instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Simplified comments software

For those who aren't happy with their Catholic website's current commenting systems, I've developed a solution. Simply append the following HTML code to each post or page on which you would like comments to appear:
<img style="display:block; margin:0px auto 10px; text-align:center;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 386px; height: 230px;" src="" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5644094872472015058" />
I've employed this code at the bottom of this post to show how it works.

No need to thank me. It's what I do.

[begin simplified comment feature]

[end simplified comment feature]


Monday, August 22, 2011

The atheist's search for workable ideas
Morals without God

Ethics without morals

Principles without ethics

Guidelines without principles

Rules without guidelines

Laws without rules
That last one always works, for a little while at least.

(Link via Steven D. Greydanus of Decent Films.)


How do you get to Heaven? Practice, practice, practice

Ever have one of those Masses that make you think that, as practicing Catholics, we sure can use more practice?

The Mass I attended yesterday had bombastic accompaniment to sparsely sung Worship & Praise hymns. The congregation rose as one when the offertory hymn ended sooner than usual and the priest loudly said, "Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation." And that may well have been the worst homily ever offered sober in English.

Somewhere in there, though, I realized I was in the right place. I sure can use more practice, and being amongst the similarly imperfect frees me from the temptation to despair. As for any pride and presumption that might feed off the foibles of my fellow parishioners, I find they have a way of crashing down on my head before the final dismissal. And church parking lots are ideally designed for exorcising the spirit of vainglory.

Does this mean I'm also free of promptings to improve, stuck in the mire of mediocrity with my fellow parishioners? Not at all. Neither I nor my parish ought to be average. We ought to be on fire with love for Christ, and with the love of God for our fellow men. If my parish isn't, then clearly I'm not doing my part to enkindle it. Recall the saying attributed to St. Catherine of Siena:
If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire!
If my corner of the world is not on fire, I can hardly blame my corner of the world. And while it might -- might -- be great to be part of the world set on fire by my parish, I can hardly blame my parish if I'm not. Do I not have the Law and the Prophets, not to mention the Sacraments and the Catechism?

No, I have everything I need to become perfect as our Father is perfect, right here in my parish. Now I just need to do it.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Misperceptions of the Church

In a comment on the post below, Sara tells a harrowing and heartbreaking story about "the nicest man on the RCIA team" flying into a rage when she said she liked the crucifix in their church:
"The Church has changed. It's not about that anymore. I spent my whole childhood with that face looking down at me, trying to make me feel guilty... I'm done looking at that face. I've seen enough of it to last me the rest of my life."
I was born and baptized a few months before the close of Vatican II, so the Us vs. Them battles of the time are not my battles. But while the idea that Catholicism is "about" guilt is as foreign to me as the idea that Catholicism is about worshipping the pope, I can't simply say that this fellow was wrong on the facts.

If, indeed, his experience of the Church prior to Vatican II was of a smothering sense of guilt, and of the Church after the Council of the relief from that smothering guilt, then I can understand his passionate response. I can understand a knee-jerk reaction against any movement "back," when "back" means "God = Guilt." I can understand the disinclination to worry about whether today's solutions to "God = X" are true, or have any relation to what the Church has taught through history up until 1962. I can even understand why, under those circumstances, someone might think that the solution to "God = X" is true only if it's not what the Church taught in 1961.

This is, of course, an intellectual understanding of a subjective state. I can sympathize to some extent, but I can't really empathize. People have had my whole lifetime to align their emotions with right reason. It's heartbreaking for a Catholic to be unable to look upon a crucifix without getting angry, but it's also a sign of stunted spiritual growth. We don't need to break communion with them to observe that it's disconcerting for spiritually stunted people to be instructing catechumens in the Faith.

I'll steal from Dostoevsky and suggest that the way to heal people who have been stunted by their experiences in the Church is through beauty. Someone who has encountered ugliness will rush to embrace not-ugliness, or even just a lesser ugliness, and call it gain. But everyone who apprehends true beauty will desire to rest in it.

