instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, October 07, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 5

Of the three traditional sets of mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries are the most dramatic. They tell the story of Jesus during the last hours of His life, moving from the solitude of the garden to the solitude of the cross.

The Sorrowful Mysteries are progressive and cumulative in a way the other two sets are not. The Joyful Mysteries are not a build-up to the Finding in the Temple. The Resurrection is not the first act of a movement that culminates in the Coronation.

We might, then, tailor meditations on the Sorrowful Mysteries to take advantage of this, to make them build upon each other, rather than merely follow each other in sequence.

Here is one way to do this:
  1. In the garden, the Son of God is abandoned by His disciples.
  2. Pilate has Jesus scourged as a gesture of appeasement after the Son of God is rejected by the religious leaders.
  3. For all the Roman soldiers knew or cared, Jesus really was the king of the Jews. Their mockery shows the Son of God ridiculed by the mighty.
  4. Jesus bore the cross through the city He had triumphantly entered the week before. The Son of God is ignored by His Chosen People.
  5. At the Place of the Skull, the Son of God is forgotten by the world.
At each mystery, another potential source of human comfort is torn away from Jesus, starting with those closest to Him, until the end, when He dies wretched and alone in the world. The scope of His abandonment widens as His isolation deepens, until the Son of God is moved to pray that unfathomnable psalm, "My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?"

This is His sorrowful passion; this, in the salvific economy decreed by the will of the Father, is the guarantee of divine mercy upon all who invoke it out of the depths.

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La caminata bajo las estrellas

Hernan Gonzalez does have something better to do than translate Disputations. Much better. Like joining a million other pilgrims on the last 20 kilometers of the annual overnight 60 km walk in honor of Our Lady of Luján.

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Our Lady of the Rosary

De Virtutibus features a selection from St. Thomas's exposition on the Angelic Salutation. The full exposition is online elsewhere (along with St. Thomas's catechetical instructions on the Creed, the sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer).

Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us!

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Saturday, October 05, 2002

And I thought I had too much time on my hands

Hernan Gonzales of fotos del apocalipsis is translating "31 Days, 31 Ways" into Spanish. Or at least some of it. I'm sure by the time I get to "Number 26: Whistling the Rosary," he'll settle for providing the links and pointing out the little Spanish flag on my Babelfish translator in the column on the left.

Which is good, because then he'll have time to post other, more interesting things to his blog, like his recent reflections on guardian angels.

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Friday, October 04, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 4

What way for October 4 but the Franciscan Crown? To quote from the old Catholic Encyclopedia:
The Franciscan Crown dates back to the year 1422. [A] young novice who had that year been received into the Franciscan Order had, previous to his reception, been accustomed to adorn a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a wreath of fresh and beautiful flowers as a mark of his piety and devotion. Not being able to continue this practice in the novitiate, he decided to return to the world. The Blessed Virgin appeared to him and prevented him from carrying out his purpose. She then instructed him how, by reciting daily a rosary of seven decades in honour of her seven joys, he might weave a crown that would be more pleasing to her than the material wreath of flowers he had been wont to place on her statue. From that time the practice of reciting the crown of the seven joys became general in the order.
What are the seven joys of Mary meditated on while praying the Franciscan Crown? Traditionally, they are
  1. The Annunciation
  2. The Visitation
  3. The Nativity of our Lord
  4. The Adoration of the Magi
  5. The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple
  6. The Resurrection of Our Lord
  7. Thee Assumption and Coronation of the Blessed Virgin
Each decade comprises an Our Father and ten Hail Marys. The mysteries may be announced before the Our Father, as with the Dominican Rosary, or after the name of Jesus in the first Hail Mary of each decade; for example, "...and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, whom you gave birth to in Bethlehem. Holy Mary, ...."

