instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, October 11, 2004

On the other hand

I criticize people for criticizing other people for doing poorly what the other people weren't trying to do at all. (Which is different from criticizing people for not doing what they should do.)

So I should perhaps criticize myself for criticizing Archbishop Burke's recent pastoral letter and Archbishop Meyers's recent "Voter's Guide" because they left me with more questions than answers.

It's been suggested that the archbishops weren't trying to illuminate dark corners in moral theology for a boot-licking Vatican toady like myself, but rather to cut off at the knees a far more common (or at least more often expressed) position just today given voice by Mark W. Roche, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame, in a New York Times op-ed piece:
When values come into conflict, it is useful to develop principles that help place those values in a hierarchy. One reasonable principle is that issues of life and death are more important than other issues. This seems to be the strategy of some Catholic and church leaders, who directly or indirectly support the Republican Party because of its unambiguous critique of abortion.
That Dean Roche would write "seems to be the strategy" rather than "is the strategy" doesn't give me much hope that Strunk & White is being taught at Notre Dame. I'm not sure what the point of that indirection could be, other than to avoid pointing out that the "some Catholic and church leaders" happen to be, you know, the Pope and the bishops teaching in communion with him. To avoid pointing out, that is, that these "principles" "it is useful to develop" happen to be the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Rather than dwell on that fact, though, Dean Roche finishes his sentence on the important point: that such principles support Republicans.

He continues:
This position has two problems. First, abortion is not the only life-and-death issue in this election. While the Republicans line up with the Catholic stance on abortion and stem-cell research, the Democrats are closer to the Catholic position on the death penalty, universal health care and environmental protection.
One problem with teaching that the intentional killing of innocent human life violates the fundamental moral right is that it doesn't feature the Democrats' position on environmental protection in a flattering light.

This is an absurd equivocation on "life-and-death issue," without even bothering with the fact that it begs the question of whether, in fact, the Democrats are closer to whatever might be said to be "the Catholic position" on "environmental protection." (You can read for yourself what Dean Roche adds about the role just war theory plays in the election, and judge the importance of the fact that, "[w]hile Mr. Kerry, like many other Democrats, voted for the war, he has since objected to the way it was planned and waged."
Second, politics is the art of the possible... History will judge our society's support of abortion in much the same way we view earlier generations' support of torture and slavery - it will be universally condemned. The moral condemnation of abortion, however, need not lead to the conclusion that criminal prosecution is the best way to limit the number of abortions. Those who view abortion as the most significant issue in this campaign may well want to supplement their abstract desire for moral rectitude with a more realistic focus on how best to ensure that fewer abortions take place.
Here Dean Roche does yeoman's work to prepare for the conclusion he so earnestly desires: viz., that he won't have to vote for a Republican in the foreseeable future.

Note first, that he takes for granted that, one day, abortion "will be universally condemned." Since we're guaranteed victory, why quibble over short-term details like Supreme Court appointments and federal funding for embryonic research?

Next comes "criminal prosecution." Eeek! Poor, traumatized women thrown in prison! Those heartless Republicans! Because, after all, criminal prosecution is the only effect of making something illegal. Just look at Latin America as compared to the Low Countries, two regions all but identical except for their abortion laws.

Finally, Democrats can inoculate themselves against voting Republican for pro-life reasons because all "who view abortion as the most significant issue in this campaign" do so only out of an "abstract desire for moral rectitude," and if a Democrat wanted to be a Pharisee, he'd be a Republican.

Phew! That was close. We almost had to allow ourselves to be taught by the Church.

I don't, as a rule, go in much for fisking New York Times op-eds, but coming so soon after last week's discussions on the archbishops' letters, this piece was so... well, so fat-headed, I was moved to comment. The one reassuring point is that, having little to do with athletics or alumni relations, Dean Roche doesn't seem to hold a position of much importance at Notre Dame.


The lepers' Mass

As Jesus ... was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"The Penitential Rite
And when he saw them, he said, "Go show yourselves to the priests."Liturgy of the Word
And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.Liturgy of the Eucharist
Then he said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."Ite, missa est.

"Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?"


My contribution to the discussion on Catholics in the public square:

Voting is the stone in the Stone Soup of Catholic political responsibility.



