instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, May 16, 2005

Episode VII: Pretence of the Geeks

Amy Welborn links to part 1 of an over-the-top look at the alleged spirituality of the Star Wars movies:
Clearly, Lucas intends to pose hard questions about the foundation of knowledge, metaphysical reality, and personal human destiny—questions of fate or providence.

These questions and other important ones become more insistent as the series progresses; indeed, they become the matters on which the outcome of the whole story hinges.
Because, you know, a lot of us were worried that the Emperor might win.

The spiritual insights of George Lucas can be expressed in one brief sentence:

Light sabers are cool!


A problem for the reader

Rob poses a question:
Suppose that the Church was 100% successful in bringing about, through the grace of God, the living of perfect Christian lives on the part of the entire laity. Would that perfected laity consist of a billion happy, productive and moderately prosperous tithers? Or would it consist of a billion penitents, who had given all they possessed to the poor to devote their lives to prayer and fasting in detachment from worldly concerns?
Or what?


Two ways of thought separated by a single Revelation

A post at the Dawn Patrol referred to Mary's virginity, which as might be expected led to a couple of Protestants wondering what the big deal is:
Now, here we open up a very good question: is Mary any less than a holy Mother of our Lord Jesus, or less deserving that all will "call her blessed" if we accept what the Bible says more obviously, i.e., that she did not have sex with her husband until after Jesus was born, and that Jesus had brothers and sisters, which are named in the Bible?


... asking forgiveness in advance if I offend, I believe Mary might be bemused and maybe even amused with how many people who claim to follow her Son fight with each other about what did or didn't happen in her uterus after He left.
Well. When instruction is requested, instruction is offered. I offered the following:
I don't think anyone can understand the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary if he understands it to be purely a matter of uteruses and the like, any more than one could understand the significance of the Ark of the Covenant (with which Mary is traditionally identified) if he understands it to be purely a matter of luggage.

Virginity represents purity, in particular the purity of heart of one wholly devoted to God. In Mary's case, one might almost say her virginity is a "sacrament" -- a sign that effects what it signifies -- of her purity of heart. Honoring her as Ever-Virgin recalls for us in this moment that perfect purity of heart, and also brings to us the hope of our own such purity in the life to come.

Mary is the Virgin Mother. As Virgin, she perfectly loves Jesus in His Divinity. As Mother, she perfectly loves Him in His humanity.
Which goes to show that I am not an apologist, since the reply came swiftly:
Redefining "virginity" to mean "purity of heart" doesn't answer the question of the basis for believing such a doctrine, regardless of its definition (or redefinition).

To say "virginity" means purity of heart not only evades the question, but would seem to do so ineffectively, for doesn't such a definition run afoul of the view of marriage as a holy and worthy gift of God? My heart is no less "pure" from having sex with my wife than were I to have become a eunich long ago.
The concepts of sacrament and sign are invisible to people who think like this; they hear "definition" where I say "representation."

For my part, I simply do not think in terms of the specific verses to be cited as the basis for belief, and find it a great bore to be asked for them. I don't want people to be forced by argument to accept Mary's perpetual virginity. I want them to understand what it means, and I don't know how to get them to understand what it means if they take a secondary implication -- that "what the Bible says more obviously" is untrue -- for the primary meaning.


Friday, May 13, 2005

The call

They say if you've met one Dominican, you've met one Dominican.

Servant of God Rose Hawthorne was a writer well known in the world of letters when, at the age of forty-five, she began nursing poor people who had incurable cancer. It was four more years before she became a Dominican tertiary and turned her growing apostolate into a religious congregation. She died twenty-six years later, her congregation firmly established.

Blessed Jane of Portugal was a Fifteenth Century princess who wanted nothing more, and would settle for nothing less, than the life of a Dominican nun. Due to the opposition of her father and brother, not to mention numerous nobles and bishops who could think of better uses for her than making altar cloths, it wasn't until she was thirty-three that she was able to enter the cloister. Even then, she was frequently called back to court, where, five years after becoming a nun, she was poisoned, dying "with the detachment of a religious and the dignity of a queen" after several months of agony. Her feast day was yesterday.

Blessed Imelda Lambertini, whose feast day on the Dominican calendar is today, was the daughter of a count who sent her to a Dominican convent school. There she lived as much of the convent life as she could, longing especially for the Eucharist, but she was a year or two short of the requisite age of twelve. One day, while she praying after Mass, a brilliant light was seen shining above her head, with a Host within the light. The priest understood this to be a sign from heaven, and he gave the girl Communion. The joy of receiving her Eucharistic Lord was too intense for her body, and Bl. Imelda died in rapture there in the chapel. She is a patroness of First Communicants.

Three paths to sanctity.

Most Catholic hagiography seems to feature the "fasted from mother's milk on vigils" type path, where a serene glow seems to follow a saint from childhood. Another type of path is the "road to Damascus," where a great sinner is converted.

For those of us who aren't particularly great, one way or another -- or even, for that matter, particularly young -- Rose Hawthorne suggests a quite different path. A quite fearful one, too, one that hounds us with the disquieting thought that it's never too late to get started.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

The response to our preaching

The recent national convocation of the Federation of Dominican Sisters has been talked about some in St. Blogs, in the fish-in-a-barrel way you'd expect if you know anything about the Federation and about St. Blogs. Barb Nicolosi offers a fortuitous peek at the convocation which does not contrast jarringly with the summaries of discussions posted on the federation's website.

Setting all that aside, I'll just quote from a talk given by Fr. Chrys McVey, OP,
Socius for Apostolic Life for the Dominican Order:
I was told a story by a family who had gone on a picnic. A summer storm had come up and they sought shelter under a huge tree. When the storm passed, there was the most beautiful rainbow filling the whole sky. The mother roused her young daughter, who had been
sleeping in her lap, and said, "Look!"

The little girl looked, was quiet, then looked up at her mother and said, "Take me to it!"

That should be the response to our preaching: not a mumbled "Amen," but the cry, "Take me to it!"


The immigration reflex

It's odd how the mere observation of a sentence containing the words "bishops" and "immigration" sends some American Catholics into fits of indignation.

I don't pretend to understand the issues involved in forming immigration policy. I do note, though, the categorical rejection of everything our bishops say on the matter as outside their competence and beyond their understanding. To quote a bishop saying, "We can no longer tolerate the death of human beings in the desert" -- which, to me, sounds like a matter entirely appropriate for a Catholic bishop to pronounce upon -- is to invite the response, "See? The bishops favor illegal immigration!"

The logic of that response escapes me, but more striking is the absence of an acknowledgment of our Christian duty toward others that is not pro forma and immediately followed by a "but." It is the same attitude as that expressed by the anti-war organizations who are unable to admit without caveat that Saddam Hussein was an evil despot. Of course, in this case, the attitude toward the bishops is the same as it was among pro-war folks: "We have nothing to learn from them."

It may be that the bishops and I happen to be the only Catholics in the United States who aren't fully versed in every social, political, economic, cultural, and religious aspect of immigration policy. Based on the attitudes and arguments advanced by those who refuse to learn from their bishops, though, I doubt it.

