christi. What it does mean is that participation in the Mass is participation in Jesus' sacrifice on Calvary, offered to the Father in our behalf, and in the eternal priesthood by which He makes constant intercession for us, until the day He returns in glory.

The conclusion, then, is not that "any 'innovations' ... reveal stunning arrogance," but that, since the Mass is the work of Jesus and His mystical body the Church, no priest, liturgist, lector, cantor, or congregant possesses any authority to change anything that is not granted by the Church.


Not just action

The Cardinal Virtue Tour continues at Kairos, today's virtue being Justice.

At my parish festival last weekend, I saw a flier from the social issues group that contrasted justice with charity. Charity, according to the flier, was about good works for people in need, while justice was about "changing the system."

And I thought -- well, no, I said out loud, "That's not right." Justice is not about changing the system, it's about giving to others what is their due. A letter writing campaign for public care for the insane may be an act of justice, but it isn't justice itself. To quote from Kairos, "We mistake the rules for applying justice for the thing itself."

The reason this matters is that, if all we have are rules, without any grounding for these rules, then we have no rational way of knowing whether the rules are just. What is the point of changing the system if we don't know whether the changed system is any more just than the existing system?

What has been lost, to large numbers of good-hearted Catholics, is the need for contemplation prior to activity. By "contemplation," I mean what St. Thomas meant when he wrote, "theirs is said to be the contemplative who are chiefly intent on the contemplation of truth." [ST II-II, 180, 1] By "prior to," I mean both chronological and logical priority. You should start the day in Christian prayer if you want to spend the day in Christian service, and if your service is not based on, understood according to, and sustained by contact with Christ, then it cannot be Christian service.

Our social and cultural systems are far too complex to be addressed by a rule-based approach to justice. If we don't know what justice is, how can we know whether we have the virtue of justice -- that is, the habit of acting justly? And if we don't know whether we have the habit of acting justly, how can we know that our acts are just?



Wednesday, June 05, 2002

It's very...nice, the website of Marian links that's burning through the blogs, is an organized and comprehensive index. It shows evidence of a lot of time and a lot of love from its creator, Dave Kopel.

But shouldn't a website that "helps you consider, create, or strengthen your own spiritual or intellectual links with Mary" be a little less, um, ugly?

It's said that devotion to Mama Mary gives Catholicism an element of the feminine that is missing in many Protestant denominations. I agree, but lately I've been gripped by the theory that what Mary really gives us is an element of the beautiful, specifically beauty mediated through human nature.

Yes, yes, Jesus is fully human and so mediates beauty through His humanity even more perfectly than Mary does. But His humanity is united with His divinity, and it's not always easy (and perhaps sometimes impossible) to separate His human beauty, so to speak, from His divine beauty.

With Mary, though, you can gaze on 100% human beauty without the risk of being blinded by divine beauty. Beauty is that which, being seen, pleases, and in Mary we can see the virtues and be pleased by them, in a much fuller way than when we just think about, say, the nature of the virtue of temperance abstractly.


You can't spell "policy" without "police," almost

I'm a bit puzzled by some of the criticism directed at the bishops' draft charter. (I was also unpersuaded by Michael Kelly's opinion piece in the Washington Post.)

Are the fundamental difficulties the Church in the United States is facing administrative or spiritual? If they are spiritual, then the best-crafted and most prudent charter the USCCB could ever produce will not resolve them. What are we asking of our bishops? "Give us Christ!" or "Give us national policies with provisions for lay review boards authorized to investigate and punish instances of non-compliance!"

What will make bishops follow these guidelines if they haven't followed others like them in the past? God, or nothing.


Tuesday, June 04, 2002

That about wraps it up

I think there is a fundamental disagreement on how I and others -- specifically, Mark Sullivan and John Betts -- think the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are to be understood as moral acts.

From my perspective, the act under consideration is the incineration of approximately 3 square miles within a densely built-up city.

From their perspective, if I'm projecting correctly, the act under consideration is the use of an atomic bomb to end a war sooner and with less net death and destruction.

Now, I happen to believe that using an atomic bomb to end a war sooner and with less net death and destruction is not immoral per se. On the other hand, I also happen to believe that incinerating approximately 3 square miles within a densely built-up city is immoral per se. Given our different perspectives, then, our disagreement seems not only expected but proper.

But that's given the different perspectives. Is one perspective better than the other?

I think so, and I think the better perspective is mine, but I don't operate with a very robust moral theology, so I'm not as confident about this as I am about some things.

The reason that I think the "specific act" perspective is better than the "broad objective" perspective is that it allows for a more refined moral analysis. By that I mean that the morality of a specific act can be resolved to a much greater degree than the morality of a general intent. Specific acts may change from good to neutral to evil with changing circumstances; broad objectives, by their nature, remain broadly good, broadly neutral, or broadly evil even as circumstances vary. I think a "high resolution" just war theory is better, if only because it makes it less likely that justice in engaging in war will be taken for justice in conducting war.

