instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, August 19, 2002

A birthday wish

Make us know the shortness of our life
that we may gain wisdom of heart.

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Sunday, August 18, 2002

Putting the issue to rest

Minute Particulars presents a very good sketch of some of the theological issues arising from the Dormition of Mary, considered in the light of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. (I'm using "Dormition" rather than "Assumption" this time around, because there's little disagreement about the Assumption part of the doctrine.)

I'm glad Mark weighed in on this question, since he wrote some very interesting things a few weeks ago about the philosophical implications of death in the context of a discussion on cyrogenics. Obviously, many of these implications are in play while thinking about the Dormition, too.

I can't say anything against what's written there, but let me suggest considering the Immaculate Conception in the light of the Dormition of Mary. I see two reasons for doing this. First, the Dormition is prior to the Immaculate Conception in terms of historical understanding and recognition -- in particular liturgical recognition.

Second, considered as objects to reason about, I think the Dormition is an easier concept than the Immaculate Conception. More precisely, the idea of "the ever Virgin Mary... having completed the course of her earthly life" is simpler than that of her being "preserved free from all stain of original sin." I think we have a pretty good understanding of what death is, and of what not dying is, and I even think we have a pretty good handle on what an "apparent death" might be. But original sin is a much tougher nut, and Ineffabilis Deus's definition speaks of its "stain." Can one be free of this "original stain," but not of its effects?

Don't ask me. My whole point is that I understand the dogma of the Assumption a lot better than I do the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

If pressed for an answer, though, I'd say, "I can't see why not." Mark would seem to disagree:
One who is “preserved free from all stain of original sin” it seems to me is not subject to death because the integrity of human nature prior to The Fall is preserved in such a person.
I'm in over my head here, but the old Catholic Encyclopedia's article on original sin interprets Romans 5:12 as teaching that Adam's sin lead to the transmission of both death and sin, and goes on to state, "St. Paul, and after him the councils, regarded death and original sin as two distinct things transmitted by Adam." If so, then surely the Immaculate Conception as defined need not imply immortality.

Mark also mentions the dispute over the corruption of Christ's body, which has clear implications for the Dormition. "We can't know for sure," he writes, what happened to Mary's body, even assuming her soul left it.

True, not "for sure," but Munificentissimus Deus does teach repeat many Fathers by teaching that Mary was "preserved free from the corruption of the tomb." It's not dogmatic, but it's good enough for me in the absence of an extremely compelling argument to the contrary.

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Saturday, August 17, 2002

Exploring assumptions

Flos Carmeli has a suggestion for an argument against Mary's death that doesn't depend on any particular understanding of Original Sin:
If I were to frame an argument regarding Mary's Assumption, it would ... simply take the form of, "If God could choose to do this for His friends (Elijah and Enoch), surely He could do so for His own mother." This has no reflection on the immaculate conception, says nothing whatsoever about original sin. So arguments against the Blessed Mother's death do not have to be framed in those terms, they can be framed in terms of God's Will, without speculating on why He might choose to release His mother from the pangs of death.
This argument is framed in terms of God's power. I don't think anyone denies that He could have done this. But to move from "He could have" to "He did" requires explaining why the universal Church believed He did not for a millennium, how God's will was revealed to the person making the argument more or less out of the blue to be in contradiction to the faith of Christians everywhere about Mary's Assumption.

Karen Marie reports in a comment her experiences in arguments on this matter. I, too, have heard the claim from Orthodox writers that Catholic dogma elevates Mary into a demigoddess. I don't agree, obviously, and if anything the Eastern liturgies exalt Mary far more than do the Western liturgies. My objection to the "like Elijah" camp is that it appears to me to be a flat rejection of Tradition. I don't trust flat rejections of Tradition.

T.S. O'Rama asks:
It might be semantics, but can it be left that original sin is the cause of the physical corruption of the flesh, which, both parties can agree did not occur to Mary?
I think so, but I've read too many Church Fathers claim that original sin is the cause of human death (if not all physical death) to say much about the nature and consequence of original sin with much confidence.

Basically, my opinion is that Catholic theology needs Orthodox theology and tradition in order to correctly understand both Original Sin and the Immaculate Conception. I think the Assumption-without-death position unwisely ignores the wisdom and testimony of the East.

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Friday, August 16, 2002

Low Office mentality

Fr. Jim Tucker gripes about "Low Mass mentality": "It's as if the truest form of pre-Conciliar worship is the quiet Missa lecta, with only the celebrant and server hearing or saying anything." (Note that it's this mentality, not the Low Mass itself, that he's objecting to.)

While we're on the subject, what about "Low Office mentality," the idea that praying the Liturgy of the Hours involves, for the individual, reading aloud the words on the page while seated?

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But I've found my own private prayer of the Liturgy has been greatly enhanced by a few simple additions.
  1. Standing and kneeling: I stand at the beginning, until after the first antiphon, sit while reciting the psalms and canticle, stand for the Gloria Patris (while of course bowing for the first half), psalm prayers, and antiphons (yes, this makes for a lot of up-and-down), sit for the reading and responsory, then stand for the rest of the office. I kneel during the examination of conscience at Night Prayer, and on days when I feel like I should be kneeling.
  2. Chanting: I chant the opening bits, the closing bits, and the antiphons. On feast days, I chant the Gospel canticles, and on rare occasions I chant the parts from the psalter, too. I couldn't say what tone, if any, I use.) When I know the tune, I sing the hymn.
  3. Candle: A small votive candle adds a great deal to the sense that what I am doing is not just reading a book or thinking about God, but an offering to him as part of the priesthood of the baptized.
What these additions to the unadorned rubrics of the Liturgy of the Hours do is make my praying it more liturgical. The Divine Office is not just another form of private prayer for me, it is a private participation in the public prayer of the Church. My experience has been that, the more I engage my whole person, spirit and body, the better I can pray.

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That's why they call it the Dormition

Karen Marie Knapp, in her reflection on yesterday's feast, writes:
There is a pious disagreement among believers about the details, which is part of why this feast has two names. Some say that Mary died, and was resurrected from death to be taken into heaven by her Son; others say that she was just taken when her time came, like Enoch and Elijah (and, some say, Moses) were. The Church has refused to define this part, since it truly makes no difference; both opinions are legitimate.
Yes, both opinions are legitimate. And yet...

The opinion that Mary did not die is wrong.

Let us go back, say, eight hundred years, to 1202, and take a whirlwind tour of Christendom. Can a place be found where anyone claims that Mary did not die? Not, clearly, in the East, where August 15 has been known for centuries as the feast of Koimisis tis Theotokou, the Dormition of the Mother of God. (And any argument that "dormition" here signifies anything other than "death" will be treated with the ridicule it calls upon itself.)

Nor indeed in the West, where theological overspeculation has not yet led to the rejection this explicit belief in Mary's death that is universally held and goes back as far as records exist. By what act of presumption could this unrelieved weight of the univocal testimony of centuries be overturned?

Yes, yes, you say, but Munificentissimus Deus was careful to leave this question undefined:
...we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
"Having completed the course of her earthly life" can be read to mean that, when she was done living on earth, she was assumed into heavenly glory without first dying.

So it can. But Munificentissimus Deus itself cannot be read that way:
...the holy Fathers and the great Doctors...offered more profound explanations of [the doctrine of the Assumption's] meaning and nature, bringing out into sharper light the fact that this feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death.... [20]
Pope Pius XII quotes St. John Damascene, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Alphonsus di Liguori making explicit references to Mary's death. He himself writes:
Hence the revered Mother of God...finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven.... [40]
In the very document invoked as evidence that the Church does not explicitly teach that Mary died, the Pope explicitly teaches that Mary died.

Karen Marie is right that one may legitimately believe that Mary didn't die, although one would be hard pressed to justify this belief in the face of the evidence to the contrary. But I think she is wrong to claim that "it truly makes no difference."

The arguments against Mary's death are, as I understand them, based on a certain way of understanding her Immaculate Conception, which in turn is based on a certain way of understanding Original Sin. There is a chain of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that Mary's death is unreasonable; if Mary did in fact die -- as centuries of universal tradition held, as all but a handful hold to this day -- then there is something wrong somewhere in the chain, something wrong in the reasoning about the Immaculate Conception or about Original Sin. These errors may well be leading to other false conclusions on matters unrelated to the Assumption; they may also interfere with ecumenical efforts by the Roman Catholic Church to reach out to both the Orthodox and Protestants.

This is why I don't think broad-mindedness is wise in this matter of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It's not an academic question, sealed off from any serious issues, but one end of a thread that, if pulled in the wrong direction, could unravel a lot of the work the Church is called to do: preach the truth and draw all men into unity in Christ.

