instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Being formal ain't natural

In the post below, I gave an example of what I think is an error caused [in part] by thinking in "bad Catholic" terms rather than in terms of what is true. In (not-so-)brief, the error is dividing authoritative statements (that is, statements made by religious authorities as religious authorities) into doctrine and personal judgment (or "empirical claim[s] about contingent matters of fact"), then ignoring (with or without lip service toward respectful consideration) the latter.

Commenting on the post, Steven Riddle commits what I think is the dual of that error: of dividing authoritative statements into Big-T Tradition and little-t tradition, then ignoring (with or without lip service toward respectful consideration) the latter.

Note that in both cases, the distinction involved is real and important. The error lies in ignoring as "of little relevance" the non-doctrinal, non-Traditional category. To do that is to treat the Catholic Faith like a formal language with a symbology so rigorously defined that every sentence can be precisely and unambiguously interpreted.

Human language doesn't work that way. Non-doctrinal statements shed light on doctrinal statements. Small-t traditions shed light on capital-T Tradition. Non-doctrinal statements and small-t traditions are not difficulties the solutions to which we know exist but may not be interested in chasing down. They are human means by which, and along with which, doctrine and Tradition are related and passed on.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

For example

A little more on last week's point about the limits of the question, "Does doing X make me a bad Catholic?"

CCC 2267, which has been quoted often in the last week and a half, says this:
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."*
* John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.
The standard minimalist approach to this is to point out that the sentence beginning, "Today, in fact," is not Catholic doctrine but the personal judgment of Pope John Paul II some time around 1995. As such, one would not be a bad Catholic if one were to arrive at a different judgment about how frequent are the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity.

The problem with this approach is that it completely separates the teaching of a principle and its application. Moral principles like the Church's teaching on the death penalty are not expressed as exact formalisms that can be applied with objective rigor in concrete cases. An application of a moral principle is itself a lesson about that principle.

When the blessed John Paul II wrote that "cases of absolute necessity...are very rare, if not practically non-existent," he wasn't merely giving his personal opinion, he was illustrating what it means that the death penalty must only be used in cases of absolute necessity. The basis of his statement is not a mystery. The "steady improvements in the organization of the penal system" is not an occult matter. We aren't left scratching our heads and wondering what leaps of logic he made to arrive at his judgment.

So while I won't call someone who asserts that cases in which the death penalty is absolutely necessary are not very rare a bad Catholic, I will wonder whether they really understand what "absolutely necessary" means.

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"Please send us more [] priests"

Often the prayer for vocations during the Sunday Masses' Prayer of the Faithful at my parish is along the lines of, "That holy men and women will answer a call to the priesthood or religious life, we pray to the Lord."

If that were to happen, it'd be swell, but I can't help thinking that there's no particular need for the men and women who answer a call to the priesthood or religious life to be holy. In fact, I'm not sure I'd want anyone to be ordained who heard that prayer and said to himself, "Say, I'm holy! Maybe I should think about becoming a priest."

Maybe my standards are too low, but I'd be perfectly happy if plenty of non-holy men and women answer a call to the priesthood or religious life with the hope that they will become holy through living out their call. (Heck, some might even be fervent atheists when they first start hearing things.)

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Qualify!

Sure, it's too hot to sit on the deck in direct sunlight today. But that doesn't mean there's no hot curling action going on in the neighborhood!

Team Pustovar v. Team Edie, today at 2 p.m., looks like the one to watch.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Googlerhhea

Further investigation shows that "When it is not necessary to speak, it is necessary not to speak" is an old favorite of Fr. Neuhaus. (The formula goes back at least to Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland, who used it in reference to change.)

Patrick Brennan of Mirror of Justice provides some context for Fr. Neuhaus's use of the maxim last Spring:
In Philadelphia in May to give the St. Thomas More Society's Gest Forum Lecture, Fr. Neuhaus was asked about what the U.S. Bishops had recently said about U.S. immigration policy. After some nice but uncharacteristic hemming and hawing, Neuhaus answered: "If it is not necessary for the Bishops to make a statement, it is necessary that they not." It's possible that Neuhaus qualified his principle in the colloquy that ensued (I was laughing too hard to hear everything), but, at least in substance, he meant it, and I think I agree with him, or pretty close to it.
I think one might well ask in what sense it is necessary that Catholic bishops not speak about justice for immigrants.

