instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, March 26, 2005

You think we're fanatics?

Have you heard about the so-called Church of Sacred Life? They're basically pagan fruitarians, and their big thing is opposition to all use of oil and petrochemicals. Why? Because oil comes from dinosaurs, and dinosaurs used to be alive, and since all life is sacred it's disrespectful to the dinosaurs to use their bodies for our own purposes.

Well, no, you haven't heard about the Church of Sacred Life, because I just made it up.

Based on some things I've read recently, though, for a lot of people the Catholic Church's positions on the beginning and ending of human life makes no more sense than would the Church of Sacred Life's position on the respect owed to dinosaurs. It isn't just that they give different weight to different principles than does the Church; it's that they don't give any weight to some of the Church's principles, because the principles strike them as patently absurd.

The first step in convincing such people of the truth of the Catholic positions would seem to be convincing them the principles aren't absurd. Telling them they're indifferent to, if not advocating, murder probably won't convince them of anything.

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Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward

Let man's soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey:
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirled by it.
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the West
This day, when my soul's form bends toward the East.
There I should see a sun, by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget;
But that Christ on this Cross, did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees God's face, that is self life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made his own lieutenant Nature shrink,
It made his footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands which span the poles,
And tune all spheres at once peirc'd with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our souls, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God, for his apparel, rag'd, and torn?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was God's partner here, and furnish'd thus
Half of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They're present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards me,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree;
I turn my back to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O think me worth thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know me, and I'll turn my face.

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Non sequitur

From a Washington Post article covering the Terri Schiavo case:
The Schindlers had been hoping that Jeb Bush could save their daughter by presenting an affidavit from William P. Cheshire, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., who says Schiavo may be in a "minimally conscious," rather than "vegetative," state, as court-appointed doctors believe.

Cheshire has been a vocal critic of assisted suicide. An article attributed to him on the Web site www.restorationfoundation.org advocated Jews converting to Christianity. "Should not we who are in Christ lift the yoke of persecution from the shoulders of the Jewish people and refresh them with the truth of the Lord of the Sabbath?" the article says.

Pinellas County Circuit Judge George W. Greer ruled that Bush's attempt to use Cheshire's report as a basis for taking custody of Schiavo appeared to be a violation of the constitutional separation the legislative, judicial and executive branches. "By clear and convincing evidence, it was determined she did not want to live under such burdensome conditions and that she would refuse such medical treatment-assistance," Greer wrote.
One of these paragraphs is not like the others. Can you tell which one?

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Watch your language

Barbara Nicolosi doesn't like what she's hearing:
Human beings are never in a "vegetative state." Beyond folks who are sick or in a coma, even those of us who are Nobel Laureates, or Federal judges, can't manage to make chlorophyl, which is, you know, kind of the defining act of a piece of vegetation. It's unfair, but it's a species thing.
Actually, the defining act of a vegetative state is taking in nutrients to maintain life. The problem isn't with what "vegetative" denotes, but with what it connotes.

Of course, you can't insist that a term stop having false connotations. I wonder, though, what would happen in public opinion if the term were Persistent Nutritive State. Would we be so quick to deny nutrition to someone in a state defined by the fact that they can use it?
A big grief to me over the Schiavo case is how many Christians are assenting to the "I wouldn't want to live like that" thing. If one more Christian tells me they are making a Living Will! See, we aren't the people who decide when we are ready to check out.
I think "I wouldn't want to live like that" has a whole heap of problems long before we get to what it implies about our Christian faith.

"I wouldn't want to live like that" seems to have two meanings. The first is, "I don't want to live like that," which, yeah, I think can go without saying.

The second is, "If I were like that, then I would not want to live." And to this meaning, I reply, "And you know this how?" PVS is not a condition in which we can easily imagine ourselves; the value of our judgment for what we would want if we were in such a state is, I think, close to nil. It's not like saying, "If I were pulled over for speeding, I'd try to talk my way out of a ticket." It's closer to saying, "If I were a woman, I wouldn't wear makeup."

What value should we assign to someone's wild guess about what they would do if they were in a situation they can't properly conceive of being in? I think we can answer that without even taking into account the fact that people who have been diagnosed as PVS say they didn't want to die, or the fact that, sort of by definition, PVS patients can't actually want anything.

If you mean, "Don't feed me if I'm diagnosed as PVS," say so.

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Being dead don't hurt, no, only dying

Athanasius rescucitates a word:
thanatophilia, n. An undue fascination with death. "'Just let her die!' shouted the thanatophiliac husband."
The contrasting "thanatophobia" is the name for a recognized medical condition, the "abnormal and excessive fear of death." ("Thanatophilia" is not so recognized.)

My guess is that most people shouting, "Just let her die!," have a normal, excessive fear, not of death, but of dying. Or not just of dying, but of helplessness. (Because, apparently, if we're healthy we aren't helpless. (Pelagius, call your office.))

If you're afraid of dying, being dead is a safe place to be.

Meanwhile, Kathy of Gathering Goat Eggs is moved to make this anti-thanatophiliac pledge:
I henceforth resolve, however, that when such a [death penalty] case does occur in future, that I will remember how sad and depressed and angry I felt today. And I will remember that there are people who feel, and rightly feel, just as sad and depressed and angry that the state has ordered a life extinguished, even if I cannot feel that way myself about the case at hand. And I resolve to pray for the eternal rest of every executed prisoner, just as today I pray for Terri Schiavo, and her family.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Joseph most just

The Litany of St. Joseph addresses him as "most just... most chaste... most prudent... most strong... most obedient... most faithful."

Setting aside the "most"s for the moment, I think Christians would all but unanimously accept a description of Joseph as just, obedient, and faithful. That he was chaste toward Mary is undeniable as well, although many Protestants would limit this to the time before Jesus' birth, and the Orthodox hold that he had children from an earlier marriage.

If we realize that chastity is a part of temperance and understand "strength" in the sense of fortitude, we can see that the litany is in effect praising St. Joseph for possessing the four moral virtues of justice, temperance, prudence, and fortitude. To the extent obedience is a form of love, we can add two of the three cardinal virtues as well. (He is certainly an exemplar of hope, but that is not directly mentioned in this part of the litany.)