And under cover of the position of one person who certainly knows more than I about the economic and political aspects, at the very least -- and who also is not given to peace-n-justice vacuity -- I will boldly assert that, when Cardinal McCarrick says "we must change attitudes, including those of many of our own flock,"
he is speaking from a more sound position than that of those Catholics he is referring to.

But but but: Sovereign nations. Rights. Own borders. Primary obligations. Those people.

Yeah yeah yeah: Tell it to the crucifix. Go kneel before the utter self-abnegation of the Eucharist and say, "What about me!" When you've received your answer, then you can ignore the bishops.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Framing the question

I received a whacking great package of material from the Rose Hawthorne Guild today. And now I see to my shame that it's been nearly two years since I mentioned the Servant of God, Rose Hawthorne, who founded a congregation of Dominican sisters whose apostolate was and remains "to nurse and shelter incurable cancer patients who cannot afford care elsewhere."

Rose Hawthorne was received into the Catholic Church on St. Joseph's Day in 1891. Less than ten years later, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1900, she received the Dominican habit and made public profession as Sister Mary Alphonsa.

Midway between these two events, she began to dedicate her life to the care of the sick and dying poor of New York City. At the time, cancer carried a great social stigma, and once a patient's cancer was declared incurable, the hospitals of the city would no longer treat him.

A biographical article on Rose Hawthorne expresses the effect of this reality on her this way:
"How can anyone... how can we treat suffering people like that?" she thought. "How many of these sufferers there must be! Why doesn't someone do...?" The question soon became, "Why don't I do something about it?" Framing the question took more courage than answering it.
She was to spend the remaining thirty years of her life living the answer.

What questions in our own lives do we lack the courage to frame?



Once, when my father was in the Navy ROTC, an officer told him to polish a brass bell. My father said, "Okay," and the officer immediately corrected him:

"You don't say, 'Okay,' you say, 'Yes, sir.' You aren't agreeing with me, you're obeying my order."

My father said, "Yes, sir," and polished the bell.

The distinction between agreement and obedience is an important one for the Church these days. It is, at times, blurred, as when someone argues from etymology that obedience consists, not in doing what is commanded, but in listening with an open mind to what is commanded.

It may also be inverted, for example when obedience to a superior is regarded as contrary to the personal autonomy of a rational being. Since obedience is implicit in the very notion of the role of superior, such a repudiation of obedience amounts to a repudiation of the authority to command.

To say a lot of Catholics are okay with that is to understate the case. In fact, a lot of Catholics insist on the repudiation of the authority to command, a repudiation that goes hand in hand with, if not the repudiation, then at least the drastic downgrading of any authority to discern.

If no one is my superior, then I am not obligated to do or believe anything based on what anyone else tells me. I may, if I choose, listen to what they say with an open mind -- or rather, with as open a mind as I can manage, given the biases, habits, and convictions I bring to every act of reason.

When the Church tells me that something is so, however, I am in the unfortunate position of being unable to believe the Church. The best I can do is agree with her. "I find the Church's position the most reasonable of all those I have evaluated," I might say; or, more briefly, "Okay."

But if I feel free to accept any position that is solidly probable, and I regard any position I happen to hold as solidly probable by virtue of the fact that I happen to hold it, it will be deucedly difficult for me to even muster agreement with any Church position contrary to my own.

I wind up holding, not the fullness of the Faith, but the patchwork of the Concurrence. But hey, at least no one is my superior.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Preach what

Bl. Humbert of Romans, the fifth Master General of the Dominicans, wrote of Mary as the "special Mother" of the Order of Preachers, an Order "whose purpose is to praise, to bless, and to preach her Son."

Now, Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare -- "to praise, to bless, to preach" -- is a motto of the Dominican Order. In tying the Order more tightly to Mary, Bl. Humbert makes a critical point: the purpose of the Dominicans is to preach Christ Jesus.

If you ever catch a Dominican preaching, but not preaching Jesus, you should ask him why.


Friday, May 06, 2005

Be a ________

In a post on the term "neoconservative," Zippy observes that
the way to plant the flag of victory into our public conversation is to stop being an adjective and start being a noun.
"Catholic" is, as is fitting, both an adjective and a noun. But, "Stop being an adjective and start being a noun," sounds like a good rejoinder to anyone who begins a sentence with something like, "As a progressive Catholic," or, "As an orthodox Catholic."


Authority qua authority

Have you ever found yourself saying something like, "As a coroner, I prefer Shemp to Curly"? Of course you have. Who hasn't?

But what does that "As a coroner" qualifier really mean? Too often, I think, it means, "Speaking on behalf of all coroners living and dead, who think as one mind on this matter." I say "too often," because it should only mean that when it is actually true that coroners think as one mind on the matter, and we all know the old joke about how any two coroners will have three opinions between them.

It might be a good idea, when you find yourself about to say, "As a coroner, I...," to ask yourself whether you mean to speak for all coroners, or merely point out the coincidence within your person of your profession and your opinion. If it's the latter, there might be a better way to phrase your thought; perhaps something along the lines of, "I happen to be a coroner, and I...."

The same would still be true, of course, if your profession happens to be Roman Catholic.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

"We should spend on virtue what we take away from our pleasures"

The third general grant from the Enchiridion of Indulgences uses perfect language for yesterday's posts:
A partial indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who, in a spirit of penitence, voluntarily abstain from something which is licit for and pleasing to them.
Christian perfection presupposes and is distinct from "faithful" obedience to God's commandments. Those seeking perfection regard everything "which is licit for and pleasing to them" with detachment; they do not pursue these goods, they may in fact avoid them. But they do so "in a spirit of penitence," or more generally in a spirit of charity, not a spirit of obligation (as might those on the First Stair) or vainglory (as might those on the Second).

What does that mean for us?
"You going to eat that donut?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"Well, if you wanted to, you could abstain from eating it, in a spirit of penitence, and apply the indulgence to the dead as suffrages. If, you know, you loved the dead as your suffering brothers and sisters in Christ."
"See, this is exactly why no one likes you."


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

For example

St. Catherine of Siena distinguished between "more perfect" souls, who love God because of the good things He gives them, and "most perfect" souls, who love God for Himself.

Now, let me suggest an example of "more perfect" and "most perfect" acts that will annoy a lot of readers. It would certainly annoy me if someone else suggested it.

I'll start with a "more perfect" act, meaning only that it, like the rich young man, follows all the Commandments: Drinking a glass of wine with dinner.

Note that there's nothing at all objectively wrong with drinking a glass of wine with dinner (assuming ordinary circumstances: it's not stolen, there isn't someone dying of thirst watching you, you're not drinking from the skull of your enemy, and so on). In fact, done with the intention of conviviality or hospitality or joy in God's bounty, it can be positively virtuous.

Now consider the act of drinking only lukewarm water with dinner. Is this a "most perfect" act?

Objectively speaking, I don't see much to choose between the two acts. In themselves, a glass of wine is about as good as a glass of water; if anything, I suppose, the wine is a modestly superior good.