Still, this May 2003 reference suggests the qualification Patrick may have missed three years later:
The late Paul Ramsey, a Methodist ethicist who taught for many years at Princeton, urged upon religious leaders certain "self-denying ordinances." One such ordinance is the Wittgensteinian-sounding rule that, on those things on which one cannot speak with authority, one should remain silent. Put differently: when it is not necessary to speak, it is necessary not to speak. This came to mind as I was reading another roundup of religious pronouncements on the war....

The idea is not that religious leaders should remain silent in a time of war. Far from it. Precisely as religious leaders, they should have a great deal to say that needs saying.... My point, in agreement with Paul Ramsey, is that the trouble begins when religious leaders abandon their presumed competence as theological and moral teachers in favor of political punditry and policy prescriptions. As individuals, they may of course express political opinions, which others may take for what they are worth. But any political statement that begins with "As religious leaders, we..." should be accompanied by a warning label indicating the probable abuse of religion.
And my point is that the trouble begins when religious followers abandon their presumed leaders in favor of political pundits, due to a too-neat classification of their leaders' statements into "doctrinal" and "non-doctrinal" subsets. The authority of the bishops is not the two-valued, on/off thing that some make it out to be.

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Could you repeat the question?

Let me begin this post by generalizing the last post:

We can think of how much teaching authority a person accords to his bishop as existing on a spectrum, from "Everything his Excellency says comes directly from God" to "His saying, 'God exists,' would be a lucky guess." My claim is that there is a tendency among politically conservative Roman Catholics in the United States to push towards a minimal position.

I don't think this claim is particularly controversial, largely because it's not terribly specific. And I suspect the tendency toward minimization is largely explained by the fact that politically conservative Roman Catholics in the United States disagree with so much of what their bishops say.

But I wonder if a secondary effect is suggested by these words of Mike Liccione, commenting on the Robert T. Miller post at First Things:
Thus, it is possible for a Catholic to disagree with the pope and the bishops about when conditions justifying the death penalty are present, without thereby being a bad Catholic. One might still be wrong, but one is not a bad Catholic just for being wrong in that way.
What Mike writes is, of course, absolutely true, and I hope you remember it the next time you're taking a test in a for-credit course on Catholicism.

But when you're not taking a test in a for-credit course on Catholicism, I hope you say, "Frankly, I care a lot more about whether I'm wrong than about whether I'm a bad Catholic." Being a bad Catholic is a question of rules. "But is is true?" is a question of virtue.

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Not all that much truth

Robert T. Miller, an assistant professor at the Villanova University School of Law, begins a post at First Things by approvingly quoting something silly said by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus:
Speaking to the St. Thomas More Society of Philadelphia last spring, Fr. Neuhaus said, "When it is not necessary for the bishops to speak on a particular subject, it is necessary that they not speak on that subject." As with everything Fr. Neuhaus says, there is a lot of truth in that.
One might as well say there's a lot of truth in saying, "When it is not necessary for Fr. Neuhaus to speak on a particular subject, it is necessary that he not speak on that subject."

And actually, there is a lot of truth in the advice to refrain from idle speech, which is good advice for each of us.

But I find it highly inconsistent for a man best known for editing an opinion journal to hold the opinion that others should hold their opinions to themselves. So much so, I suspect he'd hold a different opinion if only the bishops did, too.

Yes, I get the distinction between Church doctrine and personal judgment. But that distinction does not entail the right to categorically ignore the non-doctrinal statements of either your own bishop or the national bishops in a group. (In his post, Miller writes that a Church authority's "empirical claim about the state of the world... need only be respected and considered in forming one's conscience;" that respect and consideration seems often to consist in nothing more than saying, "That claim need only be respected and considered.")