Add two Hail Marys at the end for a total of seventy-two -- in honor of the seventy-two years Mary is said to have lived -- and you've got the Franciscan Crown (a.k.a., the Seraphic Rosary). You can find seven decade rosaries for sale; the instructions that came with one I bought seemed quite proud that this was "the simplest way to pray the Rosary."

Since the simplifications of the 1968 Enchiridion of Indulgences, the custom has grown of combining the Nativity with the Adoration of the Magi into the third mystery and adding the Presentation in the Temple and the Purification of Mary as the fourth mystery. (This earns you the indulgence for praying the joyful mysteries.)

It has also become common in certain circles to begin the Franciscan Crown with the Apostles' Creed, an Our Father, and three Hail Marys; to finish each decade with a Glory Be and the Fatima Prayer; and to end it with an Our Father and a Hail Mary offered for the Pope. But simplicity, in my opinion, is a good old Franciscan virtue, and there's something to be said for keeping it to just seven Our Fathers and seventy-two Hail Marys.

Holy Father Francis, image of the Poor Messiah, pray for us!

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Thursday, October 03, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 3

The Rosary is like Latin was. You may have to read that sentence a couple of times, but my meaning is that, just as Latin was once the common and universally known liturgical language, so the Rosary is the common and universally known private devotion. There are whole volumes of collections of chaplets, litanies, and devotions, but the Rosary is the one I'd expect most of the people in any group of active Catholics to know.

This may be one of the reasons it's so often the devotion used when active Catholics gather in groups. (The primary reason, I'd say, is the Rosary's spiritual fruitfulness, which has led to its tireless promotion, which is why it's known by most active Catholics.)

When the Rosary is prayed in a group, as you probably know, it's common for there to be one or more leaders whose job is to announce the mysteries and pray the first halves of the Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes. The rest of the group prays the second halves, and everyone joins in (at least in my neck of the woods) for the other prayers.

Praying the Rosary in a group is a much different experience than praying it by yourself. Some differences I notice are that, in a group, I am much more concerned with how fast the prayers are being said (does everyone pray slower by themselves?), and with whether I've missed a bead; sometimes my mind goes blank, and all I can think as the Hail Marys roll past is, "What mystery are we on again?"

In short, it's the ordeal of community. I sacrifice my own habits, inclinations, strengths, and weaknesses to become a participant in this group. I go through similar ordeals in my family, at work, during Mass, even to some extent while driving. That's just part of what it means to belong to a group.

So what do I get out of this sacrifice? Community, of course! I am physically (visually and aurally) joined to others in a common prayer to God. This union is central to the meaning of Christianity, the group of people called out to worship God and His only Son in His Holy Spirit. There is Jesus in the midst of us, in a different way than He is present to me when I close the door and pray alone.

But wait, there's more! When I'm praying the Rosary by myself and my mind wanders, the only thing that's there is the sound of my voice. When my mind wanders in a group, isn't it likely that at least one of the others is meditating well, and so supporting me in my moments of wandering? Just as when I am meditating well, I might be supporting others who have lost track of their thoughts.

Then there are the stray prayers I might benefit from, as others pray for me as a fellow member, and whatever opportunities might arise for me to ask the group to pray for specific intentions.

Finally, never underestimate the grace of being asked to pray for someone else's intention, for this is angels' work.

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Amazonian ironies

Amazon.com is a website full of unintended ironies. Small presses go to great lengths to get listed with Amazon, which then offers buyers used copies of the books, at substantial discounts for the buyer and no revenue at all for the publisher, on the same page where new copies are ordered. It features blistering unsigned editorial reviews from Publishers Weekly, then asks, "Ready to buy?"

The software Amazon uses to suggest "related" products can also produce some surprises. For example, Patrick Sweeney of the Catholic Evidence Guild has defined a list of recommended books called Info on Islam for Catholics. A box along the right edge of the page lists "Related So You'd Like to" pages, created by other customers. One of these is So you'd like to ... Be a Protestant Apologist to Roman Catholics

We can all see why the lists are related, of course, but I doubt the Catholic Evidence Guild is enthusiastic about supporting Julie Staples, Protestant apologist and former Roman Catholic, in her work to convert Catholics.