It seems, though, that St. Joseph's prudence might be debated. He comes off well enough in Matthew, I'd say, but Luke has him spending a winter night in a cave with about as pregnant a wife as can be found, and later on he loses his Son on the way home from Jerusalem. This may all be ordained that God may be glorified, but neither event shines a spotlight on St. Joseph's capacity for right reasoning of a thing to be done.

Even if you'd be willing to grant that he is more prudent than the average man, the litany comes right out and calls him "most prudent." Is this just poetic license, a mere symptom of the Catholic inability to leave superlatives out of our piety?

Let me turn my Catholic piety up to 11 and answer this way: Properly speaking, Jesus is the most virtuous man. In fact, all superlatives of goodness might be best reserved to God alone.

We give these names to the father because they are proper names of the Son, Who receives all He has from the Father. You might say that Joseph inherits the title "Most Just" from his Son. He is most strong not in and of himself, but because he is, in reality, an icon of the Eternal Father Who is Fortitude*.

I'm suggesting, then, that the line of reasoning is faulty that says, "Only the best could be a father to Jesus, so St. Joseph was the best." A king's portrait may be jewel-encrusted because anything less wouldn't measure up to the royal standard, but God is not that kind of king. His portrait is jewel-encrusted because it has come into contact with Him. We say that St. Joseph is the most because God is the most and St. Joseph signifies God.



* As the Catechism defines it, "Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good." God, of course, doesn't face difficulties; what we understand as fortitude is a reflection of the firmness and constancy of His providence, cast upon a weak nature subject to effective resistance and opposition.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"You say so."

A post at Flos Carmeli considers whether Jesus' elliptical answer to Judas's question, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?," invites us to ask the same question of Jesus, and to expect the same answer.

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus uses the reply, "You say so," three times (gosh that number comes up a lot) leading up to His death:
Mt 26:25: Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" He answered, "You have said so."

Mt. 26:63-64: Then the high priest said to him, "I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God." Jesus said to him in reply, "You have said so."

Mt. 27:11: Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so."
According to the NAB notes, this expression "is a half-affirmative. Emphasis is laid on the pronoun and the answer implies that the statement would not have been made if the question had not been asked."

I think one function Jesus's half-yeas perform here is to acknowledge the freedom of action of Judas, Caiaphas, and Pilate in condemning Him. Jesus is following the will of His Father; He is not forcing His enemies, or tricking them into, killing Him. At the moment each of them determines to oppose Him, He points out to them their own role in the matter, their own freedom to act. Jesus does not insist anyone recognize Him as the Son of God, but He does insist they recognize that they should recognize Him.
That You may be justified when You give sentence,
And be without reproach when You judge.
Jesus acts for our salvation, not for our condemnation. But acting for our salvation includes pointing out when resisting Him will lead to condemnation.

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A child of Singer

The Washington Post ran a letter to the editor today from a Wisconsin neurologist, who makes several claims.
PVS, or "cortical death," is the irreversible loss of the part of the brain controlling judgment and insight. Once cortical death occurs, personhood as we know it is gone.
On this view, there is no such thing as "a person in a persistent vegetative state," since personhood and PVS are incompatible.
• Withdrawing a feeding tube causes dehydration, not starvation. A feeding tube is artificial life support; there is no enjoyment of food. Drugs such as morphine can help keep the victim comfortable and peaceful during the dying process.
• Keeping a PVS victim "alive" usually costs more than $100,000 annually, often at taxpayers' expense.
Most neurologists encourage termination of life support when the diagnosis and prognosis are clear. Extending "life" causes an unnatural lack of healthy, spiritual closure for the family.
So let's tone down the rhetoric, Bishop Wenski; Terri Schiavo is not "starving to death." She will die long before that happens. And she does not enjoy food, which means all those right-to-life arguments based on how much she enjoys food are unsound. Furthermore, she can be put on artificial death support, if the assurances of well-fed doctors that death by starvation dehydration is peaceful doesn't entirely cut it.

And think of all the money we'll save once that "life" terminates!

The letter was written to "help clarify the issues." I think it is extraordinarily successful in doing just that. The writer makes clear that, within the American medical community, it is acceptable to regard PVS patients as non-persons who should die for the good of others.

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Felix typo

From a conversion story quoted at Video meliora:
The denomination in which I was raised, the Church of Christ, puts a particular emphasis on the objectivity of truth. It's a "just the facts, ma'am" approach to the gospel. Emotions are downplayed as irrelevant and distracting to the pursuit of truth-a religion of the heard rather than the heart.
Wonderful: "a religion of the heard."

That's why they call it faith.

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"We are the dead."
I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life, that both thou and thy seed may live.
A lot of people (including, at times, myself) think of Christianity as teaching that we get to choose between life and death:



But that's not quite right. This way of thinking assumes there's a third state, neither life nor death, labeled in the diagram "Start".



In fact, there is no such state. There is life, and there is death, and when we are born we are born into death. We don't have to choose death to get it; we get it by default. The choice we make is whether to choose life.

So we need to be careful if we're going to speak about a choice between a "culture of life" and a "culture of death." There is no symmetry here; it's not a matter of either making a culture of death or making a culture of life. We already have a culture of death; it comes with fallen human nature. The slippery slope is not a place between the mountaintop of life and the valley of death. If you're on the slippery slope, you're already dead, whether you notice or not, whether you mind or not.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

Look to it yourself

Three times in the Passion according to St. Matthew, we hear a three-part exchange in which the same response is given to a request made to someone in power:


The LesserThe GreaterThe RequestThe ResponseThe Result
JudasThe chief priests and elders"I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.""What is that to us? Look to it yourself."Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself.
The crowdPilate"Let him be crucified!""I am innocent of this man's blood. Look to it yourselves."Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified.
The chief priests and the PhariseesPilate"Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people, 'He has been raised from the dead.'""The guard is yours; go, secure it as best you can."So they went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard.
One might conclude that among the many lessons to be learned from the suffering and death of Jesus is this: that looking to it yourself is not a plan for success.