It is the actor's intention that seems to make the real difference. To drink a glass of wine for pleasure is permissible, I'm pleased to say. To drink water instead with the intention of offering the trivial sacrifice in reparation for sin is positively meritorious; if done with the intention of succoring the souls in purgatory, it's actually indulgenced. If for such a reason you pass on wine, then yes, your act is "most perfect" -- or at least, more perfect than drinking the wine for pleasure.

On the other hand, if the choice is between drinking a glass of wine with the intention of making a guest feel welcome in your home and drinking a glass of water with the intention of proving that some killjoy blogger's notions of Christian perfection don't leave you any more perfect, then the wine would seem the better choice.

For completeness, the circumstances should be considered as well. Drinking water with dinner guests present may well be more of a display of fasting than of fasting itself.

From all of which, we conclude what? Perhaps that perfection lies more in the interior disposition than in the outward act, and that the first rule of becoming perfect must be "charity before all rules."


One thing lacking

Since the days of Ananias and Sapphira, Christians have been asking themselves, "When Jesus said, 'Sell all you have and give the money to the poor,' He didn't mean me, did He?"

On one side, people use Scripture, Tradition, and reason to develop arguments of varying quality to the effect that no, Jesus did not intend that as a universal commandment.

On the other side are those who see in these arguments little more than attempts to squirm out from under the clear words of Jesus to avoid doing something most people would rather not do (for that matter, absolutely won't do).

I think, though, that a far stronger argument can be made that the true challenge of that verse lies in the first half:
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect,...."
Yes, Christians in general cling too stubbornly to our material goods, but I suggest more of us cling more tightly still to our imperfections.

How many Christians are minimalists, whose question to Jesus would be, "Good teacher, what may I do and still inherit eternal life?"

And how many are imperfectionists, who feel superior to the minimalists (you can judge your own reaction to the above paragraph) while refusing the more perfect choices each day offers?

Suppose you are deciding to do something, to perform some act. Let's say it, like the rich young man, follows all the Commandments: it's truthful, does not harm others, it isn't blasphemous, doesn't reflect or engender lust or envy, it violates no precept of God or Church.

That, I suspect, is the ideal most Christians would at least admit they probably ought to aim for.

But Jesus is not waiting for them in this ideal. To follow Him, we must go beyond the Law and approach perfection. Is the act you're deciding to do perfect?

Well, first, yikes!; and second, so what if it's not?

Perfection does seem like a tall order. But then, so does printing your name, if you've never tried to learn to write. Of course people who have never tried to be perfect will find trying to be perfect hard to do. What is Jesus' answer to His disciples dismay after the rich young man leaves? "For man this is impossible, but for God all things are possible."

And so what if an act isn't the best of all possible acts, as long as it's permissible? Obviously, if it's permissible no one can tell you not to do it, but ask yourself: Do I want to do what I am allowed to do, or what best proves and strengthens my love for God and neighbor? Do I really want to be perfect, or do I rather want to insist on my rights before God and man? And since you can't intend the end without intending the means, there's an even tougher question all Christians answer by their lives even if they never explicitly ask it of themselves:

Do I want to become perfect?


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Speaking of poetry

There is a new effort underway to foster the use of poetry in the preaching mission of the Dominican Family, launched with the OPrize for Poetry contest. The winning poems are on-line, as well as other submissions and poems by the judges, too. There's even a planned on-line poetry seminar (apparently open only to Dominicans).


..., Manny, Moe (called Sparky), and Jack

There sure are a lot of Apostles, aren't there?

I mean, yes, twelve tribes of Israel and all that. Symbolism and meaning in numbers.

But in more practical terms, how many Apostles do we need? Peter, James, and John are the big three; Thomas gets his one big scene on Mercy Sunday; Matthew has his Gospel; you might have your own favorite. But for the rest? If today were the feast of Sts. Zeppo and Sneezy, would it make any difference?

O, ungrateful thought! As if the Faith I have inherited is naturally mine. As if the Christians of the Apostolic Age, who scattered the seeds given them by Christ, were a mass of undifferentiated individuals. As if the very Sacraments, by which we are raised to life in Christ, and sustained in that life, come to the Church through Peter alone. As if the community of the Twelve, which Jesus formed and confirmed, was an accident, or merely there to sustain the one Apostle who really counted.

The Church invites us to enjoy today. Lets!

Sts. Philip and James, pray for us!


Free Verse

From Acadamia's Stranglehold!

Join the rebellion at Flos Carmelli.


Monday, May 02, 2005

A four-letter word

My suggestion that what makes St. Catherine of Siena so foreign to us is her zeal for God and for the souls of others (that's her language, by the way; I could call it her zeal for the salvation of others, but that would be to step back from someone who wrote of getting fat on eating the souls of others) has received some resistance. The idea of zeal isn't merely unappealing, it's one people actively dislike.

I think the reason is the obvious one: someone with zeal is a zealot, a zealot wants to kill you or at least send you to a re-education camp, and you don't want that to happen. Zeal is like nitroglycerine; no one really trusts other people to handle it properly in large doses. Aristotle says virtue lies in the mean between extremes, and nothing says extreme like zeal.

Or does it? St. Thomas teaches that zeal is an effect of love:
In this respect, a man is said to be zealous on behalf of his friend, when he makes a point of repelling whatever may be said or done against the friend's good. In this way, too, a man is said to be zealous on God's behalf, when he endeavors, to the best of his means, to repel whatever is contrary to the honor or will of God....
Love is the desire for another's good, and zeal is acting on that desire to prevent what hinders the other's good. But love of God is a virtue that does not lie between extremes; there's no such thing as being too charitable. As love increases, zeal increases. Can we be too zealous for God?

It's certainly true that I can endeavor to repel something contrary to the honor of God in a way that does more harm than good. In this sense, zeal can outstrip prudence. The problem, though, isn't too much zeal; it's too little prudence. And that means it isn't solved by reducing zeal, but by increasing prudence -- by, for example, learning to ask whether the action taken will in fact achieve the end of preserving God's honor.

It was zeal that caused Jesus to drive out the moneychangers, bringing to His disciples mind the words of the Psalm, "Zeal for Your house consumes me." But look at those words in a larger context:
For Your sake I bear insult, shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my kin, a stranger to my mother's children.
Because zeal for your house consumes me, I am scorned by those who scorn you.
I have wept and fasted, but this led only to scorn.
I clothed myself in sackcloth; I became a byword for them.
They who sit at the gate gossip about me; drunkards make me the butt of their songs.
This -- in the psalmist's day, in Jesus' day, in our day -- is the price of zeal.

We talk in terms of what effect another's zeal might have on us, how it will disturb our peace, but neglect to face up to what effects our own zeal for God would have.

There is, to be sure, an internal effect of zeal; I give up the choice to not act, which means I give up the choice to go uneventfully home to a restful evening.

But there is also an external effect. I am not in a position to send anyone to a re-education camp; others have no need to fear any zeal for God I might have. But me? Insult, shame, scorn, gossip, jokes: that's the life of a saint among the indifferent. When my love for God is greater than my fear of these things, then I too will be consumed by zeal, and others will say, if they're feeling charitable, "He's really going overboard with all this."