There are those who advocate for a position very much like this:
  1. Each sentence pronounced by one or more bishops is either doctrinal or it is not.
  2. Whether a sentence is doctrinal can be determined by an explicit deductive proof.
  3. In the absence of an explicit deductive proof, the sentence is non-doctrinal.
  4. A non-doctrinal statement by one or more bishops can be completely ignored by Catholics. (Some, not entirely in jest, add that every non-doctrinal statement by one or more bishops ought to be ignored.)
This position is no more Catholic than the old "Every word that falls from Sister's lips is Church dogma" popular with ex-Catholics and journalists. If you think it's maybe a little more Catholic, in that it seeks to correct the absolutism of the older position, note that what it actually does is invert the bishop-flock relationship. The bishop is no longer teacher, but student, submitting papers to be graded by the faithful.

One of my hobbyhorses is the distinction between being taught by someone and agreeing with him. A week or two ago, I read a comment on another blog that at a more innocent time would have dumbfounded me, to the effect that, "A bishop who does A, B, and C is a bishop I could follow." As though doing what you're told is leading!

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The reason for the seasons

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus begins a reflection on Christmas in these words:
"I don't know why he has to spoil the season by bringing that up. For him every day is Good Friday." Her complaint was against Father's homily, which underscored that the baby Jesus was born to die. Yes, Good Friday, but Easter, too. Although Father insisted that we should not rush to Easter.
Christmas and Good Friday and Easter. These are sometimes treated as discrete and disparate things that happen to be linked, like a train engine and a passenger car and a caboose, but that can only be thought about individually. One's joyful, one's sorrowful, one's glorious. If they don't need to be treated as entirely different stories, they're at least different acts of the same play. There's a necessary progression: you need Christmas to get to Good Friday, and you need Good Friday to get to Easter, and you can't go back to Christmas after Easter, much less right after Good Friday.

This idea of a sequence -- of moving, in one direction only, from one thing to the next -- is inseparably bound with the fact that we are temporal creatures. Christ, too, in His created human nature really did experience Christmas and Good Friday and Easter as discrete and disparate things.

Yet from the divine perspective, I hazard to guess, they are all the same thing. To us, the Bethlehem stable and the Garden of Gethsemane are settings for stories that aren't generally both told in one sitting. To the Eternally-Begotten Son, the stable and the garden -- and the desert and the town and the sea and the cross and the tomb -- are all, somehow, the same setting, the same story, the same single word, which, as Mike Liccione points out Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa reminds us, is, "Love."

The challenge for us is to see how this can be, then make it be so in our own lives.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Jesus of the New Year

I like how Archbishop Wuerl puts it in his New Year's message:
Babies are notoriously lovable. Jesus as an infant surrounded by Mary, his mother, Joseph, his foster father, shepherds and sheep within the setting of a manger evokes sympathy, empathy and an emotional outpouring that does not challenge us much. But Jesus grew up.
After a brief, dramatic flourish at His birth, Jesus disappeared from sight as completely as the Christmas decorations around the home. Unlike the decorations, though, He was not lying in a box waiting to be taken out, unchanged, and put in the same place as last year. Instead, he was growing and becoming strong, filled with wisdom, preparing for the public ministry that would follow His baptism.

This year, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on January 8, a scant fourteen days after the Nativity of the Lord was celebrated. That's not much time -- not a few of us will still have some Christmas decorations unboxed -- to go from a notoriously lovable baby to a man whose neighbors wanted to hurl off a cliff.

But that's the liturgical year for you. The baby swaddled in sentiment is the same Person Who would one day preach that He is the Way -- the way, the only way, to the peace and goodwill people treat like a Christmas decoration, to be safely preserved until next year, and no more real or substantial than a spun glass snowman ornament.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

"What Christmas is as we grow Older"
Welcome, everything! Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places round the Christmas fire, where what is sits open- hearted! In yonder shadow, do we see obtruding furtively upon the blaze, an enemy's face? By Christmas Day we do forgive him! If the injury he has done us may admit of such companionship, let him come here and take his place. If otherwise, unhappily, let him go hence, assured that we will never injure nor accuse him.

On this day we shut out Nothing!

"Pause," says a low voice. "Nothing? Think!"

"On Christmas Day, we will shut out from our fireside, Nothing."