And, as what I hope to be my final words specifically on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I think the critical lesson to be learned from them is that it is entirely possible that we will face other situations in which a) certain military objectives must be obtained to avoid horrific physical evils; but b) these military objectives cannot be obtained by morally licit means; so c) the objectives must not be obtained by morally illicit means, despite the horrific physical evils that will occur.


A frailty not thought of again

Another good line from St. Dorotheus (via Annunciations), following his description of a brother who blames another for his sin, is, "This kind of thinking is surely ridiculous and has no rational basis."

This prefigures something Ven. John Henry Newman wrote in his appendix on lying in Apologia Pro Vita Sua, about:
...the unscientific way of dealing with lies, viz. that on a great or cruel occasion a man cannot help telling a lie, and he would not be a man, did he not tell it, but still it is wrong and he ought not to do it, and he must trust that the sin will be forgiven him, though he goes about to commit it.... This view cannot for a moment be defended, but, I suppose, it is very common.
I agree with Cardinal Newman that this is a very common view, but empirical evidence suggests a lot of people are prepared to defend the view until death.

I don't mean the defense claiming a sin ceases to be a sin under certain great or cruel occasions; that, at least, is a case that needs to be answered. I mean the specific position mentioned by Cardinal Newman. There are plenty of people who believe that something can be both morally wrong and prudentially necessary. This betrays a misunderstanding of either sin or prudence, or both. An act cannot be both virtuous and sinful, because virtue and sin are both determined relative to the same objective truth.

It's understandable to want to ignore the illogic of saying there are times when we ought to do what we ought not do. It makes this lousy fallen world seem a little less lousy. But it's an abdication of our responsibility as moral agents to know the truth and follow it. It's a passive way of claiming the right to detemine good and evil on our own authority. It is surely ridiculous, it is indefensible, it is very common.


Thanks, neighbor. Thanks a lot.

Michael Dubruiel quotes some wisdom of St. Dorotheus:
Someone else asks why he should accuse himself when he was sitting peacefully and quietly when a brother came upon him with an unkind or insulting word. He cannot tolerate it, and so he thinks that his anger is justified. If that brother had not approached him and said those words and upset him, he never would have sinned.
This brings to mind the story of a friar who liked to tell his confreres over breakfast, "If I didn't have to live with you, I'd be a saint by now."

It also reminds me of Peter Nixon's story at Sursum Corda about yelling at his wife after his kid acted up. (That's a story so familiar to me it reads like a retelling of the Bedtime Myth.)

There's something very appealing about being able to blame my faults on others. As both St. Dorotheus and Peter Nixon recognize, though, my faults are my own, and I am the cause of my own sin.

Moreover, the opportunities others constantly offer me to practice vice are also opportunities to practice virtue. We can tell God we love Him all day long -- in fact, we should -- but we can only prove it, to Him and to ourselves, in our interactions with each other. A practicing Catholic does most of his practicing among his family, friends, and neighbors.

If it weren't for everyone else, I'd have an excuse for not being a saint.


Monday, June 03, 2002

An easy question, a difficult answer

Mark Sullivan continues to argue in favor of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Along the way, he asks a very easy question:
In an immoral business, in which no choice is palatable, might it not be argued that the evil of the a-bomb is preferable to the greater evil of extended warfare, in that the bomb hastens the end of warfare and the imposition of justice?
The answer is, "Yes."

There is a related question, though, that has a much harder answer: "Can I do the lesser of two evils?"

This time, the answer is, "No."

That's pretty much it. I don't need to know how brutal my enemy is. I don't need to know how many good guys would die if I don't commit an evil act. Appeals like these mix two incommensurables: physical evil and moral evil. You can no more say that this physical evil is greater than that moral evil than you can say that capturing a rook in chess is worth more than capturing a castle in France.

What I need to know is whether the act I am considering is a sin. If it is a sin, I cannot commit it.

Why not? Because, as the Catechism puts it:
Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. [CCC 1849]
Note the term "certain goods." Ending the war and imposing justice are very definite goods. The belief that justice can be imposed by injustice, though, is an offense against reason and truth.

The Catechism continues:
Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods," knowing and determining good and evil. [CCC 1850]
That is what sin is. That is what sin does to us. And that is why we must never sin.


Don't get technical

John Betts, just your average Catholic guy, engages in the old rhetorical trick of using facts to defend his position, in this case that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was morally justified.

John writes:
I see no difference between the use of an atom bomb and the general destruction caused by conventional weapons -- at that time. More civilian casualties were caused from the fire-bombing of Tokyo and Dresden than either Nagasaki or Hiroshima.

I agree with him here, but the moral objection to using atomic bombs is based on the general destruction, not the technology that causes it. You might argue that, if Dresden was justified, then so was Hiroshima, but this isn't an argument that Hiroshima was justified.

I've often heard the claim that using the atomic bombs saved millions of lives, but John offers a claim that is new to me:
It seems clear that conventional bombing of both cities, targeting legitimate military targets would have caused as much damage and loss of life, if not more initially, than the use of the atomic bomb.