Friday, April 29, 2005

Live via remote

St. Catherine of Siena is not a particularly cuddly saint. Many of the tales told about her don't make her seem approachable so much as a bit nutty. Her charism of exhortation tends to get detached from her charism of obedience, producing an abstract symbol of complaint rather than a real, much less historically accurate, personality.

Her teachings, meanwhile, were written from the unyielding perspective of a Fourteenth Century Italian female mystic. For people who aren't as close to God as she was, they have a certain unavoidable remoteness. Even her spiritual director, Bl. Raymond of Capua, theologian and Master General of the Order of Preachers, wrote that many times he didn't really understand what she was trying to explain to him.

Furthermore, an important aspect of her teaching, and more clearly of her life, is a radical asceticism that can be taken for a rejection of the licit goods of life:
When the soul has passed through the doctrine of Christ crucified, with true love of virtue and hatred of vice, and has arrived at the house of self-knowledge and entered therein, she remains, with her door barred, in watching and constant prayer, separated entirely from the consolations of the world. Why does she thus shut herself in? She does so from fear, knowing her own imperfections, and also from the desire, which she has, of arriving at pure and generous love. And because she sees and knows well that in no other way can she arrive thereat, she waits, with a lively faith for My arrival, through increase of grace in her.
Some see this as a tendency toward Manichaeism, as though St. Catherine saw physical pleasure itself as at best a temptation to sin. Others sense a degree of narcissism, that her emphasis on shut-in self-knowledge amounts to self-obsession.

Here is my suspicion: What makes St. Catherine seem so foreign to us is not her personality, not her obscurity, not her doctrine. It is her zeal.

Zeal for God: to be happy with nothing less than perfect union with Him; to be satisfied with no thought, word, or deed that is not worthy of being offered to Him.

Zeal for souls: to be consumed with instilling in all those she met her own zeal for God; to be constantly aware of the choice between Life and death all must make, and of how many are choosing death who might yet choose Life.

All saints are marked by zeal, in their own way, but St. Catherine shows a particularly raw and palpable zeal, a headlong and headstrong love responding with utter abandon to the love of God that is Christ’s blood, to Christ's blood that is the love of God. Such full-bored, whole-hearted zeal is not something many people can identify closely with.

We say -- and with accuracy, I think -- that we aren't called by God to live the way St. Catherine lived. And yet, zeal is desire is love, and who is not called by God to love with their whole heart and their whole mind and their whole soul and their whole strength?


Making my own fun

I know, I know. Everyone says the animal on the Pope's coat of arms is a bear.

I'm sure they're right.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

A question for moralists

One curse of the autodidact is to be wholly ignorant of a lot of fairly basic stuff.

Suppose I am throwing a baseball with my son in our back yard. After several tosses back and forth, one of my throws sails over my son's head and through our neighbor's window. (This is purely hypothetical, and would never happen in real life.) (All my bad throws are low and away.)

Was the human act that I chose the act of throwing the ball to my son, or the act of throwing the ball through the window? If the former, where did the act that broke the window come from? If the latter, how exactly did I choose it?

The question, by the way, came to me as I was reading Zippy Catholic, which has a post that, for some reason, makes me feel sincerely flattered.


St. Catherine on prayer

"Systematic" is not a word I would use to describe St. Catherine of Siena's style of teaching. She skips steps, abandons trains of thought, and leaves some key concepts maddeningly vague -- yet she also habitually interjects clarifications of great theological precision and sophistication.

There's a section in the Dialogue where she presents her version of the stages in a Christian's prayer life, from vocal prayer to mental prayer, which culminates in the perpetual prayer of desire:
see then, that perfect prayer is not attained to through many words, but through affection of desire, the soul raising herself to Me, with knowledge of herself and of My mercy, seasoned the one with the other. Thus she will exercise together mental and vocal prayer, for, even as the active and contemplative life is one, so are they.
But what does she mean by "mental prayer"? She doesn't say, exactly, though she does write that God may visit the soul
in a flash of self-knowledge or of contrition for sin, sometimes in the broadness of My charity, and sometimes by placing before her mind, in diverse ways, according to My pleasure and the desire of the soul, the presence of My Truth... The moment she feels her mind disposed by My visitation, in the many ways I have told you, she should abandon vocal prayer...."
Someone well-read in Catholic spiritual thought might sigh at this, then patiently tease apart the different stages of meditation, infused contemplation, direct contemplation, and so forth that St. Catherine so carelessly bundles together.

In fact, she goes further in mixing things together that are commonly treated separately:
Each one, according to his condition, ought to exert himself for the salvation of souls, for this exercise lies at the root of a holy will, and whatever he may contribute, by words or deeds, towards the salvation of his neighbor, is virtually a prayer.... I have also spoken to you of ... how every exercise, whether performed in oneself or in one's neighbor, with good-will, is prayer.
Labora est ora. If prayer is a lifting up of the heart to God, and if it is through a habitual holy desire for God that we do good for our neighbor, then the very act of doing good is a form of prayer.

St. Catherine's spirituality is not of the via negativa. What she contemplates is not Ineffable Being, but the inebriating blood of Christ, which clothes the soul "with the fire of divine charity." It isn't God-in-Himself that captivates her, but God-as-Lover, as the Lunatic so crazy for mankind that His very love pins Him to the Cross. And the proper response to that love can only be crazy-mad love for Him.

What sustains this crazy-mad love for God is nothing less than God,
the food of the Body and Blood of My Son.... This food strengthens little or much, according to the desire of the recipient, whether he receives sacramentally or virtually. He receives sacramentally when he actually communicates with the Blessed Sacrament. He receives virtually when he communicates, both by desire of communion, and by contemplation of the Blood of Christ crucified... with the affection of love, which is to be tasted in the Blood which, as the soul sees, was shed through love. On seeing this the soul becomes inebriated, and blazes with holy desire and satisfies herself, becoming full of love for Me and for her neighbor.
The concept of virtual or spiritual communion -- which, according to St. Catherine, truly strengthens the communicant according to his desire -- could, I think, be emphasized today with much profit. Not the least in relation to the difficulties around who may be admitted to Communion.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Revising my position

Exception has been taken to a post below, in which I looked at an interview Pope Benedict XVI gave a couple of years ago and concluded that he was not speaking of a vision of a "smaller but more devoted Church." (The quotation is from something someone else wrote, not from the then-Cardinal.) Let me try to clarify my point:

What does it mean to say a Pope has a certain vision of the future of the Church? The vision might be something toward which he intends to guide the Church. Or it might merely be something he foresees will happen regardless of what he does.

When I hear people speak of Pope Benedict's comments about a smaller Church -- be they fearful "progressives" or eager "traditionalists" -- it usually sounds as though they believe he was speaking of an intentional reduction in the number of Catholics. They expect him to embark on a program of kicking out heretics or people more open to the movement of the Holy Spirit than he is.

I can see no implication of such an intentional vision in his interview. Nevertheless, there is already some "Faster, please" restlessness among the doctrinally pure.

