instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, September 30, 2010

You keep using that word

In a National Catholic Register column, Mark Shea quotes a number of people who have neither children nor impeccable reading skills. Among the quotations is this [links added]:
I'm a childfree Catholic but I believe in global warming, I believe in birth control, AND I think the writer of this article is an ignorant nut job. Not all Catholics are brainwashed sheep. We ARE allowed to form our own consciences.
Setting aside the self-aggrandizement (of a sort so common we no longer notice how odd it is) of the first two sentences, I want to look more closely at the last one:
We ARE allowed to form our own consciences.
I'm not a big fan of that "allowed." It's not clear whether it's the Church or her Founder granting the allowance, though either way the context suggests the Church isn't enthusiastic about it. Which is ironic, intentionally or not, since what the Church actually teaches is, "Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience." Forming our own conscience isn't merely "allowed," it's required.

What is not allowed -- I repeat that word for rhetorical effect, but it's an otherwise lazy choice; this isn't a matter of the Church forbidding something, it's a matter of the Church pointing out that the thing is wrong to do; the former is a matter of governance, the latter of doctrine -- is to form our own consciences along lines contrary to Church doctrine. It's wrong because it guarantees an ill-formed conscience. It's also foolish, because one of the reasons we need to form our consciences is because concupiscence makes us unlikely to live according to Church doctrine:
The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings. [CCC 1783]
Someone who "believe[s] in birth control" -- and how's that for a revealing expression? -- does not believe in conscience formation as taught by the Catholic Church.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The War of Revelation 12

Revelation 12:7-9 tells the story of the war in heaven:
Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.

The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.
These verses come right after the Woman Clothed with the Sun gives birth and flees into the desert where she had a place prepared by God. We understand that to refer to the Virgin Birth, while the war in heaven occurred, we are told, when the devil and its angels first fell.

Maybe we can say the devil underwent a series of falls, with the logical progression more important than the chronology. First is the fall from grace, when the devil first opposed God's will, which parallels Adam's fall in eating the forbidden fruit.

Next is the fall from heaven, moved along by Michael and his angels. It parallels Adam's expulsion from Paradise, though it may not have been quite as complete. Instead of being kept out by an angel with a flaming sword, Satan is able to come before the LORD.

After the Incarnation, though -- and again, "after" in the logical sense, not necessarily the chronological sense -- there was no longer any place for the devil and its angels in heaven. God's will had triumphed; God's plan had been carried out, despite the worst the devil could do. At this point, the New Adam beats a separate path back to God, and mankind is no longer doomed to follow the devil on its downward journey.

Revelation 12 continues:
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death."
Michael, the Incarnation, Christian martyrs -- who or what doesn't cast down the devil? But you see how this passage identifies Michael's victory with the martyrs'. Michael throws the devil down to earth, and the martyrs overcome it by Christ. In both cases, the devil works to foil God's will, and is defeated by those who work to keep it.

The loud voice continues:
"Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them. But woe to you, earth and sea, for the Devil has come down to you in great fury, for he knows he has but a short time."
Here's the downer, for those of us who happen to dwell on the earth and sea. Cast out of heaven, and faced with an eternity in hell, the devil is tearing it up right here.

That's regrettable, but it's the sort of thing you'd want to know about where you dwell. And recall: there is no longer any place for the devil and its angels in heaven.

So if the devil is mad as hell here on earth, and has already been cast out of heaven, then the thing to do is...?

Right! Conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of your testimony. To that extent, you will already be in heaven even as you dwell on earth. To that extent, you may rejoice!


Friday, September 24, 2010

The motto of contemporary Catholic Pharisees

"Our Phylacteries Are 30% Narrower Than The Other Leading Brand"


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The words of Gatherer, the son of Vomiter

As the note on the Douay-Rheims translation of Proverbs 30:1 explains, St. Jerome "has given us in this place the signification of the Hebrew names, instead of the names themselves, which are in the Hebrew, Agur the son of Jakeh."