I'm sure he didn't intend it this way, but to me this sounds a lot like, "We were going to kill them sooner or later anyway."

I think what I object to lies in the idea that "conventional bombing ... targeting legitimate military targets" is moral per se. Bombing is conventionally done to satisfy military objectives, not moral objectives, and just war theory identifies several non-military criteria that must be met for an act of war to be just.

The first criterion for jus in bello given by the United States Catholic Conference is, "Noncombatant Immunity: civilians may not be the object of direct attack, and military personnel must take due care to avoid and minimize indirect harm to civilians." Yet according to The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (thanks, John, for the link), among the target criteria was that "the selected targets should contain a densely built-up area of at least" 1 mile in radius. Poring over maps of Japan looking for large, densely built-up areas is not, to my mind, a mark of due care to avoid and minimize indirect harm to civilians.

Moreover, the second jus in bello principle is, "Proportionality: in the conduct of hostilities, efforts must be made to attain military objectives with no more force than is militarily necessary and to avoid disproportionate collateral damage to civilian life and property." Yet, "In Nagasaki, nearly everything within 1/2 mile of the explosion was destroyed, including heavy structures. All Japanese homes were destroyed within 1 1/2 miles from X." (More details here.) This is simply not proportional force.

Despite all my blogging, I think the specific question of the morality of using atomic weapons to end World War II is not of itself too important. An immoral act causes physical evil to the people acted against and moral evil to the actors themselves. I think everyone agrees that much greater physical evils would have resulted had the war lasted much longer, and no one in this discussion has any interest in measuring the culpability of those involved in the bombing.

More important, to my mind, is that we realize being right is not easy, and being on the right side makes it very difficult to be sure that what we do is the right thing.


Sunday, June 02, 2002

Speaking of American solutions

Amy Welborn tells us that the New York Times reports that the American bishops have invited "an unusually large number of laypeople to speak at their meeting in Dallas[, including] Margaret Steinfels, editor of Commonweal... R. Scott Appleby, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame; and Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst...."

Intending no disrespect toward these laypeople, allow me to ask whether it is just perhaps worth considering the possibility that it might be in some sense possible to entertain the thought that listening to magazine editors, academics, and clinical psychologists is what has been sapping the Church in the United States of Christ-centered leadership for decades.

Have any lay saints been invited to speak to the bishops?


Saturday, June 01, 2002

Questions, not problems

Maureen McHugh draws a valuable distinction between "American solutions" and "Catholic answers." She asks, "What can we, as lay Catholics, do to diminish the current dysfunction and to minimize the possibility of its reappearance?"

I have a friend who specializes in asking very difficult questions about life in a society where any single action can have so many different consequences. My initial answer to all of his questions about what should be done is, "Prayer and fasting."

Often enough, I never come up with a better answer. Probably, often enough, there is no better answer.

In any case, since I haven't done nearly enough of either prayer or fasting, I don't have an answer for Maureen. All I can do is agree that an American-but-not-Catholic solution is not what the Church in the United States needs out of the bishops' meeting this month.


The ends do not justify the means.

Chris Burgwald of Veritas wrote: "I don't see how anyone who values innocent human life could endorse dropping The Bomb on Japan."

Mark Sullivan of Ad Orientem replied:
You could if it meant saving many, many more innocent lives while bringing a close to a conflict that had brought – and would continue to bring – untold suffering. The end, in these circumstances, would, in my view, justify the means.


The ends do not justify the means.

This means that the ends do not justify the means. It doesn't mean that most ends don't justify most means. It means no end justifies any means.

Let me give an example: The end of proclaiming the Gospel to the whole world does not justify the means of studying the Gospel.

The end may explain the prudential choice of the means, but it does not -- can not -- determine the moral licitness of the means.

And what of the means of nuclear attack to meet the end of saving many, many innocent lives? Gaudium et spes states, "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. [80]"

Mark seems to think that stopping the bad guys is a good enough reason to bomb their noncombattants. But just because we're fighting bad guys doesn't make us good guys. What makes us good guys is not doing things like bombing noncombattants.

The title he gave his comments is, "Were it not for the atomic bomb, I might not be here today." This is essentially the argument people are using in favor of harvesting stem cells from abortions, and they are both false and dangerous arguments for essentially the same reason.


Friday, May 31, 2002

Into the hill country with haste

Today is a day for rising in haste to visit your kin; for celebrating new life; for wondering at the kenosis of the Incarnation; for wondering why we don't wonder more at God's willingness to come to us (us!); for leaping for joy; for blessing the Mother of God; for believing that what has been spoken by the Lord will be fulfilled; for proclaiming the greatness of the Lord with our souls and not just our lips; for rejoicing in our salvation; for praising God's eternal mercy; for rebuking our pride; for praying for a spirit of lowliness; for joining hearts with the hungry; for meditating on the promises of Christ; for thinking back to that very first Christian community, where the greater served the lesser with zeal, where the joy and hope of the salvation made possible through perfect surrender to God's will was so real and present that they could literally feel it within themselves, growing with their help they knew not how, with a destiny greater than they could imagine.

