instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Dr. Strangepangs...

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fast

If that movie were about me, it would be science fiction. I don't like to fast. I don't expect I ever will.

But since I've been asked for advice for a beginning faster, let me just give the one secret to fasting that I know:

I can do it.

More precisely, I can survive a whole day until evening eating at most a soft pretzel without becoming cranky and irritable. (If you don't know, Catholic rules of fasting are, ah, not fanatically strict.)

The thing is that I didn't realize I can survive that long without getting cranky until a very busy day at work when I didn't have the time to sit around thinking, "Aw, man, I can't eat anything right now." Once I discovered that my crankiness wasn't due to fasting but immaturity, it went away. (I'm still disappointed, of course, when the cafeteria has a special on Reubens when I'm fasting, but I just offer that disappointment up.)

If anyone else has any advice on fasting (see comment #1 of the "Does dieting count?" post below for the original question), please leave a comment.


Does dieting count?

I may have been too pessimistic yesterday about our cultural attitude toward asceticism. After all, the U.S. is a nation of dieters.

Of course, dieting for health reasons isn't what the Church has in mind when it proposes fasting. Still, the idea of a program of discipline to control the appetite has a certain amount of respect in this society, even if it's honored more in the breach than in the observance.

Here's a very rough hypothesis: Eating less of what you can and want to eat is an effective physical way of increasing receptivity to spiritual graces.

By this I mean to suggest two things. First, fasting from food -- as opposed to fasting from TV, blogging, or "a favorite activity" -- is the form of fasting that best helps humans to grow in holiness. It's no accident that people throughout history have used this as a means of drawing closer to the divine.

Second, that it works on the physical level whether we intend a spiritual dimension to it or not. A soul is better prepared to receive the graces God wills for it when it informs a hungry body than when it informs a sated body. Let me immediately back-pedal with the conditions that the body merely be hungry, not starving; and that the person's reason really have the bodily appetite under control. It doesn't count if I follow a fast but spend the whole time obsessing over what I'm not eating; that's just putting the food in my mind rather than my mouth.


Advice for sainthood

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, in announcing the opening of the cause for sainthood of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (who, incidentally, was a Dominican tertiary), gave the following advice:
"If you want to be a saint, don't write a lot. Get martyred or live a short, heroic life."
Very sensible.

Some further recommendations, if I may:
Perform a miracle in the presence of a papabile cardinal.

Become well-known in the hometown of a boy destined to grow up to be pope.

Refuse a bishopric.

Make enemies within the Church.

Keep good notes, all in one place.

Don't get and stay happily married. [Getting and staying happily married is extremely helpful for personal sanctity, but it takes some of the edge off the romance of heroic virtue.]


Pearls of wisdom

Karen Marie Knapp has been thinking about the pearl of great price:
The pearl we want so desperately is our Lord, Himself.
The price of the pearl is absolutely every thing.
But, the pearl itself _is_ absolutely Everything, All in All.
This reminds me of the Grail Psalter's translation of Psalm 16:5:
O Lord, it is you who are my portion and cup;
it is you yourself who are my prize.
The Kingdom of God is Paradise, with God. It is contemplatively eating the most delicious peach, while being wholly swept up in the Vision of Divine Love.

But it is a choice, and making a choice entails giving up a lot of other, lesser things. The easy choice is to leave the pearl of great price right where it is and keep all the lesser things, while occasionally (say, once a week) wandering past the field to make sure the pearl is still there. When the lesser things are no longer desirable, they can be discarded and the pearl dug up without sacrifice.

Of course, Jesus spoke about the easy choice, too.

Karen Marie's thoughts were prompted by something written by her listserv acquaintance Abigail (who also happens to be one of the wisest (and finest) people I know). In thinking further about all this, Abigail writes:
...the whole point of the parable is that once you acquire the pearl, its price is precisely what's not important: just like labor pains after the baby's born. Maybe it's that in this life, we're still in the process of paying the price. The pearl's only promised, we've only seen the baby by ultrasound (through a mirror darkly). So we can't _really_ forget it yet. Or something like that.
I think what it is is that, although we are given the pearl in exchange for some relatively worthless trinkets, our belief in its worth is still based on faith. We have to take someone else's word that it's really worth what we've exchanged for it. And meanwhile, every day we get offers to trade it for something else, something whose absolute and immediate value we can judge for ourselves.