Somewhat more poetical is the English translation of the Latin translation of vv 7-9:
Two things I have asked of thee, deny them not to me before I die.

Remove far from me vanity, and lying words.

Give me neither beggary, nor riches: give me only the necessaries of life: Lest perhaps being filled, I should be tempted to deny, and say: Who is the Lord? or being compelled by poverty, I should steal, and forswear the name of my God.
"Neither beggary nor riches" is a prudent prayer -- although I really do think I could be trusted with riches. (Which means, don't you think, giving me riches would be an excellent way for God to test my faith.)

Notice, though, the reasons "Agur" gives for this desire. He doesn't want to be tempted to do anything that would weaken his relationship with the Lord. He expresses the attitude we pray for in an act of contrition, detesting sins most of all because they offend God, Who is all good and deserving of all our love.

Moreover (I don't know that this was intended by the human author, but it certainly comes right out of what he wrote), the way he puts his imagined sins -- "to deny," to "forswear the Name" -- suggests the scandal such sins would cause. The author is, we can believe, known for his piety and wisdom. Should external circumstances, whether good or ill as the world judges, cause him to deny or forswear God, others will be tempted to do likewise, or perhaps to simply chuck the whole fidelity business as a bunch of malarkey.

As far as I can tell, he doesn't elaborate on his first wish -- "put falsehood and lying far from me," as the NAB has it. These too, though, would be concerns of a man held in some esteem by others, that he might start thinking more of his wisdom than he should or even make a pretense of wisdom on matters he doesn't understand. If he were to do these, then he would profane the name of the Lord in his pride.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Your reward will be great in heaven

In a New York Times op-ed piece on Pope Benedict's visit to Great Britain, Ross Douthat wrote:
And yes, the Church's exclusive theological claims and stringent moral message don't go over well in a multicultural, sexually liberated society. But the example of Catholicism's rivals suggests that the Church might well be much worse off if it had simply refashioned itself to fit the prevailing values of the age. That's what the denominations of mainline Protestantism have done, across the last four decades — and instead of gaining members, they've dwindled into irrelevance.

The Vatican of Benedict and John Paul II, by contrast, has striven to maintain continuity with Christian tradition, even at the risk of seeming reactionary and out of touch. This has cost the Church its once-privileged place in the Western establishment, and earned it the scorn of fashionable opinion. [corrected misuncapitalization of "the Church"]
I don't really buy that.

The Church has always had the scorn of fashionable opinion in the United States, and it's had the scorn of fashionable opinion in England since Henry VIII. It's had the scorn of fashionable opinion pretty much everywhere and everywhen fashionable opinion could scorn the Church with temporal impunity. See the final verse of yesterday's Gospel reading.

As for the Church's once-privileged place in the Western establishment: St. John Fisher was not executed for preaching against contraception. For that matter, I haven't heard that Danton & Co. were overly insistent on same-sex "marriage."

The privileged place the Church has occupied in the United States was granted because of her political clout. The clout the Church has lost in recent decades because Catholics no longer follow their bishops would not have been preserved had their bishops followed them instead. At best, telegenic bishops would have been allowed to be spokesmen for the establishment, but that would have little to do with the Church's mission.

And of course, the molestation scandals have revealed how conditional all Church privileges (not to mention how unhealthy some of them) were all along.

How meaningful it is to be Catholic in a given time and place is inversely related to how Catholic the time and place are. If the Church, in a given time and place, ceases to be Catholic, then the Church in that time and place ceases to be meaningful, even if it does sustain its membership. It's entirely possible, by abandoning Jesus' founding commission, for a local Church to grow into irrelevance.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

What would Miss Evangelization wear?

The thing
One thing
Among the things that really skeeter my ears is Catholics who, mistaking their own weird hangups or personal druthers for categorical moral imperatives, make of the Faith something, not merely ridiculous, but so cramped and petty that no god behind such a thing is worth a respectful nod, much less complete devotion.