It is also a Friday, when those children among us who cannot pray a full rosary every day traditionally pray the five sorrowful mysteries. Thus the joy of the Visitation mingles with the sorrow of the crowning with thorns, a giddy communion of mothers-to-be somehow leads to a solitary man in vigil prayer as his closest friends doze in a garden. The meaning of the Visitation -- which, for me, is roughly that the Spirit prompts Christians to form a fruitful community -- must somehow be preserved through, even found in, the dreadful events of Good Friday. "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb." "Woman, behold thy son." Both must be said for God's will to be done; neither can be said without it first being said, "Let it be done according to Thy will."


Thursday, May 30, 2002

And people wonder why...

...there are so few married women saints. Is it any wonder most of them decided they were better off taking the veil?


Government by tenderness

It isn't so much that I disagree with almost everything I've ever read by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, it's that almost everything I've ever read by him has been such foolish twaddle.

Alleviating human misery is, in my opinion, a good thing to do. But it isn't the highest good. Whenever I come across sentimentalism that sees human suffering as the worst of evils, I think of a passage from Flannery O'Connor's introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann:
One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited His goodness, you are done with Him.... Ivan Karamazov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus' hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular piety, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.


The Z is silent; the j is invisible

Today in the Czech Republic, they honor one of their own, St. Zdislava of Lemberk, matron and lay Dominican.

St. Zdislava (the name is pronounced just like it's spelled) was a Thirteenth Century noblewoman who married Duke Havel of Lemberk, in Bohemia. To a saint living the spirit of humility and poverty, Havel was not an easy man to get along with, but they reached an agreement about how duchesses are supposed to dress and had four children together during a relatively successful if relatively short marriage. (She presumably was not dressed much like a duchess when she snuck out of their castle at night to work on the church she was building for the Dominican friars.)

St. Zdislava earned a reputation among the common folk for charity and healing (some miraculous) that endured the centuries between her death at age 32 in 1252 and her canonization in 1995. She is, for me, a model of domestic life and an effective intercessor in matters of health.

For a fuller biography, see her entry in For All the Saints. (In the Roman Calendar, her feast is on January 1. The Dominicans have moved it to January 4, since January 1 is otherwise engaged. In the U.S., January 4 is the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, so U.S. Dominicans don't observe St. Zdislava's feast day liturgically, which is why I'm mentioning her on May 30. Ain't Catholicism grand?)
O uxor splendida, mater nobilis, sancta domina Zdislava,
Ora pro nobis, ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.


Wednesday, May 29, 2002

My co-workers read the news today, oh boy

At Gregorian Rant, Chris relates the story of an anti-Catholic joke he had to swallow unseasoned at work:
And don't ask me why I didn't intervene and say something to the person who said that... in my opinion, there is no way of rationally defending the cover-ups that have caused the current scandal. They're inexcusable. Period.

I agree. I think that, generally speaking, now is not the time for vigorous apologetics in response to conversational darts about molestation and coverups tossed at the Church. Mostly as a matter of prudence: people aren't really in a teachable mood these days, are they, and a defense of the Church as the Bride of Christ is likely to be heard as a defense of molestation and coverups.

But maybe for another reason, too. There's a lot of chatter about this being a time of purification for the Church, which means a time of purification for each member of the Church. Part of that purification may well take the form of accepting the mockery of co-workers, even friends and family, in silence and humility. The circumstances may not be as unjust as those of the Suffering Servant who did not shield his face from buffets and spitting, but that may serve as a good model for conducting ourselves among others.

(This isn't to say that we shouldn't be prepared to give an account of the hope that is in us, or to refute error as the opportunity arises; but our neighbors may find humility and sorrow more eloquent than counterargument and statistics.)


What's a motto with you?

Something else that was remarked upon during last night's discussion on Fides et Ratio is how rich the final chapter is in pithy statements suitable for use as mottoes.

This, for example, might be carved above the doorway of many a church: "Indeed it may be said that it is we who belong to the tradition and that it is not ours to dispose of at will." [85]

Certain theologians might profit by reciting the following at the beginning and end of every working day: "The chief purpose of theology is to provide an understanding of Revelation and the content of faith." [93]

Other theologians could substitute this: "Theological work in the Church is first of all at the service of the proclamation of the faith and of catechesis." [99]

And for the letterheads of all elected officials and those who would shape public policy: "Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery." [90]


The shun of justice

Dappled Things joins the inner ring of Catholic blogs that have received emails warning of dogmatic impurities in permalinks to doubtful sites.

I am pleased to report that, since Disputations first went live, neither of the emails I have received expressed such hypercalvinistic scruples, despite all that tempting bait dangling under the "Disputed sites" sign on your left. This is scientific proof that Disputations readers are the wisest, humblest, and -- let's face it -- holiest bloggees on the Internet.