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Spiritu tuo

Just to clear up a point: Whether a man likes American-style malted rice water and whether there is something unmanly about a man are, as far as I can tell, unrelated questions. I happen to like American-style malted rice water. It possesses many virtues, including quaffability and congeniality with many kinds of food.

It has been suggested that whisky has "protestant origins." Nonsense! Whisky predates the Babylonian exile, making it a thoroughly pagan drink, and if there's anything Protestantized Roman Catholics in the U.S. need it's a good, healthy dose of genuine paganism via spirits that don't come from an alternate dimension. (As for the origins of gin, let us pass them by in silence.)

Hillaire Belloc's principle of not drinking anything first produced after the Protestant Rebellion may have served him well, but I find certain occasions are much improved by a glass of champagne. (Wednesday evenings, for example.) And Belloc himself may have been a little flexible with exact dates in the case of Benedictine.

It is interesting to note that one post on alcohol generated more comments than the previous week's worth of blogging. Maybe I should contact some breweries and distilleries about advertising.

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Thursday, August 15, 2002

Pushing it toward the tippling point

Apropos of nothing, no one could seriously dispute that there's something unmanly about a man who doesn't like beer.

(I say nothing about the malted rice water widely available in the United States.)

Then, too, there's something unwholesome about disliking wine.

Liking distilled spirits, though, is a different matter. God has given different gifts to us all, and we are not to understand in this life why some are blessed with a taste for whisky, while others must walk this vale of tears with only a thirst for gin.

But in honor of today's solemnity, let me propose a toast of
Assumption Swizzles
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 oz. simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated till sugar dissolves, then cooled to room temperature)
  • 4 oz. light rum
  • 6 oz. blue Curacao
  • seltzer water
Pour lemon juice, syrup, rum, and Curacao into tall quart-sized glass pitcher filled with crushed ice. Add seltzer to fill the pitcher. Swizzle with palm frond or wooden cooking fork until frost forms on the outside of pitcher. Pour into four cold, tall, 8 oz. glasses and serve immediately on the verandah.

The blue recalls our Lady, the rising bubbles signify her Assumption -- but drink only for cheer, lest it lead you to sin, and drink only one, lest it lead you to dormition.
For more on swizzles, visit my swizzle page.

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Struggle, conflict, and art

Steven Riddle, in giving far more attention to my thoughts than they're worth, makes a very useful distinction:
Doubt, I maintain is not the cause of great novels, rather struggle, in internal dynamic that has not yet found resolution.
I'll sign up to that.

But now let me suggest this: In the Twentieth Century, in the West, religious doubt was the key internal dynamic that had not yet found resolution. Doubt in God, doubt in His love, doubt in man's privileged nature. (And I mean actual doubt, genuine uncertainty, not a dull certainty that God doesn't exist.)

So when Foote looks at what he considers the great novelists and finds a common spirit of "further seeking, not a sense of having found," what is driving the seeking is likely to be religious (in a broad sense) doubt.

Steven is also right that we shouldn't accept the opinions of Shelby Foote -- whose name, frankly, I'd previously come across only in parenthetical lists of "other Southern writers" in articles on O'Connor and Percy -- as received truths, and in fact I'd say Foote was simply wrong when he wrote, "The best novelists[' ...] only firm conviction ... is that absolute devotion and belief in the sanctity of art."

While devotion to art (in the Scholastic sense of recta ratio factibilium, "right reasoning about a thing to be made") is necessary to craft a great novel, devotion only to art is almost never sufficient. Why? Because for such a person the struggle that causes great novels is not really important; it's merely a plot device or Macguffin, an excuse for writing the novel. (The one case when devotion to art is sufficient for greatness is when the struggle is about the art of novel writing; writing a novel, though, is not a natural subject for a great novel. (Contrast this with plays about staging plays and movies about movie-making.))

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Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Doubt, conflict, and art

T.S. O'Rama replies to my irruption into the discussion on novelists and faith:
Obviously a novel has to have conflict but that surely doesn't preclude non-doubters from writing beautifully of conflict, does it? The greatest conflict of all time, is the spiritual one between good and evil and to describe that I'm not sure why being a doubter 'helps'.
Certainly non-doubters can and do write beautifully of conflict. My suggestion was merely that, all things being equal, they are less inclined to do so than doubters, because they themselves are relatively less conflicted.

As long as I'm throwing out completely unsubstantiated notions, I might as well add this one: The more a novelist doubts, the better he must serve his art, because the less he feels there is anything else to serve. Again, this would be a relative intensification of an underlying motivation rather than a direct cause of an increase in artistry. And again, this is not necessarily the case in other art forms, which offer a more personal relationship between artist and viewer.

Perhaps that's another difference, that the novel is less personal and therefore a poorer medium for expression by someone with a strong personal relationship with God?

Last idea for now: Foote's statement was, "The best novelists have all been doubters." But Foote's judgment, and literary judgment generally, was formed in a culture of doubt. Our choice of "the best novelists" may say more about us and our culture than it does about whether doubt causes great art.

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Pushing it toward the tipping point

A few years ago, I picked up a nifty idea from a book of spiritual direction:

Pick a companion book, a book to reread every year or so throughout your life to help you to keep those promises to God you made the first time you read it.

I asked around for some suggestions for lifelong companion books, and one that was mentioned a couple of times was The Sinner's Guide, by Ven. Louis of Granada.

I hadn't heard of it before, but I've since begun to read it on the Web and seen it in bookstores. And just yesterday I came across a couple of references to it, at Sed Contra and Everything is Grace. So I thought I'd mention it too, and give it another nudge toward being the must-read book of Fall 2002. (And with a title like that, how can it fail to be a bestseller?)

As pointed out on Sed Contra, just the table of contents is a rich mine for meditation. And if the sensibility is somewhat distant from contemporary Western culture, still the content remains the Catholic faith and how you can live it.

The life of Ven. Louis is also inspiring. He was one of the few who combine extraordinary intellectual gifts with extraordinary pastoral gifts. According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia:
Among the hundreds of eminent ascetical writers of Spain, Louis of Granada remains unsurpassed in the beauty and purity of his style, the solidity of his doctrine, and the popularity and influence of his writings.
He also observed the Dominican custom (not universally followed) of refusing offers to become a bishop.

Incidentally, I did not pick The Sinner's Guide as my lifelong companion book; I'm going with St. Catherine's Dialogue. Still, I think reading Ven. Louis's masterpiece is good for everyone. The other recommendation I remember getting was for St. Francis de Sales's Introduction to the Devout Life, which is also very well suited to regular re-reading. Perhaps more recommendations will show up in the comments below.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Reeves and the Futile Spirit, cont.

My little witticism glanced off Cardinal Fratricidelli like a toy arrow off a rhinocerous. “I will ask you one more time, Booster. Are you not the unnamed bishop in this article?”

He waved the rolled-up newspaper inches from my face. I was expecting him to swing it at my nose like a three wood, not neglecting the follow-through, when a sound like a sheep coughing on a distant crag alerted us to the fact that Monsignor Reeves had entered my study and was clearing his throat.

“If I may answer for Bishop Booster, your eminence, he was the source for the quotations.”

As I quivered at Reeves’s betrayal, the words of the Psalmist came to my mind: “Put not your trust in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation.” I knew just how he felt. Had the Psalmist walked into the room just then, I would have shaken his hand.

Meanwhile, the papal nuncio unfurled the paper. “Are you saying this blot on the Apostles’ escutcheon actually told a reporter for the Washington Post that –“ he scanned the article quickly for some of the riper bits – “that, ‘American bishops aren’t shepherds. They aren’t even respectable sheep.’? Or, ‘Rome is a nice city, but the weather softens the head. I know it does mine.’? Or, ‘No, I wouldn’t call it a revolution, exactly. No, yes I would. I will call it a revolution. It is a revolution.’?”

“Yes, your eminence. Those are the words of Bishop Booster.”

Cardinal Fratricidelli swivelled his glare back to me, like a cobra trying to decide which mouse bit its tail. “And why did you tell the reporter all that?” he hissed. It isn’t easy to hiss that question, but he managed to do it.

“Oh, I don’t know, you know, don’t you know.”

“Bishop Booster’s intent was to use the power of the press against the call, from certain other members of the episcopacy, for a plenary council, your eminence.”

“How?” shouted the cardinal. “By making all the American bishops look like idiots?”

“Not all of them, your eminence. Just some of them.”

And here the two paused to glance at me in a way I would have objected to strongly had the circs. been less strained.

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Multiply, but don't divide

Shawn Tribe expresses support for a robust multiplicity of rites within Roman Catholicism; Fr. Jim Tucker expresses support for Shawn.