I think it's important, although I can't express why very clearly, that we not think of the Kingdom of God as something that is entirely not yet here. It's not yet entirely here, of course, but if Baptism and Reconciliation cause what they signify, then the Kingdom of God has been given to us already.


Monday, September 09, 2002

Have you lost your senses?

As physical creatures, humans rely on their senses to apprehend the world in order to survive and propagate. As rational creatures, humans rely on their senses to grow in knowledge of themselves and of God.

Unfortunately, as fallen creatures humans can't rely on their senses to dependably lead them to knowledge of God and self. Instead, we have to worry about our senses leading us into satisfying their appetites without concern for anything else (such as love of God and neighbor).

Sane people recognize this, which I think was Chesterton's point in claiming "original the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved." They may disagree about what other things man should be concerned with, but not that other things exist.

This is why asceticism is a ubiquitous cultural feature -- and also, I think, why once a culture rejects asceticism it is doomed. (By asceticism I mean a program of discipline to control the sensitive appetites.) A society filled with people who only worry about gratifying their senses will fall apart from within even as it is attacked from without.

I don't think it's ridiculous to ask whether the Catholic Church in the West has rejected asceticism. It's never been wildly popular as an individual choice, but it seems that nowadays even someone else being ascetic is widely regarded as a bad idea, if not the mark of psychological imbalance.

But what choice do we have? If I can't look at a beautiful woman without lust, taste a delicious dish without gluttony, touch a finely-made shirt without avarice, what will become of me? I will either end up living like an animal or failing to live like an angel. (And in case "failing to live like an angel" sounds any better than "living like an animal," remember what a failed angel is and where it winds up.)

So I need to achieve a balance. I need to keep my senses -- I can't pretend I don't need them; as a human being I'm not made to get along without senses -- and I need to keep my senses under control.

The Church's proposed way for me to do this is through fasting. (The poverty of the spirit of fasting in the West is shown, I think, in the fact that time and again Roman Catholic writers suggest "fasting from things other than food" as though it were a new idea for the reader.) If my fast is supported by prayer (as it must be to bear spiritual fruits), then while I fast God builds up in me the virtues I need to control my senses when my fast is over.

And eventually (here I write from hope, not experience) I will have purified my senses to the point where they are mostly reliable, where I can experience the world without being overcome by it, because I am too filled with God. I eat a peach, I enjoy its taste, but I don't lose a piece of me to the experience; all of me is dedicated to God. (Remember, if I lose a piece of myself to anything other than God, I am diminished by that amount. That part of me isn't out there somewhere, it ceases to exist. That's what sin does.)


Friday, September 06, 2002

Een Hoecken met een Boecken

dylan six-eighteen offers enthusiastic plaudits to Dover Publications and its Dover Thrift Editions of great literature.

Dover is one of my favorite catalogs; I have a pile of their thrift editions, several non-thrift books (which, for Dover, means books between $5 and $15), and several mathematics books from my grad school days when I'd visit their store in Manhattan.

The other two catalogs that tempt me to avarice are A Common Reader and Daedelus. The former is so tempting I often can't bring myself to read it; the latter has its warehouse about two miles from where I work, the fiends.

Everywhere I have sought rest and found it nowhere, save in little nooks with little books. -- Thomas A Kempis


Thursday, September 05, 2002

Vision and Revision

My life has been above all motivated by a longing for beauty in its totality. Physical beauty in a woman or a man overpowers me with wonder. The beauty of light, water, trees, animals in motion and repose both disturbs and calms me. Intellectual order in which a harmony appears in the interplay of all the verities of beings in process is for me like music, and music seems very close to what is ultimate, whole, and indubitably real. One unforgettable moment was an afternoon in library of the public highschool in Blackwell, Oklahoma when I first read Plato and suddenly realize that beauty is ultimate, total beauty is God.
So begins an autobiographical essay by Benedict Ashley, O.P., one of the brightest lights of the Dominican Order in the U.S.

I have a friend who has a special reverence for Fr. Ashley. The priest had given a presentation on some topic, and during the Q&A, my friend asked him a question about what he'd claimed. Fr. Ashley thought about it for a moment, then said frankly, "You have caught me in a contradiction."

This openness to and humility before truth, wherever it be found -- even in the challenge of a layman at the end a canned talk -- is a mark of a great Dominican.


Not so fast

Emily Stimpson's "Why the Church Rocks" series on HMS Blog is collectable. Too bad there isn't a blog around that could be used to store her posts.