Time for a complete metaphysical

In the seventh and final chapter of Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II returns again and again to "the need for a philosophy of genuine metaphysical range, capable, that is, of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for truth. [83]"

Not being a philosopher or theologian, my first reaction to this was, "Um, okay, if you say so." It makes sense, certainly, that Christian philosophy seek something absolute and foundational in its search for truth, but concern for the existence of a genuine metaphysical range struck me as something best left to the professionals. I was welcome to listen to the pope's repeated calls for a philosophy of being, but they were really directed at the men and women whose job description is to turn coffee into speculative argument.

But following a discussion of this chapter last night with some other non-philosphers and non-theologians, I think I now have a much clearer understanding of what it means, practically speaking, when the Pope writes, "If the intellectus fidei wishes to integrate all the wealth of the theological tradition, it must turn to the philosophy of being" [97].

Among the tensions Catholics must negotiate is the tension between faith as dogma and faith as experience. (These tensions will resolve themselves later, but for now they're what makes being Catholic so much fun.) Broadly speaking, this tension has been wildly unbalanced toward the faith as experience side in the U.S. in recent decades. Diocesan RCIA programs often stress the experiences and emotions of the catechumens and teachers, downplaying if not ignoring (or possibly rejecting) dogmatic theology.

All true, and all well known, but what does this have to do with metaphysics?

Well, if I have no philosophy of being -- if I have no thought-tools, so to speak, "to move from phenomenon to foundation"[83] -- then I have no way of moving from my own experience to the dogmatic truths proclaimed by the Church. I can't even move from my own experience to your experience. We are all marooned on our separate phenomenal islands. And although in day-to-day living I act as though our islands are connected by something under the water (as, indeed, they are), I have no rational basis for this (beyond frail common sense) and no framework for thinking rigorously about it. In short, even if I say that I believe what the Church proposes, without a philosophy of being, what the Church proposes just becomes so many words, unsupported by anything.

The best such an intellectual position can produce is pronounced shyness when questions of dogma arise.


Tuesday, May 28, 2002


Mike Hardy took a little offense to my infelicitously expressed reaction to something he wrote.

My words were these: "I think there are two very bad ideas in what Mike writes (which are not necessarily what Mike thinks)." By which I meant, "Implicit in what Mike wrote are a couple of bad ideas, which he doesn't necessarily endorse."

However, Mike read it -- not unreasonably -- as meaning, "What Mike writes is not necessarily what Mike thinks."

I apologize for my verbal clumsiness and any offense it has given.


Don't just do something, sit there

Steve Mattson writes some wise words about the suffering endured by the Pope in his travels.

An attitude I've noticed in recent articles and commentaries about Pope John Paul II is that he should resign because he no longer has the strength to deal with the problems facing the Church. (Well, most of the writers referred only to the problems in the U.S., but that's just standard American parochialism.)

This strikes me as the sort of functionalism the Pope warned against in Fides et Ratio:
The dogmatic pragmatism of the early years of this century, which viewed the truths of faith as nothing more than rules of conduct, has already been refuted and rejected; but the temptation always remains of understanding these truths in purely functional terms. This leads only to an approach which is inadequate, reductive and superficial at the level of speculation... an ecclesiology developed solely on the model of civil society would be hard pressed to avoid the danger of such reductionism. [97]

In this case, it is the papacy that is understood "in purely functional terms," and a pope who can do nothing but suffer for his Church can do nothing for his Church.

Of course, the Pope is doing more than suffering. What he isn't doing -- what he couldn't do, even if it were his job to do it -- is rushing here and there to fix all the problems of the Church. I have been a bit surprised at some of the people who have criticized Pope John Paul for not yanking his fellow successors of the Apostles around like lapdogs on leashes, since some of these critics don't seem to have agreed with anything any pope has done or said since Bl. John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council.

This pope has been very difficult for a lot of people to figure out without reducing him to a one-dimensional caricature. But as far as I can tell, pretty much everything he's done during his papacy is intelligible, and all but inevitable, when interpreted according to one simple key: the Creed of the Church.


In extremis
Kairos asks whether ther might "come a moment before death and after animal life, when Christ might stand before those who implicitly acknowledged Him in their hearts while denying Him with their minds?"

My answer to that question is, Sure.

There's a hint of this in St. Catherine's Dialogue, when she records the Father saying (of sinful priests, as it happens), "For if they do not accept the breadth of My mercy, I, the Supreme Judge, shall terribly condemn them at their last extremity, and they will be sent to the eternal fire."

This is Algar Thorold's translation; Sr. Suzanne Noffke's more modern translation makes it clearer that, at the moment of death, Jesus will offer the sinner a final opportunity to accept His mercy.

St. Augustine has an interesting take on the Final Judgment, in De Trinitate. He imagines that Christ the Judge will stand before the whole of mankind, and those who are damned will look upon Him and not recognize Him. This makes me think, when I hear people say things like, "Heaven doesn't have an entrance exam in theology," that maybe it does, and maybe it has one question: "Do you know Who I Am?"

Oh, and I must object to this, from Kairos:
Is it not possible for death to occur outside of time, for the transition from bastard half-spirit and half-animal to wholly spirit in a moment that has no “after”?