The public airing of some psychosexual issues an anonymous Catholic author is trying to work through is an example of what I mean. Evangelizing the culture on Christian modesty is hard enough, without crackpot theories about stolen strawberries husbands picking out their wives' clothes floating around.

When I first ran into this bit of nonsense, I thought that the worst thing about the whole sola skirtura controversy was all the things left undone while people worry about women wearing pants. When the topic turned out to have legs, I considered writing a full Summa-style article, "Whether women may wear pants," with objections, a sed contra, a respondeo, and answers to the objections. But a complete list of the objections I've seen raised this week would include too many that are simply too skeevy for me to repeat. (Also, I wasn't sure what to say in the respondeo beyond, "Are you freaking kidding me?")

Then I saw this comment, which moved the issue from one of cranks embarrassing us respectable Catholics to one of cranks doing lasting spiritual damage to their own Catholic neighbors:
I was stuck in the skirt/dress zone for six years almost immediately after our move to the Trad Mass. I was given many articles and books and it did seem to make sense at the time and I immediately made the switch and never looked back until about five months ago. I had been unhappy for a couple of years wearing skirts but at this point had brought two daughters up to wear them and felt it would be confusing to just switch on the fly (no pun intended).

It was severe foot pain that changed everything! I was told to wear only sneakers. ... I refused to wear sneakers and skirts and portray myself as a missionary toting six children in Wal-Mart. I get enough stares as it is. I made the switch back to pants and told my girls they could make their own choice and they wear a little of both now.

I do wear skirts on Sundays. I am still the same person on the inside and a little free-er on the outside ;) One of the other posters made a comment about Fundamental Protestantism – I find some of the hard-core Catholic dress patrol police to be one in the same with my 10 year experience sitting in the Fundamentalist pew. Even more hurtful? Making the switch has caused more than one "friend" to distance themselves out of my life.
"Hard-core Catholic dress patrol police"? That's some messed up stuff, right there, and the sooner it gets driven out of the Church the better.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Chopped liver, or less loving?

I've always had a slight hitch in my reading of Luke 15:7:
I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.
I get the irony here, that there aren't any righteous people who have no need of repentance*, but it still seems a bit... insulting? patronizing? toward the righteous. (Not quite entirely unlike the way characters who are good from start to finish come off as less interesting in stories than characters who are bad.)

But then I go back to Luke 7:41-43:
"Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days' wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?"

Simon said in reply, "The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven."

He said to him, "You have judged rightly."
The greater joy, then, need not rest in the more interesting personal history. It may be founded upon the greater love of the one whose larger debt was forgiven.

Which of course pops us back to Luke 15 and the Prodigal Son, in which the righteous one who has no need of repentance not only loves his father less, but is actively nursing a grudge against him.

* The Catena Aurea includes this quotation, attributed to Bede, though found in Anselm and possibly derived from Augustine: "The Lord found the sheep when He restored man, and over that sheep that is found there is more joy in heaven than over the ninety and nine, because there is a greater matter for thanksgiving to God in the restoration of man than in the creation of the Angels. Wonderfully are the Angels made, but more wonderfully man restored." The Angels, I suppose, are cool with that.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

There's no Madison Avenue in Jerusalem

I get a handful of press releases via email every month, which I mostly ignore. (I can be bought, but I won't be borrowed.) Occasionally, though, one misses the mark enough to warrant comment.

The most recent example had the following as its subject line:
Does Prayer Really Work? Dr. [X] Reveals the Truth.
The question is ill-formed; prayer isn't an act that may or may not "work." The statement is staggering in its hubris; has the world been waiting in ignorance of the nature of prayer for Dr. X's revelation?

And hey, what do you know, there's an "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of the email. Handy, that.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gospel economics

On the Archdiocese of Washington's Maybe It's God blog, Msgr. Charles Pope says that the Parable of the Lost Sheep "drips with irony, even absurdity."

