instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, September 23, 2002

¿Quién es el pecador?

Catholic Light's John Schultz is a sinner, or so he implies. Which reminds me of another John the Sinner, who has of course been beatified. We shall watch young Schultz's future career with interest.

In a (distantly) related note, there are those who criticize the Grail Psalter, the translation used in English-language liturgies in the U.S. and elsewhere. I am not one of them. Beauty and accuracy in translation are better than accuracy alone, but I'll leave to others the argument over which translation is most suited to liturgical use.

There is, however, at least one portion of one psalm where I would argue the Grail Psalter has a positive advantage over other translations: Psalm 36:2-5:
Sin speaks to the sinner
in the depths of his heart.
There is no fear of God
before his eyes.

He so flatters himself in his mind
that he knows not his guilt.
In his mouth are mischief and deceit.
All wisdom is gone.

He plots the defeat of goodness
as he lies on his bed.
He has set his foot on evil ways,
he clings to what is evil.
The key word here is "sinner." A dozen other translations (including the NAB) have "wicked." Douay Rheims has "unjust," NASB has "ungodly."

As a matter of translation, I don't (and wouldn't) know which word is the most accurate. But I know that when I read about "the wicked," I think that I am reading about a group of people among whom I am not numbered. I'm not wicked. Not perfect, to be sure, but just as surely not wicked.

But I am a sinner. That's an easy charge for me to own up to. As a sinner, though, I am not set apart from the group described in this psalm. Sin speaks to me in the depths of my heart. There is no fear of God before my eyes.

What? Nonsense! I'm a good person, a lot better than -- well, better than I might be, and I certainly fear God.

Or do I so flatter myself in my mind that I know not my guilt? Have I set my foot on evil ways? Do I cling to what is evil?

These are not easy questions. They demand an honesty that I'm not often capable of. Somewhere between, "Of course not!" and "Alas I am the worst of sinners!" lies the wisdom of the saints, and indeed it seems to be closer to the latter than the former.


Sunday, September 22, 2002

Judge not lest ye be judged

Everyone knows Matthew 7:1 as a particularly irritating verse to be quoted: "Now, now, just because he ate those people doesn't mean you can go around judging him."

But something about the next sentence -- "For as you judge others, so you will yourselves be judged," as the NEB begins it -- has just struck me. I've always taken this to mean, "If you are highly critical of others, God will apply a highly critical standard against you."

But what if the meaning is more literal?

SCENE: Judgment Day.
GOD: Item 42,274,664, that you regarded every Mass you ever assisted at to be a bore, a waste of time, and an interruption of a good morning's sleep.

ME: What? I never! Well, hardly ever.

GOD: Always.

ME: That's simply not true!

GOD: Then why did you yawn during the Prayer of the Faithful on August 11, 2002?

ME: What? One yawn? But that doesn't mean --

GOD: Certainly it does, by your own judgment of Pentecost Sunday, 1996, when you saw a man across the aisle from you yawn during the Prayer of the Faithful, and you decided that he regarded every Mass he ever assisted at to be a bore, a waste of time, and an interruption of a good morning's sleep.
The specifics of Judgment Day protocols aside, I now suspect that the call to avoid judging others is a much greater calling than I used to think. It is for God to judge. God can delegate certain judgments to men -- and in fact, all of us are called by God to judge between Him and Gehenna, between life and death -- but we can only make these judgments in God's name, and therefore animated by His Spirit.

If I'm not feeling animated by the Holy Spirit, I'm probably best off to judge not.


Friday, September 20, 2002

Dominican Fast for Peace still

The Dominican Fast for Peace is twenty days old. The four who pledged to go on a water-only fast in New York City are all still able to continue. Others around the world are joining in. (Note in particular the 4th graders from Annunciation School in Denver.)

As I wrote before, I don't wholly agree with the fasters' position. It's not their politics, though, but their charity that is the thing of lasting value, and there's little doubt their charity dwarfs my own.


Exorcise in verse

To me, poetry is sort of like gardening. I admit its goodness and beauty, and I am glad it is in the world, but it's not something I'll go out of my way to get my hands dirty over. Maybe that's why my favorite 20th Century poet is Ogden Nash, with E. Clerihew a close second.