First, we are not bastards, we are bodies informed by immortal souls, as God intended. Second, the transition to wholly spirit is an evil, that will be corrected "after."


Monday, May 27, 2002

You call that charity?

Here's Fr. Jim Tucker, a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, who by his calling is supposed to communicate the love of God to the world, and then he goes and blogs on Fr. Andrew Greeley's two-year-old essay, "The Apologetics of Beauty," on the very weekend that I was working up some comments offline! What a dirty trick.

O well, I forgive him.

Anyway, although my experience of the Catholic Church in the United States seems to differ from Fr. Greeley's experience (for example, I've never noticed a particular insistence on doctrinal instruction), I agree with what he says positively about beauty, including
...the beauty of the Catholic heritage, flawed as it often is in practice especially in this country, is what attracts, what enchants, and what will not let people go no matter how hard they try to escape.

Beauty is the strongest asset of Catholicism.

and, maybe my favorite statement from the essay,
Catholic stories are simply more beautiful....

Fr. Greeley writes here and elsewhere about the importance of story, as distinct from (but not opposed to) doctrinal exposition, in Catholicism. I agree with him, and propose further that when we are united with God the doctrinal exposition will become the story, just as the truth of Catholicism -- which, if stopped on the street and asked, I would say is the strongest asset of Catholicism -- is identical to the beauty of Catholicism. Truth is the strongest asset of Catholicism regarded as something known, and beauty is the strongest asset of Catholicism regarded as something rested in and enjoyed, and the name we give this asset is Jesus Christ.

Knowing this to be true, but not entirely living that way, is one of the reasons I chose Fra Angelico as my patron in the Dominican Laity. The other reason is this.


Post leftovers

The Washington Post served up some leftover ideas about what the Church should do, courtesty of clinical psychologist Patricia Dalton. (And who better than a clinical psychologist to prescribe a fix to the "widespread dysfunction" of the family that is the Church?) My opinion of her opinion is over here.


Sunday, May 26, 2002

A better idea

I have been told via email that Opus Sanctorum Angelorum is better organized than I am.

Opus Sanctorum Angelorum "is a spiritual movement within the Catholic Church which invites all the faithful to a conscious and profound life in union with the Holy Angels." They have a Spiritual Adoption Program, in which participants "dedicate themselves to more intense prayers and sacrifices for the benefit of" an individual bishop, priest, seminarian, or young man discerning his vocation. You can send them an email, telling them which you want to adopt (bishop, priest, seminarian, or discerner), and they'll send you a prayer card and the name of the man you are promising to pray for for a year.

Sounds like a good program to me.


Friday, May 24, 2002

You want something really shocking?

Others have commented on how surprising the results of Fr. Andrew Greeley's survey of non-Catholic opinion are, based on the responses of 550 non-Catholics.

Imagine how depressing the results might be if he asked the same questions of 550 Catholics!

For another take on the article, see here.


Troubling information

Steve Mattson reports on a fellow-seminarian who is going through the wringer. There have been plenty of stories of other priests and seminarians who are also having a tough time, personally, emotionally, with the pains caused by the on-going scandals.

I think someone who is much better organized than I am should create and promote the Confraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, whose members would promise to pray for the seminarians of a different U.S. seminary each day. Local chapters of the fraternity could pray for each seminarian, by name, of their local seminary. And of course, let the seminarians know that they are being prayed for, because they are loved.

This, you probably know, is pretty much a direct rip-off of the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests program, which could stand a PR boost as well.


Which reminds me of a great joke

Two Dominican friars, a novice and an old-timer, are out begging for food. As they walk along, they meet the local miser. The older friar calls out a greeting. "God be with you! In the name of our Master and yours, will you give us a coin or two that we may buy food for our convent?"

"Hmph!" the miser answers. "And supposing I don't?"

"Then we shall all grow another day thinner," replies the friar with a gentle smile.

"Look, if I did give you money," the miser says with a shudder, "how do I know you won't just spend it on more of your fancy books?"

At this, the novice pipes in, "Oh, we've got book money!"


I don't care what that dumb test says...

I am not Fozzie Bear.


If not that, what?

So if St. Catherine says that it is God's will that our reverence for priests should never fail, what are we to do about evil or notorious priests?

You should love them therefore by reason of the virtue and dignity of the Sacrament, and by reason of that very virtue and dignity you should hate the defects of those who live miserably in sin, but not on that account appoint yourselves their judges, which I forbid, because they are My Christs, and you ought to love and reverence the authority which I have given them.

You know well that if a filthy and badly dressed person brought you a great treasure from which you obtained life, you would not hate the bearer, however ragged and filthy he might be, through love of the treasure and of the lord who sent it to you. His state would indeed displease you, and you would be anxious through love of his master that he should be cleansed from his foulness and properly clothed. This, then, is your duty according to the demands of charity, and thus I wish you to act with regard to such badly ordered priests, who themselves filthy and clothed in garments ragged with vice through their separation from My love, bring you great Treasures....