Anyway, Part 7 is "The Liturgical Calendar." She writes:
Feast days and memorials recall the lives of the saints who have gone before us....
Penitential days and seasons tug at our sleeves, reminding us that disciplining the will and strengthening the spirit require some effort....
Blessedly, seasons of rejoicing always follow these times of repentance and preparation.
We might also say, "Blessedly, times of repentance and preparation also precede seasons of rejoicing."

One aspect of the liturgical calendar that should be stressed by those, like me, who like to celebrate saints' feast days -- by eating a great big frosted donut, for example, in honor of the memory of some holy man who kept a strict fast for 36 years -- is the custom of the vigil fast. We should fast the day before a day-long celebration, just as we fast the season before a season-long celebration. It expands the celebration, teaches us the lesson of gratitude toward God in want as in plenty, and weaves the death-to-life motif of Triduum into our lives on a very fine scale.


This week's gossip

Michael Rose has let slip the dogs of law. As you know.

But I do sort of wonder why you know -- or rather, why I know.

I mean, I know because I read Fr. Johansen's blog, where he speaks his personal mind, and the dinginess of Rose's lawyers' letter was very much and very understandably on his personal mind.

Still, while I empathize with the feelings the letter caused, I also wonder about the prudence of this very public response.

When I asked (in the comments of the post) Fr. Johansen what purpose was served by going into such detail on his blog, he replied:
Telling the truth? It seems to me that attempts at intimidating critics do a disservice to the Truth.
But what truth is being contested here? From my perspective, the downward spiral of this whole sorry episode began with the question of whether Goodbye! Good Men had methodological flaws, then sank to the question of whether its author was an honest man, and is now in the muck of whether he is a thin-skinned crybaby who can't play fair.

There comes a point, I think, where the charitable thing to do -- perhaps even the heroically charitable thing -- is to be silent.

I see a connection between this mess and the personality cults flourishing in the Church in the U.S. What we ought to be concerned with are the various claims, positions, and arguments being made. What too many of us are concerned with are the people making them. One group builds its case on the foundation of the personal integrity (or its absence) of an individual, another group responds by attacking (or insisting on) the individual's integrity.

In this particular case, it seems that Rose and his supporters went personal first, but Fr. Johansen was not above replying in kind. He states that his purpose is to tell the truth. I can accept that all he's written is true (in fact, I do accept it), but it being true is not sufficient justification for making a public statement about someone else.

I'm not positively asserting that Fr. Johansen was wrong or imprudent to mention the letter, but I suspect it would have been better all around if he hadn't. Which leads me to the defense given in the comments by David Kubiak:
I know so many good priests who have [been] pushed around in such unfair ways, and often they just want somebody to listen to them sympathetically. For the sake of the Kingdom Father doesn't have a wife to talk to every night support him through difficulties. This is a case where St. Blog's should be a big collective friend.
I am sympathetic to his need for support, but St. Blog's is not a big collective friend. It's a fiction, a bit of fanciful language used to describe a loose cluster of blogs. Nor is what appears on Thrown Back said to friends in private, as a Google search on "thrown back" demonstrates. It is a public forum of a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, and each of these factors is a circumstance contributing to the prudence of everything he posts.

There is, of course, a corresponding set of circumstances in play at Disputations, so these thoughts are by no means idle criticisms of another with no practical application to myself.


What he said

I can't find anything to dispute in Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's article in The Times. (Except I'd put the "Cardinal" after "Cormac," but styles change.) And contrary to some claims, he does not denounce a future war with Iraq.

He even gives me food for thought regarding concern about what the UN thinks, which is not something I am usually much concerned about:
Does [military action against Iraq] have the endorsement of the UN Security Council and, in the case of Britain, of the European Union? If not what will be its effect on our efforts to establish a structure of international law which all nations will respect?
While I don't think the endorsement of the UN Security Council is necessary for the US to attack Iraq, I hadn't before thought about the broader implications of ignoring the UN in such cases. The weakening of a structure of international law respected by all nations may well be an unintended consequence, one which by the just war principle of proportionality ad bellum would count against the good to be achieved. (Up till now, I've always thought of references to the UN as arguments regarding the legitimate authority principle.)


An intellectual act of mercy

If you don't remember the triolets I inflicted on the Web a couple of months back, why don't we just leave it that way?

Return to "Exorcise in verse"


Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Can the liturgy fail?

It has been suggested that a statement from my post below -- "If the worshippers are responsible for the liturgy, and they fail, then the liturgy fails." -- has at least two things wrong with it. First, worshippers aren't responsible for the liturgy. Second, the liturgy -- in particular the Mass -- can never fail.