Still, I love words and am interested in creating things with them. So I can say I'm an award-winning, published poet, inventor of a poetic form that has an annual conference dedicated to it, with a slim manuscript of verse awaiting the red limp leather binding to go around it -- all while admitting I possess no more poetic artistry than a pail of damp sand.

A recent exchange between two men who happen to have souls inspired me to try my hand -- or rather, my ham-fist -- at a villanelle. I may say without false modesty that I have achieved the same level of mastery over this form that I have over the triolet.
O Dominic, your children teach
The truth by manner you decreed:
To praise the Lord, to bless, to preach.

With hopeful voices to beseech
The Lord to prosper word and deed,
O Dominic, your children teach.

You, knowing Christ’s long loving reach,
Sent forth your sons, no hoarded seed,
To praise the Lord, to bless, to preach.

The folly of this world impeach;
The wisdom earned by book and bead,
O Dominic, your children teach.

Train them to use the gift of speech
To talk with God or of His Creed,
To praise the Lord, to bless, to preach.

Your intercession grant to each
Who follows your inspired lead.
O Dominic, your children teach
To praise the Lord, to bless, to preach.



One of the nice things about being a member of the Dominican Laity is that, once a year or so, you get to say, "Sorry, dear, I'd love to help with the kids, the yardwork, and the laundry this weekend, but I've got to go on retreat. For my immortal soul, don't you know."

There's not much to say in reply to that, other than, "Have a nice time." Or possibly, "Ora pro nobis."

Forty hours of prayer, instruction, reading, sleeping -- and silence! If the Washington Retreat House had a minibar in the library, it would be the perfect weekend.


Thursday, September 19, 2002

Confessions of an Idea Gigolo

Steven Riddle likes to argue:
No, let's not say argue, as many take that the wrong way, I like to reason, to bump up ideas against one another and see what happens. That said, I also like to swap sides in any debate or discussion at a moment's notice and argue the other side....
Knowing this about himself, Steven was able to find with the Carmelites the heart-centered spirituality he needs to balance his head-centered inclinations.

The Dominicans, meanwhile, customarily have head-centered inclinations as well -- which perhaps explains why I've heard so many Dominican preachers refer to the works of the great Carmelite Doctors.

They say there are four pillars of Dominican life: prayer, study, community, and preaching. (Well, the fourth pillar is sometimes called "apostolate" or "ministry," but I always call it preaching; it is after all the Ordo Praedicatorum.) And of course it is prayer that supports the other pillars. You can study, have community, and preach without praying, but the results will be sterile at best.

More dangerously, you can actually develop a habit of studying and preaching without praying. That can be a tough habit to break, especially if you feel successful in study and preaching. Why risk breaking something that already works?

Prayer is one of the riskiest things we can do. God just might talk back.


The Fiesole Policy

Over the months that I have been adding to Disputations, I have formulated what I now call the Fiesole Policy. It began as an inchoate idea, developed into a hypothesis, and is now, I think, sound enough to be announced. The Fiesole Policy is simply this:
I am wiser than the people I am older than.
There was a time when I would have scoffed at such a policy, but I was much younger then.


My authoritative statement

The New Gasparian claims:
The Bishops have made an authoritative statement that war in Iraq does not yet fulfill the requirements from the just war theory as it is outlined in the Catechism.
I think Fr. Keyes overstates the case.

First, the statement's authority is that of the president of the USCCB, writing on behalf of the Administrative Committee. Although this doesn't mean the statement can be tossed aside as the rantings of the Democratic Party at prayer, as authorities go this one is not particularly binding on American Catholics.

Second, this is what the statement actually says about a war with* Iraq:
People of good will may apply ethical principles and come to different prudential judgments, depending upon their assessment of the facts at hand and other issues. We conclude, based on the facts that are known to us, that a preemptive, unilateral use of force is difficult to justify at this time. [emphasis added]
In my reading, this does not mean such a war "does not yet fulfull" just war requirements, but that the bishops themselves can't build a good argument that it does based on what they know.

The letter is full of questions. (Some people see this as a weakness, then go on to accuse Bishop Gregory of meddling in things he doesn't understand or know about. It seems to me, though, that if you don't know things, you should ask more questions than you answer.) Its purpose, I think, is to make sure that those in the government who are in a position to answer them do, in fact, ask them of themselves.