Their sins indeed should displease you, and you should hate them, and strive with love and holy prayer to re-clothe them, washing away their foulness with your tears -- that is to say, that you should offer them before Me with tears and great desire, that I may re-clothe them in My goodness, with the garment of charity.

Know well that I wish to do them grace, if only they will dispose themselves to receive it, and you to pray for it.... It not being My will that they should be in this state, you should pray for them, and not judge them, leaving their judgment to Me.


Thursday, May 23, 2002

Apropos of nothing

From St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue:

I have told you, dearest daughter, something of the reverence that ought to be given my anointed ones [priests] no matter how sinful they may be. For reverence neither is not should be given them for what they are in themselves, but only for the authority I have entrusted to them. The sacramental mystery cannot be lessened or divided by their sinfulness. Therefore your reverence for them should never fail -- not for their own sake, but because of the treasure of the blood [of Christ].

St. Catherine is not the first person I would write down on a list of people whose reverence for priests never failed, but I may not understand the concept of reverence very well.

For St. Catherine, what the bishops (and everyone else) "are in themselves" is precisely nothing, so it makes sense that we shouldn't revere them for what they are in themselves. But if we believe that a bishop possesses the authority of a bishop, by what authority can we fail to give him reverence?


I am not a reactionary crank

I am not a reactionary crank.

After writing a few words in tribute to the Nashville Dominicans, I see (by way of Holy Weblog!) that the Adrian Dominican Sisters are advertising on TV to attract postulants.

When I check the Adrian Dominican website, I find that their visions include a lot of words about "racist practices in all societal structures," "oppressive systems," and "the healing of our planet by fostering right relationships and by confronting the destruction of life systems."

The Weber Retreat Center the Adrian Dominicans sponsor offers programs on "the symbolic realm of the psyche," t'ai chi, "Nature's Healing Connections," labyrinth facilitator training, and what it means for a man "to be not only courageous but also vulnerable."

From the ABC News story:
"Even the biggest orders feel they are lucky if they can recruit three a year," says Laura Nash, an expert on religious orders at the Harvard University Business School. "Many orders are not recruiting any people a year."

The Nashville Dominicans received 17 new postulants last August, bringing the total number of sisters in the novitiate to 53. Their retreat schedule is somewhat different from the Adrian Dominicans.

I am not a reactionary crank.


Where the elite meet to repeat

A reader of Annunciations assures Michael Dubruiel that he is right to repeat rumors about a gay cardinal. It is, after all, "being talked about in elite journalistic and Catholic circles."

Now there's a phrase to reassure the doubtful.

There's more to be said, but it can wait. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.


2 Corinthians 7:13

Fr. Jim Tucker mentions the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, "an excellent and vibrant religious community." Christina Hammond mentions the Sisters of Life.

Always one to hop on a bandwagon, I will mention the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia, commonly called the Nashville Dominicans.

The Nashville Dominicans are somewhat unusual in being an older congregation that is undergoing remarkable growth. Founded about 140 years ago, the congregation's apostolate is Catholic education, from pre-school through college level. I understand they are in some financial difficulty, having to expand their mother community to accomodate all the new vocations.

Those are the kinds of problems you like to have if you're a religious congregation.

The charism of the Nashville Dominicans is a bit unusual, starting as it does with a "contemplative focus." Well, it's not at all unusual in the authentic Dominican tradition, captured by St. Thomas's phrase "to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation." But many of the "who we are" statements I've seen on various women's religious congregations' websites begin and end with social justice, and some make more mention of protecting the environment than of serving Christ.

The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia have a firm grasp on what it means to be something as old-fashioned as a Dominican, and their success is, to me, proof that there really is something to a tradition of contemplative apostolic living.


Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Too young to be middle aged

Anne Wilson argues, "Dar-al-Islam is in its medieval period right now." And given her definition of "medieval," it looks to me like a pretty good argument.

My objection, though, isn't to her definition of medieval, but to [what I take to be] everyone else's. Specifically, my concern is that people have transferred the word from a meaning something like "of or relating to Christian Europe from AD 500 through AD 1500" to "thoroughly awful and cruel and backward and un-Enlightened and unjust" -- only to go back and apply the "thoroughly awful &c." definition to Christian Europe, which is to say Catholic Europe, from AD 500 through AD 1500.

I get the impression that this identification of pre-Reformation Catholic Europe and thorough awfulness dates back to the early years of post-Reformation Protestant Europe, and I don't like seeing these old-fashioned prejudices thoughtlessly repeated in the context of Muslim militancy.

It's not the vices of the Middle Ages I want concealed so much as its virtues I want uncovered.


Reason has reasons that the heart knows not of

Summa Contra Mundum wisely reminds us that we decide what is true with our head and what is valuable with our heart.

Fr. Walter Farrell, OP, once made a similar point:
...when we start thinking with our hearts we can call the product thinking only smilingly. Only a poet can talk this way without embarrassment.

Somehow, I don't think what can only smilingly be called the thinking of a lot of people (probably almost everyone, at least some of the time) is due to an excess of poetic imagination.