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He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him

I was very surprised by the Gospel reading I heard on St. Joseph's Day. What I heard was this:
... Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
And I thought, "Oh! If Mary was found with child through the Holy Spirit, then of course Joseph decided to divorce her quietly because, as Origen wrote, "he saw in her a great sacrament, to approach which he thought himself unworthy."

And as the Gospel proclamation went on, it became clearer and clearer:
Joseph her husband... was a righteous man....
And by his own righteousness he would know he was not righteous enough to be father to the Messiah.
"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home."
But why would he be afraid of taking Mary into his home if he merely suspected her infidelity? Unwilling or troubled, sure, but even Hosea was never afraid of marrying Gomer.

I should say that I was always skeptical of this "reverence theory," which seems to solve a problem that didn't exist by reading into a text something contrary to the plain meaning. The homily preached right after the Gospel assumed the more natural interpretation, that Joseph doubted Mary's chastity. The doubt of Joseph is traditionally taken for granted, to the point that he is portrayed as being off in a corner, hounded by the devil, in Orthodox Nativity icons. And as I reread the Gospel, I can see all the holes in what I've written above: Matthew adds "through the Holy Spirit" to "she was found with child" not to modify "found" but to make clear to his readers that she was not guilty of sin in this; it seems unlikely Joseph knew right away that Mary was with child through the Holy Spirit, since the angel tells him "it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her"; and so forth.

And yet... after hearing the Gospel on Saturday, I'm left doubting my doubt. Is the contemporary impulse to understand everyone in Jesus' life as extraordinarily ordinary necessarily truer than the impulse of past centuries to understand them as extraordinary?

Apart from the specific issue of St. Joseph, though, I was struck again by the distinction between hearing the Gospel on a particular day and hearing the Gospel of a particular day. It's not the words themselves, but the experience of hearing them that counts. Who can step into the same Scripture twice?

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Friday, March 18, 2005

But... but...

The headline on this Zenit article is "Pope Outlines Anti-Poverty Strategy for Panama In Message Addressed to Country's New Ambassador."

I'd heard all the Pope was good for nowadays was to be a silent icon of suffering.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

You gave them Bread from heaven

Why is prayer before the Blessed Sacrament so powerful?

It can't just be proximity to the Real Presence, could it? That would suggest praying up near the tabernacle is better than praying in the back of the church, which doesn't make much sense. Unless there's a certain distance from the tabernacle -- say, Rpeak -- such that, if you get closer, your prayer is less powerful due to pride.

And do the walls of the church serve as some sort of grace-field shielding, so that praying on the outside wall next to the tabernacle doesn't do you any good? If so, what happens when the church doors are open?



If mere physical proximity doesn't explain it, what does?

It's certainly true that praying before the Blessed Sacrament can make a big psychological difference. You slip into your religious mode when you slip into a church, and it's quiet and still -- or at least quieter and stiller than most places we spend time. The architecture and the artwork are conducive to prayer, and of course there's the knowledge that He is Present, in some way He is not when you are praying at home.

But the effectiveness of Eucharistic adoration is not merely psychological. Perhaps the psychological effects help you to pray better, which in turn makes your prayer more effective.

I don't think that's all that's going on, though. I think you could say, informally, that Eucharistic adoration is itself a sacrament: it is a sign of spending time with Jesus that actually effects what it signifies.

Think of the words of O Sacrum Convivium:
O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of His Passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us.
In Eucharistic adoration, Christ doesn't become our food, of course. But we do (or can choose to) celebrate the memory of His Passion as we contemplate Jesus Hostia. Our souls are filled with grace. A pledge of future glory is given to us -- what, after all, is our future glory but eternal life in the presence of Christ? (Actually, the whole Trinity, but perhaps the Trinitarian nature of the Eucharist will become clearer the more time we spend in prayer before It.)

So it isn't the fact that we're physically close to the Eucharist that makes prayer before the Eucharist so powerful. It is, let me suggest, the fact that, by being in the presence of the Eucharist, we physically signify closeness to Christ. It is a particular use of the material part of our being that reflects the nature of the Sacrament, and creates another means for the infinite graces of the Sacrament to be bestowed upon us.

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Butt prayer

After five months in the novitiate of a certain religious order, he told his novice master, "I am finished. I am done. I've been praying four hours a day, like I was told, ever since I got here. I've said everything. I've gone over with God my whole past, everything in my present, and every possible future. How can I possibly get through another nine months of four hours of daily prayer?"

The novice master said, "Brother, now is when you do butt prayer. Go sit your butt down in the chapel, in front of the tabernacle. You listen to God, and you start to pray."

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"Now you are praying real prayers"

An interview with the former prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq. She is not irrationally exuberant.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Not absolutely entirely desemejante of tea

Hernan Gonzalez's written English is flawless, but it lacks -- heck, everyone's written English lacks -- the unnaturally foreign charm Babelfish gives his Spanish. When I read, for example, that "von Balthasar wakes up some repairs in many catholic theologians," I can't help but wish that I could turn so fine a phrase myself.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The victory of the saints

T.S. O'Rama looks at the Church's glory days:
I was reading some of Warren Carroll's The Glory of Christendom over the weekend and he describes how quickly things began to slide from the "glory days". A society that produced the Cathedral of Chartres and saints like St. Francis, St. Thomas & St. Dominic suggests a healthy 13th century Church.
I'm no historian, but from the bits and pieces I've read it might be fairer to say that the 13th Century was so awful for the Church that she needed St. Francis, St. Thomas & St. Dominic (to name but a few) just to drag her weary self into the 14th Century. In which she met the Black Plague and the Great Western Schism.

The victory of the saints is Christ's victory, a victory over death, not time. "Fix My Church," Jesus told St. Francis, and so St. Francis acted. But we shouldn't act as though the Church was fixed when St. Francis died, less than a year before Frederick II was excommunicated for the first time.

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Time out of mind

Camassia has been blogging about the book Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church, by James Ault:
One common feature of oral cultures, says Ault, is that there's a drift in the word-of-mouth information that careful chronicling can show, but that is imperceptible to the participants. This arises from oral cultures' rather different view of time:
Though change in tradition takes place, at times, in much-heralded reforms or restorations, it more often occurs gradually, in unnoticed ways, as newly minted practices quietly assume their place next to genuinely ancient ones. In time they all come together in an indistinguishable whole that a community values as "what we have always done time out of mind" -- in that inimitable traditionalist expression.
The Catholic Church, of course, has a much different view of tradition than an independent Baptist church, but that doesn't mean Catholicism as it is lived has nothing of the oral culture's "rather different view of time."