To take first things second, I agree that the Mass cannot fail to be the unbloody re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary, however ineptly or uninspiringly it is celebrated (assuming, tautologically, it is celebrated validly). But the Mass contains elements other than Christ's offering on the Cross, and of course the Divine Office doesn't contain it at all.

When I say that the liturgy can fail, I mean "liturgy" in the sense of a public act of worship, performed by a particular set of persons in the name of the Church. So how can this public act of worship, performed by a particular set of persons in the name of the Church, fail?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
As the work of Christ liturgy is also an action of his Church. It makes the Church present and manifests her as the visible sign of the communion in Christ between God and men. It engages the faithful in the new life of the community and involves the "conscious, active, and fruitful participation" of everyone. [1071, quotation from Sacrosanctum concilium 11]
It seems to me, then, that the liturgy can be said to fail to the extent it fails to manifest the Church as the visible sign of the communion in Christ between God and men -- which it might do, for example, if it fails to manifest any sign of communion. It can be said to fail, too, to the extent it fails to engage the faithful in the new life in Christ, or fails to involve the due participation of everyone.

Which brings me to the question of whether the worshippers are responsible for the liturgy. They are not solely responsible, surely; the liturgy is a work of the Church, which regulates it, and a work of Christ, who is Himself the supreme sign of the communion between God and men. But the worshippers do bear responsibility. It is their responsibility to participate in the liturgy in a manner suitable to those acting in the name of Christ and the name of His Body the Church. It is the responsibility of each individual worshipper to be consciously, actively, and fruitfully involved, to participate according to their role in the manifestation of the visible sign of communion.


A word in favor of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

That word is "responsibility."

Okay, the cathedral is now dedicated. Those of us who are holier than Roger Cardinal Mahony can wipe the spittle from our chins and eagerly await the next opportunity for detraction.

Meanwhile, the cathedral remains.

As I said before, I think the outside is ugly and the inside is okay. Amy Welborn thinks the inside is maybe too stark. (We both recognize we're judging based on inadequate photographs.)

One thing the relative starkness does, I think, is place the responsibility for the liturgy on the participants. The interior of the cathedral is a consecrated place that, during Mass or other liturgies, can be filled with the prayer, praise, and adoration of the worshippers ... or not. If a visitor finds something transcendent in the worship he sees, it will arise from the congregation, not from the room surrounding them.

An argument could be made that this transferrence of the transcendent is in keeping with the wishes of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. The laity is not to be passive observers in a beautiful theater of the divine, but to become ... well, the Church. If there are no statues of saints surrounding you, what choice do you have but to become a saint yourself, that those who come to Mass will still see saints in church?

This transferrence -- and I'm just making this all up here, not claiming it was the intent of the design -- comes with an obvious risk, that humans are more of a mixed bag than statues, columns, and mosaics. If the worshippers are responsible for the liturgy, and they fail, then the liturgy fails. But doesn't the same happen in an elaborately decorated church?

Church buildings should be silent sermons, yes. But different churches can preach different sermons.


Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Only 113 Days Till Christmas!

That should be enough time for you to buy copies of Saints of the Jubilee for everyone on your Christmas list, travel the United States to get them signed by all the contributing authors, and get home in time for a reverent and fruitful Advent.

If you're too busy, though, just email me your credit card and shipping information and I'll order the books for you. No need to thank me, it's what I do.


Cultic Catholicism

Bill Cork is "increasingly concerned by a growing cult of the Catholic celebrity."

So am I.

I can imagine two Catholics debating:
A: Scott Hahn.
B: Joan Chittister.
A: Scott Hahn!
B: Joan Chittister!
A: Hahn!
B: Chittister!
Then someone in the back of the auditorium shouts out, "Michael Davies!" and leaves in disgust.

I suppose life was ever thus, whether the name was Berrigan or Sheen or Houselander or Ward or Coughlin or Chesterton. Still, I've noticed many devotees of famous folk from all over the Catholic spectrum like to complain about the cult of personality surrounding Pope John Paul II while disparaging his "saint factory." Some who call themselves traditionalists rally behind Saint Philomena and others whose cults have been suppressed, while some who call themselves liberal have given up venerating the saints altogether.

Humans are creatures who want heroes. The Church recognizes that the best heroes are those who can be known to have won their races. But even among the saints the Church recongizes the need for discernment within the context of the living Tradition. If St. Augustine is not an infallible guide to the truth about God and man, what can be said of conference speakers in the U.S. today?