To me, the central question raised is this:
Is it wise to dramatically expand traditional moral and legal limits on just cause to include preventive or preemptive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?
I haven't seen this question debated very much; most of the answers I've come across have been reflexive yesses or nos.

The central answer given in the letter, meanwhile, I find to be this:
. With the Holy See, we would be deeply skeptical about unilateral uses of military force, particularly given the troubling precedents involved.
Again, I haven't seen this debated, merely rejected or accepted.

*: Isn't it interesting what a difference a preposition makes? "War in Iraq" vs. "War with Iraq."


Logos up, y'all!

In Spanish (from fotos del apocalipsis):
-"Yo soy el camino, la verdad y la vida"
Translated to English:
-"Yo I am the way, the truth and the life "
Hernan also makes an interesting suggestion about the relatively few questions Jesus doesn't answer in the Gospel of John: that, when He fails to answer someone, it isn't an intellectual failure but a loss of heart, so to speak, from being among the heartless.


A comedy record

I suspect the Recording Angel of the Church in the United States has been doing a lot of writing in the last twelve months. If he's got copy-and-paste capability, though, he can make short work of the section on Bishop Gregory's "Letter to President Bush on Iraq." In fact, he could have written it down ahead of time, using the standard template:
  1. The U.S. bishops raise the issues they must raise as bishops of the Catholic Church.
  2. Catholic layfolk jump all over the bishops for being so ignorant of the real world.
This second step often reminds me of the supercillious youth whose disparaging comment regarding Fr. John O'Connor --
"It's all very well to like religious music and so on, when you're all shut up in a sort of cloister and don't know anything about the real evil in the world.... I believe in a fellow coming out into the world, and facing the evil that's in it, and knowing something about the dangers and all that." --
gave G. K. Chesterton the idea for the character of Father Brown.

It's only through back-handed clericalism that I can insist the reason a bishop disagrees with me on a matter of prudence is because he's ignorant of the subject matter (which of course has the immediate corollary that I am fully informed). My own bishop, for example, has masters degrees in history and social sciences and a PhD in sociology. He's chaired USCCB committees on migration, aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, international policy, and domestic policy. He's now serving on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

It's just possible that he's not an incense-addled ignoramous who doesn't know what he's talking about when, for example, he says he finds "the hawkish approach of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ... unfair to Palestinians, some of whom are Christians." (I'm quoting a newspaper article paraphrasing Cardinal McCarrick.)

He may be wrong, of course, and misjudge the prudent course of action in this or that set of circumstances, but I think it is ridiculous for someone whose only knowledge of the circumstances comes from reading political magazines to accuse him of ignorance.


Wednesday, September 18, 2002

A good sign

Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, on talking with the 15 candidates his archdiocese is sending to seminary this year: "I ask them why they are coming now with all this going on, and they say, 'It's not for the prestige.'"

(Link via HMS Blog.)


What I would say...

...if I were a bishop, to someone I've never heard of, from some place I'd never been, in a diocese far removed from my own, who wrote me to rebuke me for my prudential decisions as ordinary of my diocese:

"Go to hell."

Of course, the person would be in some place I'd never been far removed from my own diocese at the time, so he wouldn't hear me, which is just as well.

We all know that, in times of crisis, God raises up saints for His Church. But there's a strange notion in the air that, for the current crisis, He has raised up whole battalions of Catherines of Siena to march in lock step upon the chanceries and seminaries of the United States and drive out all vice and foolishness. This strange notion is coupled with another strange notion that the proof of St. Catherine's sanctity is all those blistering letters she wrote to cardinals and bishops.

The result of this is that people seem to think that to write blistering letters to cardinals and bishops they've never heard of before is to do the work of the Spirit in reforming the Church.

I see two problems with this. First, what a bishop I've never heard of does is, as a practical matter, none of my business. My business is first myself, then my family, then my neighbors, then my parish, then my diocese. When all of these are without fault, I suppose I could start casting about for other problems to solve, but until then, sufficient unto the diocese is the evil thereof.

In writing this, I'm not arguing for ducking any responsibilities to witness to the truth. I'm claiming that vanishingly few lay Catholics have the "knowledge, competence and position" necessary for them to have the duty of criticizing distant bishops. (The quoted words come from Canon 212, examined in Pete Vere's article.) I don't deny their right to criticize; I do question whether such criticism is a prudent use of their time and effort, considering all the real duties and responsibilities they have as Catholics within their own diocese (and parish, and neighborhood, and family, and heart).