What happened in the decade after the Second Vatican Council is that the experiences of Catholicism changed perceptibly, suddenly, in noticeable ways, with newly minted practices loudly replacing genuinely ancient ones. But it was the pace of change, not the fact of change, that was unprecedented. Many defining features of the Golden Age of American Catholicism -- and you can define the Golden Age to be any time period you like -- would have been unknown to Catholics a hundred years earlier, and perhaps even to Catholics living elsewhere in the world during the Golden Age.

I think in particular of the attitude of Catholics toward the Eucharist. It hasn't even been a hundred years since Pope St. Pius X advised all Catholics to receive Communion as often as possible; prior to that, the Eucharist was regarded by the laity more as a Subject of worship than an act to participate in. The spirit of unworthiness that kept so many laity from frequent communion before St. Pius's invitation endured over the following decades, in the form of the tradition of going to confession on Saturday afternoon. That tradition, though, developed from the tradition of going to confession prior to one's monthly, or annual, Communion. (The general spirit of unworthiness itself developed from attempts by the Church to prevent over-familiarity with the Eucharist; Communion on the tongue, contrary to what some seem to have believed, was not practiced in the house churches of the First Century.)

Complaining about the empty confessionals (on both sides of the screen) is common enough, but I have a hunch that the combination of a heightened sense of unworthiness and a heightened sense of frequent reception as the norm is not sustainable. Or at least, I don't think it ever has been sustained for long in the past, and, being human, Catholics aren't ever likely to be good at sustaining it for long.

Similarly, I think the push for perpetual adoration is in some ways an attempt to return to the traditions of Exposition and Benediction, which developed at a time when Reception was rare. (The old Catholic Encyclopedia states, "Exposition and consequently adoration became comparatively general only in the fifteenth century. It is curious to note that these adorations were usually for some special reason, e.g. for the cure of a sick person, or, on the eve of an execution, in the hope that the condemned would die a happy death.") Achieving devotion to the Eucharist both within the Mass and in extra-liturgical services and practices is something I'm not sure the Church has ever managed on a large scale.

I'm not suggesting that frequent confession is an idea whose time has passed, nor that Exposition necessarily detracts from the Mass. I am suggesting that memories of a time when most Catholics fully participated in the life of the Church both within and outside Mass are memories of a situation that, human nature being what it is, was no more sustainable or reflective of the whole history of the Church than the situation in the ten years following Vatican II.

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Monday, March 14, 2005

Prison is no place for you

I read yesterday that, in the Roman Empire of the First Century, convicted criminals were as a rule not sentenced to prison. They might be fined or beaten or exiled or executed, but they weren't locked up for a fixed period of time by way of punishment. If someone was in prison, it would have been while he was awaiting trial or awaiting execution.

If indeed this is what people thought of when they thought of imprisonment -- the experience of awaiting trial or awaiting execution -- that puts a somewhat different spin on the fulfillment in Jesus of Isaiah's prophecy:
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me ... to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners....
Releasing a prisoner wouldn't be a matter of deciding he has been punished enough, but of deciding he is not to be punished at all. It would not be a matter of subverting judgment -- of tricking the judge or breaking out of prison -- but of receiving a merciful judgment.

It also, perhaps, sheds new light on St. Paul's claim that, as the NIV has it, "the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin." The whole world is imprisoned, awaiting execution (since "all have sinned" and "the wages of sin is death"). There is no rebellious freedom here; the non serviam of man is the hollow gesture of one chained to a wall in a dungeon, awaiting his doom, unable at this point even to change his mind and beg for mercy.

To this world, Christ says, "You are forgiven. You are free." And those who listen to His voice emerge from prison into the light of His life.

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Eucharistic Lecture in Silver Spring, MD

Two weeks ago, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP, spoke at a bioethics conference on The Global State of Stem Cells & Cloning in Science, Ethics & Law, held in Rome. (William Saletan reports on the conference in Slate.)

Tomorrow night, March 15, Fr. Austriaco will speak on the Eucharist at St. Andrew Apostle Church in Silver Spring, MD. Evening Prayer begins at 7:30 p.m.

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The Just Judge

In the resurrection of Lazarus, we find a powerful sign that the tomb is no place for those whom Jesus loves:
He cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"
There may be some truth to the fancy that this is the manner in which Christ will judge the living and the dead when He returns. Those who hear His voice will come out of their tombs; those who do not will remain.

"Come out!" is, after all, the Gospel, the Good News of Christ, as it will be spoken on the Last Day. We're just used to hearing it expressed as something that will happen in the future:
"I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."
In the next chapter of John, just days before His passion, Jesus foretells His role in the Final Judgment:
"If anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day, because I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life."
The word that Jesus spoke was not His word, but the Father's, and the Father's word is, "Eternal life."

There are several common, contradictory visions of the Last Judgment. One is of a wrathful God casting the reprobate into the outer darkness. Another is of a sorrowful Jesus watching passively as the reprobate damn themselves. A third is of Jesus welcoming everyone who found their way to salvation simply by not doing anything too bad.

None of these visions is accurate, though. Through Adam's sin, mankind is already damned. God doesn't need to cast us out, we don't need to walk away from Him, and we certainly don't want to stay right where we are when we are created. There is no movement away from God's presence, whether on God's initiative or our own. All the movement is toward God, and it is all caused by God through Christ's sacrifice. Of the four possible sentences Jesus as Judge could pass -- active damnation, passive damnation, passive salvation, and active salvation -- only the last is fitting for Him.

Thus He says, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to Myself." Those who reach Him in this life -- those who know His voice and follow -- will know Who says, "Come out!" They will believe Him, as they believed Him in life; they will come out, and they will be with Him in eternal life.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

All you need to know...

...about the National Catholic Reporter can be found by noting which social issue its Washington correspondend Joe Feuerherd gives scare quotes and which he does not:
[Senator Rick] Santorum, who shepherded the ban on "partial birth abortion" through Congress and coauthored the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage....