(As an aside, I was puzzled by the many comments I saw last week along the lines of, "I hope all those dissenters do leave the Church.... Oh, not the ordinary dissenters in the pews, just the obstinate heretics who work for the Church." How many obstinate heretics do they think work for the Church, anyway, if they think such an exodus would leave a mustard seed-sized Church?)

From the little I've read, I'd say the Pope's vision of a smaller Church regards size as less a matter of absolute numbers than of relative concentration in the population. It's not a small Universal Church as such that will bring about a new springtime at a global level, but small communities within the Church that will bring the springtime to the places where they exist, attracting others by their devotion to Christ, even some who are not yet ready to join in their devotion.

Moreover, the whole idea of a "more devoted" Church seems, in the minds of many on both extremes of enthusiasm for the new Pope, to amount in practical terms to a Church comprising only those who publicly accept that women will never be ordained.

But that's not what the Pope has said and written, perhaps because he knows that doctrinal purity is no guarantor of devotion to Christ. Every Catholic in the Fourteenth Century publicly accepted that women will never be ordained, yet the writings of the saints of that time are not limited to marveling at the devotion of the Church.

What the Pope has said and written is that what will mark this "more devoted" Church -- and it can't be overemphasized that the only devotion that really counts is the devotion to Christ -- is radiating the joy of the faith, bringing the good into the world, communion with other ways of being Catholic... and, yes, obedience to and service of the Universal Church. But obedience is just one part of one note, not the whole tune.

And in all honesty, "radiating the joy of the faith" is not how I would characterize those eagerly awaiting the first batch of excommunications.


Have a heart

The blogger at Totus Tuus asks, "Do I have the heart of a Dominican?"

(Yes, yes: "Dominicans have hearts?" Very witty of you, and a very impressive demonstration of your Jesuit education.)

Allow me to quote from the comment I wrote:

I would say that St. Dominic's was a heart burning with zeal for the salvation of souls through preaching the Truth Who is Christ Crucified and Risen.

We tend to emphasize study in distinguishing the Dominicans from other orders, since what order doesn't pray, what order isn't a community, what order doesn't do apostolic work?

But the Order of Preachers is very goal-oriented, and for us study is only a means to an end. As St. Vincent Ferrer, OP, advised the friars, "Study less to make yourself learned than to become a saint."

Dominicans become saints in service of the Holy Preaching.

If that's what you want to do, then you have the heart of a Dominican.


The anchor of Cattaro

Today is the feast day of Blessed Ossana of Cattaro, a Dominican tertiary who died in 1565. She was born in Montenegro to Orthodox parents; her desire to live near a church where she could pray led her to become a maid in a Catholic woman's house.

In time, Bl. Ossana became Catholic herself, and later a solitary living in a sealed cell in a church in Cattaro. Such anchoresses were not rare at the time; what was more unusual was that she also joined the Dominican Third Order. (A friar I know has said the only Dominican hermits are spice cookies brought to a Chapter meeting; that's almost true.) From her cell, she dispensed spiritual direction to those who sought her out and God's graces upon the town.

I mention her because, within the Dominican Order, she is invoked in the cause of Christian unity, and Christian unity is a cause for which we can always use more intercession.


Uncle, Papa! Uncle!

It's probably obvious enough by now, but let me come right out and state that I will not be reading and pondering every word spoken by Pope Benedict XVI. The days of our years are threescore years and ten, and all that, and as it is I'm not sure I can keep up with everything written on the Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club blog, much less all the speeches and audiences and homilies and all the rest direct from the Pope himself.

It's an exciting time in the Church, but as a matter of sanity if nothing else, I think I need to unplug myself from the 24-hour Vatican news cycle.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

An agonizing hope

To understand Christian hope, you need to understand it from several angles. You need to know what it means to hope at the Annunciation, at the Crucifixion, at the Resurrection.

The Crucifixion would seem to be the one moment in time when hope is most absent. Perhaps it would have been entirely absent, had the Blessed Virgin not been there. But it's precisely when all is hopeless that Christian hope -- the virtue of trusting in God's promises -- is most present; in a hopeless situation, you can't hope in anyone or anything but God.

But what is Christian hope seen from the perspective of the Agony in the Garden? Put another way, what would our Lady's hope have been if she were aware of her Son's agony?

The simplest answer is wrong. When Jesus said, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from Me," He wasn't expressing the hope that it would be taken away. You can't hope for the impossible, and it was for this sacrifice that He was born. Rather, He was making explicit the difference between His human will and His divine will, without which His passion would not have been an act of obedience, but one of agreement.

The aspect of Christian hope shown in Christ's agony, then, seems to be this: the hope that one's natural hope will be wholly overcome by one's supernatural hope. Not eradicated; the Christian remains human, and so retains his human will. But overcome, made obedient to, what he hopes for in Christ.

This indeed is an agony for holy people, the final defeat of that one last corner that holds out for something other than what God desires for us. Jesus Himself, whose humanity was perfect from the moment it came into being, wept tears of blood over what, for Him, was not resistance but merely difference. It's an agony that is probably literally inconceivable for those of us who aren't particularly holy and aren't particularly interested in becoming holy; it's the agony of purgatory.

And it is what we, as Christians, hope for.


Talking about touching

Much could be said about the Washington Post-ABC News Poll on the views of Catholics toward Pope Benedict XVI, in which 81% of Catholics said they approve "of the selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict the 16th, as the next pope," and 73% said they would describe their feelings about the selection of Ratzinger as pope as very enthusiastic (27%) or somewhat enthusiastic (46%) (margin of error is 6%). (Post article here, more details here.)

For now, I just want to mention one question in the poll: "In general, do you think the Roman Catholic Church is in touch with the views of Catholics in America today, or is it out of touch?"

If I had been polled, my answer to this question would have been, "Um, what?"

More expansively, what does "in touch with" mean? Aware of? Consonant with? Guided by? Hep to?

Who decided that American Catholics do or should think in terms of whether the Church is "in touch with" their views? Do American Catholics actually think -- if that's the word I want -- in these terms, or did it merely emerge as a trope of post-conciliar therapeutic dissent, becoming adopted without much thought through repetition and familiarity?

The expression itself is suspiciously asymmetric: "I am out of touch with you" does not imply "you are out of touch with me." It suggests that there is something objective -- in this case, "the views of Catholics in America today" -- to which other things may relate via being "in touch with."

To the extent such groovy language should be used at all, it seems to me the objective something to which other things may relate ought to be the Church:

"In general, do you think Catholics in America today are down with the views of the Roman Catholic Church?"

Ah, but that would be too much like suggesting there's something other than me at the center.