Friday, October 08, 2004

While we're at it, ii

The final thing about the archbishops' statements I want to mention is the way they seem to make the enormity of an evil directly proportional to the effect a candidate's support for that evil will have on the common good.

Archbishop Meyers was particularly clear on this:
Thus for a Catholic citizen to vote for a candidate who supports abortion ... one of the following circumstances would have to obtain: either (a) both candidates would have to be in favor of embryo killing on roughly an equal scale or (b) the candidate with the superior position on abortion ... would have to be a supporter of objective evils of a gravity and magnitude beyond that of 1.3 million yearly abortions....
In other words, the proportion of a proportionate reason to vote for a candidate who supports an evil is the proportion of the evil itself.

But if, as Archbishop Burke puts it, we have a "duty to vote, in order to choose those representatives who will best serve the common good in government"," why is it the absolute number of abortions that must be weighed, rather than the overall effect of a pro-abortion candidate's election on the common good?

My understanding of the moral concept of "proportionate reasons" is based on my understanding of the principle of double effect, in which what gets compared are the good and bad effects of an action that is not itself immoral per se. Archbishop Meyers, however, seems to be saying that it's not the difference between what two candidates would do that matters, but the difference between what they would support. If voting is an act directed at the common good, though, shouldn't we look at how the candidates would affect the common good relative to each other?

Archbishop Burke writes that same-sex "marriage" "erode[s] the very foundation of the common good," and I agree. But doesn't an unjust policy of the use of military force also attack the common good, and might not a particular unjust military force policy do more damage to the common good than a particular same-sex "marriage" policy?

My problem is that I can't tell, first, how literally and formally to take what the archbishops wrote; and second, how much of what they meant by what they wrote they intended as official teaching, binding judgment, personal opinion, or illustration. I know a lot of Catholics love it when a bishop writes a forceful document, but forcefulness isn't always a sign of clear and unambiguous writing.


While we're at it, i

There are two more things that I find puzzling in the quotations from Archbishops Burke and Meyers I'd like to mention.

First, they seem to mix without distinction Church teaching and prudential judgment. Archbishop Meyers, for example, writes, "Certainly policies ... the war in Iraq... do not provide a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate." Why? Because, "[i]n the context of contemporary American social life, abortion and embryo-destructive research are disproportionate evils."

But isn't this statement a prudential judgment on the part of the Archbishop? As I've written below, I don't see how it follows from the fact that "Catholics may, in good conscience, support the use of force in Iraq or oppose it."

For his part, Archbishop Burke writes that "we must ... safeguard marriage and the family now." In his judgment, same-sex "marriage" would undoubtedly harm the common good more than war.

I should mention that I don't mind bishops including prudential judgments in their public statements. I'm just not sure how binding such judgments are on their flocks, or even whether they're intended to be binding.


Thursday, October 07, 2004

One explanation

It's been suggested in comments below that what the archbishops are trying to do by pointing out that war is not intrinsically evil is address the argument, "Sure, the Church opposes abortion, but she also opposes war, so I can choose which issue is more important to me." The concept of intrinsic evil does come into play when discussing the difference between Catholic opposition to abortion and Catholic opposition to war.

That's a sensible explanation, I suppose, and one I much prefer to the explanation that they meant to teach that support for intrinsic evil, however minor, is disproportionately more harmful to the common good than support for non-intrinsic evil, however grave.

But if that were their point, I'd have to say they need better copy editors.


Yes, your Excellencies, but...

Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of the statements I quoted below.

Archbishop Burke's main point is, I think, this:
One cannot justify a vote for a candidate who promotes intrinsically evil acts which erode the very foundation of the common good, such as abortion and same-sex "marriage," by appealing to that same candidate's opposition to war or capital punishment.
But I can't see how this statement is supported by what comes before it.

For one thing, I'm not sure how to understand "opposition to war." In its most literal sense -- a categorical opposition to military force against another country -- what the Archbishop writes is undeniably true, but I'm not sure what relevance that literal sense has to do with any practical situation Catholic voters face or are likely to face in the future.

If it means opposition to the current war, though, I think we need to be more careful. Archbishop Burke points out that war is not intrinsically evil, and implies this is because the "practice" of war doesn't include "the direct intention of killing innocent human beings." But what if a particular war does include the direct intention of killing innocent human beings? Or, more generally, if it entails some practice that is intrinsically evil?