It's not easy to get someone to apprehend beauty where he is already convinced there is nothing but ugliness. It takes time and effort and love just to get him to look, much less perceive. But maybe we know an imperfect Catholic who's worth the time and effort and love.


Monday, August 15, 2011

The hermeneutics of Us vs Them

I feel sorry for Ken Trainor, a guest blogger at U.S. Catholic who today tries to pass the torch of his rebellion against the Church to the next generation.

He contrasts "The church of John Paul II and Benedict XVI" with "The church" -- sorry, I mistakenly capitalized "church" there, but I've corrected myself -- "of John XXIII and Vatican II." He speaks of "the official version of the Catholic Church."

He uses the expression "suspicious of institutional religion" twice, both times in the context of "young people" who are "spiritual." In his telling, there are two options for being "spiritual": "a highly structured, hierarchical, institutionalized approach;" and the approach taken by those suspicious of institutional religion, who have "frequently been praised for their strong service values" and whose "hearts are in the right place." (He doesn't say where the hearts of those who are looking for an institutionalized approach are.)

I wondered, as I read his post, whether he was actually speaking for young people. But no; "Ken Trainor [is] a practicing, progressive Catholic, who was 10 years old when Vatican II began."

Nor is there any real sign that he is speaking to young people. I get the sense, rather, that he is speaking to other practicing, progressive Catholics who were ten years old (or older) when Vatican II began -- is it too much to add ", i.e., U.S. Catholic readers"? -- blaming the failure of their "spirit of Vatican II" to catch on with young people on "the current Catholic Church[, which] has been trying its best to sweep [it] under a rug."

He does quote a lengthy passage from Vatican II's "Message to Youth," although even this he chooses to introduce adversarially: "But my guess is that World Youth Day in Madrid this year will not mention John XXIII or Vatican II." What he does not do -- perhaps for practicing, progressive Catholics, it's self-evident -- is point out what part of the passage he quotes the Church of John Paul II and Benedict XVI has been trying to sweep under the rug. (If I had to guess, I'd say it's the "marching on toward human perfection in time" part.)

I've probably made it clear that I don't have much respect for Ken Trainor's position; in fact, I'm a bit surprised that a Catholic website would run such a hackneyed piece of unsubstantiated assertions. But I really do feel sorry for him, and not just because his wish for a thriving unofficial version of the Catholic Church is doomed. (Thriving, unofficial, Catholic: Which two do you want?)

I feel sorry for anyone whose whole concept of the Church as she exists in the world is one of ad intra political conflict between Us and Them. How awful it must be to view the Body of Christ from the perspective of strife and discord! And how far from Jesus' intention when He founded the Church -- yes, on the Rock of Peter, and by the fiat of Mary, and through the evangelism of Paul, and with the contemplation of John.

Us vs Them will kill your soul dead. And the disciples it attracts will be disciples of Us, not of Christ.

UPDATE: U.S. Catholic also runs a piece on how "Millennial Catholics" actually practice their faith. Link via Sherry Weddell of the Catherine of Siena Institute.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Penultimate Post on the Book of Numbers, Chapter Eleven

Oh my fur and whiskers, the NABRE translates the beginning of Num 11:4 as, "The riffraff among them."

This "riffraff" seems to be the "crowd of mixed ancestry" mentioned in Ex 12:38. The NAB has "foreign elements," the Douay-Rheims "a mixt multitude of people."

Racist much, group of nearly 100 scholars and theologians, including bishops, revisers and editors?