I think the key is Fr. Tucker's term "harmonious coexistence." It's difficult to argue against harmonious coexistence. My question is: Would offering several variations on the old and new missals actually produce harmonious coexistence, or would it rather produce a set of parallel, segregated, and at times antagonistic communities within the Church?

The historical examples of the multiplicity of rites don't age well, in my opinion. Yes, the Sarum Rite was a success, but Fifteenth Century England didn't have the Chunnel. People move around a lot more nowadays than they used to.

Also, rites used to vary by region; if you go to Milan, you expect the Ambrosian Rite. My understanding of Shawn's proposal is that all the rites would, to the extent possible, be available to every Catholic. if I travel to Denver on business, I check to see which Roman Catholic churches have Masses according to which rites when. I'm concerned that the practical result of this might be that I only rub elbows (or shake hands, depending on the rubrics used) with people outside my Mass of personal preference when I absolutely have to.

A third difference between then and now is that the multiplicity of rites originally arose more or less naturally. The Gallican Mass differed from the Roman Mass just because they did things differently in Lyons than they did in Rome. Nowadays, the motivations for multiple rites are theological and emotional. This rite is objectively better than that rite, or this rite makes me feel better. Neither type of motivation, in my opinion, suffices for manufacturing a multiplicity of rites where none now exists. A rite that is objectively worse, theologically, should not be used; and resurrecting a rite to make people feel good is to subjectivize the one thing in this world that is most objective.

Now, none of this demonstrates that "the co-existence of different uses of the Roman liturgy" is a bad or unworkable idea. We already have it, after all, albeit on a smaller scale than Shawn Tribe seems to be imagining. If we want to grow this variety while looking to history as our guide, though, we need to understand how past circumstances differ from present circumstances.

Correction: As originally written, the last sentence in the paragraph above beginning, "Also, rites used to vary by region," could be read to suggest that only rubbing elbows "with people outside my Mass of personal preference when I absolutely have to" is part of Shawn's proposal. I added a few words to make it clearer that I meant that I'm afraid this might be an unintended consequence, rather than something he advocates.

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Monday, August 12, 2002

It's not just a good idea, it's the law

The Law of Androcomplexity states that, over time, men will take something and make it more complicated.

That law is being kept at the Jesus Journal, which has issued a Christian Weblog Manifesto calling for an association of Christian webloggers, complete with a formal committee, a code of conduct, training, and a master list of Christian weblogs. The purpose is to accentuate the positive aspects of Christian weblogging.

Here I thought the lack of formal committees was one of the positive aspects of Christian weblogging. If St. Blog's had parish council meetings I'd change to a different virtual parish, if not a whole new diocese.

From what Bene Diction reports, my attitude is not unusual.

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All ye know on earth

Lady of Shalott is disturbed by Shelby Foote's statement, "The best novelists have all been doubters.":
Against all modern evidence to the contrary, I want to disbelieve that "a sense of having found" kills good art.
As counterexamples, she gives St. Augustine and Dante.

Ah, but Foote was speaking of novelists, and novels have different rules than autobiographies and poems.

Beauty is that which, being seen, pleases; when someone encounters the beautiful, he desires to rest in it. A novel about resting in beauty is unlikely to be a great novel; it may be very poetic, but it probably won't be very interesting. Novels tell stories, and stories are about conflicts, and where there is no conflict -- and only the perverse are conflicted about resting in beauty -- there is no story.

So yes, the modern evidence is that great novelists are not greatly devout; even the great Catholic novelists have not, as a class, been marked by their sanctity. But I think it's wrong to interpret this evidence, as some do, as meaning that Catholicism is somehow opposed to great novels, much less to great art. Rather, I think that doubt strengthens a desire to novelize, while trust weakens it. (Provisionally, I'd say doubt and trust work the other way round on the desire to versify.) Given that, the evidence follows as a simple matter of statistics.

(Steven Riddle at Flos Carmeli also makes the point that Foote's statement is weaker than it appears, since many of the worst novelists have been doubters, too.)

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Thursday, August 08, 2002

Reeves and the Futile Spirit, cont.

“Well, how about it, Willie?”

“How about what?”

“The council! Will you help us pull off the council?”

“I don’t know, Berggo, I’m not sure it’s a sound idea.”

“Come on, Willie. We were at seminary together!”

“Yes, but still –“

“We need your help!”

I looked at him solemnly. “A plenary council, Berggo, is a grave –“

“I don’t mean you personally, of course,” Berggo interruputed. “No one listens to you anyway, with that baby owl expression of yours. What I mean is, can we count on your secretary Reeves helping us?”

I drew up sharply. I was still stung by the falling out with Reeves over the matter of the indigo-blue chasuble, and I felt Berggo’s words to be salt in my wound.

“Monsignor Reeves,” I said with quiet dignity, “is unavailable to assist with your project.”

“Oh, good heavens! What have you done now, you ass? Whatever it is, apologize like usual, then unleash Reeves on the nuncio.”

I cleared my throat. “As I was saying, Bishop Berger, Monsignor Reeves is unavailable to assist with your project. I, however, am available, and I believe you will find that my assistance will provide you with all the, er, assistance required to bring the council off.”

Berggo looked at me a moment, tossed down the rest of his g. and tonic, and said, “All right, God help me, I’m just that desperate.”

“Desperate?” I eyed him sharply. Stouthearted and true though he may be, the only thing the Most Rev. Patrick Berger would ever be considered a genius at was falling into the soup. Taking in his manner now, which resembled that of a peasant in a Russian novel who is by no means certain he will outrun the wolves, I realized that there was something more behind his idea than he had let on. “What makes you so desperate to hold a plenary council, Berggo?”

He fiddled with his empty glass. “Well...”

“Come, come. Let’s dissolve into a flashback. Tell me all.”

“It’s just that I, er, rather promised my chancellor that there’d be one, that’s all.”

“Your chancellor?” I gasped. “You don’t mean...”

“Yes,” he replied, looking like a halibut that had been out in the sun for too long. “Sister Agatha.”

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Guess what day it is!

The documents for the canonization process of St. Dominic are on-line in English, and make fascinating reading for people who are fascinated reading such things.
Dominic always wished to dispute, talk or read about God or to pray while journeying.

Dominic passed the greater part and frequently the whole of the night in prayer while weeping freely.... On account of the many vigils, he frequently nodded at table.

[Dominic] rarely spoke, except with God, that is, in prayer, or of God.

He was always cheerful and pleasant; a comforter of the brethren, he was patient, merciful and kind.

But over and above all this, his holiness and virtues were universally recognized and publicly spoken of wherever he had visited during his lifetime....
By all accounts (no, I mean literally, all accounts; read 'em yourself), St. Dominic was consumed with zeal for preaching the Word of God, and for sanctification through strict observance of the Order's rule of life. He prayed more than he slept, and as he prayed -- at Mass, during the Office, or alone at night before the tabernacle -- he wept for sorrow, sighing, "Lord, what will become of sinners?"

Yet he was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and loved by all, "with the exception of heretics and enemies of the Church." (And he was not the torturer of the Black Legend; he fought against them "by word and by the example of a good life.")

As a preacher first and foremost, St. Dominic left very little in the way of writings, just a couple of letters and his contributions to the early Consititutions of the Order. These don't make good devotional reading, and his role in the Dominicans is not comparable to those of Benedict, Francis, Ignatius, and other great founders. (His brethren didn't even seek his canonization until after St. Francis was raised to the altars. And if you think Bl. Josemaria Escriva's cause was fast-tracked, what's to be made of the haste in these 13th Century cases? It never hurts when the reigning Pope said your founder's funeral Mass.)

What St. Dominic has left his children are the example of his own zealous and holy life and a Rule ideally suited, in any age, to the work of the Order: preaching and the salvation of souls.

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The story so far

Down through the centuries, Christian layfolk desiring to live holier lives have looked to the vowed religious for guidance, example, inspiration, and support. In many different ways, they became affiliated with religious houses: living in the houses under unvowed and voluntary religious observance; joining in the prayer life as far as possible; accepting spiritual direction and counsel from a monk or nun.

Over time, certain forms of attachment became regularized and regulated. Benedictine abbeys, for example, accepted oblates who made promises to the abbot and lived according to a certain rule. (A "rule" in this sense is actually a set of rules describing the obligations and responsibilites -- in terms of daily prayer, lifestyle, charitable works, governance of the community, and so forth -- of the one living under the rule.)

By the Middle Ages, it was common for religious orders to have congregations of men and of women, living under similar but not necessarily identical rules. Within a single canonical organization, the congregations of men were called the First Order, the congregations of women the Second Order. As layfolk associated with an order were organized into officially recognized associations, they became known as the Third Orders.