I'm not entirely sold on that reading of the parable; I remember Cardinal McCarrick writing about seeing a shepherd rescue a lost sheep during a visit to the Holy Land.

But whatever First Century Jewish shepherds (or First Century Jewish housewives, per the Parable of the Ten Coins) might do, it's clear that First Century Jewish Pharisees would not go searching for a lost tenth of Israel, much less a lost hundredth. Their value system held that sinners aren't worth the time spent eating with them. Jesus, though, explains that saving a single sinner is worth everything to God.

Moreover, Pharisees would surely estimate the sinner-to-righteous ratio to be higher than 1:99, making the return on investment of proclaiming the Kingdom to sinners even greater -- unless, again, you consider each sinner worthless.

If the numbers were reversed, even the least sentimental shepherd would go after the ninety-nine lost sheep. Yet the Pharisees, if they followed their principles, would satisfy themselves with one righteous person who had no need of repentance (and just who will that one righteous person turn out to be?) and leave the ninety-nine sinners lost. Clinging to their one scrap of righteousness, how much joy they miss out on!


Monday, September 13, 2010

Will He find faith?

Listening to yesterday's first reading, I noticed how the LORD's kvetching about His people serves as a test of Moses' faith.

As a descendant of Israel, Moses could be made the patriarch of a great nation, as God offers to do in Ex 32:10, and technically God would still be keeping His promise to Abraham.

But Moses passes the test. Contrary to the rest of the Israelites, who are at the moment worshipping a golden calf, he has a true understanding of the LORD, Who does not make promises lightly nor interpret them narrowly. If the LORD made of Moses a great nation, then Abraham's faith would become a historical curiosity, like Enoch's. It would be from Moses, not Abraham, that God would build His people, and though no one would have standing to call Him on it, to do so would be for God to go against Himself.

Moses' faith in his God will not allow him to accept this, and the LORD, finding one man of faith among His people, spares them all.


Friday, September 10, 2010

A good principle, in theory

The Principle of Double Effect is often presented as a four-part conditional test of the morality of an act that has foreseeable negative effects. For example:
Classical formulations of the principle of double effect require that four conditions be met if the action in question is to be morally permissible:
  • first, that the action contemplated be in itself either morally good or morally indifferent;
  • second, that the bad result not be directly intended;
  • third, that the good result not be a direct causal result of the bad result; and
  • fourth, that the good result be "proportionate to" the bad result.
Supporters of the principle argue that, in situations of "double effect" where all these conditions are met, the action under consideration is morally permissible despite the bad result.

-- Wm. David Solomon, "Double Effect," The Encyclopedia of Ethics, Lawrence C. Becker, editor [reformatted for this post]
This is, as Wm. David Solomon says, the classical formulation, and it's the one I've always found and used in my own discussions on double effect. But now I'm wondering whether it isn't somewhat fussier than strictly necessary.

Look at the third condition. That is, Solomon observes, "the so-called Pauline principle, 'One should never do evil so that good may come.'" But the Pauline principle is valid apart from any double effect principle, so if the third condition is violated, then the first condition is also violated.

The same might also be said of the second condition, depending on what "directly intended" means. In the passage to which all subsequent Catholic thought on double-effect reasoning alludes, St. Thomas states that "moral acts take their species according to what is intended." If "what is intended" specifies an act, and what is intended is evil, then the act is morally evil, and fails the first condition.

Whether or not it's necessary to call out the second and third conditions explicitly, the fourth condition seems to be the heart of the principle. It says that -- in principle -- evil and good effects are commensurate, and the relation between them determines (all else being morally good) whether a particular act is morally licit.

But it's also important to note what it doesn't say, which is how to measure the relation between the effects. That's fine, because for all the talk of "double-effect" reasoning, the Principle of Double Effect itself doesn't talk about how the reasoning occurs.