The irony deepens, though, when you look at the books on the "So you'd like to ... Be a Protestant Apologist to Roman Catholics" page. Julie Staples is honest enough to include some "examples of the work of some notable Roman Catholic Apologists," so would-be Protestant apologists will be familiar with their opponents' arguments. If you check the reader ratings of all the books recommended on this page, you'll find that the average of the Protestant apologetics works is 3.8 out of 5, while the average of the Catholic apologetics works is 4.2.

The best books on a page devoted to recommending books of Protestant apologetics are by Catholic apologetics.

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Wednesday, October 02, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 2

In The Teaching of the Catholic Church -- a slim book of 264 questions and answers, suitable for meditative study or for giving to those with questions about Catholicism -- Herbert McCabe OP wrote:
Is there other prayer besides the prayer of petition?
Besides the prayer of petition, there is also prayer of thanksgiving and of praise. Meditation, or reflection on the mysteries of faith, is closely related to prayer and will naturally lead to it. A popular form of this is the Rosary.
What's this? The Rosary isn't a prayer?

Well, yes and no. It is mental meditation embedded in vocal prayer (although the first half of the Hail Mary -- which wasn't attached to to the second half until the Sixteenth Century -- isn't really a prayer, but a greeting; hence the term "Angelic Salutation"). There are generally prayers recited before and after the decades, but their purpose is to provide the setting for the Rosary meditations proper.

But look again at Fr. McCabe's words. The Rosary is a form of meditation that will naturally lead to prayer. Meditation leading naturally to prayer is also a key component of lectio divina, a method of reading Scripture and other Spirit-filled texts consisting of these four steps:
  1. Reading. A selection, usually from Scripture, is chosen, and the reader begins to read. Carefully, slowly, possibly out loud, not so much to understand or study the text as to listen to the Word of God speaking to him here and now.
  2. Meditation. As the reader reads, the Holy Spirit will suggest certain key words, phrases, or sentences. The reader pauses, repeating these key words, allowing them to fill his mind and his heart. When it seems appropriate, the reader continues reading.
  3. Prayer. Meditiation leads naturally to prayer; the meditation stage of lectio divina is no exception. At times, the reader will feel moved to offer spontaneous prayer to God -- of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise. Following the prayer, the reader continues meditating or reading.
  4. Contemplation. The contemplation of lectio divina is called "infused contemplation," a gift of God which the reader may or may not experience. This is a simple, wordless, receptive resting in God's presence.
The Benedictines seem to be the primary agents for lectio divina in the Church, although its popularity among the laity has grown explosively in the past couple of decades.

If these steps are suited to reading the Word of God, why not to meditating on the Word's life, death, and resurrection? Let the announcement of the mystery be the reading of the word. Repeat the mystery until some aspect of it speaks to you as something to meditate on. As you recite the Hail Marys, allow yourself to feel moved to interrupt and offer a spontaneous prayer -- as strange as it may sound to interrupt one prayer for another. This will bring your meditation into direct contact with your concerns and joys of today. Perhaps God will bless you with a moment of contemplation; if so, when it is over, pick up where you left off on your meditation.

Obviously, this way of praying the Rosary is only suited to individual recitation in a quiet environment. But imagine what a half an hour of peaceful solitude, alone with God, even just once a week could bring to the madness of the other one hundred sixty-seven and a half hours.

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Show your work

Kevin Miller takes it
that a movement in order to deserve approval needs to be oriented toward the bearing of fruit rather than nuts. That is, the nuts, but not the fruits, must be somehow "accidental."
I agree -- although I'd distinguish between a thing being accidental and it being unexpected.