The second problem I have with rebuking bishops is that sufficient unto myself is the evil thereof. I am no St. Catherine of Siena, nor are most American Catholics.

St. Catherine lived a virtuous childhood, then spent three years in a tiny room as a servant to her large family, increasing constantly in love of Christ, before He sent her forth -- not to the courts of Avignon, but to the streets of Siena, to care for the sick and the destitute. Only as the years went by, and St. Catherine's ever-closer mystical union with God was proved by her extraordinary acts of charity toward others, did she begin to write the letters she is now so famous for. It was from the very heart of Christ, not from the Internet, that she drew the wisdom to justly and prudently offer counsel to the bishops and the Pope.

Now, I don't think one needs to be living a life of heroic virtue in order to offer sound criticism to a bishop. I suspect, though, that most righteously indignant letter writers see themselves more in the tradition of St. Catherine than of Balaam's ass.


Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Who cares about Lord Jones?

According to the Political Compass, I have essentially no political orientation. (This explains why I disagree with everyone.)

Still, I am a citizen of a democracy, so I need to familiarize myself insofar as I'm able with the political debates in my country. What strikes me about the political journalism I encounter, though, is how personality-driven it is. American political journalism, it seems to me, largely consists of saying, "Lord Jones is an ass," when I never knew that Lord Jones was alive.

This sort of personality-centered discussion isn't limited to political commentary. A lot of it goes on in debates within the Church, and I see it as an extension of the cult of celebrity I've written about before. A cult of celebrity (or anti-celebrity, which amounts to the same thing) requires a celebrity, someone famous for writing forewords and giving keynotes and being quoted in NCR (either one). A personality-centered debate just needs a personality, the name of someone who has made a statement, to get off and running.

(By the way, there's a difference between a personality-centered debate and an ad hominem argument. The latter rejects (or perhaps accepts) an argument based on the character of the person who is making the argument. The former is much less interested in the original argument than in the character of the original arguer.)

It seems to me that original sin gives rise to a theological problem with personality-centered debates. My idea is that good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, clarity and muddle-headedness are too unevenly scrambled within practically all humans to make any of us a fit topic of debate.

I can spot two errors that this mixture may cause. First, the logical error that because a person is sound (or otherwise) on one subject, he is sound (or otherwise) on another. Second, the mistaken belief that determining precisely where a particular person is sound (or otherwise) is suitable work for anyone other than that person and those whose counsel he seeks. (Here I mean determining the soundness of the person himself, as a source or potential source of statements; determining the soundness of his particular statements is, of course, a good thing to do.)

Some of what needs to be added to balance the above is immediately apparent. Trust and distrust are not, and should not be, precisely measured out in human relationships. If I trust someone on one subject, I'm likely to trust them on another subject until I find a reason not to. And there are undeniably people who are trustworthy authorities in one subject whose thoughts in another subject are daft.

Finally, we have Pope John Paul II's statement in Fides et Ratio 32:
Human perfection, then, consists not simply in acquiring an abstract knowledge of the truth, but in a dynamic relationship of faithful self-giving with others.
To me, this means that we are authentically Christian when we enter into a direct, personal relationship with each other, not when we merely debate and discuss speculative or practical arguments and assertions.

Still, I find that much of the debates I read these days are more concerned with the personal vices of the debators than with the theses that spawned the debates. Personal vices, as a rule, are not appropriate subjects for public debate.


"It's about Russia."

There are too many books in my house that I want to have read. (And at least two more on the way.)

My way of dealing with this mounting book debt is to try to read as fast as I can. It's not very fast, but I do wave my fingertips around on the page to make it look like I'm speed reading.

Bill White of Summa Minutiae hates speed reading:
Speed reading! I hate it.
Having been taught it in college, he now finds it very difficult to read contemplatively -- or even, if such a thing can be in this world, for enjoyment.

It isn't just speed reading that makes contemplative reading difficult, though. Contemplation -- in the non-mystical sense of meditation or rumination -- is a habit, one that is not normally developed among Americans. ENTERING UNREFERENCED STATISTICS ZONE I've heard that a study discovered heavy Internet users have attention spans of approximately 8 seconds, which is a little less than a goldfish's. LEAVING UNREFERENCED STATISTICS ZONE

Steven Riddle has the answer for this: Read aloud. (Or, if you're some kind of egghead or not an American, read aloud in a second language.)