And it doesn't have to. No one needs to be told that, if the bad effect "outweighs" the good effect, the act ought not be performed, because no one would perform an act if they thought the bad effect outweighed the good.

So when we talk amongst ourselves about whether this or that act, with foreseeable good and evil effects, is morally licit, we shouldn't talk as though the Principle of Double Effect provides a heuristic for settling that question. We need to judge whether the fourth condition is met by means the Principle doesn't provide; at best, it provides reason to think those means exist.

I'll also point out that, in the first condition, judging the moral nature of the act "in itself" is not limited to judging whether the act is evil in its object. Circumstances other than the effects of an act can make an act immoral, even if its object is not. You must account for those circumstances somewhere, and in the above formulation the place to do that is under the first condition.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Not reason's finest

In a post at First Thoughts, Matthew Milliner quotes Terry Eagleton on the difference between creation as physical act and creation as metaphysical act:
For Thomas Aquinas... God the Creator is not a hypothesis about how the world originated. It does not compete, say, with the theory that the universe resulted from a random fluctuation in a quantum vacuum... God for Christian theology is not a mega-manufacturer. He is rather what sustains all things in being by his love, and would still be this even if the world had no beginning. Creation is not about getting things off the ground. Rather, God is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever.
While I wouldn't have thought this two weeks ago, before I heard the world's smartest man give the recipe for Cosmic Stone Soup, now I'm not sure "God is the reason why there is something rather than nothing" helps to clarify Eagleton's point.

To most people, the term "the reason why" implies, I think, an explanation, a denouement. If you know the reason why, then you know the whole story leading up to something, and you also know that other possible explanations aren't the reason why.

As Eagleton says, though, God as Creator is not a competing theory to quantum vacuum fluctuation. He is "the reason why" in a completely different sense than quantum vacuum fluctuation could be, and since Hawking & Co. don't understand this, it might be better to avoid using a term that has a perfectly legitimate meaning in science.

Moreover, it could even be said that "God is the reason why there is something rather than nothing" isn't strictly true, in that the bare fact that God exists doesn't explain why the universe exists, while Hawking's proposal is that the bare fact that the law of gravity exists does explain why the universe exists. It is (if I may slip unnoticed from hacked up philosophy to hacked up theology) only through a perfectly free act of will that God created the universe. To say "God is the reason why something exists" is akin to saying "my wife is the reason why there's a jar of pickles in the oven." They both say who (or Who) is the cause, but neither says why the [C/c]auser caused something.

Lacking a better thought, I'll suggest we go with the tried and true "God is the First Cause of everything." Granted, "the First Cause" is capable of being misunderstood as the initial member of a sequence of causes, but I'd still guess it sounds odd enough to most people that they wouldn't automatically assume they knew what it meant.


Cosmic Stone Soup

  • nothing
  • the law of gravity
  • an infinite number of other universes

Makes 1 universe.


Blame it on Ockham

People will die because of the idiocy of a few dozen chuckleheads in Florida.

More precisely, people will die because of the idiocy of the media reports on a few dozen chuckleheads in Florida.

The media, of course, will blame Christianity in toto, rather than its own idiocy, though I suppose in this case some of its idiocy is honestly come by.1 The false idea that Bibles and a Quonset hut suffice to form a church comes from self-professed Christians, not the media.

I blame that old book-burner2 Martin Luther for the fact that Christians today make this claim (according to the principle that the originator of a bad idea is a more primary cause of the spread of the idea than are his opponents, however ham-fisted).

Granted, it's incendiary to insist that "ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery... are not Churches in the proper sense." It might even be said that it's un-American to insist that there is a "proper sense" of the word "Church," that there is a particular meaning to the term even if people deny it. And for that, I am traditional enough to blame William of Occam.

1. The media is capable of ginning up outrage over the fact that knowledge that an imprudent action will cause people to die doesn't prevent the imprudent actor from acting, indifferent to the fact that its own ginning up of outrage is an imprudent action that will cause people to die. That's a capability that won't impress at the Last Judgment.