The more I think about it...

...the more it seems to me like boycotting Samuel Adams beer because of the venality of the chairman and founder of the company that makes it isn't enough.

No. What we ought to do is not just drink other quality beers and ales, but drink more of them. That will cause the Boston Beer Company's market share to fall even faster.

On an unrelated note, football season is here! Go Irish!


Friday, August 30, 2002

I think I get it now

Gerard Serafin posts two pictures of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which suggest to me the architectural principle used.

It looks to me as if the idea was to make the outside so ugly people would go inside so they didn't have to look at it. The inside looks okay.


Dominican Fast for Peace

I am not a pacifist. But I do think that war is bad and even a just war is a lousy way to obtain justice. I also think that God is wiser than man.

So I have a great deal of sympathy for the organizers and participants of the Dominican Fast for Peace beginning this Sunday:
. For us, prayer and fasting are time-honored traditions of seeking spiritual clarity and focus. Jesus Christ taught us that prayer and fasting lead us on the path to nonviolence and peace. On Sept. 1, we will embark on an open-ended, water-only fast as a way of acknowledging our need for personal and communal conversion. We do so with the hope that others from across the country and across the world will join with us in saying through silence and prayer, "There must be another way."
There's a lot in their statement I could dispute, beginning with its title, "There Must Be Another Way." I do not think this statement is true, taking "must" in the sense I think they intend.

However, I cannot dispute their fundamental belief "in the transforming power of ... prayer and fasting."

It may be that there is no other way, that for example an invasion of Iraq is just and therefore necessary. But I don't think we can know this to be true without prayer, prayer of a depth consonant with the gravity of war. The arguments for and against are expressed in the words of men, which must not be listened to in the place of the word of God. Prayer and fasting are the God-given ways of hearing God's voice.


A sonnet for my patron

Many thanks to dylan six-eighteen for posting "At Fra Angelico's sepulchre in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva."

(Oh, and also for directing me to CatholicAuthors.Com.)


Thursday, August 29, 2002

That's what I'm talking about!

In his day job at HMS Blog, Mark Shea posts the response of a reader who had asked for advice in the face of near-despair over her parish's liturgy. I excerpt the important part:
As far as Dominicans [which someone had recommended as a safe haven], we had several installed at my old university church (in an effort by the Dominicans to keep the priory from being torn down.) They all clearly had the charism of preaching, with some exceptional homilies here and there. They even corrected some long standing community abuse although the crystal chalice used for consecration terrified me. I kept having nightmares of it slipping out of Father's hand and shattering on the floor.
See what I mean? The Dominicans: Good liturgy. Great preaching. The congregation on the edge of their seats. (And, incidentally, decent food and plenty of it.)

To deflect attention away from the crystal chalice, I'll tell a story I heard about a Dominican novice. Every spring, a certain Dominican priory holds a very special Mass during which certain friars make their permanent vows as members of the Order. The liturgy involves a procession, which includes a certain fancy candelabra carried by a novice and set down somewhere in front.

It happens that, two years in a row, the novice whose job is to carry the candelabra (a different novice each year) happens to somehow knock it over during the liturgy, making no small amount of clattering noise and distracting the crowd more than somewhat.

So as the date approaches for the ceremony on the third year, this young novice who has been picked to carry the candelabra is made very much aware of recent history. "Do not," the novice master informs him, "knock over the candelabra."

"I won't."

Come the day, the novice concentrates on one thing and thing only: To fail entirely to knock over the candelabra at any stage of the Mass. "I will not knock over the candelabra," he tells himself repeatedly.

He knocks it over.

Having righted it and soldiered through to the end of the liturgy, he slinks over to the novice master in the expectation that the novice master has noticed the tremendous disturbance he had caused. The novice master has indeed noticed, but all he says is,

"The Ninth Station: the candelabra falls a third time."


A Simplified Casuistry of Leisure for the Third Millennium

Amy Welborn suggests a simple, self-administered test of our choices for entertainment:
Are you better off watching this, or watching the Marx Brothers?
Forget the V-chip, just make all TVs flash this question for five seconds every minute or two.


New curdled order

There's a short story in which a mother superior complains to her confessor about all the dour-faced nuns in her convent. He tells her to invite them to join a new congregation he wants to form, whose members will dress completely in black, make vows against smiling, and carry onions in their pockets to help them cry all the time. When two sisters see each other, the greeting and response is to be:
"Die we must."