In the case of Opus Dei, everything I've read about the circumstances of numerary life -- which, canonical quibbles aside, is that of a relatively strict religious congregation -- suggests that it is susceptible to abuse by ill-formed individuals to a degree not found in most lay associations, or even among supernumeraries of Opus Dei. (This is not peculiar to Opus Dei, but a simple fact of religious life lived by fallen people.)

Thus, I don't think it's a question of whether some of my best friends are supernumeraries and cooperators, but of whether I can personally vouch for the conduct of these particular numeraries in this particular house. That the conduct of an individual numerary isn't in accord with, perhaps is explicitly contrary to, the spirituality or constitutions of Opus Dei should hardly surprise any Catholic with more than a casual acquaintance with original sin.

Without intending to reveal any private matters, I'll add that not every Dominican in every friary operated without fault seventy years after the founding of that order. ("What do you get when you mix one young Franciscan, two older Dominicans, and a day-long journey? Three Dominicans.") This despite the fact that the pope who canonized St. Dominic was an enthusiastic supporter of his order.

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A new movement salute

Flos Carmeli gives us this battle cry:
I exhort, encourage, and enjoin, all of you, do not join factions....
I'll sign up to that. Will you? Whoever is not with us in abjuring factions is against us. And never the twain shall meet.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 1

I'll start out easy, with the standard version of the Marian Rosary:
  1. Make the Sign of the Cross.
  2. Say the Apostles' Creed.
  3. Say an Our Father.
  4. Say three Hail Marys.
  5. Say a Glory Be.
  6. Announce the first mystery.
  7. Say an Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and a Glory Be, while meditating on the mystery.
  8. Say the Fatima Prayer.
  9. Repeat steps 6 through 8 for the second, third, fourth, and fifth mysteries.
  10. Say the Hail Holy Queen.
  11. Finish with the prayer, "Let us pray. O GOD, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen."
  12. Make the Sign of the Cross.
The five Joyful Mysteries, traditionally recited on Mondays and Thursdays, and the Sundays of Advent:
  1. The Annunciation
  2. The Visitation
  3. The Nativity
  4. The Presentation
  5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
The five Sorrowful Mysteries, traditionally recited on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the Sundays of Lent:
  1. The Agony in the Garden
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar
  3. The Crowning with Thorns
  4. The Carrying of the Cross
  5. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
The five Glorious Mysteries, traditionally recited on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and all Sundays outside Advent and Lent:
  1. The Resurrection
  2. The Ascension
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
  4. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  5. The Coronation of Our Lady
Okay, nothing new here; this is just your basic Dominican Rosary -- so called because it's the version of the Rosary preached by the Dominican Order, to which promotion of this devotion has been assigned by the Holy See. (The Dominicans, meanwhile, use a slightly different beginning than the above, which of course means that the Dominican Order doesn't quite pray the Dominican Rosary. Go figure.)

This all seems ordinary enough, but let me just remind you that the following actions are all enriched by partial indulgences:
  • making the Sign of the Cross
  • reciting the Apostles' Creed
  • vocal recitation of five decades of the Rosary while meditating on one of the above sets of mysteries
  • praying the Hail Holy Queen
  • reciting the Rosary using a set of rosary beads blessed by a priest
Furthermore, a plenary indulgence may be obtained by reciting the Rosary "in a church or public oratory or in a family group, a religious Community or pious Association." (There's also a plenary indulgence attached to using a rosary blessed by a bishop on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.)

Now it may be that you have no need of indulgences. If so, please consider applying them to the souls in purgatory, which you may do if you are baptized, not excommunicated, and in the state of grace, and if you have at least a general intention to gain the indulgences for the deceased. Who says there's no such thing as cheap grace?