2. I don't have any particular abhorrence of book-burning as an objective act. More, I'd say some books are fit only for burning -- and to those who deny this, I would ask, "How many advanced readers copies of self-published novels have you read?"


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Have you tried...?

No FastingFasting
No PrayerInhumanDieting
PrayerChitchatThe Christian Way


Church law

Imagine your pastor saying something like the following in a Sunday homily:
How can any one of you with a case against another dare to bring it to the unjust for judgment instead of to the holy ones? Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Then why not everyday matters?

If, therefore, you have courts for everyday matters, do you seat as judges people of no standing in the church? I say this to shame you. Can it be that there is not one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers? But rather brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers?

Now indeed, then, it is in any case a failure on your part that you have lawsuits against one another. Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather let yourselves be cheated? Instead, you inflict injustice and cheat, and this to brothers.
The most charitable response would be a gentle suggestion to winter at the Saint Itarium Home for Nervous Clergy.*

I don't know that the Church in Corinth was any more receptive of this teaching than my parish church would be. For that matter, the Church Universal has seemed content in general to allow her members to use secular courts for secular matters.

But if his conclusion have not always and everywhere been followed, what are the principles St. Paul insists on?

For starters: "The holy ones will judge the world." That is, the justice of the world's laws is to be measured against the perfect justice of God's laws -- "is to be" meaning "will be, at the General Judgment," but also meaning "ought to be, by the disciple of Christ." And where the justice of the world's laws is found wanting, St. Paul teaches, for the Christian to avail himself of those laws is for the Christian to avail himself of injustice.

From this it follows, by the way, that religious matters and everyday matters are not two unrelated spheres governed by two unrelated sets of laws. The things of this world -- how we interact with our neighbors and our co-workers and our shopkeepers and our customers -- fall under God's law as much as the things of our religion, although for the most part they have different human agents who create and enforce their respective human laws.

St. Paul goes even further, though, by calling it a "failing" (NAB) or "fault" (Douay-Rheims) -- literally,
which appears to mean something like "diminishing of that which should have been rendered in full measure" -- to have lawsuits between Christians in the first place. This statement wants context, surely: St. Paul himself didn't always put up with injustice from his Christian brothers.

But if you put it together with his condemnation of going to court before unbelievers, I think you get the observation that it is as hard to accept a law that is unjust toward you as it is easy to accept a law that is unjust in your favor. St. Paul would have the Corinthians understand that they ought to be so willing to do the former that they would never to the latter.

* Still, on balance I'd expect the responses to be better than if the homilist quoted without attribution the next two verses.


Monday, September 06, 2010

A handy answer

There's something of a cottage industry in writing books that look at the questions Jesus asks in the Gospels, the general idea being, of course, that as His disciples we ought to be prepared to answer those same questions.

Or perhaps, as with His question from today's Gospel reading, to avoid being asked the question in the first place. Luke 6:6-11 relates the story of the man with the withered hand*:
The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.

But he realized their intentions and said to the man with the withered hand, "Come up and stand before us." And he rose and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?"
My own honest answer to this question would be, "Erm... yes, right?"

Of course, the Church's discipline regarding the Lord's Day is much more lax than First Century Jewish discipline regarding the Sabbath (and let's not talk here about how Catholics actually observe the Lord's Day in practice). So maybe, to hear what Jesus is asking me, I should broaden the question from one of religious discipline to one of daily virtue.

The scribes and Pharisees were working harder than Jesus on this particular Sabbath, doing evil by plotting to destroy life. They were being, in a word, Pharisaical, and by choosing this behavior had blinded themselves to what they were seeing.

Here, to be Pharisaical is to constrain the works of God to operate within one's own understanding, and to condemn anyone who acts contrary to one's constraints. It goes beyond attending to what is committed to you and declares that whatever is hidden from you is false.