"Not the shadow of a vast City where the withered leaves are lying deep?" the voice replies. "Not the shadow that darkens the whole globe? Not the shadow of the City of the Dead?"

Not even that. Of all days in the year, we will turn our faces towards that City upon Christmas Day, and from its silent hosts bring those we loved, among us. City of the Dead, in the blessed name wherein we are gathered together at this time, and in the Presence that is here among us according to the promise, we will receive, and not dismiss, thy people who are dear to us!

... Lost friend, lost child, lost parent, sister, brother, husband, wife, we will not so discard you! You shall hold your cherished places in our Christmas hearts, and by our Christmas fires; and in the season of immortal hope, and on the birthday of immortal mercy, we will shut out Nothing!
Charles Dickens

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

That immanent joy

Do you ever think that maybe we over-spiritualize the Beatitudes?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousnes, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.
And not without reason. Blessedness is the state of the saints in heaven, not of us wayfarers in this valley of tears. The beatitude Jesus was referring to is obviously not the casual happiness of the man who finds things copacetic today.

And yet, Jesus says, "Blessed are these people," not, "Blessed will these people be. It has been pointed out that the poor in spirit (and, by the same argument, they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness as well) have now the kingdom of heaven. Those insulted because of Christ are flat out told to rejoice and be glad, not, "You'll rejoice and be glad one day."

So let's allow that the Christian can be joyful and glad in his hardships, because he lives now in Christ, and Christ in him, and in the future he will become as He is. Is such supernatural joy and gladness convertible to natural happiness, to the spirit of cheer associated with next week's secular holiday?

In the past, when I've thought about such things, I've always been quick to downplay the connection between the spiritual and the physical. You can be both sad and joyful, I've repeated, and everyone agrees that no one is expected to be in a good mood every moment of every day -- all the more so the more we read about the effects of things like diet, sleep, and heredity on brain chemistry.

But, having read an essay on "Dominicans and Happiness" by Fr. Paul Murray, OP -- reprinted in his excellent book, The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality: A Drink Called Happiness -- I'm now thinking that I've been underestimating the effect our faith ought to have on our cheerfulness.

When St. Dominic is portrayed in the Nine Ways of Prayer asking
for himself and his brethren something of that transcendent joy which is found in living the beatitudes, praying that each would consider himself truly blessed in extreme poverty, in bitter mourning, in cruel persecutions, in a great hunger and thirst for justice, in anxious mercy towards all,
I suspect such transcendent joy can't help but be manifest in the countenance and mood of those who have found it. Perhaps it's less than I'd thought a matter of a person suffering cruel persecutions surprising me by turning out to be joyful, and more a matter of a joyful person surprising me by turning out to be suffering cruel persecutions.

In his Libellus, a history of the beginnings of the Order of Preachers, Bl. Jordan of Saxony (second Master of the Order) describes both St. Dominic's good humor and its source:
But more splendid than the miracles were his sublime character and burning zeal.... His mind always retained its usual calm, unless he was stirred by compassion and mercy; and, because a joyful heart begets a cheerful face, he manifested the peaceful harmony within his soul by his cordial manner and his pleasant countenance...

During the day, none was more affable, none more pleasant to his brethren or associates. At night none was more instant in prayer or watching. In the evening, tears found a place with him and, in the morning, gladness. The daytime he shared with his neighbor, but the night he dedicated to God, for he knew that, in the daytime, God has commanded His mercy, and a canticle to Him in the night.
The "unless he was stirred by compassion and mercy" answers the Pollyanna objection, but I particularly like the parallel Bl. Jordan draws between night/God/prayer/tears and day/neighbor/affability/gladness. His calm mind and cheerful face were buoyed up by a deep reservoir of prayer and vigil. Whatever sadness of his own he had, he brought before God at night, the better to join natural pleasantness to the supernatural Gospel joy he preached.