In this terminology, then, I am a Third Order Dominican. (Except that the Dominican Order no longer uses this terminology, lest it give the impression that First, Second, and Third signify worth or rank rather than a simple ordering. So I identify myself as a Lay Dominican -- or, more properly, as "Dominican Laity, Professed." The rule we use is called the Regula fraternitatum laicalium Sancti Dominici, but for whatever reason no one seems to speak of Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic.)

Anyway, many other religious orders and congregations have formal lay affiliates: tertiaries (members of Third Orders), oblates, associates of individual congregations or houses, membership in different confraternities (Rosary Confraternity members are considered members of the Dominican Family), and so forth.

There are also secular institutes, a relatively new form of life, whose members promise to follow the evangelical counsels -- poverty, chastity, obedience -- while living a secular life out in the world.

Then there's a host of other associations for lay Catholics -- some relatively new, some fairly old -- that seek to help sanctify their members according to different spiritualities and emphases.

Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been recognition throughout the Church that these lay associations of the faithful are not just old ladies' prayer clubs, but that the sanctification and formation of the members can contribute to the sanctification of the world that is the primary mission of the Church in general and the laity in particular.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Reeves and the Futile Spirit

I was just tucking in to my second helping of eggs and b. when Monsignor Reeves shimmered into the room.

"Ah Reeves, good morning!"

"Good morning, your excellency."

I eyed the salver he held, on which lay a few assorted envelopes and the morning newspaper. I was eager to get at the solution to yesterday's crossword -- 18 Down had been a particularly devilish one -- but protocol demanded that I first ask, "Nothing important in the mail, I suppose?"

"There is a letter that might prove to be of some import, your excellency."

These words sent a shiver down the Booster spine, as not since word came that the Bishops' Subcomittee on Complimentary Norms' semiannual meeting was cancelled had good news been found in a letter of some import delivered before the end of breakfast.

Still, though my brow was sad, my eye beneath flashed at Reeves like a something from its sheath as I said, "Oh, ah?"

"Precisely, your excellency." He set the letter -- a bally long one, too -- on the table next to my teacup.

I pronged at it with my fork. There were more than a half dozen pages, and the margins were none too generous. Whoever had sent it seemed not to have gone to any effort to tighten up the writing.

I set down my fork and pushed my plate away. The uneaten eggs, I was sure, would have turned to ashes on the way to my mouth.

"Is there a Reader's Digest version of this available, Reeves?" I asked. "I've got an anniversary Mass to get to by eleven."

"Several of your brother bishops are calling for the convening of a plenary council, your excellency. They wish to know whether you would care to support them."

"Plenary council?" I asked in surprise.

"Yes, your excellency. A plenary council is a national ecclesial synod --"

"Reeves," I cut him off coldly, "I am fully aware of what a plenary council is."

"Yes, your excellency."

"When I said, 'Plenary council?' I was not asking what a plenary council is," I went on. Sometimes it is necessary to remind Monsignor Reeves that, although I rely on him for occasional assistance with difficult situations, I am still a fully capable bishop. "I was merely reacting in suprise. A plenary council hasn't been called in this country in, what, --"

"One hundred eighteen years, your excellency."

"Yes. Precisely. Not in one hundred eighteen years. And if a fellow isn't allowed to be a bit surprised when he is hit between the eyes at the breakfast table by an idea that hasn't seen the light of day in one hundred eighteen years, then when is he allowed to be a bit surprised?"

"I couldn't say, your excellency."

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Order your life however you like

It has been suggested that I am on a crusade to make you all Dominicans.

I answer that, Not everyone is called to be a Dominican, and in fact there are advantages to answering different calls. The Franciscans, for example, have more and better food. You get more peace and quiet with the Carmelites. Opus Dei offers a vigorous and rigorous formation for living in the world. The Jesuits have some very pleasant retreat houses. The Benedictines have fifteen hundred years worth of spiritual treasures to draw on, and some mighty fine liqueurs and foodstuffs.

Jack at Integrity gives the structure his prayer life took during law school, and asks what approaches others have taken. I became a Lay Dominican in large part precisely to give a structure to my own prayer life. It being my life, the structure has to suit me, and the Dominican structure fits me like a glove (albeit one with plenty of room to grow). But it doesn't fit everyone.

As I wrote in a comment at Integrity, "disciple" and "discipline" both come from the same Latin word (discipulus, meaning "student"), and there aren't many good disciples who don't have good discipline. Living according to a rule is a form of discipline I think all laity should consider, whether it be a formal rule approved by the Church or a private one developed from the spiritual wisdom accumulated by the Church over the millennia.

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Top Ten Reasons to Join the Dominican Order

It being St. Dominic's Eve, let me count the ways your life would be better if you picked up the Dominican habit:
10. Everyone looks better wearing black and white. (Not necessarily good, but better.)

9. It adds depth and resonance to all those great Jesuit jokes.

8. November is Party Month! (St. Martin de Porres, Nov. 3; All Dominican Saints, Nov. 7; St. Albert the Great, Nov. 15)

7. They validate your parking at Santa Sabina.

6. You can learn the correct way to spell and pronounce "Schillebeeckx."

5. You do expect some sort of Spanish Inquisition.

4. Buying lots of books doesn't count (much) against the Dominican spirit of poverty.

3. When Cardinal Ratzinger summons you to Rome, it's to ask you to be his secretary.

2. Arguing in bars is part of the founding spirituality of the Order. (See para. 15 of the Libellus.)

1. If you do it right, you go to heaven.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Flos daily

Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli was feeling despondent about the lack of visible reaction to his reflections on St. John of the Cross. He's since seen this feeling in the light his vocation as a Carmelite.

At the risk of interfering with Steven's ascent of Mt. Carmel, I encourage everyone to join me in visiting Flos Carmeli frequently. It's a remarkable blog, even if no one's told Steven.

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For the record

John McGuinness places Disputations in "orthodox blog land." In a related note, Mike at Enemy of the Church? is resisting
the temptation to grill the more "orthodox" members of St. Blogs about the way it sometimes seems they wallow in hostility and blamesmanship. I wonder how can they live with what appears to be such constant anger and with the caustic combination of being convinced most of the members of "AmChurch" are fools and being unwilling to suffer fools (hence most of "Amchurch") gladly.
While I do consider myself orthodox -- which, after all, merely means "having right beliefs" -- I don't think I ever identify myself as an "orthodox Catholic." I find the use of the term "AmChurch" wearisome. My favorite description of me, from a list someone wrote describing members of a Catholic mailing list I'm on, is, "Average Catholic, likes St. Thomas." I will also raise my hand when someone asks if there are any boot-licking Vatican toadies in the house.

I don't have any insightful or non-negotiable opinions about liturgy, translations, enneagrams, EWTN, or Cardinal Law. What I will object to strenuously, though, are Catholics who demonstrate no faith in the Catholic faith.

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Subjunctive sophistication

A popular hypothetical question directed to Christians is, "What if they found Jesus' bones in a tomb?"

One common answer is, "This would have no significant effect upon my faith, which is based on a personal encounter with the Divine, not a rigorous and literal reading of Biblical texts. Certainly the Resurrection event, as experienced by the disciples in the years following the crucifixion, would therefore not have been one of experiencing Jesus physically, but of experiencing his spiritual presence in their community, none the less real -- and in a sense much more real -- of a presence for it not being defined by the spatial limitations of even a glorified human body."

A moment's thought shows this to be a nuanced, flexible, and cowardly answer more suitable for belly-crawling corporate yes-men two years from retirement than for faith-filled disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, more for people whose faith consists merely of vague and ambiguously subjective emotions than for those whose faith is of Christ and Him crucified.

The correct answer, it seems to me, is (borrowing a phrase from Flannery O'Connor), "Then to hell with it." Or, as someone else once put it, "If Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith."

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Not only isn't it miraculous...

...it doesn't even make an interesting story.

John McGuinness on Man Bites Blog urges restraint on the rhetoric swirling over the miracle of sharing" interpretation of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In response to Rod Dreher's claim that "we are in the middle of a war for the survival of the Church. The lack of fidelity is the root cause for all our woes," John writes:
First of all, the root cause for all our woes is priests who sexually abused children. Period.
I think John misses the scope of Rod's claim, which is not about the abuse-and-coverup scandals, but about the survival of the Church. Priests who sexually abused children did not cause attendance at Sunday Mass to fall to whatever dismal fraction it was last December; they did not cause large numbers of American Catholics to be so poorly catechized, to support legal abortion, to avoid the sacrament of reconciliation, to believe that any religion is about as good as any other.

I'm not sure that Rod's claim (borrowed, perhaps, from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus) that infidelity is the root cause for all our woes says all that much; it seems to me to be derivable from, "Not being holy is the cause of us not being holy." Still, being the creatures we are, we need to be reminded of such things from time to time.