Not that you asked me

Many different people have many different opinions about whether Ordinatio Sacerdotalis's teaching is infallible. Even the Pope has an opinion:
Therefore, the doctrine that the priesthood is reserved to men possesses, by virtue of the Church's ordinary and universal Magisterium, that character of infallibility which Lumen gentium speaks of and to which I gave juridical form in the Motu Proprio Ad tuendam fidem: When the individual Bishops, "even though dispersed throughout the world but preserving among themselves and with Peter's Successor the bond of communion, agree in their authoritative teaching on matters of faith and morals that a particular teaching is to be held definitively and absolutely, they infallibly proclaim the doctrine of Christ" (Lumen gentium, n. 25; cf. Ad tuendam fidem, n. 3).

It's interesting, maybe, that the Pope quotes the part of Lumen gentium 25 about the bishops teaching something definitively and absolutely, rather than the part in the next paragraph, about "the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals." It seems that the Pope's opinion is that the doctrine that the priesthood is reserved to men is infallible, not so much because of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis's definitive act (although OS is evidence), but because all the bishops agree that it is to be held definitively and absolutely.



In an interview with USA Today, Cardinal McCarrick gave this answer to the question, "Has the way you prepare yourself spiritually to do your job changed?":

"I'm praying more. We haven't been focused on the Lord; I'm trying to do that. As I see the bishops losing credibility in many areas, I want to try to be as good a bishop as I can be. I've got a long way to go."

This prompted Michael Dubruiel to comment, "First it is good to hear that the Cardinal is praying more, but I find the second answer incredible. If he hasn't been focused on the Lord, what has he been focused on?"

Based on his biography, I'd say the cardinal has been focused on doing good works, in the areas of migration and religious freedom and in running his archdioceses. I don't find this incredible so much as unfortunate, an occupational hazard of bishops in non-persecuting societies.

On the other hand, I've read a lot of criticism that American bishops think they're above criticism. Cardinal McCarrick evidently doesn't share this opinion of himself; as he said in his statement upon being appointed Archbishop of Washington, "I wish I were a holier man, more prayerful, more trusting in God, wiser and courageous."

I wish he were all those things as well, mostly for the selfish reason that having a holy, prayerful, trusting, wise, and courageous bishop makes it easier for me to be all those things without having to work at it so hard myself. A bishop is to be focused on the Lord, certainly, but so is a layman. Cardinal McCarrick, at least, has his good works. What's my excuse?


Easy for you to shay

Some people are pleased by a report that drinking white wine in moderation is good for the lungs.

Such people evidently don't realize that others are already drinking moderate quantities of whisky and red wine for our hearts and moderate quantities of dark beer for some reason of health we can't quite recall but that has something to do with gaining a statistical edge over the teetotallers. (Speaking of which, tea too is to be moderately consumed.) Not being as young as we once were, this business of drinking for health is starting to take its toll.

Add to that the eight glasses of water a day for proper hydration, and staying healthy becomes a time consuming habit, time being the one thing not consumed in moderation.

Feast on wine or fast on water
And your honour shall stand sure,
God Almighty's son and daughter
He the valiant, she the pure;
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind attentions,
Go and pour them down the sink.
from "The Song of Right and Wrong," by G. K. Chesterton


Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Catch It!

Pete Vere has clerihew fever (though it was E. C. Bentley who made them famous, Chesterton was the illustrator).

I used to have it, too. Somewhere I've got a collection of 365 of the little buggers, one for each day of the year. (I never did find out whether there's a saint whose feast day is February 29.)

Let's see if I've still got it. Extemporizing off my favorite collection of saints lives, for May 21:
St. Serapion the Sindonite
Scandalized the upright,
Who'd scold, "Is selling yourself as a slave
Any way to behave?"

Yup, whatever I had I haven't shaken off yet.

I'll bet if Our Sunday Visitor received thousands of emails asking when they're going to do a book of Catholic clerihews, they'd reconsider my collection....


Sense and nonsense

Mike Hardy writes, regarding the seal of the confessional coming under legal attack, "if priests can't keep the seal of the confessional then nobody with any sense will confess anything that can be used against them... Forcing priests to break the seal might--might provide evidence for a finite number of cases before folks wise up and stop confessing."

Based solely on anecdotal evidence, I'd say folks have by and large already stopped confessing.

More to my point, though, I think there are two very bad ideas in what Mike writes (which are not necessarily what Mike thinks). One is that, if the seal of the confessional is no longer honored by law, then priests will break the seal rather than the law. The other is that it makes sense for people to stop confessing their sins if their confessions may be used against them.

Obviously, I don't know what would happen if the law stopped recognizing the seal. However, I have never met a priest whom I have any reason to doubt would go to jail rather than break the seal.

And, while giving cheap acknowledgment of the difficulties of living with a fallen human will, I think that anyone who is more concerned over what the state will do to them for confessing their sins than what God will do to them for not confessing them is in desperate need of immediate and profound catechesis.