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Hope this helps

If the Council of Trent is correct in teaching that, "except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God has chosen unto Himself" (Sixth Session, ch. 12), then it cannot be known that God has chosen everyone unto Himself, except by special revelation.

Since Scripture is not special revelation, it would be contrary to the Faith to say that Scripture teaches that all men are saved. We can similarly be sure that we can't reason our way to knowledge that all men are saved.

So we can neither know nor have faith that all men are saved, and to the extent someone's position on the nature of the hope that all men are saved asserts or implies such knowledge or faith, the position is itself contrary to the Catholic Faith.

Hope is related to knowledge (and therefore to faith, which is a participation in someone else's knowledge) in this way: We can only hope for something that we know is a future possible good. I'll grant the futureness and goodness of salvation for now, and look at its possibility.

How do I know that my salvation is possible? Because, as a Christian, I have faith in the promises of Christ that those who have a living faith in Him will be saved (and further, that it is possible to have a living faith in Him). Since this hope is based on the promise of God Himself, it is a "sure and certain hope" that, if I love Jesus and keep His commandments, I will be saved.

And how do I know that the salvation of all men is possible? At a minimum, because I know that the salvation of each man is possible in principle (the same principle by which my own salvation is possible (in fact, the only principle by which salvation is possible)), and I don't know that the salvation of any one man is impossible in actuality.

Beyond that, though, do we know of a possibility of the salvation of all men that is not simply the union of the possibilities of the salvation of each man? A possibility, in other words, that the final end for which God is acting is not the salvation of all men who have faith in His Son, but more straightforwardly the salvation of all men (with faith in His Son as the means that, in His providence, will be made sufficiently available to each man)?

At this point, it appears to me that if we do know that it is possible God's final end is simply the salvation of all men, then we know it through reason rather than faith; that is, we can show that it is not impossible, but we can't point to the possibility directly in Revelation.

And that, I hope, wraps up the "universal salvation" posts for this revolution of the great Karmic Wheel O' Catholic Topics.

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Not a collective hope

As Kevin Miller points out, the Catechism uses this formulation:
In hope, the Church prays for "all men to be saved."
What is the nature of this hope?

Suppose you invited six people over for a dinner party. You would naturally "hope that all come," but that could mean two different things. You might hope that each of them comes, or you might hope that the group as a whole comes. If Alice doesn't come, then, you might be disappointed because Alice isn't there, or because all of those you invited aren't there (or both, of course).

One way of putting it is that "a hope about a set of individuals" can mean "a set of hopes about individuals" or "an individual hope about a set."

Is the hope that the Catechism speaks of the first kind, or the second, or both?

I think it clearly includes the first kind. Just before the above quoted words, the Catechism says:
In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere "to the end" and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ.
That's hope about an individual.

What about the other kind of hope, the individual hope that the set of all humans will be saved?

Every hope is founded upon a possible good. What makes the good of the salvation of the set of all humans possible seems to be God's will that all humans be saved –- to put it negatively, that God's will would be frustrated, His omnipotence denied, if any single person were not saved.

But is this true?

All are agreed, I hope, that the Catholic Faith teaches that "[e]ternal damnation remains a real possibility".

But since the Church also teaches that God's [consequent] will cannot be frustrated, she cannot teach that personal damnation frustrates God's will. Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:4, for example, to imply that everyone must be saved or else God's will would be frustrated cannot be what the Church teaches, and therefore cannot be part of the basis for the hope the Catechism mentions.

Is there some other basis for a collective hope for universal salvation? Perhaps, but I wonder whether the very nature of such a collective hope is contrary to the Catholic faith, insofar as it adds to the one means given us for salvation –- faith in Christ –- another means: membership in the human species.

To sum up, it seems to me "the Church prays for 'all men to be saved'" in the hope that each man is saved by virtue of faith in Christ, not that all men are saved by virtue of being men.

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Universal hope

Consider the proposition that you will go to heaven. What can you say about whether that proposition is true?

Well, what can you say about whether any proposition is true? You can say you have knowledge about it, or faith about it, or hope about it. (You can also say you have an opinion or an expectation about it, but that's not relevant here.)

If you have knowledge, then either you know the proposition is true, or you know it is false.

If you don’t know whether it's true, then you might have faith on the point – that is, you might believe someone who knows whether it's true.

If you don't happen to have knowledge about whether it's true, and you don't happen to have faith, then you still might have some sort of hope.

Now, hope breaks into three distinct parts: presumption, which is unwarranted certainty that something is true; despair, which is unwarranted certainty that something is false; and hope proper. So you might presume the proposition is true, despair of it being true, hope it is true, or hope it is false. (Presuming it is false and despairing of it being false amount to despairing of it being true and presuming it is true, respectively, although different emotions are usually involved.)

So, applying this breakdown to the question of whether you will go to heaven:
  • You know it is true: This can only be by special revelation. Congratulations!
  • You know it is false: This can only be by special revelation. My condolences.
  • You have faith that it is true: You've been canonized! Congratulations!
  • You have faith that it is false: You, alone of all the children of Adam, have been singled out as the one person whose damnation is de fide. That can't make you feel good.
  • You presume it is true: Careful! St. Paul has some choice words for cocky folks like you.
  • You despair of it being true: Buck up! God really does love you.
  • You hope it is true: Exactly as the Church teaches.
  • You hope it is false: You don't really get this whole "heaven" concept, do you?
In short, absent the exceptional cases where knowledge or faith is given, the proper response is to hope that you will go to heaven.

And if you run through the exercise with the proposition, "Your mother will go to heaven," you wind up with the same conclusion: the proper response is to hope that she will go to heaven.

In fact, for every person (except the saints whose eternal destiny is known by faith), the proper response is to hope that he or she will go to heaven.

So far so good. No less a non-universalist than St. Augustine himself said we shouldn't despair of anyone’s salvation as long as they live.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Foster father of the Son of God

Joseph's title "foster father of the Son of God" probably doesn't need much theological explanation. I mean, once "Son of God" has been explained, and the Incarnation has been contemplated, Joseph's role as Jesus' foster father is relatively straightforward.