John goes on to wonder at the vehemence with which the Woodstock moment interpretation of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is rejected:
What I do think is worth examining is why this interpretation is so threatening to people. What would it mean if someone could factually verify that it was in fact a miracle of sharing? Would that change what we believe in?
First, I reject the assertion that I find the sharing interpretation threatening. I do not find it threatening. I find it foolish and ignorant and self-centered and damaging, but not threatening.

The first question to ask of a Scriptural passage -- and this is Catholicism 101, going back explicitly pretty much as far back as Christians asked questions of Scriptural passages -- is, "What is the literal meaning of the passage?"

But this is not a question the sharing interpreters ask -- or, if they do ask, they don't care about the answer. They cannot possibly care, because in all five of the passages recording a miraculous feeding of a multitude, the literal meaning is unambiguously and undeniably that the entire multitude ate their fill from a very small number of loaves and fishes, and that the leftover scraps from those self-same loaves and fishes amounted to far more than the very small number they were to begin with. This is what the Gospels say. This is what the priest or deacon proclaims to the congregation -- explicitly and unequivocally -- when he reads the Gospel passages.

How, then, can someone even arrive at the thought that the "real miracle" is one of sharing? It's not in the Gospels. In fact, it explicitly contradicts what is in the Gospels. It's not in the Church Fathers. It's not anywhere in the Church down through the centuries.

Instead, it comes from men outside the Church whose foremost dogma was, "Miracles have never happened."

Now, if miracles have never happened, the exegete has a problem with the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He needs a non-miraculous explanation of how a multitude ate. Well, obviously there must have been a multitude of food, despite the stories explicitly stating that there was not a multitude of food.

But the exegete also needs an explanation of why such an uninteresting story would be recorded five times in four Gospels. He seizes on this: "It is a miracle to get people to share with each other."

The problem with this, as has been pointed out by others, is that it is not a miracle to get people to share with others. It just isn't. People help other people in need; haven't you noticed?

The claim that sharing with others is miraculous may say something true about the person making the claim, or about his opinion of the people around him, but it is demonstrably false in itself.

So, from my perspective, anyone asserting that the Gospel stories of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is really about Jesus coaxing the crowd into sharing what they had
  1. has never read the Gospels with any level of attention.
  2. bases his assertion on a dogma that contradicts the Catholic faith.
  3. is a lousy observer of human nature.
  4. reduces Jesus from the source of our life to a good example.
Given that, I think it's clear to see why I do not want to hear (or hear of) Catholics preaching this nonsense to other Catholics.

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Monday, August 05, 2002

Washington area get-together

As seen on Catholic Light: This Thursday, August 8, St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Great Falls, Virginia, will be the site of a special liturgical program. The public Rosary (good under the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence) at 6:30 will be followed by chanted Vespers at 7 p.m., then a chanted Latin Mass at 7:30 p.m. The Washington Capella Antiqua (featuring Catholic Light's Steve Schultz) will do much of the singing, which is good news for people like me who -- well, let's just say who wouldn't be invited to a second audition with a group like the Washington Capella Antiqua.

I will be there, God willing, faking my way through the Latin responses with gusto. I hope to meet Steve and any other blogfolk who can make it. (There's a phone number to RSVP on the web page.) I'll be the one wearing a small Dominican shield on my lapel, in honor of the Feast of St. Dominic.

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God is not good

There's an old saw that mysticism begins in a mist and ends in a schism, and it's widely thought that this is just what happened with Meister Eckhart.

Eckhart was a Fourteenth Century Dominican friar and mystic whose startling and original style of preaching left him open to charges of heresy. One of his famous statements is, "I am good, but God is not good," and he goes on to claim that it is untrue to say that God is wise or even that He exists. His point, of course, is that words cannot adequately describe God:
Be silent therefore, and do not chatter about God, for by chattering about him, you tell lies and commit a sin. If you wish to be perfect and without sin, then do not prattle about God. Also you should not wish to understand anything about God, for God is beyond all understanding. A master says: If I had a God that I could understand, I would not regard him as God.
If you've read the Tao Te Ching, this may well put you in mind of its opening line: "The Tao that can be named is not the read Tao."

Syncretists, of course, love to find similarities between different traditions, and Eckhart is a mine of difficult or ambiguous sayings that bear at least a surface similarity to a lot of non-Christian mystical writing. Add to that the cachet of the condemnation of several of Eckhart's propositions by the Church as heretical -- after his death, to be sure, and with explicit recognition of his submission to the judgment of the Holy See, but not all wise Catholics can be burned by the Church -- and you can see why Meister Eckhart is a popular authority among Western Postchristians. (You can also see why he is referred to as a pantheist by Western fundamentalists.)

The Dominican Order, which has never disowned its Meister, has been working toward obtaining a papal declaration to the effect that Eckhart's writings are "an expression of authentic Christian mysticism and ... trustworthy guides to the Christian life according to the spirit of the gospel." There is even a fifteen-year-old Eckhart Society whose goals include the promotion of Eckhart's writings and the scholarly study of his life and works. (The goals also include promotion of Eckhart's teachings in interreligious dialogue, so even should a papal declaration be given the pantheist charge will survive.)

More excerpts from Meister Eckhart's works can be found here.

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The sole concern of the Church

JB the Kairos Guy expresses concern about the states of souls:
I could really use some help with mine, for instance, and I imagine yours is in much the same shape. That guy down the street needs some help, too. And the person on the way to work this morning…And the woman who…
As with air masks that drop down from the ceiling in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, the saving of souls works best if you take care of yourself before assisting those around you.

The Fundamental Constitution of the Dominican friars, quoting the Order's Primitive Constitutions, states that "the Order of Friars Preachers founded by St. Dominic 'is known from the beginning to have been instituted especially for preaching and the salvation of souls.'" St. Dominic understood that the salvation of souls begins at home. A preaching friar who saves thousands of souls, but not his own, isn't a very good preaching friar.

Fortunately, the way things are set up is such that saving your own soul makes it much easier to save other souls. You have the help of the graces that come to a soul that is right with God, you are more likely to do what is effective for others if your own mind and heart are properly ordered, and you are simply more attractive to others who are open to the Spirit.

I don't think I'm writing anything contrary to what JB wrote. We can't wait until our souls are irreversibly saved to start worrying about others. I'm just making the obvious point that the holier we are, the holier we can help others to be.

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Yes, it's Monday. Could you tell?

The conversation at In Between Naps turned to the "naturalistic" explanation of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes: that the "real" miracle was that everyone shared their food with everyone else.

I'm pro-miracle by temperament. I like to say that not all miracles are miraculous, meaning that God's actions in our lives don't always take astonishing or inexplicable forms.

But this multiplication-by-sharing wheeze is playing Scripture backwards, taking something that is clearly related as a miraculous miracle and downgrading it into a soft-focus moment of gosh-darned neighborliness brought to you by your local Coca-Cola bottler.
I'd like to teach the world to share
Their barley loaves and fish.
To get my friends to love and care
Is my one greatest wish.
The absurdity of the non-miracle position is made worse by the fact that it makes utter hash of the story.
"Martha, have you heard? That healer, Jesus of Nazareth, is in a boat near a deserted place not far from here. Perhaps if we bring young Jude to him, he will be able to heal Jude's withered arm. Let us go!"

"Okay, but first let me pack a picnic basket."

"Good thinking. While you're at it, pack more food than we'll need. I can use the exercise carrying that extra weight."
As I understand it, Catholic belief in non-miracles can be traced to (at least) the 19th Century dogmatic denial of miracles by men who considered themselves theologians. As with most things, Catholics complicate the simple idea that Jesus performed no miracles by believing that He is nevertheless God's Son. The result smacks of Pelagianism: "Gosh, Jesus showed others how to be nice. I'm nice, too, and I can show others how to be nice. Heaven, here I come!"

What we have, then, are trendy theologians teaching 150-year-old oxymorons to people eager to hear that they're God's children, too. This is bad theology. When a theologian does bad theology, what's left?

(It occurred to me yesterday that the Attack of the Workshopped Liturgists is, too often, the story of liturgists who don't know liturgy. And I don't mean they do bad liturgy, I mean they flat don't know the liturgy. When a liturgist does something that is explicitly contrary to liturgical norms, she is not demonstrating creativity or sensibility or prophetic vision, she is demonstrating ignorance. If liturgists don't know liturgy, what are they good for except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot?)

(Er, I mean, if they don't know liturgy, why are they considered liturgists?)

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Friday, August 02, 2002

Translations from the English

It has been suggested that St. Thomas is no doubt sound on the question, but he's hardly the thing to spring on a chap with a morning head.