As I read the Archbishop's letter, I take him to be implying that it is categorically impossible for a candidate's opposition to any particular evil act that is not intrinsically evil to justify voting for him if he supports any particular act that is intrinsically evil.

If this is in fact the implication of the passage, then it would also follow that a candidate who supported legalized masturbation could not be voted for against a candidate who supported the violent annexation of Mexico (assuming, of course, they each opposed what the other supported). I suppose my respectful question is: Assuming I understand the point correctly, that support for something intrinsically evil is always disproportionately worse than support for something evil but not intrinsically evil, why is the point not absurd?

As Aurochs and Angels put is, "Intrinsic ≠ Really Bad."


Consider the source

Let me quote Archbishop Burke's recent pastoral letter, for reference in my next post:
Some Catholics have suggested that a candidate's position on the death penalty and war are as important as his or her position on procured abortion and same-sex "marriage." This, however, is not true. Procured abortion and homosexual acts are intrinsically evil, and, as such, can never be justified in any circumstance. Although war and capital punishment can rarely be justified, they are not intrinsically evil; neither practice includes the direct intention of killing innocent human beings. In some circumstances, self-defense and defense of the nation are not only rights, but responsibilities. Neither individuals nor governments can be denied the right of lawful defense in appropriate circumstances (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2265 and 2309). While we must all work to eradicate the circumstances which could justify either practice, we must stop the killing of innocent unborn children and the practice of euthanasia, and safeguard marriage and the family now. One cannot justify a vote for a candidate who promotes intrinsically evil acts which erode the very foundation of the common good, such as abortion and same-sex "marriage," by appealing to that same candidate's opposition to war or capital punishment. [n. 30]

Summary Point #6
We are morally bound in conscience to choose government leaders who will serve the common good. The first priority of the common good is the protection of human life, the basis of all other social conditions.
There can never be justification for directly and deliberately taking innocent human life: abortion, destruction of human embryos, euthanasia, human cloning.
Legal recognition of same-sex relationships undermines the truth about marriage and sanctions gravely immoral acts.
For the sake of the common good we must safeguard the good of human life and the good of marriage and family life.
The death penalty and war are different from procured abortion and same-sex "marriage", since these latter acts are intrinsically evil and therefore can never be justified. Although war and capital punishment can rarely be justified, they are not intrinsically evil.
While I'm at it, here's a similar passage from Archbishop Meyers's "Voting Guide":
Certainly policies on welfare, national security, the war in Iraq, Social Security or taxes, taken singly or in any combination, do not provide a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.
Consider, for example, the war in Iraq. Although Pope John Paul II pleaded for an alternative to the use of military force to meet the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, he did not bind the conscience of Catholics to agree with his judgment on the matter, nor did he say that it would be morally wrong for Catholic soldiers to participate in the war. In line with the teaching of the catechism on "just war," he recognized that a final judgment of prudence as to the necessity of military force rests with statesmen, not with ecclesiastical leaders. Catholics may, in good conscience, support the use of force in Iraq or oppose it.
Abortion and embryo-destructive research are different. They are intrinsic and grave evils; no Catholic may legitimately support them. In the context of contemporary American social life, abortion and embryo-destructive research are disproportionate evils. They are the gravest human rights abuses of our domestic politics and what slavery was to the time of Lincoln. Catholics are called by the Gospel of Life to protect the victims of these human rights abuses. They may not legitimately abandon the victims by supporting those who would further their victimization.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Fine art, and not so fine art

Church of the Masses is the blog to read for cautionary tales directed at those who think the rules of art don't apply when the intentions are pure.

I'm still not entirely sure what's wrong with moderately wealthy Christians saying, "We need to stop begging and find creative new ways for Christians to make entertainment!" Barbara Nicolosi says:
We DON'T need "creative ways" for Christians to find success in Hollywood. We need to do it THE way. We need to do what everybody has to do, just as well, and arguably even better. It takes time, lots of it. It takes paying our dues. There won't be anything sneaky or clever about it. The cleverness must all be in our work.
If the suggestion was to cut corners, then I can see the problem. I once came down like Evelyn Waugh's nastier brother before his morning coffee on someone who one day popped onto a Catholic writers mailing list to inform us that he had written some wonderful poems and had decided we were to provide him with the contact information for the magazine that would publish them. I don't think it was, for him, so much a matter of cutting corners as of being completely oblivious to the fact that there are corners.