Hearing the News

One of the previously untranslatable documents from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri has turned out to be a fragment from the Gospel of Luke. There are some interesting differences between this version and other known manuscripts. Here is the fragment, with words not found in other manuscripts shown in italics and words missing in the new MS shown in strikethrough:
… Jesus had heard, he said to him: Yet one thing is wanting [to thee]: sell all whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. He having heard these things, became sorrowful; for he was very rich, said: Oh, you don't really mean that. And Jesus answered him: No, I really do. And the ruler said: Surely your words are being taken out of context. Do not worry; I will remain with you until you modernize your beliefs. And Jesus seeing him become became sorrowful, [and] said: How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God.
What effect, if any, this discovery will have on matters of faith and morals, it's too soon to say.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Mark

Here are the first words of each sentence in the first chapter of the Knox translation of Mark's Gospel:
The beginning
It is written
And so it was
And all the country
John was clothed
And thus he preached
I have baptized
At this time
And even as he came up
There was a voice
Thereupon, the Spirit
But when John
And as he passed along
And they dropped their nets
Then he went
So they made their way
And there
Hast thou come
I recognize thee
Jesus spoke
Then the unclean spirit
All were full
What is this
See how
And the story
As soon as
The mother
And all at once
And when it was evening
And he healed
Then, at very early dawn
Simon and his companions
And he said
So he continued
Then a leper
Jesus was moved
And at the word
And he spoke
But he
You need the rest of the words, of course, to get the full sense of the chapter. But these words as they stand give a pretty good sense of Mark's style, energy, simplicity, and directness.

Try this: Find a place where you can talk aloud to yourself. Stand up and read the first chapter of Mark out loud, in a brisk and lively manner, as though you were telling a story you had just heard to someone who hadn't heard it before.

If you do this, you will learn something about Jesus, something Mark has to tell you that the other Evangelists don't. You will also learn something about yourself. If nothing else, you will learn whether hearing the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, makes you want to hear more.

Mark is a book for reading out loud, standing up.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

What do you mean, "we"?

Responding to the words of a self-described progressive Catholic quoted in a post below, one commenter wrote:
Maybe it was these people who the Pope had in mind when he spoke of a smaller but more devoted Church.
I'm not so sure.

His September 2003 interview with Raymond Arroyo has been referenced several times as evidence that Pope Benedict wants a smaller but more devoted Church. What did he say regarding the "New Springtime"?
And my idea is that really the springtime of the Church will not say that we will have in a near time buses of conversions, that all peoples of the world will be converted to Catholicism. This is not the way of God. The essential things in history begin always with the small, more convinced communities....

So, I think also today it should be an error to think now or in 10 years with the new springtime, all people will be Catholic. This is not our future, nor our expectation. But we will have really convinced communities with élan of the faith, no? This is springtime — a new life in very convinced persons with joy of the faith.

Smaller numbers [of Catholics], I think. But from these small numbers we will have a radiation of joy in the world. And so, it’s an attraction, as it was in the old Church.... And so, I would say, if we have young people really with the joy of the faith and this radiation of this joy of the faith, this will show to the world, "Even if I cannot share it, even if I cannot convert it at this moment, here is the way to live for tomorrow."
The vision he speaks of here is not one of a "smaller but more devoted Church." It's one of small, convinced communities that radiate the joy of faith.

Yes, he does say, "Smaller numbers, I think." But that strikes me more as a prediction than as any sort of desire, much less goal. "Very convinced persons with joy of the faith" will attract lukewarm Catholics as well as non-Catholics. I take the point to be that raw numbers is not something he is concerned with, and that if the focus is on building small, convinced communities with élan of the faith then the overall numbers of Catholics can reasonably be expected to fall (in the West, at least).

More importantly, what distinguishes these small, convinced communities is not doctrinal purity, nor is it warm feelings for the Pope. It is the joy of the faith. If "filled with the joy of the faith" is not how you would characterize yourself, then you aren't what the Pope had in mind when he was speaking about his hopes for the new springtime of the Church.

In the interview, Cardinal Ratzinger went on to say:
We have movements and new beginnings of the faith, new forms of the faith. On the other hand, I think it is important that these movements are not closed in themselves and absolutized; but have to understand that even if I’m convinced this is the way, I have to accept we are one way and not the way, and we have to be open for the others, in communion with the others. And essentially we have to be really present and even obedient to the common Church in presence with the bishops and the Pope. Only with this openness to not be absolutized with its ideas and to be in service of the common Church, of the Universal Church, can be really a way for tomorrow.
To the joy of the faith, then, we could add two more notes: openness to other ways of Catholic life; and presence and obedience to the common Church.

No wonder the Pope foresaw smaller numbers.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Fundamentalism, American-style

Do you know what, according to Maryland NOW, women's most fundamental right is?

You didn't guess, "The right to life," did you?

In today's Washington Post, there's a letter to the editor, set in its own box, with a nice big headline reading, "Endangering Women's Rights."

It's a measure of how screwed up this country is that all the above is a clue that something good has happened.

The letter concludes:
The passage of this legislation underscores why a strong and unwavering reproductive-rights coalition is needed to preserve women's most fundamental right.

Maryland NOW
Silver Spring
What is the legislation that sends Duchy Trachtenberg to her typewriter to warn the reproductive-rights coalition to be strong and unwavering? Maryland House Bill 398, "Murder and Manslaughter-Viable Fetus," which allows that "a prosecution may be instituted for murder or manslaughter of a viable fetus."

Yes, it explicitly states that "nothing in this... applies to or infringes on a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy," and "nothing in this... shall be construed to confer personhood or any rights on the fetus."

Yes, even my own reliably pro-abortion state representatives voted for this bill.

But when your whole professional career is based on preserving the legal right of women to kill their children before birth, anything that even hints that a fetus should be treated any differently than a wart must be strongly and unwaveringly resisted.


They don't make it easy

The self-described progressive Catholic jcecil3 gets something off his chest:
The election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI while George W. Bush is in the White House feels like the world is collapsing.

It feels as though Adolf Hitler is in the White House in control of the world's sole superpower, and Benito Mussolini is in the Papal Palace in charge of the largest religious institution on earth....

I also need to be clear that I cannot point to some specific act or word of his that makes him comparable to Mussolini, and I do not mean in any way to imply that Pope Benedict XVI is literally a Fascist. To the best of my knowledge, he is not a Fascist, and has done nothing to earn a reaction quite this strong....

This post is not rational. I confess my own irrationality in saying what I am saying. This post is an expression of feeling - feelings that may have nothing to do with reality as it is in the eyes of God.
So, yeah, I guess you could say Pope Benedict XVI is a polarizing figure.

It must be noted that what he's talking about here are his feelings. You can't be held responsible for your feelings as such, although there is such a thing as an improper feeling.

Still, there is something astonishing in his unabashed solipsism:
The most critical question running through my mind over the last day is whether the Cardinals of the Church realized that in electing Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope, that he would evoke such a reaction in many of us Catholic faithful?

Did the Cardinals intend to piss off millions of lay Catholics, and if so, why?

It would not surprise me in the least if the number of pissed off Catholics is in the range of 500,000,000 (literally half the Church).

On the other hand, if the number is smaller, I am convinced this is largely because many people are not paying enough attention to the Church to know who Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is.
His most critical question is, did the cardinals mean to piss him off? If half a billion people are not as pissed off as he is, it's largely because they're too ignorant. (Recall also the "To the best of my knowledge" in his gracious admission that the Pope may not literally be a Fascist.)