I discovered this when I found myself trying to breeze through St. Catherine's Dialogue. Having read a paragraph in which a phrase caught my attention, I went back and re-read it, aloud this time. The effect was entirely different.

The thing about spiritual writing is that we already know what most of it says. We know the Gospel. To read a spiritual book, I think, is first, to spend some time immersed in the spirit of the Gospel, and second, to find a phrase or sentence or idea that we can ruminate on. That's not a dead metaphor: we call the words to mind and chew them over, like a cow chewing its cud to draw all the nourishment it can from what it takes in.

Reading St. Catherine silently, I can extract plenty of phrases or sentences to chew over slowly. Ah, but reading her aloud, I find that the spirit of the Gospel is present in the room with me, and each sentence becomes one to ponder.

That reading aloud is a richer experience makes sense, of course, if only because we are physical creatures and reading aloud uses the mouth and the breath and the ear as well as the eye and the mind.

All this said, I don't agree with Bill that speed reading "reeks of a dead utilitarian approach to life." I think it is a skill all but necessary for anyone who wants to participate either broadly or deeply in public discussion. Yet it is just a skill, one to be used only at the proper place and time.


Eternal rest, grant him, O Lord

May perpetual light shine on François Xavier Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuân. Based on the little I know about him, I agree with his associate Bishop Gianpaolo Crepaldi, who said, "A saint has died."

Thanks to Kathy Shaidle for pointing out his Vatican Radio Real Audio interview.

Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuân's book Testimony of Hope, a record of the Lenten retreat he gave the papal household in 2000, is certainly worth reading. What is particularly interesting about it, other than that he opens with a reflection on the least-read passage of Matthew, is how much he relies on the teachings of Pope Paul VI.

This is understandable, since he spent most of Pope John Paul II's pontificate in Vietnamese prisons, but it is also something of a revelation for people like me who are inclined to think of Pope Paul as merely the hapless author of Humanae Vitae who kept the seat warm between two real popes.

In certain hope, let me add,
Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuân, pray for us.


Monday, September 16, 2002

"It's so, so easy to go too far"

Rod Dreher is concerned that bloggers and the people who love them are at risk of committing libel without realizing it.

Surely not!

Surely all Christian bloggers, and the people who love them, are aware of St. Paul's caution against men with "a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes. From these come envy, rivalry, insults, evil suspicions, and mutual friction among people with corrupted minds...."

Surely they have made their own his advice to
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.

No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
Surely they have meditated on the proverbs of Sirach:
An admonition can be inopportune, and a man may be wise to hold his peace.

A wise man is silent till the right time comes, but a boasting fool ignores the proper time.

Insipid food is the untimely tale; the unruly are always ready to offer it.
Surely they have studied his wisdom:
Be consistent in your thoughts; steadfast be your words. Be swift to hear, but slow to answer. If you have the knowledge, answer your neighbor; if not, put your hand over your mouth. Honor and dishonor through talking! A man's tongue can be his downfall. Be not called a detractor; use not your tongue for calumny....

Say nothing harmful, small or great; be not a foe instead of a friend. A bad name and disgrace will you acquire: "That for the evil man with double tongue!"
Surely we Christian bloggers spend more time with God's Word than the daily news.


Pero por mi alcohol

An interesting point about automatic translators has been raised at fotos del apocalipsis: that the translator goes for the "lay" word rather than the "religious" whenever possible -- e.g., interpreting "fast" as rapid rather than abstaining from food, or "spirit" as alcohol rather than noncorporeal being -- and further, that of course that isn't surprising when your customer is the Internet.

(At least, I think that's the point he's making. It's not the best use of a translation engine to translate a passage that gives examples of mistakes made by the translation engine.)


Friday, September 13, 2002


One of the pleasures of having a blog is having other people do your writing for you.


We'll be right back after these important messages

I got my paperback copy of Saints of the Jubilee in the mail yesterday. If I didn't have a chapter on the life of St. Katharine Drexel in it, I'd think that it was a bit on the thin side for $13.95 wants for it, or even the $9.50 the publisher charges for direct orders.