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La plus c'est la meme chose

Some things are as cyclic and predictable as the tides. I have in mind the New Movement Wave, which flows like this:
a. A news source presents a report on a (relatively) new movement in the Church, using the word "secretive."
b. Someone blogs it.
c. Some people rush in to criticize the movement.
d. Other people rush in to defend the movement.
What surprises me is the simplicity of the criticism and defense I usually see. On the one hand, it's
"I've heard rumors about something that happened in Luxembourg. These people are bad, bad, bad. And dangerous, too. They want to control the Church and turn your parish into a staging area for their cult."
On the other hand, it's
"I know a guy who's a member. He's really nice. There is absolutely nothing wrong with anything anyone belonging to the movement has done, is doing, or ever will do."
The problem with these sorts of reactions -- over and above the rhetorical difficulties of the arguments -- is that they are fundamentally un-Catholic.

Any religious movement has two movers: man and the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Holy Spirit is involved means good things will happen, most likely staggeringly fantastic things (like the salvation of a sinner). The fact that men are involved means bad things will happen, quite possibly stunningly evil things (like soul murder).

The carpers in the New Movement Wave insist that a thing is simply evil. The loyalists insist it is purely good. Neither is true, and both carper and loyalist end up talking past each other when they attempt to prove their argument by appeal to anecdote. If something bad happens, then there is cause for caution, but not necessarily for wholesale rejection. At the same time, approval at the highest levels of the Church doesn't obviate the need for prudence. Whenever humans are involved, even a good thing can be misused. As I've said before, the Church approves the fruits of a movement, not its nuts.

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31 Days, 31 Ways: Introduction

October is the month of the Holy Rosary (because, as you know, it contains the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, October 7, the anniversary of the Christian victory against Muslim forces at Lepanto in 1571).

Rosary beads are iconic of Catholicism. Indeed, in the United States they can symbolize Christianity, or even the religious spirit in general. If you want instant characterization in a TV show, just show the character holding a rosary.

But actually praying the Rosary is less common among Catholics than it once was. The Rosary has a little-old-lady image, and Catholics praying today have a wide variety of more dynamic prayers to chose from. When people do try the Rosary -- following directions in a pamphlet, perhaps, or under the watchful eye of their parochial school teacher -- they often find themselves twenty minutes older and not a whit wiser, holier, or closer to God.

One of the secrets of the Rosary, though, is that it isn't the sequence of Pater Nosters and Aves shown with an arrow on a drawing on the back of a "How to Pray the Rosary" pamphlet. It's not a twenty-minute vocal prayer. It's a meditation on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and you don't finish meditating on that in twenty minutes ... or ever!

Vocal recitation is, as they say, the body of the Rosary, but the meditations are its soul. In the hope of breathing a little life into the soul of your Rosary, I am going to attempt to describe thirty-one ways of praying it, one for each day of October.

This is a bit foolish, since as I sit here I can't think of thirty-one ways to pray the Rosary. But I trust that whatever my own experience and imagination can't supply, God can (perhaps through others). (Plus there's a book called Fifty Ways to Pray the Rosary, so if I get really stuck I know there's a way out.)

I'll post the ways on average once a day, though I might get a few ways ahead or behind at times. The differences between some of the ways will probably be, shall we say, subtle; I can't guarantee that Way 17 won't be "Do Way 8 while facing east," nor that Way 25 won't be "Um... go clockwise around the rosary beads."

There, now I'm committed to it. I've made the promises, let's see me keep them.

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Monday, September 30, 2002

Upon further review

My rhetoric below can be taken to imply that I think Cardinal Keeler is a fool, although I pretend to be civil enough to pretend not to say so.

Actually, I don't think he is a fool, because I don't think he thinks telling the truth cannot be wrong. In fact, I'm sure he thinks telling the truth can be wrong, for example in the case of breaking the seal of the confessional.

I think the resolution of this paradox of the Cardinal apparently asserting something that I know he knows is false is this: Telling the truth is wrong when it offends someone we have a duty not to offend. We do not have a duty not to offend a child abuser. Therefore telling the truth about a child abuser is not wrong per se, although there may be circumstances which make it uncharitable or imprudent to do so. (All this is very loosely expressed; I'd have to tighten it up to be sure I agreed with it.)