"And we know not the day nor the hour."
When the priest returns a few weeks later, the mother superior tells him all the nuns enjoyed the story of his plans, and now whenever one of them pulls a long face all it takes is for another to say, "Die we must, sister," to make them both laugh. The priest sighs theatrically and says that the same happens wherever he mentions his ideas, and he has not yet had one candidate for the congregation come forward.

I sometimes suspect, though, that these days he would be able to find a lot of lay associates.


More backwash

As reported on Oak Leaves, Boston Beer Company Chairman & Founder Jim Koch feels our pain:
While not an acceptable excuse, I want you to know that I had no warning that a place of worship would be part of the show. I should have walked off the show and I didn't.
That, he says, was his "lapse in judgment." Not that his company was sponsoring acts of fornication in public. Not that he personally was participating in, and evidently richly enjoying, a pornoaudial broadcast. But simply "that a place of worship would be part of the show."

If his beer were as foul as his words, it would dissolve glass.


When you're right, you're right

When Bishop Fred Henry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary expressed support for Fr. John Maes's refusal to marry a Catholic woman who works for Planned Parenthood, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada, Louise Hanvey, observed, "It's an indication of the Catholic Church's opposition to Planned Parenthood."

Hard to argue with that.

(As an aside, the CP article says of the young woman involved, "Since she was a small girl she has wanted a church wedding," and "after what's happened she won't go back to her parish and probably not any Catholic church." She seems to be under the influence of a Church-as-free-market-service-provider model. Bishop Henry is quoted as saying that, until she comes to the realization that it is wrong to work for Planned Parenthood, "there's not much the Church can do." It might not be much, but one thing the Church can do is teach that (and act like) it is not a free market service provider.)

( link via HMS Blog.)


Not my job

I suspect that, if every Catholic in America took the same personality assessment test (Myers-Briggs, say, or DISC), there would be a statistically significant difference between the people who comment on Catholic blogsites and the people who serve as parish liturgists.

No parish liturgist (rather an INTP and a DC), I side with the majority of commenters who do not warmly embrace the experience of being shamed into shaking hands immediately before Mass. (And it is shame, I think; the cantor isn't the boss of me.)

(While I'm being parenthetical, let me add that to say to shake hands in this way is to "greet Christ in one another" strikes me as, what's the word, cant. I wouldn't intentionally greet Christ with a handshake and a smile, then turn away and ignore Him for the rest of Mass. What we do, if anything, is to greet one another in Christ, isn't it?)


On this day in this place, a "good Catholic" is anyone who usually attends Sunday Mass. Who has time for coffee and donuts after Mass, assuming the parish even offers it? Who is going to come back Sunday evening for Vespers, or Tuesday night for Bible study?

What has happened, I think, is that the entire social dimension of being Catholic in America has collapsed down into one hour a week. What isn't done in that one hour isn't done, and that includes "building a sense of community." It's not my job to ensure that a sense of community is built in my parish (though it is to help build it), but I can well imagine that those who do feel this responsibility will try everything they can to succeed.


Wednesday, August 28, 2002

What I like about St. Augustine

Something to keep in mind in talking about this great Doctor of the Church is that St. Augustine was not a Doctor of the Church. He was a bishop, trying to understand the Catholic Faith well enough to teach it to those under his pastoral care so that they might enjoy eternal life.

One thing I very much like about his writings is that they are full of comments like this, from On the Trinity, I, 3:
Let me ask of my reader,
wherever, alike with myself, he is certain, there to go on with me;
wherever, alike with myself, he hesitates, there to join with me in inquiring;
wherever he recognizes himself to be in error, there to return to me;
wherever he recognizes me to be so, there to call me back:
so that we may enter together upon the path of charity, and advance towards Him of whom it is said, "Seek His face evermore."
St. Augustine did a lot of guessing. He had to; he was asking questions that had never been asked before, or at least demanding answers of a kind that had never been given before. When he wrote down his understanding of such uncertain matters, he admitted they were uncertain, even if he could see no other answer than his own.

This burning desire to enter together with others upon the path of charity and advance towards God is the proper spirit of the theologian, of the bishop, of the saint.


"Is that the apprehension of beauty on your face or are you just happy to see me?"

Karl Schudt makes an interesting and counter-cultural observation about beauty.

I'd just add that, since beauty satisfies the desire caused by apprehending it, if you see something that makes you want to do something more than keep on seeing it, what you're seeing isn't beauty.


Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Anybody who writes a book on the good of leisure is a hero to me

Mark Shea is on a Josef Pieper roll. I hope he, and his readers, keep it up.

Everyone who can should read Pieper's The Four Cardinal Virtues. Everyone who can't should have it read to them.

In a rightly-ordered society, no one would have to read it because everyone would have been taught what's in it it in elementary school. Still, Pieper's book is what convinced me that man is not a rule-based, but a virtue-based creature.

More precisely, it's what made me ask the question of whether man's life is best governed by virtue. The answer is blindingly obvious, once the question is posed.



No great surprise

Many people have expressed regret at the time and energy various adjectival Roman Catholics have spent criticizing each other over the past several months. (An "adjectival Roman Catholic" is someone who, in describing himself as a Roman Catholic, feels a need to prepend an adjective. In the present case, the adjectives are all "orthodox," "loyal," "traditional," and so forth; in other cases, they might be "progressive" or "modern.") "We shouldn't be turning on ourselves," the regretters say. "There are other enemies to fight."

But you don't get carrots from a corn field. If you develop habits of belligerence -- of thinking in terms of enemies to fight, for example -- then you will become habitually belligerent. If you develop habits of pride -- of publically telling one group what another group should be doing, for example -- then you will become habitually prideful. When habitually belligerent and prideful people turn their attentions on each other, they fight each other.

It is a situation to be regretted, but the solution isn't to keep their attentions turned on some common enemy. The solution is for them to develop habits of peace and humility.

And please don't tell me this cant be done.


Monday, August 26, 2002

Mercy, salvation, God loves you, blah, blah, blah

I just came across this statement on Oak Leaves:
[National Catholic Reporter journalist John] Allen himself doesn't care for St. Faustina, and imagines her messages of mercy to be "banal."
Banal? The apostolate of the Divine Mercy is banal? There are many words to describe St. Faustina and her message. "Banal" is not one that would have ever occurred to me.

Yet there it was, in Allen's August 23 "Word from Rome": "Faustina’s appeal for mercy may be banal, but seen from here [a few miles from Auschwitz] it’s hard to argue that it’s irrelevant."

My first thought was that Allen must not know very much about St. Faustina, but I was mistaken:
I’ve read Faustina’s diary, all 600 pages of it, and I found little that seemed profound. On a spiritual level, the revelations largely repeat the basic gospel insight that humans should be merciful as God is merciful. In that sense, about the most one can say is that the Divine Mercy devotion is innocuous....
It seems that he knows plenty about St. Faustina -- so much, in fact, that he drops the "St." after its first appearance -- but jack-all about Divine mercy.

Consider these two Gospel verses:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. [Luke 6:36]

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. [Matthew 5:48]
That is how God is merciful: perfectly.

Anybody who thinks trying to be perfectly merciful toward others is an innocuous attitude has never tried to be perfectly merciful to others. Anybody who thinks the idea of trying to be perfectly merciful toward others is banal is a poor judge of ideas. Anybody who thinks the idea of God being perfectly merciful toward him is banal needs to brush up on his examination-of-conscience skills.

Allen writes, "To many modern Catholics, Faustina’s spirituality can seem terribly alien." Her spirituality seems terribly alien to me, too. Not because I'm a modern Catholic -- St. Faustina's sisters in the convents didn't find her visionary antics very endearing, and they were so old-fashioned they all wore habits -- but because I'm a sinful and selfish Catholic.

In all honesty, reading a biography of St. Faustina unnerved me, because of the completeness with which she gave herself to God. Visions, voices, talking crucifixes, none of that made much of an impression on me. But her willingness to give up everything that wasn't God -- in contrast to my own refusal to give up so much -- that is the message St. Faustina's spirituality has for me.

Allen's article reads like the product of a man almost entirely unaware that he is in the presence of a great mystery, like a tourist wandering through a cathedral snapping photographs of statues during a Mass.


Why does beauty exist?

Adriano dell'Asta, professor of Russian literature and history at the Catholic University of Milan, is quoted by Zenit as saying:
Beauty exists because things exist. Beauty is concrete and real. Beauty is not fantasy. It is a concrete form that is seen and touched. Icons respond to this type of beauty.
He said this at last week's Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples, sponsored by Communion and Liberation, in Rimini, Italy. The theme of the meeting was "The feeling of things, contemplating beauty."

If I had known about the meeting in time, and if I had a valid passport and heaping piles of cash, I would have attended. As it is, I'll have to make do by nosing through the website.