Let me repeat my recommendation to turn to the Companion to the Summa, by Walter Farrell, OP, for those times when the Summa straight up reads like it hasn't been translated from medieval Latin yet. For example, I quoted a bit below from ST II-II, 82, 3. In the Companion, this shows up like so:
Just what thought causes this devotion? What mysteries pondered over by our minds can give us that ready willingness to do what concerns the worship of God? St. Thomas points out two great classes of truth which are immediate causes of devotion; one positive, the other negative. On the positive side there are the beauties of divine goodness in itself and in its benefits to us; on the negative side, our side, there are the defects and insufficiencies that drive home our need of God and uproot the great impediment to devotion which is presumption. God made it easier for us by sending His Son. To our stumbling minds and fickle hearts the tangible world has an immediate and powerful appeal; ready to our hand we have the humanity of Christ with its infinite material for our prayerful consideration. We cannot think very often of Christ without seeing the magnificence of His divinity bursting through into His human acts, filling us with awe, love and loyalty to the Son of Mary. Nor can we follow His tired feet through Palestine without becoming acutely conscious of the insufficiencies, the defects of our nature.
Not quite "See Dick run," but to me Fr. Farrell's work reads the way the Summa ought to be preached.

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"This is your weapon"

A comment on one of my Rosary posts points out that both Marian apparitions and papal exhortations have called on Catholics to pray the Rosary:
Now are you gonna disobey your mother AND "father"? Mary even gives acknowledgment to the fact that excuses will be made so she starts a beginner out slowly. But most of all she asks us to pray with the heart - and giving a mother something that takes effort shows far more love from the heart than trying to discover something that feels good to ME.
Apparitions, of course, cannot promulgate binding precepts on Catholics, and while many popes have urged all the faithful to pray the Rosary, none has commanded it.

But I find extremely distateful any implication that anyone who finds the Rosary a less fruitful way of prayer than some other form is merely looking for something that makes them feel good. The Rosary is a weapon against the world, the flesh, and the devil, not other Catholics who do not measure up to one's personal standards of piety.

The goal of the Christian life is perfection in Christ. Praying the Rosary is a tremendously effective aid to achieving this goal, but it doesn't work by magic. If it is not helping you to become perfect in Christ -- although, as I've written before, it takes some time and effort to be sure about this -- then don't pray it.

I will say, though, that all Catholics ought to honor Mary in some devotional way. Not only is this honor due her as Mother of God and Mother of the Church, but in my experience and that of many, many people throughout the centuries, it is astonishingly, almost exhiliratingly, returned in spiritual graces and favors.

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Maybe it's just my parenting skills

On HMS Blog, Woodeene Koenig-Bricker thinks like a parent and concludes that God doesn't send us suffering:
If I, as an imperfect parent, wouldn't out of the blue impose pain and suffering on my child even though I know, as the parent and adult, that he still had some growth stages to go through, then why would God, who is so much better a parent, do that to me? I can understand God allowing me to suffer as the natural (or even supernatural) consequences of my sinful actions, but I can't accept the notion that God would suddenly decide to send a little suffering my way just to improve me.
First, whatever God does, He doesn't do them suddenly or out of the blue, but from eternity and out of love.

But I'm surprised that Woodeene's conclusions arose from her thinking about herself as a parent. When I think about myself as a parent, I come to quite different conclusions.

Of course, I impose pain and suffering on my children every day. I even have a name for it: "Bedtime."

My children's pain at bedtime is real pain, and their suffering is real suffering, and I am the efficient cause of both. I intentionally take away from them a real good -- the good of play (which, for children, also includes the good of work) -- and give them no immediate or evident good in its place. Sometimes I literally take something out of their hands, and they react to this actual loss of something good precisely as though they have had something good taken away from them by their father. Yet their suffering is not a consequence of their sinful actions.

This homely rumination says more about me and my kids than it does about God, but it is the sort of thinking I do to help me understand such passages as Job 5:17-18:
Happy is the man whom God reproves! The Almighty's chastening do not reject. For he wounds, but he binds up; he smites, but his hands give healing.

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There are burdens and there are burdens

Tom Abbott of GoodForm offers a passionate exhortation to the Rosary for those who find it burdensome:
Get a hold of books by St. Louis DeMontfort. Ask our Blessed Mother to help you with the Rosary. If the Rosary is burdensome, then offer it up as penance and be reminded that you are creating a beautiful crown of roses and presenting it to our Lady as a gift of love and gratitude. If the rosary is a burden, then how much more beautiful and how much more well received will that crown of roses be when our Blessed Mother receives it knowing how difficult it was for you to create it.
I agree that the Rosary can be a difficult treasure box to open and that the effort to open it can be very rewarding.

But: If it doesn't work for you, it doesn't work for you.

The purpose of a devotion is to bring you closer to God, and if all the Rosary brings you close to is chucking the beads out of a window, then perhaps you should chuck the beads, not out of a window, but out of your prayer life. (Put the beads away some place; there may yet come a time when you'll need them.)

St. Therese wrote, "It's a terrible thing to admit, but saying the Rosary takes it out of me more than any hair shirt ... Try as I will, I cannot meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary. I just cannot fix my mind on them." (I'm told the early editions of her autobiography omitted such passages.) As a Carmelite, though, she had to pray the Rosary, and -- agreeing with Tom -- decided that the sheer effort of doing so would be at least as profitable as twenty minutes of easy meditation.

Trying to balance all this, I'd say that, yes, even an arid and burdensome habit of praying the Rosary can be good for the soul, but it's entirely possible that for you there is another form of prayer that is better.

As an aside, in the same post Tom quotes St. Louis de Montfort, T.O.P., quoting Bl. Alan de la Roche, O.P., quoting a vision of Mary:
Know, my son, and make all others know, that it is a probable and proximate sign of eternal damnation to have an aversion, a lukewarmness, or a negligence in saying the Angelical Salutation, which has repaired the whole world.
Taking nothing away from the sanctity and the good works of Bl. Alan, he is not, shall we say, universally considered an impeccable recorder of genuine mystical experience.

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Thursday, August 01, 2002

Apologia pro matre sua, prima pars

St. Thomas Aquinas, taking up the question of whether contemplation is the cause of devotion, considers this objection:
[I]f contemplation were the proper and essential cause of devotion, the higher objects of contemplation would arouse greater devotion. But the contrary is the case: since frequently we are urged to greater devotion by considering Christ's Passion and other mysteries of His humanity than by considering the greatness of His Godhead.
He replied:
Matters concerning the Godhead are, in themselves, the strongest incentive to love and consequently to devotion, because God is supremely lovable. Yet such is the weakness of the human mind that it needs a guiding hand, not only to the knowledge, but also to the love of Divine things by means of certain sensible objects known to us. Chief among these is the humanity of Christ, according to the words of the Preface [for Christmastide], "that through knowing God visibly, we may be caught up to the love of things invisible." Wherefore matters relating to Christ's humanity are the chief incentive to devotion, leading us thither as a guiding hand, although devotion itself has for its object matters concerning the Godhead.
I've emphasized the point I want to draw out: The human mind needs a guiding hand, by means of sensible objects, to the love [dilectio] of divine things.

This is not a theological argument. It's not a matter of Revelation, and you won't find it explicit in Scripture. It's simply an observed fact about humans: We do better moving from the sensible to the incomprehensible.

As an observed fact, it isn't categorical and universal. There are exceptions; numerous saints fell into rapture with no physical or mental prompting, and God may grant us moments of contemplation whenever He choses. Still, this is the experience of almost everyone almost all the time.

St. Thomas rightly points out that chief among the sensible things that lead to devotion is the humanity of Christ. It's a point that bears a lifetime of study, but for now let me move on to the next best thing: the humanity of Mary, the Mother of God.

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Bring back the clausulae!

David Alexander thinks something not quite entirely unlike an older form of the Rosary -- which older form featured different clausulae (short phrases recalling elements of Jesus' life, death and resurrection) recited for each Ave, rather than the "second half" of the "Hail Mary" ("Holy Mary, Mother of God,....") -- is worth fostering. (My apologies for misrepresenting him in the first version of this.)

I agree, largely because it gives me an (admittedly weak) excuse to tout one of my favorite books: Through the Rosary with Fra Angelico.

This is a booklet of 150 clausulae, taken from the writings of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, with accompanying pictures of the fifteen mysteries taken from paintings by Fra Angelico (John da Fiesole, to his friends).

You can buy the booklet for $2.95 through most of the major on-line booksellers, or go through the St. Joseph Province Dominican Laity catalogue for $2.50. Go ahead and order two copies, so you can give one away to the next person you meet who loves beauty.

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The dreariness of the Rosary

Steven Riddle of the very fine blog Flos Carmeli confesses that the Rosary is not his prayer of choice: "I regard the rosary as a onerous penance -- doing a single decade is, for me, like trampling through a lake of liquid lead."

He's hardly the first Carmelite to feel that way. St. Therese didn't get much out of it either.