Still, I note the difference between "ways for Christians to make entertainment" and "ways for Christians to find success in Hollywood," before conceding that I know even less about movies and television than I do about poetry.

Barbara's story of her involvement with the people who made Therese reminds Hernan Gonzalez of a hundred-year-old Leon Bloy quotation:
... modern Catholics hate art with a wild, atrocious hatred; Beauty scares them, like a sinful temptation... and the boldness of Genius horrifies them like the face of Lucifer.
I'm not sure that Hernan calls this one correctly. By all accounts, the man behind the Therese movie is a fine artist; he certainly doesn't fear beauty. As I understand it, the problem is that he is not a fine, or even a particularly capable, moviemaker, and he didn't think it would matter.

Barbara's message to all wannabe Christian moviemakers is that it does matter.


October is Proust Month

If you've been meaning to read or finish Marcel Proust's À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, now is the time to get to it.

Yes, it's a daunting task, but if you can make the time to read just one sentence a day every Proust Month, you'll be able to finish all seven volumes in just fifteen years.

For those lacking the time but not the social aspirations, Proust can be efficiently summarized.

It is regrettable but unavoidable that, having dropped the fact you have read Proust, some supercilious berk will wrinkle his nose and say, "Not the Moncrieff-Kilmartin, surely?" The proper response is a look of confusion, a murmured, "En francais," and avoidance of all further eye contact with the rube.


Monday, October 04, 2004

My doctor said, "Don't do that"

I wanted to make a small point based on a prayer of St. Catherine of Siena, but when I looked at the prayer, I saw that I would have to quote more of it than I'd expected in order for it to make sense.

To put the part I wanted to quote into context, which came almost at the end of the prayer, I needed several earlier bits. To put those into context, I needed even earlier passages.

You'd think an extemporaneous prayer offered in or close to rapture might come across as a bit disjointed. This one didn't. So I'll just post the whole prayer here and maybe come back to it over the next couple of weeks. It's Prayer #24 from the collected prayers of St. Catherine, offered some time during the last year of her life.
Oh Godhead!
Godhead, Love!
And what can I say about your truth?
You, Truth --
you tell me about the truth,
since I don’t know how to talk about the truth.
I only know how to talk about the darkness,
because I have not followed the fruit of your cross,
I have only known and followed the darkness.
I admit that those who know the darkness
know the light as well.
But not I --
I have followed the darkness.
Still, I have not for all that
known it perfectly.
Tell me, then, the truth about your cross
and I will listen.

You say that some people persecute
the fruit of your cross.
Now you yourself are the fruit of your cross --
you, oh Word, God’s only-begotten Son,
who because of your boundless love for us
engrafted yourself like a fruit
onto two trees.
The first was human nature,
so that you might reveal to us
the invisible truth of the eternal Father,
the truth you yourself are.
The second was the engrafting of your body
on the wood of the most holy cross,
and neither nails
nor anything else but your boundless love for us
held you on that tree.
All this you did
to reveal the truth of the Father’s will,
the will that wants nothing but that we be saved.
From this engrafting sprang your blood,
which by its union with the divine nature
has given us life.
By the power of this blood we are cleansed from sin
through your sacraments,
and you have stored this blood
in the wine cellar of holy church,
giving the keys and guardianship of it
to your chief vicar on earth.

The only way we can know and comprehend
any of these things
is by means of your light,
the light with which you illumine the soul’s noblest aspect,
our understanding.
This light is the light of faith.
You give it to each of us Christians
when, through the sacrament of baptism,
you pour into us the light of your grace
and of faith,
thus washing away
the original sin we had contracted.
And we are given enough light
to lead us to our final goal of blessedness.
We have only not to blind our eyes
with the wickedness of sensual selfishness,
the eyes illumined by your grace in holy baptism.