I think, though, there's a tendency to understand the title "foster father" to mean "not really the father," which does a disservice not only to St. Joseph but to the Incarnation. (And there should be nothing in devotion to St. Joseph that cannot be referred to the Incarnation.)

That St. Joseph was the father Jesus we have on no less an authority than Mary:
When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety."
Note also that Luke refers to Mary and Joseph as Jesus' "parents."

It's true that, in this story, Mary's reference to Joseph as Jesus' father is used as an opening for Jesus to refer to His Father by nature ("Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"). But He does not deny that Joseph is His father by human law, and indeed He proves Joseph's fatherhood in this sense by His obedience to him.

Obviously, the content of Jesus' preaching (as early as this passage) makes discussing Joseph's fatherhood potentially confusing. (Though Joseph has a larger role in Matthew than in Luke, or possibly because of it, Matthew always uses "the Child and His mother" in relation to Joseph.) The Church could hardly say anything doctrinally about Joseph before settling the question of Mary's relationship to Jesus, which didn't happen until the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Given the Christology of Chalcedon, though, I think it becomes necessary (once the question is posed, which didn't happen for centuries after Chalcedon) to confess that, humanly speaking, St. Joseph was true father to Jesus, and Jesus was true son to St. Joseph. To deny this, to stick some "but not really" caveat between father and Son out of some impulse to protect the Son's divinity, is to deny something of the Incarnation. Jesus was like us in all things except sin; there's no need to add "and in how He related to the man who raised Him as a son" to that list of exceptions.

Moreover, God's plan was clearly that Jesus should live as one of us; He wasn't just going through the motions of growing up, with a pretence of obedience toward Joseph so that the neighbors wouldn't talk. Jesus was an infant, a child, a youth, a man. As such, He had a genuine human relationship with the man who was his genuine human father. We cannot split that relationship without, in some way, splitting Jesus from His humanity.

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Unsettling arguments

In a comment thread yesterday, I revealed a secret: Not everyone is saved.

As secrets go, it's not one that has been well-kept, but there seems to be a growing number of Catholics who do not believe it is true.

It's a debate that can only be settled by a dogmatic pronouncement by the Church, binding under pain of heresy. A pronouncement that won't be coming any time soon, because the Church doesn't make dogmatic pronouncements to settle debate, but to safeguard the Faith, and the Faith is not directly challenged by "contingent universalism," the belief that, though the potential for damnation exists, no one is actually damned. (If belief in contingent universalism were to lead to widespread indifferentism, a pope or council might condemn it, but that's not happening now.)

Without making an attempt to prove that not everyone is saved, then, let me just point out a couple of bad arguments I've seen at least implied by those who, practically speaking, accept contingent universalism.

First is an argument from silence. It is suggested the fact the Church has not dogmatically pronounced that not everyone is saved is suggestive. I don’t see that the fact has much significance, however. As I wrote above, the Church doesn't go about making dogmatic pronouncements just for the sake of settling arguments. We wouldn't expect a pronouncement one way or another unless and until an argument on the point grew to threaten the peace of the Church and witness of the Faith. (And in fact, when the doctrine of apocatastatis did become a threat, it was condemned at the Council of Constantinople.)

Second is what I'll call an argument from "let's just make stuff up." The Faith tells us that salvation demands a positive act on the part of the one saved. Observation tells us that some people do not make such a positive act prior to their death. If these people are saved, therefore, it must be that they make this positive act somehow in the instant of death, in a manner not observable to others.

But where does the idea of making a positive act of faith in the instant of death in a manner not observable to others come from? As far as I can tell, someone just made it up. The idea that, at the moment of death, time stops and God appears to the wretch and says, "You have this one last chance to choose Life," is a fabrication to patch the obvious hole in contingent universalism.

That’s not to say it's impossible that this happens, merely that there's no reason to think it does unless, for some reason, you think it has to. It's a bit of speculation that goes far beyond anything in Revelation, made necessary to support a doctrine that itself is not in Revelation.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Chaste guardian of the Virgin

St. Joseph wasn't his wife Mary's "guardian" in the sense that she was his ward, or a child who needed looking after. He was, rather, the guardian of the Virgin; he guarded the secret of the Virgin Mother of God, which is to say the secret of the Incarnation.

In a narrow sense, he did this simply be being Mary's husband. A married woman gives birth to a son; nothing to wonder about there, happens every day. He guarded her from scandal or gossip in the years of Jesus' childhood.

More broadly, he guarded the mystery that Jesus would reveal when He began His public ministry. God always works through creation to bring about our salvation, preeminently in the Incarnation of His Son, and since Jesus was to work privately until He was about 30, there was a need to keep His presence among us private. (Yes, there were also occasions along the way when it was revealed, but on the whole people weren't expecting much of Jesus bar-Joseph before He went to see the Baptist at the Jordan River.)

Then, too, God worked through Joseph to guard Mary's physical safety. Legions of angels were available, but in the event it took just one to tell Joseph in a dream what to do, and he did it.

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Pray!

A selection (emphasis added) from the Passion of Perpetua and Felicity, as Perpetua "left it described by her own hand and with her own mind":
After a few days, whilst we were all praying, on a sudden, in the middle of our prayer, there came to me a word, and I named Dinocrates.... And for him I began earnestly to make supplication, and to cry with groaning to the Lord. Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid color, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age, who died miserably with disease, his face being so eaten out with cancer, that his death caused repugnance to all men.... And I was aroused, and knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then was the birthday of Geta Caesar, and I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me.

Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me. I saw that that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. And where there had been a wound, I saw a scar.... Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment.

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In the land of the blind

Suppose someone came up to you and offered to spit on the ground to make clay with which to rub on your eyes, then send you to wash the clay off so that you would be able to see. If you aren't blind, what would you tell him?

There are a lot of parallels between the story of the woman at the well and the story of the man born blind. An outcast encounters Jesus, comes to believe in Him first as a prophet, and then as the Messiah, and testifies to others on His behalf. (Of course, the reception of that testimony is one of the major differences.)

To choose just one similarity, notice that Jesus approaches both the Samaritan woman and the blind Jew through their natural desires. She desires water to drink, he desires sight. They know what they lack on a purely natural level, and on a purely natural level they will accept it from Jesus if He can provide it.