In the Cardinal's judgment, the circumstances surrounding his release of the list afforded only the risk of scandal, and the various good results he hoped for outweighed that risk. One may agree with his judgment and still note a difficulty in applying it: Even if there is not a duty to refrain from offending (to some extent) a child abuser, there is a duty to refrain from offending someone wrongly accused of child abuse.

At this point, Cardinal Keeler's plan seems to me to be doomed. If he has a duty to refrain from offending those priests wrongly accused of child abuse, he cannot release their names. But if he cannot release the names of all the priests accused of child abuse, he cannot guarantee that he has released the names of all the priests who have been accurately accused of child abuse. In practice, he can either underreport -- in which case he will fail to gain the confidence of the laity, who will no doubt learn from other sources of cases the Cardinal did not report -- or overreport -- in which case he offends against those priests whose names in justice ought not be reported.

What's a cardinal to do? Whatever he judges best, of course, but it's not clear to me that transparency is an achievable virtue in this case.

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Friday, September 27, 2002

The truth might not set you free

William Cardinal Keeler, in his September 25 letter to the people of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, writes, "Telling the truth cannot be wrong."

If it were true that telling the truth cannot be wrong, then I could tell you that anyone who thinks telling the truth cannot be wrong is a fool.

However, it is not true that telling the truth cannot be wrong, so I will instead tell you that the Cardinal's statement appears to me to be insufficiently nuanced.

It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to set a scene in which the following statements are both true (as spoken by a particular person) and contrary to the virtue of prudence (which is right reasoning on what is to be done) if spoken aloud:
  • "That may well be the ugliest tie anyone has ever worn without irony."
  • "I want you to shut up now."
  • "I think our waitress is at least twice as attractive as you."
  • "I'm glad he wants to divorce you. I never liked him anyway."
The last two are also likely to be contrary to the virtue of charity.

Telling the truth can be wrong, too, in cases of detraction, which offends against justice as well as charity. (See the Catechism, nos. 2477, 2479.)

Once again, I find thinking in terms of virtues and vices produces better results than thinking in terms of rules.

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Thursday, September 26, 2002

Putting their names up in lights

Fr. Clement Burns, OP, preaches something he calls "the Broadway Prayer," for use when a person or situation in your life weighs heavily on your heart.

The steps of the Broadway Prayer are:
  1. Thank God for the person. Put his name up in lights (hence "Broadway") and celebrate the good that God has placed in him. It doesn't matter whether you feel particularly thankful. "Dear God, thank you for my neighbor. Thank you for the love she has for your creation [which she shows by keeping two dozen cats]. Thank you for her enthusiasm [which keeps her up till 2 a.m. on weekends] and her sense of humor [marked by that braying laugh]."
  2. Ask God to change the person in some observable way. Of course, the way you think the person should change may not be the way God thinks he should. You just pray for what you think is best, and leave the rest to God. The important point, for this prayer, is that the change be something you will be able to detect. "I pray that my mother may stop spitting tobacco juice on the rugs and shooting at squirrels from my porch."
  3. Thank God for changing the person. Take a moment to imagine the person changed in the way you have asked, then thank God for it. "Thank you, Lord, for helping him to stop insulting Norwegians in my presence."
This is an interesting prayer; a very pastoral prayer, I think. It provides a way of channelling all sorts of negative emotions -- frustration, irritation, hopelessness, weariness -- into a faithful and hopeful conversation with God.

It is also an effective prayer. If offered regularly, humbly, and hopefully, it's bound to change the person who prays it, whatever else might happen. (And all sorts of elses might happen. Fr. Burns tells the story of a woman attending a morning-and-afternoon presentation he was giving who came back from the mid-day break to announce that, when she went to her house for lunch, her daughter -- for whom she had offered the Broadway Prayer as she was driving home -- had changed from a brat to a warm and loving person.)