We blind ourselves, then,
when we put over our eyes
that cloud of cold and damp,
our selfishness.
When we do this
we know neither you
nor any true good.
We call good evil,
and evil good.
And so we become ungrateful
and most ignorant.
and it is worse for us to lose the light
once we have known the truth,
than before we had received the light.
Such false Christians
are worse than unbelievers,
and the consequences are worse --
except insofar as whatever little light of faith
they still have
makes it easier to accept the medicine
their sickness calls for.

People such as these, my Lord,
are persecutors of the fruit of your cross,
persecutors of your blood.
They do not follow you, Christ crucified,
but they hound you and your blood --
especially those who rebel against your cellarer
who holds the keys to the wine cellar
where your precious blood is stored
as well as the blood of all your martyrs
(whose blood has no strength
except by the power of your blood).
They get into this rebellion
and every sort of sin
because they have lost the light of your truth,
the light acquired through faith in you.
This is why the philosophers,
even though they knew many truths
about your creatures
could not be saved
because they did not have faith.
What I wanted to point out is that St. Catherine says the light of God's truth is acquired, not by study, but through faith in Christ. It's an important check on the virtue of studiousness, a check the studious are probably well aware of by the light of study, a check that is perhaps well suited to Dominicans on this day.

By the way, The Prayers of Catherine of Siena, which I keep linking to, is a book that repays prayerful study but not (at least among us beginners) cursory reading.


That mutual charity cherished above all things

On October 4, the Dominican Order observes the Feast of Our Holy Father Francis of Assisi. True, the friendship between Sts. Francis and Dominic is often exaggerated; only one meeting between them, a few months before St. Dominic's death, can be attested to from historical data. It's also true that there has been a certain amount of competition between the orders at times in places over the years.

Still, the Franciscans and the Dominicans have a lot in common, and they (and the Church) do better when they support and encourage each other. A few decades after the deaths of Sts. Francis and Dominic, the Masters General of the two Orders co-wrote a letter to all their brothers. It reads in part:
Finally, how shall we be known as true disciples of Christ, unless our love for one another is manifest?

How shall we sow in the hearts of others that mutual charity which because of our preaching is cherished above all things by everyone, if our love for one another is wounded or becomes fragile?

How shall we stand against so many threatening persecutions, if we are divided by some disturbance?
This was written at a time when the very existence of the mendicant orders was being challenged in the Church, so this letter wasn't an entirely academic exercise.

If we pull the above passage out of its context, though, I think it fits only too well into the conversation within the Church today. The problem with factionalism is not principally that my faction is right and your faction is wrong (although that is generally true), but that our factions are divided against each other. It's not the position of one or another group, but the relationship among all the groups.

A lot of people will think this is a distinction without a difference. But the difference is this, that if the problem is your position, I can place all the responsibility for resolving the problem upon you. If the problem is our relationship, though, then I have a clear stake in, and responsibility for, resolving it. As Bls. Giovanni Buralli, OFM, and Humbert of Romans, OP, recognized, no one can effectively preach mutual charity who does not live it.


Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mother's Day in October

For those in the Washington, DC, area:
What: Traditional Rosary Procession

When: Saturday, October 16, 2004 @ noon. Decoration of Our Lady's float will be at 11:30 am. Please bring flowers if you would like!

Where: Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family, 4250 Harewood Road NE, Washington DC

How: Accompany a gorgeous 42" wood carved statue of Our Immaculate Mother through Catholic University area, visiting 5 outdoor Shrines to Our Lady, while praying the Rosary and singing traditional hymns in her honor. The walk is approximately 1.5 to 2 miles and lasts approximately 60 to 90 minutes.

Why: To honor Our Immaculate Mother of God during her special month of October and during the 150th Anniversary of the proclamation of Her Immaculate Conception.
If you want more information, drop me an email and I'll tell you whom to call.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Angels in the 21st Century

When I checked my email today, the sender of one message was listed as "St. Gabriel Communications." Considering the date, I thought maybe Heaven was going hi-tech.

But how could they? Angels, being incorporeal, would necessarily be wireless, and it isn't Heaven that has the hot spots.


The myth of Mary

I have a new explanation for why so many Protestants (and Catholics!) have such difficulty with devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Mary's role in God's plan for salvation is not absolutely necessary, making it a matter of mythos rather than logos.