But these two, of no great learning or distinction, recognize the implications of Jesus' actions. Water that doesn't leave you thirsty, sight where there has never been sight, these things are unheard of and can come only from God.

The Pharisees of John 9, meanwhile, cannot be reached through either natural or spiritual desire. "Surely we are not also blind, are we?" As Jesus' answer shows, they compound their spiritual blindness with the sinful denial that they are blind.

But how would the Pharisees know they were blind? How do we know what we lack, so that we know to desire it, so that we know to ask Jesus for it?
Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.
We must ask God to let us see through His eyes -- even and perhaps especially if we believe we already do.

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Spouse of the Mother of God

The Church speaks of the Holy Family as the model of all families.

This would seem to let husbands off the easiest. After all, the wife is measured against Immaculate Mary, and the children against Jesus Christ Himself. The ideal husband and father, meanwhile, was, dare I say, an ordinary Joe who went about his business and did what he was told to do.

But the Spouse of the Mother of God is not a passive role. Mary was not a porcelain statue God asked Joseph to keep on his shelf for a few years. They were true husband and wife, and together they fulfilled their roles in bringing the Son of God to the world.

Some people have argued that if their marriage was never consummated, then Joseph wasn't really Mary’s husband. But this is reasoning backward; we ought to try to understand other marriages in the light of Joseph and Mary, rather than the other way around.

The lesson is not that theirs was less than a marriage for being physically unconsummated, nor that other marriages are lesser for being consummated. It is rather, I think, that the unique role of Joseph and Mary, who through their marriage raised Christ in the flesh for the sake of the world, should be reflected in every Christian marriage raising Christ in the spirit for the sake of the world.

Nor should we forget that the first to benefit from their work as husband and wife were Joseph and Mary themselves. All praise and honor, all praise and honor due them is due because of their Son. In a similar way, the primary beneficiaries of each Christian marriage are the husband and wife, sanctified by Christ’s Spirit as they act to make their marriage bear the fruit of the Spirit.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

TOP This!

The Third Order Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph are having a congress:

Duc in Altum!
The Third Order for the Third Millennium

If you're a Third Order Dominican of the Province of St. Joseph, you'd better be there.

If you're a Third Order Dominican from somewhere else, or a Dominican from another part of the Dominican Family, or you just like the summer weather in Washington, you can come too.

We've got ordinations, we've got cardinals, we've got plays, we've got Masses, we've got musical concerts, we've got barbecues, we've got Vespers, we've got workshops, we've got banquets, we've got Sherry Weddells, we've got contemplating, we've got sharing with others the fruits of contemplation, we've got praising, we've got blessing, we've got preaching, we've got eating.

Semper Veritas, baby!

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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Maryland, My Maryland

March 3, 2005

My dear friends in Christ,

At times, we are called to live out our faith in a very particular way, to speak out when the dignity of human life is being directly challenged. Now is one of those times, as the Maryland legislature considers two serious pieces of legislation. One would respect human life by banning human cloning. However, a second bill would violate fundamental moral principles by allocating $25 million for unethical human cloning and embryonic stem cell experimentation. I am asking your help in speaking out to our state legislators.

I am not against scientific research. On the contrary, proper research can do so much good and bring healing to so many. What is troubling is when research is done at the expense of individuals, when it harms someone or misleads people; for example, dangling the hope of a possible cure when this elusive hope is based upon destroying the lives of others. No research should ever be done at the expense of another person's life.

Yet, that is what embryonic stem cell experimentation does. It destroys tiny humans, still in the earliest stages of creation. That is against everything we believe. These embryos come from two sources: human cloning, which involves creating humans asexually by fusing an unfertilized egg whose nucleus has been removed with another person's DNA, or by harvesting "extra" fertilized human eggs that were created in a lab, as occurs with in-vitro fertilization.

Both embryonic stem cell and human cloning experimentation tear at the fabric of God's plan by separating the creation of new life from the natural process and by treating young human embryos not as unique creations of God deserving of nurturing and respect, but simply as raw materials to be destroyed in the name of science. This is a dangerous and risky path.

The effort to promote this is particularly disturbing considering there are ethical alternatives that do not involve the destruction of human life. These include umbilical cord or adult stem cell research, which we don't hear much about in the news, but which has provided tremendous therapeutic results for four decades, successfully treating patients with Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries, leukemia and other conditions.

I ask you to join me in urging our lawmakers to oppose this attack on the dignity of human life. Ask them to oppose Maryland Senate Bill 751 and House Bill 1183, the "Maryland Stem Cell Research Act of 2005." These bills, authored by legislators from the Baltimore area, would provide $25 million in state funds for the unethical embryonic stem cell research and "therapeutic" human cloning, which would involve cloning human beings for the sole purpose of experimentation.

And, please urge your Senator and Delegate to support a ban on human cloning. Senate Bill 272 and House Bill 885, the "Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2005," would prohibit the production of a cloned embryo. This legislation also is sponsored by Baltimore-area legislators.

To learn more about this important issue and to get contact information for your state legislators, please visit www.mdcathcon.org, the website of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Thank you for your assistance on this critical matter of human life and please join me in praying that our lawmakers always seek to promote the dignity of human life in all that they do.

Faithfully in Christ,
Theodore Cardinal McCarrick
Archbishop of Washington

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Christology isn't doctrine, it's recollection

A wise post at Integrity makes the point that Christianity is not a matter of belief, but of encounter:
Too easily, our modern culture looks at Christianity as an ideology... But that is not what Christianity is. As Msgr. Albacete says, in this wonderful piece over at Godspy about faith and politics:

"The encounter with Christ -— it all began when a bunch of people encountered this man. No one sat down to design a Christology. It doesn't emerge from any particular system of thought. It was a fact, an encounter. That's how it begins. You meet this man -— something happens. If we cannot grasp that, then what follows is just concepts."
When we talk about Christ, we should talk about Him as though He were with us in the room. Not just because He is with us in the room, but because if we don't we aren't really talking about Christ, we're talking about our own ideas of Christ. And frankly, who cares about that?

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Love isn't rocket science

In a comment below, Chris Sullivan replies to me:
Even keeping the commandments you quote is not always clear cut.
Let me say, in a spirit of fraternal cheer, that this is bosh.