But the format of the printing makes the book look slighter than it is. I've seen lots of books with, ah, generous margins and, shall we say, easy to read typefaces that looked more substantial on the outside than the actual text warranted.

When I made this observation to Tim Drake, the book's editor, he replied, "The book, then, is a metaphor for the saints contained within... they too are more substantial than they appear from the outside."

The saints within, meanwhile, are representative the Universal Church, which is more substantial inside than outside, too. St. Katharine Drexel lived a very long life, from 1858 to 1955. Between those dates, dozens of other saints and blesseds profiled in Saints of the Jubilee lived their own lives of heroic virtue. While St. Kate spent millions of dollars to succor and educate the blacks and Indians of the United States, Bl. Maria Stella Mardosewicz and her companions were sacrificing their lives for others at the hands of Nazi occupiers; Bl. Cristobal Magallanes and others were crying, "Viva Cristo Rey!" in the face of Mexican firing squads; Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marta were accepting an invitation to suffer in a little town in Portugal; St. Maria Josefa of the Heart of Jesus was caring for the temporal and spiritual needs of the sick and orphaned in Spain; St. Faustina Kowalska was being drawn into deeper and deeper contemplation of the mysterious infinitude of God's mercy. Different paths, all following the same Lord.

My wife, who by mutual consent doesn't read what I write until and unless it's published, read the chapter on St. Katharine last night. When she was finished, she said, "She sounds like a wonderful woman, the sort of person you'd want to meet."

That's just the effect St. Katharine's story had on me, and just the effect I was hoping for by retelling her story. The best part is that, with hope in the Divine Mercy, we'll get to meet her one day, and we don't even have to wait until that day to get to know her. Ain't Catholicism grand?


In defense of journalists

If asked to speak a word in defense of journalists, my word would be, "Ephemera."

A journalist's column is like the grass that springs up in the morning; by evening, it withers and fades. We do no one a favor by treating it as anything more than what happened to be on the writer's mind the day he wrote it.

Over time, of course, we can learn the sorts of things that are habitually on a writer's mind, and so arrive at a rough judgment of the writer's virtues and vices -- or, to use the washed-out terms suitable for mixed company, his strengths and weaknesses. But we can't validly move from this rough judgment to cultic acceptance or rejection. The purpose of discussing ideas is to arrive at the truth, and we can't get there if we ignore what's false from the journalists we like or what's true from the journalists we don't.


Thursday, September 12, 2002


Water Sighted Flowing Downhill; Area Man Grows Sleepy After 18 Hours of Wakefulness

Rod Dreher of National Review Online writes:
Pope John Paul II denounced the 9/11 attacks as examples of "ferocious inhumanity," but coupled a prayer for the souls of the innocent dead with a prayer for God's mercy on their killers. The Christian religion demands of its followers prayers for their enemies, but still, this was jarring, especially for Americans.
The demands of the Christian religion are jarring for Americans?

You don't say.


Be prepared

I learned a lot during my time in the Boy Scouts. Our troop concentrated on knot tying ("Bunny comes out of the hole, goes around the tree, goes in the hole.") and first aid ("Raise the head/Unless he's dead" -- No, "Face is red/Raise the head/Face is white/Turn out the light" -- Um...).

It has been a few years since I was a Boy Scout. I think I'll brush up my skills by taking a free, on-line course in Basic First Aid and CPR. That way, I might be able to keep someone alive until a paramedic or a regular viewer of E.R. arrives.


Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Metablogging: Papering over my inadequacies

In high school, I learned French. In college, I learned Fortran. Then I moved to Los Angeles, where I needed Spanish and C.

I learned C, but I still don't know much more Spanish than "No se apoye contra la puerta," which I picked up from riding the New York City subway and which is less useful in daily life than you might think.

So I can't fully appreciate fotos del apocalipsis, although with the help of Babelfish and a free-ranging imagination I can sort of follow along with at least some of the discussion. A fellow kallophile and Wodehouse fan, Hernan runs a blog worth visiting, especially if you can read Spanish.

Since Hernan has linked to Disputations several times, I thought I should be a little more welcoming to the guests he sends my way, and I've added a translation box from Babelfish in the column on the left. Now, with the click of a button, I can sound barbarous in eight more languages.


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.”