Monday, August 08, 2011

The prophesy of Eldad and Medad

What can we learn from the story of Eldad and Medad? In no particular order and with no infused wisdom:
  • God keeps His word, and then some. In this case, His word was that He would bestow the spirit of Moses upon the seventy elders whom Moses was to bring with him to the tent. God exceeded the letter of His word in bestowing the spirit even upon the two who weren't with Moses.
  • God works with His friends. Why did the spirit come upon Eldad and Meded? Because they had been on the list of elders Moses had drawn up. If they were good enough for Moses, they were good enough for the LORD.
  • The Spirit blows where It will. We don't know why Eldad and Medad were in the camp when they should have been with Moses. It doesn't matter, though; whether they were too infirm or too afraid, God sought them out and made them His prophets.
  • Your charisms aren't about you. Moses understood that; Joshua didn't. (And, considering the fact that Moses was the humblest man on earth, we might wonder whether Joshua was jealous of Eldad and Medad for the sake of Moses' status, or for the sake of Moses' aide's status.)
  • Charisms are good. They're good for the people who receive them, and they're good for the whole people, for whom they're given. Since they are good, and since God is good, He is unstinting in bestowing them.
  • Moses gave a prophecy of Baptism. "If only all the people of the LORD were prophets! If only the LORD would bestow his spirit on them!" And what do you know? They are! He does!



Sunday, August 07, 2011

Stepping out without fear

Let's admit it: today's Gospel reading tells a freaky story. We're used to it, of course; so used to it that we use the term "walking on water" to mean "Godlike."* But even by the standards of the Incarnation, this episode is on the extreme side.

And how, exactly, did Peter's mind work. "Do not be afraid? Got it. Let's see, there aren't any lions here to punch, no scorpions to juggle, so... hey, why don't I jump out of the boat and walk around? That would be pretty scary to do, ordinarily."

Still, there's a lot to chew on once you get past the over-the-top action. The inability of the disciples to make headway without Jesus being present; the willingness of Peter to follow His Lord in action; his too-human failing.

What strikes me this time around, though, is how quickly Jesus acts:
At once Jesus spoke to them...
He said, "Come." ...
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand...
When the disciples are frightened, Jesus reassures them "at once." When Peter asks for an invitation to demonstrate his faith, Jesus gives him one in a single word. And when Peter gets in over his head, Jesus rescues him "immediately."

When Jesus says, "Be not afraid," He seems to mean it. That is, He doesn't mean, "Work on overcoming your fears, and when you've done that, then don't return to being afraid." He means, I think, "Stop being afraid this instant. Don't you know who I AM? Don't you know that I AM with you in this instant right now?"

We don't need to be afraid of God's dominion over creation, the way we might be afraid of a ghost's indifference to physics, because God is good. And we need to not be afraid because fear keeps us where we are -- in a boat fighting the wind, say, instead of stepping forth in faith to make the Gospel known.

*Actually, per Mt 14:33, walking on water is Son-of-God-like. The first reading tells us that what's Godlike is a tiny whispering sound, but "tiny whispering sound" hasn't really caught on as an idiom.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Worth a try

Far be it from me to complain when someone recommends prayer and fasting.

I'll just point out that August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration, and so not really a proper day for fasting (though at least some bishops are cool with it).

Also, if I'd been asked, I think instead of referring to Joel 2 -- I assume they mean vv 12-17, give or take:
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, Offerings and libations for the LORD, your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly;
Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room, and the bride her chamber.
Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, And say, "Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
I might've proposed Jonah 3:4-5:
Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day's walk announcing, "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed," when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.
Better, perhaps, to see your country as Nineveh than as Zion.

(Also, I'm not altogether sure those Texans aren't eyeing Joel 2:20.)


What's in a name

I love the story of Eldad and Medad:
Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, were not in the gathering [of Moses and the sixty-eight elders] but had been left in the camp. They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent; yet the spirit came to rest on them also, and they prophesied in the camp.

So, when a young man quickly told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp," Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses' aide, said, "Moses, my lord, stop them."

But Moses answered him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"
What I particularly like about the story is that these two men are named for us. The above verses are their whole Scriptural footprint; the Holy Spirit did not inspire the sacred writers to tell us any more about them... and yet they told us their names. Their memory was preserved among the Israelites, not as those two old men who became prophets in camp, but as the prophets Eldad ("God is loved") and Medad ("Love").

And now Christians, too, preserve the memory of the prophets Eldad and Medad. We know of nothing that they prophesied, but that's okay; the five books of Moses tell us what God wants us to know about what He revealed during their lifetimes. (There is, I find, an apocryphal book of "Eldad and Modat," apparently known only through this passage in the Shepherd of Hermas: "The Lord is near to them who return unto Him, as it is written in Eldad and Modat, who prophesied to the people in the wilderness." Not a doctrine that shifts the foundations of Christianity.)