Even taking this as reflecting how he feels and not how he thinks, it's a remarkable act of self-aggrandizement. "The papal election is all about me. I am the proper measure of literally half the Church." It continues into his concluding words of reassurance and advice for the Holy Father:
Having got this off my chest, I already feel a little more open to allowing you a chance to earn our trust. Please look to Christ and imitate him!
I've spent the last three days urging charity and understanding toward Catholics whose guy Pope Benedict XVI is not. That can be easier to do in the abstract than in the concrete.


"Venera You Siblings Cardinals!"

Okay, I don't know much about Romanitas or Bavarian etiquette, but I hope Babelfish is losing something in the translation of the Pope's speech to the most eminent gentlemen cardinals present in Rome.

Although I do empathize with Pope Benedict's "intimate need of Hush."


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Just how Internet savvy is he?


First fruits can be sour

Boot-licking Vatican toadies like myself are generally even-keeled, but we really come into our own during papal transitions. Whoever emerges from the conclave, he's our guy. Whatever he stakes out at his priorities, we're with him. From his first hundred days to his last, we've got his pontifical back.

But Pope Benedict XVI is not everybody's guy. There are many Americans who, immediately upon hearing the news of his election, publicly expressed how much they despise him. They may have disagreed, even passionately, with the blessed John Paul II, but most of them observed some modicum of decency in discussing him personally. They feel no such restraint regarding Pope Benedict.

I think it is instructive to ask why this is. Why the hate and venom for a pope who, as pope, hasn't actually done anything yet?

Let me suggest two causes.

First is the sine qua non that many people, even many non-attentive non-Catholics, have heard of Cardinal Ratzinger. Following what on this blog will be called the Will Rogers Effect, all they know of him is what they've read in the newspapers, and what they've read in the newspapers is that he's a cold-hearted villain who hates everyone who isn't a celibate old man in a dress and hates everything that has happened since 1192.

(The related question of why this is what the newspapers have written is an interesting one, but I'll leave that aside for now.)

Well, I don't want a cold-hearted, hate-filled villain as Pope, either. And when you combine that pseudo-knowledge with the obsessive compulsion to loudly express opinions about everything as soon as they happen, it is understandable that a great deal of dismay has already been expressed in the forty hours since Pope Benedict XVI was introduced.

But there is another cause of the disgust and hatred directed at the Holy Father, and one that bears much consideration.

I frankly don't believe many self-described liberal Catholics hated and feared the thought of Cardinal Ratzinger becoming Pope just because he was hard-lined and inflexible. As has been observed many times, being hard-lined and inflexible is a trait that has been observed all across the theological and ecclesiological spectrum.

It's not the fact that hard lines were drawn that offends people, I'd say, but the fact of where Cardinal Ratzinger drew them. If the hard lines were drawn around the pet positions of liberal Catholics, liberal Catholics would welcome, indeed celebrate them (though perhaps a few words might be spared to regret the tone). I think this is apparent in the taunting some liberal Catholics have already engaged in, in reminding self-described conservative Catholics of what, as Cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI had to say about, for example, the war in Iraq.

What does this mean? If people hate Pope Benedict XVI because they hate where he draws his lines, and if he draws his lines around the Catholic faith, then they hate the Pope because he is Catholic. In other words, they hate the Catholic faith.

I regard this as a good fruit of Pope Benedict's papacy -- or, if you like, of the cardinal electors making the safe and easy choice. The masks are coming off, the indirection and equivocation are slipping away. People will continue out of habit to speak of "the Vatican" as the focus of their hatred and derision, but I expect it to become increasingly apparent to everyone that it is the Church herself -- note, herself, the Bride of Christ, not itself, the old foreign men in dresses -- that people hate and deride.

If so, then it will become increasingly necessary for Catholics to say to the opinion-makers, "If you hate my Church, should I accept what you say?," and for some Catholics, to say to themselves, "I hate my Church? Now what do I do?"

And those Catholics, non-dissenters and Ratzinger fans and boot-licking toadies, had better be prepared to help them answer their questions. If not, we will be the ones having much to answer for.


"Why do they stay?"

Don't ask me. Ask them. They'll answer. Will you listen to their answer?


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A novena for the Holy Father

Once again, we are nine days away from the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena. A novena starting on April 21 would end on her feast day, which is also the day before the feast of St. Pius V. Either saint would be a fitting intercessor for a baby Pope.

Here is a simple novena to St. Catherine:
Heavenly Father, Your glory is in Your saints.
We praise Your glory in the life of the admirable St. Catherine of Siena,
Virgin and Doctor of the Church.
Her whole life was a noble sacrifice inspired by an ardent love of Jesus,
Your unblemished Lamb.
In troubled times she strenuously upheld the rights
of His beloved spouse, the Church.
Father, honor her merits and hear her prayers for each of us.
Help us to pass unscathed through the corruption of this world,
and to remain unshakably faithful to the church in word, deed, and example.
Help us always to see in the Vicar of Christ an anchor in the storms of life,
and a beacon of light to the harbor of your Love,
in this dark night of your times and men's souls.
Grant also to each of us our special petition...

(State your need here...)

We ask this through Jesus, your Son,
in the bond of the Holy Spirit.


St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

One Our Father, One Hail Mary, One Glory Be.


The Church I want

Thinking it over, I realize that I don't want the dissenters to leave. I don't want Catholics who think women should be priests to become Episcopalians. I don't think they're fools or liars if they stay in the Church.

I don't buy the notion of a smaller, therefore holier Church. Losing someone who thinks abortion should be legal doesn't make the Church holier. Believing contraception is immoral doesn't make anyone holy. More importantly, getting rid of people I think are preventing me from becoming holy won't make me holy.

Some people suggest that it is only by leaving the Church that some dissenters might be saved. That may be, but if you can't tell me which dissenters they are, then all we know for sure when one leaves the Church is that the Church is smaller and the dissenter is cut off from the fullness of life in Christ.

The Church I want has everybody. The dissenter, the indifferent, the Christmas-and-Easterer, the adulterer who abstains from adultery on Fridays for Lent... and me. Because the Church is Christ's, and Christ wants everybody. Can someone be His and still hate the pope or think all religions are equal? Maybe not in the end, but we aren't in the end. And if Christ is willing to put up with me until then, I'm willing to put up with them. And with you.


To speak with His I

From the Pope's last homily as cardinal:
The Lord addresses these wonderful words to us: "No longer do I call you servants ... but I have called you friends" (John 15:15).... The Lord defines friendship in two ways. There are no secrets between friends: Christ tells us everything he hears from the Father; he gives us his full confidence and, with confidence, also knowledge. He reveals his face to us, his heart. He shows us his tenderness for us, his passionate love that goes to the folly of the cross....

The second element with which Jesus defines friendship is the communion of wills. "Idem velle -- idem nolle," was also for Romans the definition of friendship. "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). Friendship with Christ coincides with what the third petition of the Our Father expresses: "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
When I've thought of Jesus' statement, "You are my friends if you do what I command you," I've always thought of it as a condition or a promise or a covenant: "The party of the first part will fulfill the commandments of the party of the second part (see appendix); the party of the second part will invite the party of the first part to inherit the kingdom prepared for the party of the first part from the foundation of the world."