A cordial manner and a pleasant countenance sound like very minor things in a saint's catalog of virtues; in fact, these are quite likely to be dismissed as merely good secular manners, or even as masks for vices. Surely, though, the mercy God has commanded in the daytime extends to the whole of the persons we meet, and to be cordial and pleasant is to meet a natural desire that only we can meet (no one can be pleasant for you). While fasting might not make many of us more cordial and pleasant, we might ask ourselves whether a little more prayer might be in order.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Three roads diverged

Bl. Cecilia Cesarine, OP, a Dominican nun who "took the habit from St Dominic's own hands," left us an invaluable Legend of St. Dominic, which includes the only contemporary record of the saint's personal appearance.

It also includes a memorable anecdote titled, "How the Devil Upset the Lamp Without Spilling It, During His Sermon":
...One day, after preaching and other deeds of charity, [St. Dominic] came when it was late to the sisters.... As they were sitting together behind the grille, and his brethren were likewise seated beside him, he began to preach to them once more about the wiles of the enemy, showing how Satan, for the sake of deceiving souls, transforms himself not merely into an angel of light, but assumes the shapes of the vilest creatures to hinder preaching and other good works, sometimes even taking the shape of a common sparrow.

The venerable father had scarcely said the word ere the enemy of mankind came on the scene in the shape of a sparrow, and began to fly through the air, and hopping even on the sisters' heads, so that they could have handled him had they been so minded, and all this to hinder the preaching.

St Dominic observing this, called Sister Maximilla, and said: 'Get up and catch him, and fetch him here to me.'

She got up and, putting out her hand, had no difficulty in seizing hold of him, and handed him out through the window to St Dominic. St Dominic held him fast in one hand and commenced plucking off the feathers with the other, saying the while: 'You wretch, you rogue!'

When he had plucked him clean of all his feathers amid much laughter from the brothers and sisters, and awful shrieks of the sparrow, he pitched him out, saying: 'Fly now if you can, enemy of mankind! You can cry out and trouble us, but you can't hurt us!'

The sparrow hopped once more through the window into the church, while all the sisters sat down to hear the sermon, then climbing up to the brass vessel, suspended by chains, which held the oil lamp, he broke the chains with a strong wrench and overturned the vessel. The lamp fell out, but not only was it not damaged or extinguished, but went on burning upside down. The sisters all looked up at the crash of the upset, and saw the lamp standing without any support in mid-air....

The sparrow which flew in that night disappeared, and no one saw whither he went.... Dominic wrought this laughter-stirring miracle by the window in St Sixtus' church, in the presence of Sister Cecilia, who saw and heard all that had been said, and of the other sisters of St Sixtus who were also present.
And the question is: Now that we know this story, what are we supposed to do with it?

One tack is to naturalize the story, perhaps along these lines: Once, when St. Dominic was talking about the devil with the nuns, a sparrow flew into room and acted the way somewhat tame sparrows act when inside rooms. Mistaking the sparrow for the devil -- a real possibility in medieval times -- St. Dominic grabbed it and pulled its feathers off. Then -- maybe that night, maybe that visit, maybe some other time -- an oil lamp in the church fell off its chain, but didn't cause a fire or even much of a mess, and this was attributed to him as a miracle.

Another tack is to psychoanalyze the story: The devil appears in the midst of a group of religious (albeit under a benign enough appearance, and whatever the actual nature of the bird what matters is what those present thought it was). Their reaction? "Much laughter" while their founder plucks it clean of feathers amid its "awful shrieks." Surely there's some sort of group pathology at work when people laugh at [what they believe is] the devil instead of fearing it. (And the less said of St. Dominic's manic, impromptu turn as the Clown to the devil's Policeman, the better.)

For my part, though, I'm inclined to take the tack of accepting the story on its own terms. Not to look for evidence of the "historical Dominic" by way of a sort of higher criticism, not to read it as a case study of medieval behavior, but to take it as a story told by an elderly nun about a real live saint she knew personally.

On those terms, the story is a parable of the foolishness of devils and the wisdom of saints. Those who see by the light of Christ can see through the deceptions of the enemy, and when seen through and exposed the deceptions are, literally, ridiculous.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How Dominicans say, "Merry Christmas!"

"Here's a book I thought you'd like."

As a Christmas present to Disputations readers, I will give out a copy of each book published by Zaccheus Press.