The subject of the prayer need not be a person; it could be a relationship or a situation that is troubled or intractable. For that matter, it could be a person, relationship, or situation which is not burdensome so much as imperfect, when the person offering the prayer feels a duty to pray for perfection.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2002

And now, back to our postulant-athon

I just received this notice:
The Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of Saint Jude in Marbury, Alabama, are hosting a Contemplative Experience (Come and See) Weekend January 3-5, 2003. This is the first such weekend Saint Jude's has had in several years and this one should be nice.

I have visited Saint Judes several times (I am a Benedictine Monk- so no possibility of a vocation) and have been amazed by the way of life of the nuns. They are very true to their monastic observance and are truly inspiring. They have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and are especially dedicated to the Rosary of Our Lady. Incidentally, Saint Jude's was the first interracial contemplative community in the United States and they are very interested in women of minority groups.

Please let women who are considering a contemplative, cloistered way of life know of this opportunity. For information, contact:

Vocation Dir.- Sr. Mary of the Precious Blood, O.P.
PO Box 170, 430 County Rd. 20 E.
Marbury, AL 36051
phone 205-755-1322
email stjudemonastery@juno.com

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One of the them has to be tallest in the tent

TS O'Rama points out the drawback of improving oneself spiritually:
With the spiritual life, there is never the satisfaction or pride, at least for me. If there is one area I no longer struggle with, it seems like it is merely replaced by another struggle in another venue.
If your tent has poles, or your field has poppies, there's going to be one (at least) that's the tallest.

If you have vices and temptations, there's going to be one that's causing you the most grief. Get that one under control, and there's going to be another one that's causing you the most grief. This is true as long as you have vices and temptations.

The hope is that your vices are more like tent poles than poppies. The second-tallest tent pole doesn't grow while you're sawing down the tallest one.

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Brother, can you spare a dime for Sister?

While I'm flogging visitors with branches of the Dominican Family, I thought I'd put in a plug for the Dominican nuns of Mt. Thabor Monastery, in Ortonville, Michigan. A monastic community, their prayers are helping to support the work of the Order worldwide -- and me, too, and anyone else who asks for their prayers.

The sisters of Mt. Thabor are building a new wing of their monastery and praying to St. Joseph for funds. You can pray for them, too -- or if you picked the Chiefs to cover the spread, you might send them a few dollars out of your plenty.

Or, if mention of Ortonville, Michigan, doesn't move you to charitable almsgiving, chances are there is a religious house near you whose superior has been wondering if there's enough money to pay for the new furnace.

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They're looking for a few good women

I met a cheer of Nashville Dominicans yesterday (I'm pretty sure "cheer" is the proper collective noun), that thriving congegation of teaching sisters lauded in some circles for keeping their traditional white-and-black habits. Though I say it's the habits they live, not the habits they wear, that is the source of their success.

I didn't get to talk much with them, but I did learn that they are having a dinner this weekend for young women in the Washington, DC, area who are interested in learning about their life.

I'm not sure why they want to do this. Last I heard, they had too many novices for their motherhouse to hold and were desperate for construction funds.

Anyway, here are the details:
Dinner, Discussion, & Dominicans
Life in the Habit: Real Talk About Real OPs
Saturday, September 28
5:30 - 7:30 pm
George Washington University Newman Center
2210 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20037

Student contact: Becky Pietsch, pietsh@gwu.edu
[Metablogging aside: I've been looking for an excuse to mention the Nashville Dominicans again, because "nashville+dominicans" is by far the most common Google search that brings people to this site.]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Retreat!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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"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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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Friday, September 13, 2002

Seconded

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

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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 Amazon.com 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?


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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.

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Thursday, September 12, 2002

CHRIST'S MESSAGE JARRING, JOURNALIST REPORTS

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.]

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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.

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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 sin...is 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.)

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