By that I mean all her special graces, and all that makes her unique and uniquely venerable, are simply gifts God chose to give her (and, through her, us). No need compelled God to give them to her. They can't really be argued for or reasoned to, they must simply be accepted on faith.

To be sure, there are whole libraries of books arguing for and reasoning to the special graces of Mary. I think, though, that if you read them carefully you'll find that they're all arguments for why such special graces would be, not necessary, but fitting. They address the question, "Why would Mary be given this privilege?" When they look directly at, "Was Mary given this privilege?" they depend on assertions that are by no means self-evident.

This is a problem for Westerners because Westerners like reasoned proofs. Catholics like giving reasoned proofs of Mary's special privileges and Protestants like refuting them. Catholics say things like, "Only someone free of all sin from the moment of her creation could be the Mother of God." Protestants say, "You're making that up," and in this case they may be right. Not that what the Catholics say is false, but that it's an assertion that goes beyond what has been revealed.

I think that, in discussing the Blessed Virgin with those who have no devotion to her, we're better off simply telling her story (that is, her part of Jesus' story) than making assertions like, "It is inconceivable that, having delivered Jesus, His mother would have gone on to have more children." Not only is that not what "inconceivable" means, it obscures the freedom with which God acted in giving us Mary as our mother.

It's like a husband giving roses to his wife because he loves her. We can say he gave her roses "because he loves her," but "because he loves her" doesn't really explain why it was roses rather than any other gift, why today rather than any other day. When love is the rational principle, the basis of the reasoned explanation or logos, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. But expresses as mythos -- "Once there was a man who loved his wife, and one day he gave her a bouquet of roses" -- it makes perfect sense.

Mary is a bouquet of roses God has given all His children, and that, I think, is a message that speaks to the heart whatever objections the head might raise.


Monday, September 27, 2004

Three strikes

I've long though the devil was foolish to tempt Jesus with selfishness, pride, and temporal power. Far more tempting than abandoning His mission, I suspect, would have been shortcuts to completing it, or things that would have made it easier. What would Jesus do if it meant Nazareth, or perhaps all of Judea, would have faith in Him?

Now I wonder whether the devil had much of a choice.

Jesus is the New Adam, come to undo the damage the old Adam did. That damage included what the Catechism calls a triple concupiscence:
The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason.
Key word here is was. The first man was free of these things. And then
The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
Good for food? Watch out for covetousness. Pleasing to the eyes? Ah, those pleasures of the senses. Desirable for gaining wisdom? There's that self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason.

So perhaps the devil was just playing the odds. Jesus, however, refused to play, demonstrating He was not subjugated to the pleasures of the senses ("Man does not live by bread alone"), nor to covetousness for earthly goods ("The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve"), nor to self-assertion ("You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test").

Notice that He demonstrates His freedom from concupiscence by quoting the Law. The devil's temptations would fail against anyone who fully lived the Law, but as St. Paul says, "the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me." Thanks be to God, "now we are released from the law, dead to what held us captive, so that we may serve in the newness of the spirit and not under the obsolete letter."

The letter of the Law is obsolete because Jesus has fulfilled the Law by giving us His (and its) Spirit. We can now live by the Spirit instead of the Law (though they aren't really opposed), as the first man did until he chose to place himself under the one law he had been given.

Jesus, the New Adam, had to face and overcome that which destroyed the old Adam. The old Adam's fall brought death to mankind. The new Adam's death raised mankind to life.


Sunday, September 26, 2004

What's the word?

What caught my ear today in the Gospel reading was how Abraham addressed the rich man:
My child
The rich man had ignored Moses and the prophets, and was therefore consigned to torment in the netherworld. Yet Abraham acknowledged him as his child.

That is an enduring relationship. No wonder the angels in heaven rejoice so over one who was lost and is found. If Jesus presents Abraham as recognizing his child in hell, how much more does the Father.


Thursday, September 23, 2004

Often overlooked

We should not forget that it was a Dominican, Fray Tomás de Berlanga, O.P., who in 1516 planted the first bananas in the New World. They spread so quickly, later European arrivals assumed they were native.

Almost twenty years later, while Bishop of Panama (i.e., the west coast of South America) Fray Tomás discovered the Galapagos Islands.