In his De Spiritu Sancto, St. Basil also alludes to a tradition that is at least consistent with Eldad and Medad being the only two elders mentioned by name:
Furthermore as in our bodies is health, or heat, or, generally, their variable conditions, so, very frequently is the Spirit in the soul; since He does not abide with those who, on account of the instability of their will, easily reject the grace which they have received. An instance of this is seen in Saul, and the seventy elders of the children of Israel, except Eldad and Medad, with whom alone the Spirit appears to have remained, and, generally, any one similar to these in character.
It may be, then, that we know their names not merely because they prophesied, but because they remained faithful to God.

On a more secular level, I love the names themselves. "Eldad and Medad" would be a great name for a rock roots album.

Then there's the big question the story leaves unanswered: Why had they been left in camp? Were they procrastinating? Dawdling? Shirking? Poky? Busy with other affairs? Not early risers? Think of how many classes of petitioners they could serve as patron saints of!

And this is all without even touching on what their story is about.



Monday, August 01, 2011

The charism of schlepping


After Moses begs for death because the Israelites are too heavy for him, the LORD answers:
Assemble for me seventy of the elders of Israel, men you know for true elders and authorities among the people, and bring them to the meeting tent. When they are in place beside you, I will come down and speak with you there. I will also take some of the spirit that is on you and will bestow it on them, that they may share the burden of the people with you. You will then not have to bear it by yourself.
Although the seventy were already true elders and authorities, their authority differed from Moses' in two important ways. First, theirs was a natural authority, derived no doubt from God-given wisdom but still conferred on them, not by God, but by those around them who recognized their wisdom.

Second, theirs was not an authority that imposed a burden on them. Sure, they may have worried about the people who brought their problems to them for help, but in the end, if someone didn't follow their advice, or even ask for it in the first place, it wasn't their problem.

Now, I called these two ways the elders' authority differed from Moses', but the second difference is really just one aspect of the first. God tells Moses that He will give the elders the spirit of Moses with the stated intention of them sharing the burden of the people with him. When Jesus taught that the leaders of His Church were not to lord it over the others but to serve them, He was building on the foundation of the seventy elders of Kibroth-hattaavah. (The seventy also prefigure the Sanhedrin and the College of Cardinals; the burden-bearing-to-lording-it-over ratio hasn't always been properly maintained.)

What is it about the spirit of Moses that makes it a burden-bearing spirit? Well, the seventy are made prophets; even Eldad and Medad, who hadn't made it to Moses' tent, prophesy back in the camp. So they know something of the glory of God, of the truth of He Who Is. To know God is to be impelled to communicate Him to others. More specifically, for someone in authority to know God is to be impelled to lead those under your authority into communion with Him. And the people whom God called out of Egypt were, at best, fickle in their appreciation of His glory and truth, and not particularly interested in communion with Him for its own sake.



Days of Our Forefathers in Faith's Lives

Today's first reading, from Numbers 11, has a cliffhanger ending, with Moses complaining to the LORD about the Israelites:
I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once,so that I need no longer face this distress.
How does the LORD reply? Will He do Moses the favor of killing him at once?

Tuning in tomorrow won't do you much good, as the reading skips ahead to Chapter 12, and ends with its own cliffhanger:
Then Moses cried to the LORD, "Please, not this! Pray, heal her!"
It's almost like the Lectionarists want people to go check their Bibles to see what happens next.

If they do check their Bibles, they might also notice the curious edit at the beginning of today's reading. The whole of Hebrews 11:4 reads:
The foreign elements among them were so greedy for meat that even the Israelites lamented again, "Would that we had meat for food!"
But the Lectionary begins with 4b:
The children of Israel lamented, "Would that we had meat for food!"
Maybe foreign elements (Douay Rheims: "a mixt multitude of people") on the Lectionary Committee didn't want the blame to fall on Them. And, for what it's worth, the LORD didn't seem too concerned with whether the greedy people were sons of Abraham or merely fellow travellers when He...