But that's not really it, is it -- at least, it's not all there is. In a sense, all Jesus is doing here is making an observation. Since what Jesus commands us to do is to love as He loves, if we do this it follows that we have the same love Jesus has, and two people with the same love are by definition friends. Jesus isn't so much promising to become our friend; He's pointing out the means by which we necessarily are His friends.

As the Pope pointed out in his homily, that definition of friendship is not unique to Christianity. What is unique to Christianity, the real promise Jesus is making, is that it is possible for us, fallen and sinful as we are, to love as He loves, to love with His very Spirit, and so to be joined through the God-made-Man with the One Father of All.


An outside view

From Camassia:
I don’t know what the name Benedict means to Catholics, but it somehow just conveys something totally different to me than the name Ratzinger. It’s almost as if The Rock renamed himself Boopsie.


In the clear light of dawn

A few thoughts on Day 2 of Pope Benedict XVI's reign:
  • I hope this papacy will see the end of the institutionalized "wait till the next pope" attitude, the false hope, based on an improper distinction between "the Vatican" and "the Church," that Catholic doctrine will change. Obviously, I want people to believe what the Church teaches, but too many Catholics don't seem to even believe that the Church teaches what she teaches. The more people see things as they really are, the better, for the individuals and for the Church.
  • It's a safe (and, I think, non-excommunicatable) bet that Pope Benedict will disappoint many people. The "wait till the next pope" people, obviously, but also the "it's a bird, it's a plane, it's SuperPope" people. My hope for the SuperPope wishers is that they learn from the Holy Father, and not merely approve of him. When he does something conservative Catholics don't expect or don't like -- and perhaps, more importantly, when he doesn't do something they want -- I hope they ask themselves whether he has something to teach them in this, instead of simply dismissing it with, "Well, he can't do everything," or, "Nobody's perfect."
  • Speaking of bets, the over-under on number of years till the blessed John Paul is canonized must have dropped to about 0.35.
  • I suspect Pope Benedict XVI is destined for the fall and rise of many opinions of the blessed John Paul's papacy, that people will have to confront the question of how superficial their admiration of the late Pope was.
  • I will admit that, the instant I saw Pope Benedict XVI coming out onto the balcony, my first thought was, "He looks a little sad to be taking his good friend's place." Probably mostly a matter of me imputing to him my own feelings.
  • We shall soon see, perhaps, whether the common wisdom about the conflict between Cardinals Ratzinger and McCarrick last summer over giving the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians was correct. In July, Cardinal McCarrick turns 75 and submits his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI.
  • Speaking of which, Cardinal McCarrick's statement on Pope Benedict XVI's election is here.
  • Are we going to go with "Pope Benedict XVI" in informal speech and writing, or just "Pope Benedict"? Somehow a "II" seems easier to slip in than an "XVI." Just a matter of habit, perhaps.
  • Finally, Spiritual Depth Charges, while indeed celebratory, do not readily admit to excessive consumption, at least not among those old enough to remember the last papal election.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The wrong foot

One thing that has marred this day on which the Universal Church has been given a new Holy Father is the ugliness of many commenters who gleefully await the insufficiently pure's public repudiation of their membership in that same Church.

That is wickedness. It is the fruit of a sinful heart, and deserves rebuke.

When the spiteful discover their acclaimed hero does not share their spite, they will lose either their spite or their hero. We should pray it is their spite they lose, and soon.


"He’s the whole package"

So says Fr. Augustine DiNoia, OP, about his former boss Benedict XVI. (And who's to say he won't be working directly for him again?)

Meanwhile, the Dominican Province of St. Joseph's student brothers seem to have taken the news in good spirits. Those Summit nuns, however, haven't fully settled down yet.


Habemus scopum


To celebrate

Spiritual Depth Charge

1 oz. Benedictine, in shot glass
12 oz. Bavarian lager, in beer mug

Drop shot glass into beer mug. Drain mug.


Pope Benedict XVI

Good for him! Good for the Church! Ad multos annos, Papa!


Monday, April 18, 2005

All the news that fits their point of view

(Idea stolen from Jay Anderson.)



Does anyone know the process for choosing a new pope?


"Will you marry her?"

As an experiment, let me extract from a fine post on the religious vocation at Moniales OP, and make a few substitutions (indicated by underline):
A call to married life is about answering the Shepherd's invitation. It is about saying YES with the entirety of ones life. It is responding to the call to become like Christ Crucified in self-sacrificing love. A vocation is about love: Christ's unconditional, total love for us and our response to Him. What matters is this exchange of love. Everything else: the "where", the "what" will follow if we first respond in love.

The question we often get is, "Mister, but how did you know?" Just as each vocational call is personal and unique the "knowing" is pretty much the same. Very few, if any, of us were thrown down to the ground and heard a voice from heaven. For some, there was an immediate inner assurance the moment they first met their spouse. For others there was a struggle but the key is that each one of us in married life had to respond to the grace to give a courageous YES, often not knowing what that YES would mean but knowing that I could and must trust the One who loved me so much He was extending this invitation.

And it IS an invitation. Too often, men and women spend all too much time not moving forward because, "I don't know if this is God's will." Discerning a vocation from that angle implies that a vocation to the married life is not an invitation but a command. It also can be a way of avoiding taking the next step, a way of putting off my response. One need only to look at Mary at the Annunciation as the model for responding to God's invitation. Gabriel was anxious for Mary's response and St. Bernard in one of his sermons tells Mary to make haste: the whole world is waiting for its Saviour!

Christ, too says to you, Make haste! I am waiting for your love. I am waiting to give you Myself. I am waiting to give you souls so that together we can lead them to the Father. Nothing gives the Good Shepherd greater joy than when we hear his voice and follow him!
Hmm. Not a perfect fit -- marriage and religious life aren't interchangeable, like the blue and red cars in The Game of Life -- but there is stuff there that might be profitably preached to married Catholics who, life the fellow who didn't realize he spoke prose, don't realize they are living out their Christian vocation.


Sunday, April 17, 2005

Watch your language

While listening to a homily today on Christian vocations, I had a thought about a semantic indicator of how little American Catholics accept the notion of marriage as vocation.

Suppose a priest breaks his vows or in some way scandalizes the faithful. We would say he has "betrayed the priesthood." If a married man breaks his vows, however, we would say he has "betrayed his wife," perhaps "betrayed his marriage," but I don't think we would say he has "betrayed Christian marriage" itself. Doesn't that suggest we regard marriage as, yes, something blessed by the Church and with obvious public consequences, but also as essentially a private matter between the married couple?

Then, too, failure and success in a priestly vocation is seen as intimately affecting the Church in a way that failure and success in a married vocation is not. We speak of "the priesthood" in a way we never speak of "the married;" we speak of priest failing the Church in a way we never speak of married persons failing the Church.

We even judge the priesthood in a way we never judge the laity. Not that lay Catholics as a class are loath to judge each other, but I've never heard anyone say, "I really hope my son doesn't want to be a layman when he grows up. They're all adulterers."

I think the things we say and don't say indicate that we haven't completely torn down the priesthood yet. But we've got a long way to go to build up marriage to bring it into proportion even with the sorry stature of the priesthood in this post-Scandal era.