I mention this in case someone is wondering whether the Dominican Order is where God is calling them.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Pride and sorrow

The Kairos Guy tries to sneak in a post:
I would rather fail to feel sorrow at their sins, than feel pride at not being a sinner like them.
If those are my two choices, I'd agree.

My original post, though, had to do with things like reading a newspaper article about a murder. I will feel sorrow for the victim and his family, but little or no sorrow (i.e., "pain ... caused by an interior apprehension") for the damage the murderer does to his own soul (probably because I don't really apprehend it interiorly).

With the more common sins [objectively] committed to our knowledge on a day-to-day basis, though, JB is right to caution against feeling bad for the sinner in order to feel good about ourselves.


This interior snap of connection with God

Frederica Matthewes-Green has a good article on the difference between feelings as emotions and feelings as perceptions, and on the error of thinking all religious feeling is emotion. Near the end, she writes:
I was a near-sighted kid, and regularly found myself in situations where my parents would be pointing emphatically at something they wanted me to see, and I would squint and strain and still just not see it. A bird in a tree, for example. I might say "No, I still don't see it," or I might fib and say "Oh, I see it now," just to get it over with. But I never said, "There is no bird."
This reminds me of something Aquinas wrote:
... it would be the height of madness in a plain man to declare a philosopher's propositions false, because he could not understand them....
Just because I don't understand what someone's talking about doesn't mean he's wrong.

(Link via... um....)


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The mind of the Church

I still haven't figured out what, exactly, voting is considered as a moral act. It looks like I'm in good company:
The problem is that it's difficult to determine the purpose, or "moral object," of an act of voting, Father DiNoia said.
If the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith doesn't have a closed-form solution either, I don't feel so bad.

The article closes on what I think is a down beat:
Vatican officials ... say the best thing that could come out of the recent discussion is that Catholics in general think more seriously about their worthiness for Communion.
I think this is a down beat because I'm pretty sure that Catholics thinking more seriously about their worthiness for Communion is not going to be the major effect of the recent discussion.

I sometimes think an interdict against the United States, say from Pentecost to Advent, might be a good idea. Just to shake us out of our habits. Fortunately, I don't speak for the Church.

(Link via Ad Limina Apostolorum.}



An indefinite matter

A few weeks ago, Dawn Eden asked a question of her readers:
To Catholics, my question is, how can salvation be limited to Catholics only, when Scripture—which Catholics do reverence—appears to go against that belief? To non-Catholics, how do you feel about a Protestant's converting to Catholicism?
She got plenty of answers, and planned on responding to them. But:
Now that I've had time to think about it, I'm sorry that I can't really say anything more than I said at the first. I still read the Scripture that I cited the same way I read it before—that faith in Jesus is what's necessary for salvation, and that such faith does not have to be mediated through a church. I do believe that church should play a central part in the believer's spiritual life—there's certainly plenty of Scripture to back that up—but the one and only true mediator is Jesus Christ.
And you know what? I agree with this.

So does the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which the word "mediator" appears twelve times, each time in reference to Christ. It is prefaced by such words as "the one" (5 times), "unique" (2), "only" (2), and "one and only" (once). Another paragraph reads:
Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The remaining paragraph that mentions "mediator" is worth a closer look:
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
The interior quotation is from Lumen Gentium 14. It neatly expresses the Catholic doctrine that Jesus is the one Mediator and the Church is necessary for salvation.

Why? Because Christ's Body is the Church. Faith in Christ does not have to be mediated through "a church," but salvation does come only through the Church, which is to say through Christ's Body.

When Saul of Tarsus was knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus, he heard a Voice say, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? ... I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."

Jesus didn't ask Saul why he was persecuting His disciples, or even His church. It was Jesus Himself whom Saul was persecuting.

So, while it is of course possible to distinguish between Jesus and the Church, it is impossible to separate them. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A genuine expertise in their various fields

Here's a sociological experiment: Put a Catholic journalist, a Catholic surgeon, and a Catholic politician together. Have each spend half an hour or so telling the others about the various ethical issues in his field, then have them each vote on how well the other two follow Catholic teaching in their respective fields.

I would not be surprised if the results showed that no one scored very highly.