That's something I'm more likely to do than criticize someone for working on Sunday.

* Ever the physician, Luke specifies that it was the man's right hand. This detail emphasizes the magnitude of the man's suffering and the symbolism of Jesus' restoration.


Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Apostle's creed

Today's First Reading, from 1 Corinthians, includes this description of the life of an Apostle as St. Paul experienced it. Highlights:
  • the last of all, like people sentenced to death
  • a spectacle to the world
  • fools
  • weak
  • in disrepute
  • hungry and thirsty
  • poorly clad and roughly treated
  • homeless
  • like the world's rubbish, the scum of all
Say, where do I sign up?

St. Paul, of course, met Someone on the road. Most of us volunteer for this duty at a place something like this:

That done, it's up to God to decide how much of the above we're in for.

Even if our vocation isn't to be wandering apostles, though, we all have opportunity to follow St. Paul this far:
When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently.
If this were all we managed to do, how we would stand out from the world!


Friday, September 03, 2010

Too good to check?

There are lies that are so brazen they hardly count as lies.

Maybe that's the thought that allowed a group of meretricious political operatives to publicly represent themselves as "Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good."

Jack Smith at The Catholic Key lists the evidence that they've taken down their shingle and moved on to other meretricious political operations.

That would be good, but the evil lives after CACG. In particular, the evil of the pattern it provides for sowing political lies under the name "Catholic." Catholics for a Free Choice long ago proved that reporters won't question anyone's claim of speaking for Catholics as long as they speak for abortion. Now CACG has proven that reporters won't question anyone's claim of speaking for Catholics as long as they speak for Democrats.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A Catholic's ghost story

What Holy Ghosts: Or How a (Not-So) Good Catholic Boy Became a Believer in Things That Go Bump in the Night is, is a ghost story.

If you're willing to think it might be a true ghost story -- as the author, Gary Jansen, insists it is -- it's entertaining and eerie, with a few creepy touches.

If you think all ghost stories are bunk, though, you can give it a miss. This is not the tale of a literary haunting or an exploration of psychology. What philosophy and theology there is is beginners' philosophy and theology about ghosts.

Not that there's a great deal of advanced philosophy and theology about ghosts being written. But, the title notwithstanding, Holy Ghosts is not, at bottom, about the intersection between religion and ghosts. It's about the intersection between a religious man (who happens to be Catholic) and ghosts.

Granted, Jansen writes about his year-long attempt to learn what Catholicism teaches about ghosts. The problem is that Catholicism doesn't teach very much about ghosts. There's not much beyond, "It could be a ghost," before you're just retelling pious ghost stories.

And yes, there are a few pious ghost stories retold in Holy Ghosts. But their moral is simply, "Boy, there sure are a lot of pious ghost stories."

Now, a non-Catholic reading this book may well choke on all the Catholic stuff I'm saying is incidental. But while it might read like a different book if it were written by a devout Methodist rather than a devout Catholic, I don't think it would be a much different story.

Most of the answers Jansen gets to his questions about ghosts come, not from the Magisterium or even theologians, but from Mary Ann Winkowski, a self-described paranormal investigator who inspired the TV show The Ghost Whisperer. She is Catholic; she also preaches the "Law of Abundance" and astrology. (The book mentions the first part, but not the rest. Special bonus for skeptics: Jansen was editor of one of Winkowski's books for Quality Paperback Books.)

Not that Winkowski says anything contrary to the Faith in Holy Ghosts, but "a Catholic says X" is not the same as "Catholics say X," much less "Catholicism says X."

Having groused for six paragraphs, I repeat what I said at the beginning: This is a ghost story, and a pretty good one. While the Catholic's world may contain ghosts, though, it is not consumed by them. If Catholics today need a lesson in the reality of the spiritual world, better to do it with examples of things going right (i.e., saints and angels) than things going wrong.

(For the record, I was sent a free review copy.)