Most people think of the Rosary as a five-decade prayer, the mysteries varying with the day. Purists would say it's a fifteen-decade prayer, by custom divided into three parts.

I think there's a case to be made that the Rosary is an unending prayer; after the Coronation, you turn to the Annunciation, and keep going. Day by day, you incorporate the rhythm of Christ's life, death, and resurrection -- and of Mary's participation in them -- into your own life.

Taking this long view helps me pray the Rosary. When I get to the end of a decade and realized I barely thought about the mystery, I don't get too upset. For one thing, I know I'll have another chance to meditate on that mystery every few days for the rest of my life. For another, even barely thinking about it is more thinking about it than I'd have done if I weren't praying the Rosary.

As you can tell, I am not very efficient in praying the Rosary, but then I don't think the Rosary needs to be a very efficient prayer.

I don't believe that every Catholic needs to pray the Rosary every day; if people say they are temperamentally ill-suited for it who am I to say they're wrong? But I suspect some of the people who find the Rosary dreary are expecting too much of it, and of themselves, at every Hail Mary, or even every five decades.

What I recommend for those who are unsure, one way or another, of the role of the Rosary in their prayer life is to commit to praying it daily for a month, supported by some of the vast devotional literature that brings out its richness (this is important; there are hundreds of techniques and variations that might help bring the Rosary to life). They can see what they think about it after using it for a while unfettered by expectations of immediate results.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Cheap to offer, dear to counter

The reason I held off adding comments to Disputations for a couple of months was that I didn't want to be responsible for the sort of irresponsible comments -- wanting in charity, prudence, and occasionally plain facts -- I was seeing on other blogs.

Eventually, though, I recognized that this site attracts a higher caliber of reader, and I had little to fear on that score.

Soon after, Mark Butterworth of Sunny Days in Heaven took issue with my statement, "Can anyone but a fool deny that the Pope lives as though he believes the Faith?", writing in a comment, "I don't find JPII is all that much a believer other than in a simplistic, and rather superstitious way."

Over the course of two further comments, Mark attacked the Church's Mariology, the Eucharist, and my own faith and rationality. "What a frightening kind of Christianity and God you believe in," he wrote with characteristic hauteur.

His attacks are of a kind I call "cheap to offer, dear to counter." It is the work of a moment to write, as he did, "[E]xplain in a rational, logical, and sensible manner why anyone should pray to Mary rather than to God. You can't do so....." It takes considerable more time and trouble to explain in a rational, logical, and sensible manner why anyone should pray to Mary rather than to God. (As it happens, just last week I came across the perfect launching point for this precise question in an unlikely spot in the Summa (II-II, 82, 3, if you want to work ahead), but I haven't had a chance to pull it together.)

The impression such a cheap-to-offer assertion leaves is that -- since the dear-to-counter reply is so late in coming, and so wordy when finally presented, and (most likely) admittedly incomplete even then -- the assertion must be true. Given a choice, the human mind tends to prefer the simpler answer.

I can't really complain about having my faith publically challenged. Above and beyond the basic requirement for Christians to be prepared to defend their faith, I belong to an Order whose rule for laity states, "Every Dominican should be able to preach the word of God."

At the same time, I don't feel obligated to leave Mark's insulting and inaccurate attacks on me, the Pope, and the Church unanswered in the Disputations comments until I have the opportunity to answer them. He can post them on his own blog, if he likes, but I prefer not to sponsor a falsehood uncountered by the truth. I've saved his comments, though, and will reply in my own time.

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Here comes everybody

I occasionally tell people they should be saints, along the lines of this:
Joe Smith: What we really need now is a 21st Century St. Catherine of Siena.

Me: Have you considered the possibility that what we really need now is a 21st Century St. Joe Smith?
I feel like I'm being daring and boldly prophetic, but more often than not the response is, "Oh, I don't want to be a saint, I just want to be better than I am." (The reply that really shuts me up, though, is, "You first.")

People seem to be afraid, or at least unwilling, to see holiness as a personal goal. Some see it as too far beyond their ability (which it is; hence the Crucifixion). Some see it as a mark of pride, as though "I want to be a saint" means "Venerate me" rather than "I want to love God with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my mind, and all my strength." Some are genuinely uninterested in being holy; they're satisfied with loving God with some of their heart, a fair piece of their soul, a smackerel of their mind, and whatever strength they can summon for an hour Sunday morning.

Exhortation will only work for those who already know they should be holy. For the others, I'm afraid what's needed is an example.

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That's why they call them habits

Someone told Emily "Fun While It Lasted" Stimpson that Fr. John McCloskey's "Seven Daily Habits of Holy Apostolic People" was a "living holier for people who are already holy."

I disagree.

The daily habits Fr. McCloskey recommends are these:
  1. A brief morning offering.
  2. 15 minutes of silent prayer.
  3. 15 minutes of spiritual reading.
  4. Attending Mass.
  5. The Angelus at noon.
  6. The Rosary.
  7. A brief nighttime examination of conscience.
These are not ideas holy people might try out to become holier. Prayer -- regular, disciplined, daily -- is how people become holy in the first place! It's a safe bet that anyone who isn't already doing at least the equivalent of the above isn't going to be very holy.

This list is, by and large, the one spiritual directors have been giving people -- rich, poor, simple, educated -- for centuries. Other than daily Mass, anyone in good health who can read this blog could do everything on this list by simply chosing to do so. It means taking less than an hour out of your day -- don't try to "find the time," it's not misplaced, just misused -- and giving it back to God, Who gave it to you in the first place. American Catholics are famously bad at tithing their treasure. How do we do at tithing our time?

The key word, I think, is "habit." (And remember, a good habit is called a virtue.) You don't develop a habit by waking up one Monday and making a morning offering. You develop it by doing it every day, until doing it is easier than not doing it. You do it, for example, by saying, "Every day of August, I will spend fifteen minutes reading the Gospels. On September 1, I will ask myself whether I want to continue."

And if you did spend fifteen minutes reading the Gospels every day of August -- not studying them so much as praying them, not to discover ordinary life in 1st Century Palestine so much as to discover Christ -- then I bet you'll spend fifteen minutes reading the Gospels on September 1.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Dead or alive

Minute Particulars (which could rename itself Ten Minute Particulars, at least when the subject is philosophy) had an interesting challenge to the idea of cryonics: a corpse is not a human being, and once the soul separates from the body there is no natural mechanism capable of reuniting them.

This has been dismissed by others as "religion" or "mysticism," although Mark is explicit about his argument being based on Aristotle's hoary old pagan theory about the soul being the principle of life of the body.

Honestly, what do they teach in school these days? Apparently not hylomorphism.

(Well, they didn't teach hylomorphism to me in school, either, but I've picked up a little about it here and there. One excellent contemporary source of radical Aristotelianism is William A. Wallace, OP. If you find his name as author of an article or book, it's a safe bet you're going to get some straight-up, unreconstructed Aristotelian philosophy.)

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Cross words puzzles, cont.

Woodeene Koenig-Bricker adds a categorical statement to the ongoing discussion about God and suffering: "God cannot be the source of all that is good and still be the author of pain and suffering in my theological framework."

One question this raises is, "What does it mean to be an 'author of pain and suffering'?" As I've written before, a lot of this discussion is as much semantic as theological, an effort to find words that express (analogically, it is true, but no less meaningfully for that) a mystery we at best only dimly understand.

For example, we might be able to agree that lions are good, and that God is the source of lions, and that lions cause a great deal of pain and suffering to zebras. Is the "source" of the "cause" of pain the "author" of the pain? It depends how you define your terms.

(There is an argument that lions only eat zebras because of Adam's sin. I'm not convinced of the soundness of this argument.)

But however we define our terms, I think we need to account for such Scriptural passages as Judith 8:25-27, Job 2:10, and 2 Cor 12:7.

Fr. Keyes brings in an important dimension -- perhaps the important dimension -- to human suffering: our relationship to Jesus:
For me, “why” and “how” are more important than “what end?” The question of “who with” has never seen the light of day in other posts.

The meaning of suffering is discovered in who we are and who we are with, and not simply in “our response.”
If you are never far from the sufferings of Jesus, then your own sufferings will be united to His just as you are united to Him, and indeed you will come to love your sufferings insofar as you see them as the means to union with Jesus. As St. Gaspar writes, the soul "loves its sufferings in peace.... It loves the cup the Father gave [Jesus]."

The more I read from St. Gaspar, the better I like him.


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Sensus fidei sensus laici non est

Summa Contra Mundum points out one of Garry Wills's errors, the one that confuses the sensus fidei with informal majority opinion of white American Catholics as determined by polls taken by the secular media.