Kyrie rahamim

Fr. Jim Tucker quotes papal theologian Monsignor Bruno Forte's answer to the question, "What is mercy?":
There are two fundamental dimensions to the concept of "mercy." The first is the one expressed by the Greek word "eleos," namely, "mercy" as an attitude of compassion toward the misery of another; a heart that is sensitive to the needs of others. However, in addition to the above, there is another meaning, linked to the Hebrew word "rahamim," which has its root in the "maternal lap"; namely, it indicates the maternal love of God.
Note that Monsignor Forte doesn't use the word "forgiveness." Forgiveness is implied by maternal love, but mercy is a far greater thing than forgiveness. Maybe that's why it can triumph over judgment.

When the blind man called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" he was not asking for forgiveness. His blindness was not a judgment against him, a debt he owed to satisfy divine justice. He was seeking the compassion of the Son of David, whom he knew by faith to be an instrument of the Lord's rahamim, of the maternal love of God.

By the example of this blind man who was immediately given sight and who then followed Jesus on the way, we are taught to dare to ask God for His mercy. Yes, as sinners any request for mercy necessarily includes a request for forgiveness, but God doesn't want us to be satisfied with His forgiveness. He wants us to want His mercy, to cry out for nothing less than His love.

This is the revelation of Christ, hidden in the Law and prophets: the covenant God makes with each of us is as deep and eternal as we care to make it.


Reeves and the Futile Spirit, cont.

“Bishop Booster’s plan seems to have worked, your eminence. I have just learned that five American cardinals are calling a press conference to argue against the prudence of giving the Conference of Catholic Bishops as currently constituted the powers of a plenary council.”

“Indeed?” For the first time in my presence, Cardinal Fratricidelli smiled. The smile looked as natural on his face as a moustache on a tomato, but I was glad at the sight of it. “Booster, I must get to a telephone. May I use the one in the library?”

“Oh, certainly, Cardinal.”

He walked to the door, then turned to squint at Reeves. “Tell me, Monsignor. You say this was Booster’s plan. Are you sure you didn’t think it up yourself?”

“Not at all, your eminence. In fact, when Bishop Booster informed me of his plan to speak to a reporter, I advised him against it.”

Cardinal Fratricidelli nodded, then winked at me. “Good for you, Booster!”

After he left, I took a deep breath. “What you said about the press conference is true, Reeves?”

“Yes, your excellency.”

“They called it because of what I said in the Post?”

“That was a contributing factor, your excellency.”

“Did you know all along that my attempt to help launch the council would get it scuttled instead?”

“I had considered that possibility, your excellency.”

“Remind me why you didn’t tell me Rome was dead set against the council.”

“You did not request my counsel concerning the matter, your excellency.”

I nodded, the details of the Indigo-Blue Chasuble Standoff returning. “Yes, quite so.”

And, because a Booster is always ready to do what must be done, whatever the sacrifice, I said, “Ah, Reeves, I’ve been thinking. You were quite right about the color of that chasuble. It’s entirely too light for the Assumption. You might pass it on to Father Conlan at St. Augustine’s. He always likes variety.”

“Yes, your excellency. Fr. Conlan asked me to convey to you his deep appreciation for your gift.”

“Then all’s well that ends well, eh, Reeves?”

“There remains one aspect of this matter that is not yet settled, your excellency.”

“There does, does there?” After my close shave with Cardinal F., I was in an expansive mood. “Then give it to me, and I’ll settle it.”

“I was told of the cardinals’ press conference by Bishop Berger’s chancellor. She informed me that she is travelling here to discuss the matter with you personally.”

I sprang into the air like a napping cat at the sound of G.K. Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin. “Sister Agatha? Coming here?”

“She arrives this evening, your excellency. She is expected at nine p.m.”

“Then there’s still time,” I cried. “But time for what?”

“If I may make a suggestion, your excellency, your invitation to attend the international convention of the Knights of St. Celestine in Madrid remains open. I have taken the liberty of reserving two seats on a flight that leaves this afternoon at four. We should arrive in time for the opening Mass tomorrow morning.”

“Right-o, Reeves, and if we need to, I’m sure we can find something else to do in Spain until Sister Agatha lifts the siege. Say, wasn’t there an exhibit at the Prado you had been hoping to see? Make sure you don’t come home without popping in.”

“Very well, your excellency.”



Monday, August 19, 2002

A birthday wish

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.))


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.)