I've noticed that, when Catholic experts explain themselves before Catholic non-experts, the non-experts are often shocked and appalled by what the experts consider run-of-the-mill ethical decisions. A while back, Catholic journalists were baffled at the lack of traction their claim that journalists have to "go where the story takes them" received among Catholic non-journalists, who were more concerned with detraction and scandal than good journalism. Catholic medical ethicists should by now be used to trying to explain to their co-religionists why certain standard operating procedures in hospitals aren't sins crying out to heaven for vengeance. And Catholic politicians....

Gaudium et spes 43 includes the following passage:
Secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to laymen. Therefore acting as citizens in the world, whether individually or socially, they will keep the laws proper to each discipline, and labor to equip themselves with a genuine expertise in their various fields.... Acknowledging the demands of faith and endowed with its force, they will unhesitatingly devise new enterprises, where they are appropriate, and put them into action. Laymen should also know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city....
I think that often -- not always, of course, but far too often -- Catholic laity keep the laws proper to their disciplines a lot more faithfully than they keep the divine law.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Triumph of the man

The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary present Jesus at His most human. He prays for deliverance, He is whipped and mocked, He is burdened by a cross, He is killed. What god can bleed? What god can die?

Only a God who has become like us in all things but sin.

In His passion, Jesus does nothing beyond the strength of anyone acting in His name. Even the angel who appears does nothing but comfort Him. Even the power of the Name, "I AM," is unveiled for only an instant. The few words He speaks at His trials, when silence is not the better part of wisdom, are simple declarations of Who Jesus is.

It is in His passion and death, in His most human moment, that Jesus triumphs -- a triumph only possible because He is the Son of the Most High. His humanity is made perfect through obedience, but obedience meant the Passion only because He was God's Son. The Cross is a triumph we celebrate only because it is the triumph of a man, and it is a triumph only because that man is God.



Monday, September 13, 2004

More joy in heaven

Notice the progression in the three parables Jesus tells in Luke 15.

First, there are one hundred sheep, and one of them gets lost.

Next, there are ten coins,and one of them gets lost.

Then comes two sons, and one of them gets lost.

We go from a 99% rate of righteousness, to 90%, to 50%. And by the end of the parable of the prodigal son, that 50% rate drops to zero.

"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them" is a psalm of joy and praise -- not to mention deep personal relief -- whether the psalmist realizes it or not.


Sunday, September 12, 2004

Our laddie of sorrow

A prayer at Mass today for those killed in terrorist attacks got me thinking.

Pretty much everyone, I suppose, grieves over the evils people experience in this life. Natural disasters, accidents, violence against the innocent, war: human suffering arouses our compassion.

But moral evil? Not so much.

How often, when someone sins, do you feel sorrow that they have sinned, that they have injured and possibly broken their relationship with God? Not very, if you're like me. I understand the evil effects of sin on the sinner, but I really don't feel very strongly about it unless the sinner is someone I know and love (me, for example).

While you can't make yourself feel something you don't feel, I think the lack of sorrow for the sins of others is a sign of the lack of love for others.


Unreal presence

If, as Fr. Dowd suggests, an idol can be thought of as a focus of the god's "real presence," then today's first reading makes more sense to me than it used to.
The LORD said to Moses, "Go down at once to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved. They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out, 'This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!'"
I never understood why people would think a statue they saw being made was a god. It makes more sense if they thought that the LORD had become truly present in the statue.

God's reaction also makes more sense:
"I see how stiff-necked this people is," continued the LORD to Moses. "Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation."
After all God did to show His power and majesty to His People, that they might know He Is Who Is, at the first chance they get, they reduce Him to their plaything. They tell each other the idol is God, as though they could by their own words make Him become present in the idol. Their offense isn't common or garden idolatry; it's blasphemy, a claim that they control God -- and, by extension, that they brought themselves out of Egypt.

The reading contrasts the Israelites treatment of God with Moses':
But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, "Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand? Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
and how you swore to them by your own self, saying, 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.'"
So the LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.
Moses doesn't force God to do anything. He doesn't say, "You can't do that!" All he does is remind God Who He is, Whom He has shown Himself to be to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to Pharaoh and the Israelites.

You can't control God. You'd better not even try. But you can depend on Him to be Who He is -- which, if you are who you're supposed to be, is more than good enough.