This confusion is a symptom of clericalism, the idea that the Church has a two-class membership: priests and rabble. The rabble are supposed to possess an infallibility, independent of and greater than that of the bishops. This view cannot for a moment be defended, but, I suppose, it is very common.

There are various more or less obvious theological and ecclesiological points to be made, but to descend to the baldly practical: No church that practices infant baptism can rely on opinion polls to define unchanging doctrine. Being a baptized Catholic and being knowledgable about the Faith are only weakly correlated.

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Monday, July 29, 2002

Liturgy of the Hours, on the hour

David Alexander indicates that I've done a fair -- well, shocking -- amount of blogging on the Liturgy of the Hours, specifically the Office of Prime. I'd intended those to be something of a warm-up to more substantive commentary, but I think I'll let the iron cool a bit. I shouldn't be spending more time talking about the Divine Office than praying it.

I will, though, add an enthusiastic word for Magnificat magazine, and not just because it's produced by the Dominicans of St. Joseph's (Eastern U.S.) Province. Apart from its use as material for prayer and study, it is a simply beautiful magazine. Having copies in your home will make your home, and therefore you, more beautiful. Skip the leatherette cover unless you always spill things on your nightstand.

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You can only give what you have

It's a trite observation that Pope John Paul II draws energy from the enthusiasm of the young (although the contrast between his appearance in Toronto and his appearances over the previous months was astonishing, to say the least).

It makes me wonder, though, whether the Pope would find much to draw from in a crowd of 200,000 of me.

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Beati immaculati

"Apostles of the obvious." I like that. An apostolate of the obvious may be just what this generation needs. Let me try it out:

I think there's a clear tie-in between the "Why bother?"/"How to evangelize the post-evangelized" discussion, the "If not VotF, what?" discussion, and the World Youth Day triumph (the final Mass being the largest gathering in the history of Canada). The common thread might be inelegantly put this way:

Live the Faith as though you believe it.

A lot of Catholics live the Faith as though they know it. A lot live it as though they accept it. But when you live it as though you believe it, it becomes a fountain of living water that flows right out of you, and other people notice. Seeing the water will remind many of them that they are thirsty, and they will come and drink. (As my spiritual advisor, Dr. Catherine Benincasa, points out, Jesus offers the water of life to everyone, but only people who are thirsty will drink it.)

That, I think, is how you evangelize people who think good enough is good enough; that is what needs to be the basis of any lay reaction to any crisis in the Church; that is why the Pope is such a surprising winter lion for the unthirsty journalists covering him. Can anyone but a fool deny that the Pope lives as though he believes the Faith?

The responsorial at yesterday's Mass was selected from Psalm 119, the longest in the Psalter. If you read modern notes on this psalm, you find it's an acrostic, a series of disjoint statements about God's law arranged alphabetically. The notes can make the psalm seem like it was composed as an intellectual exercise, to be read more from diligence than piety.

But just imagine reciting the Psalm and meaning what you say: "I rejoiced to do your will as though all riches were mine... I take delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word." Joy and delight! In the word of God, in doing His will! This, I think, is a measure of how much we live as though we believe.

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Friday, July 26, 2002

Don't just kneel there, do something

There are those who are displeased with the criticism of Voice of the Faithful found on various blogs (including this one). They point out that we critics have not proposed much in the way of resolving the crisis, while the Faithful are at least attempting something.

True enough, but I don't think this scores any points against critics of VotF. If I am stranded on a desert island, I can observe that my fellow castaway's plan to swim for the mainland is doomed, even if I don't have any ideas for getting home myself. Similarly, if I don't have a five-point plan for resolving the crisis of world, flesh, and devil thriving within the Church, I can at least suggest that rallying under the banner of lay financial power is not a sufficiently Christian approach toward pervasive moral failure.

For the record, I do approve of the efforts of VotF that match up with my own, humble and inadequate, two-point plan of prayer and fasting.

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Why Wodehouse matters

Do you really have to ask?

And in case you are asking why Wodehouse matters are being brought up on this blog -- whatever can be said for him, Wodehouse was not a particularly religious man -- I happen to have a little something that ties him nicely into my whole theme:
Why is P. G. Wodehouse the Master? Because his prose, being read, pleases.
In other words, Wodehouse wrote beautifully.

Thomas Aquinas gives three conditions for beauty: integrity or perfection; due proportion or harmony; and brightness or clarity. The integrity and harmony of a Wodehouse story is practically guaranteed; this explains why the range of his plots is so limited. His brightness, though, comes from his use of the language, invented, adapted, and synthesized to meet his needs.

What does it mean to say that a story has "clarity"? It means that the form of the story, the words strung together and the meaning they impart, show clearly what the story is. There are no hidden depths to Wodehouse; what some misconstrue as a weakness is in fact a strength of the stories he wrote. To add some psychological twist, some complexity of character, would be to ruin his stories. In this way, Wodehouse displays what Aquinas would call right reasoning with regard to his story. And right reasoning with regard to the thing to be made is, for Aquinas, the very definition of art.

P. G. Wodehouse was an artist.
I might also refer you to James V. Schall's book, What Is God Like: Philosophers and "Hereticks" on the Triune God: The Sundry Paths of Orthodoxy from Plato, Augustine, Samuel Johnson, Nietzsche, Camus, and Flannery O'Connor, Even to Charlie Brown and the Wodehouse Clergy, but I've never seen a copy myself.

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The golden chalice

This is a story about the Church in the United States, although the events are related by a young American asked at a World Youth Day-related event to talk about his experiences with the Church in Russia:
I only told of Baba who lived out in the country. We drove to her log cabin datcha so that Myron could give her Holy Communion. I guess Baba's family are non-believers so they left the cabin when we arrived. Baba was almost completly blind so she touched our faces when she spoke to us. She had cheap paper prints of holy pictures nailed to her walls and she was in her nineties. I had never seen anyone so happy as she chatted and fed us hot tea. Baba had no teeth, was a hunch-back and wore no shoes.

On the drive back, Myron said that she chatted again, as she always does of "her golden chalice." When she was a girl, the Communists shot the Orthodox and Catholic priests in the town center and she and the villagers witnessed the execution. As I rememeber the story, the last time she spoke with her priest, he said that she would get a golden cup in heaven if she kept the Faith and she persevered and I came to know her.

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Allow me

There has been a heap of criticism about the makeup of the National Review Board for the Office of Child and Youth Protection. Yesterday, Gregory Popcak summed up his opinion this way: "Not a truly informed, faithful Catholic in the batch."



So far the criticism has been restrained and thoughtful. I'd like to go beyond that and come right out and say:

I should be on the board.


Why? For one thing, I pass the "First, do no harm" test. Not being active in politics, law, medicine, or academics, I would bring nothing to the board that would skew it further in any direction it's already skewed in — unless they all also like barbecue and Wodehouse. (Though, come to think of it, if they don't like barbecue and Wodehouse, they probably shouldn't be on the board anyway.)

But I would also bring important skills to the board: I am a knowledgeable, faithful Catholic; I am not beholden to any interests; I use vulgar expression sparingly yet when necessary; I do not withhold my opinion for fear of offending or losing social standing; I've never given a politician or a political party a plug nickel; public opinion no longer worries me; and I think it's more important for the Church to save souls than to save face. As for what the Globe, the Times, the Post, or Andrew Sullivan might think, je m'en fiche de cela.

For 2,000 years, the Church has tried to get along without listening to me, and look where it's got us.

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Private prime

Fr. Jim Tucker gives the reason the Office of Prime was suppressed: If you're praying Lauds at daybreak, you don't need to be praying Prime at daybreak. He adds, "Still, it's a nice hour, and so I sometimes pull an old breviary off the shelf and say Prime as a private devotion, which strikes me as an altogether wholesome thing to do if one's so inclined."

A sentiment I warmly agree with, although I think you could also use a new breviary. In the reformed liturgy for the daytime hours, only the reading, response, and collect varies with the hour, so for Prime -- and let's use those critical words, as a private devotion -- you can use the daytime psalms from the psalter. The reading might be borrowed from the old Office of Prime: 1 Timothy 1:17 for Sundays and feasts:
To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Zechariah 8:19b for other days:
Love faithfulness and peace, says the LORD of hosts.
For a response:
Unto you have I cried, O Lord.
— And early shall my prayer come before you.
And for the final prayer, the Domine, Deus omnipotens (good for a partial indulgence):
Lord, God Almighty, you have brought us safely to the beginning of this day. Defend us today by your mighty power, that we may not fall into any sin, but that all our words may so proceed and all our thoughts and actions be so directed, as to be always just in your sight. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
See how easy it is?

Where I live, sunrise tomorrow will be at about 5:58 a.m., which will make it difficult to fit in Lauds at sunrise and Prime at six o'clock, but I suppose it could be done if someone were determined enough.

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