Not utter bosh; hard cases do exist. But the idea that I can't tell, in general, whether I love my neighbor is absurd. I should know. I am I.

And since I don't think I'm exceptionally perceptive, I assert that most people, most of the time, can know whether they love their neighbors if they go to the time and trouble to ask themselves.

To support his statement, Chris offers this:
For example, knowing that in the world people are hungry, how much money ought I take from my family to feed them? If I took none, then I'd be violating the commandment. But if I took all, as my son has donated all his pocket money to Caritas for Lent, then I'd be neglecting my family. I don't find where to draw the line in the middle to be particularly easy!

And should I give more to feed the hungry or more to our local prolife group or more to education in the faith or to build a new Cathedral or to the parish collection? Again, not easy.
I answer that, pfui. All of this is a matter of prudent use of the means to help others; all of this presupposes a love of others.

The question is not, "Do I love others perfectly?" (the answer to that is, "No."), but, "Do I love others at all?" And St. James explains how to answer it: "I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works."

If you can't demonstrate your love of others to yourself from your works, you don't love others. And if you don't love others, it's not because Christ does not provide you the means to the grace with which to love them.

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Light of Patriarchs

In the narrowest sense, the Patriarchs are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. St. Stephen broadens the term a bit, calling Jacob's sons "the twelve patriarchs," and St. Peter calls David a patriarch as well. (Then there are the antediluvian patriarchs going back to Adam.)

St. Joseph's title "Light of Patriarchs" has several connotations. He is, in one sense, the last of the Patriarchs; after him comes the Son, and we are no longer concerned with being children of Abraham apart from being brothers and sisters of Christ. (In fact, not long after St. Joseph's death, St. John the Baptist quite spoils the cachet of being children of Abraham by pointing out that rocks could be made his children if God so willed it.)

Spiritual writers have made much of St. Joseph as the type of his great-great-...-great-uncle Joseph, son of Jacob. The versicle and response of St. Joseph's litany comes from Psalm 104, which refers to Pharaoh and Joseph:
He made him master of his house, and ruler of all his possession.
St. Joseph was, of course, made master of the house of the Holy Family, and ruler not only of Mary Immaculate, but of the Son of God Himself.

Parallels exist as well between St. Joseph and Abraham, our father in faith. Both are renowned for their faith, both accepted a son from God under exceptional conditions, both did everything the Lord told them to do promptly and without demurral.

It is the role of a patriarch to watch over and guard his family, with an eye to its future prosperity. St. Joseph fulfills this role for the family of Abraham -- for that matter, for the family of Adam. He is the light of the Patriarchs in that he completes their mission; he sees what they foresee, he knows directly what they accept in hope: God's salvation, and the glory of His people Israel.

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Living less wrong

I attended an excellent talk last night by Fr. Gabriel Pivarnik, OP, on the participation of the laity in the Eucharist.

He recalled the fact that Sacrosanctum Concilium famously (in some circles, notoriously) stated, "Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy." To "full, conscious, and active," Pope John Paul II has added "fruitful" as a condition for a "successful" liturgy. Put another way, he is reuniting the opere operato and the opere operantis, the "work of the work" with the "work of the worker."

Put yet another way, the measure by which the Liturgy should be measured is not "doing the rites right," but "living less wrong." It's all well and good that the sacrifice of bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, however miserable the priest, the congregation, and the liturgy. But the purpose for which Jesus gave us the Eucharist is nothing less than our sanctification in Christ. If we fail to be sanctified -- if we fail to go forth and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and preach the Gospel to every creature -- nothing is taken away from Christ. He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself, but we prove our faithlessness.

To my mind, this idea goes a long way toward resolving one of the great puzzles of the Catholic experience: how the grace we receive before the altar can so thoroughly and promptly evaporate. I'd been thinking that something must happen in the walk from the church through the parking lot to my car, that somehow I left my vices in the narthex on my way in and picked them back up on my way out.

According to Fr. Pivarnik, though, this is not the case. The problem is not with what happens after I join in the Eucharistic liturgy, or before; it's what happens while I join in. I don't do it right. And he is surely correct in this. I come to Mass with certain expectations; I participate in Mass according to my own rules and understanding, which do not, considered honestly, include the sort of radical transformation Christian discipleship demands. Be more patient, be a better husband and father? Yes, these things I ask for from the Eucharist. Become another Christ? No!

But becoming another Christ -- if you prefer, becoming joined to Christ in His prayer to the Father -- is precisely what the Divine Liturgy is! That's what our actions, our gestures, our words signify. If that's not what our interior posture is as well, then we absolutely are doing it wrong.

Not utterly wrong, perhaps. We might still receive grace. I may be a better husband and father for receiving Communiuon. But how can I receive the fullness of grace if I not only don't ask for it, but in a way don't even really want it?

What is this fullness of grace that I don't even really want from the Eucharist? It is participation in the divine life of the Trinity. And who wouldn't really want that?

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Renowned offspring of David

March is traditionally the month of St. Joseph -- although, as traditions go, it's relatively young, March 19 not becoming the Feast of St. Joseph on the Roman Calendar until late in the Fifteenth Century.

The first title given St. Joseph in his litany (promulgated in 1909) is "Renowned offspring of David." And indeed, this is how the angel addressed him in Scripture: "Joseph, son of David."

If you read the genealogy from David to Joseph according to Matthew, there are plenty of men listed who bring little honor to their descendants, and plenty more of whom nothing is known outside the genealogy. Yet it was through them -- the great, the wicked, the unknown -- that God's extravagant and freely given promise to David was kept.

And it is in us that this promise is kept still; we are the house and kingdom that will endure forever before God.

This is the way of God's providence. An unlikely chain of fathers and sons produces a man worthy to be (as was thought) the father of Jesus, proving all at once God's fidelity to His word, the patience with which He acts in the world, and the cooperation of men He employs to do His will. An even less likely chain of spiritual begetters has produced us, by God's grace kings, priests, and prophets, sons and daughters of David if we are brothers and sisters of Christ.

In St. Joseph we have a model for conducting ourselves as children of so noble a house: the House of David; the House of the Lord.

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