The books arePlease check out the descriptions of the books. If any of them interest you -- I particularly recommend Our Lady and the Church and A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist -- send me an email listing your interests in order. I'll choose five emails at random on or about Christmas Eve and arrange for delivery.

And of course if you want to give one of these books as a present to someone else, please do.

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Josephology in six minutes

Fr. Basil Cole, OP, gives a brief talk on video about the role of St. Joseph in the Incarnation and our redemption.

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νυν καιρος ευποσδεκτος

Every day, we make countless choices, and each choice we make either draws us closer to God or drives us farther away from Him.

Though, strictly speaking, we don't make countless choices. Our choices are, in principle, countable; we simply don't count them.

And actually, our choices aren't merely countable in principle, they are counted in fact, by God. And it certainly sounds like we get to go over each of them with Him at the Last Judgment; I sort of hope that will be mostly a matter of formality and ritual.

Nowadays, we tend to have a Newtonian concept of time, as something that moves forward in evenly spaced ticks, measured by some object like an hourglass or a caesium oscillator. But we could also think of time as something that ticks along with each of our free choices. That's not something we can measure, as a practical matter, but it's certainly more relevant to our own lives than the fact that yet another 9,192,631,770 cycles of Caesium-133 radiation have been detected at NIST.

So the sequence of our choices produces our personal moral chronology, what we're up to at each moral instant.

But
Thus says the LORD: In a time of favor I answer you, on the day of salvation I help you.
And St. Paul proclaims,
Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
The difference between our personal "moral instant" and the "now" that is a very acceptable time is the old chronos-kairos distinction. It's not an either/or distinction, though. A moral instant and the acceptable time can coincide within a person; when this happens, we can say the chronos or marked or counted time is graced with God's eternal kairos.

We speak of Advent as a time when we prepare for the coming of Christ, both in our hearts at Christmas and at the end of time. But all of these times -- Advent 2006, Christmas 2006, the Second Coming -- are all perceived as points in a chronology, as sets of moral instants. What St. Paul tells us is that the moral instant of Incarnation -0004 means that any or all of our own moral instants can coincide with the acceptable kairos.

Yes, Christ will come again, in some future instant. But He is also here now; God's present is in contact with all of our instants. Whether we want that contact to be realized in our persons, whether we want our instant -- this instant, the one you're spending reading this sentence -- to be graced with God's eternal kairos, is the choice that will characterize this instant in the record of our moral chronology.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Seasonal significance

I've been struck this season by how sacramental Advent is.

As St. Thomas writes:
...a sacrament is a sign that is both a reminder of the past, i.e. the passion of Christ; and an indication of that which is effected in us by Christ's passion, i.e. grace; and a prognostic, that is, a foretelling of future glory.
Each sacrament unites those three points in time: Christ's death on the Cross; the current moment; and the Last Day. We speak in particular of the Eucharist making present Christ's sacrifice on the altar, but we should always recall it as a pledge of future glory as well.

In a similar way, Advent makes present to us the past and the future. The past, in the form of the promises of a Messiah, culminating in the journey to Bethlehem and echoed in the ministry of St. John the Baptist. The future, as we look forward to the Messiah's return.

And the present? What are the graces that indicate of that which is effected in us, by Christ's passion, in terms of these preparations? Answering that question, you might say, is what Advent is for.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

The Feast of the Immaculate Condamasus I, Pope

It looks like the post I had planned for last Friday will have to wait until next year. A shame, too; it was crackerjack.

But time marches on, and such missed opportunities are normal. "Normal" in the statistical sense, I conjecture, with most of our three score and ten Solemnities of the Immaculate Conception being average, with a few exceptional and a few exceptionally bad.

I'm not sure what it is, exactly, that is usually average but sometimes exceptional. Maybe something like "openness to God" or "disposition toward contemplation." Something, in any case, that you'd like to have a lot of.

Having a lot of pretty much anything all the time doesn't come to us naturally. From our daily cycle of sleep and wakefulness to the arc of our whole lifespan, we change according to more or less regular patterns -- normal patterns, even.

You might say -- though you probably wouldn't, so I will -- that the point of living through a whole series of liturgical years is to move the average up, so that this decade's exceptional become next decade's (God grant it) average.

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