instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, June 29, 2012

Years of clay

Msgr. Pope reports "an interesting discussion with a traditional Catholic" about what constitutes the standard against which liturgical "aberrations" are to be judged.
Sadly our conversation ended and I didn’t get the chance to ask him the question I really wanted to ask: “What was the golden year of liturgy? When was everything, according to him, done “right?” When was the year when there were no aberrations?” When were the rubrics “pure” and when was the liturgy free of what he considers improper allowances, such as a couple being married inside the rail? Apparently the 1950s were not that time for him. Then what was?
All I know is, no Mass I've ever assisted at was perfectly offered.

That I am the one [living human] person each of those Masses has in common is not a coincidence.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

All things are true by one primary truth

There are Catholics who hold the opinion that, if the Magisterium has not explicitly taught some proposition, then Catholics are free to accept or reject the proposition.

This opinion, in my opinion, is deeply silly.

What makes it deeply silly is that it places the focus, not on the truth of the proposition, but on whether someone can be called a heretic based on his opinion of the proposition. It leads to stupefying arguments about whether this proposition requires religious assent, whether the Church really teaches that proposition, how to know whether something is infallibly taught, why people won't address the fact that the Magisterium has never taught that UAV bombings of wedding parties is immoral, and (one of my favorites) whether a pope has to write an encyclical devoted solely to a single proposition for it to count as binding on the faithful. All sorts of questions are raised; yet so often overlooked is the question, "But is it true?"

The freedom to accept or reject a proposition depends on more than explicit teachings of the Magisterium. I am not free, in any meaningful sense, to accept a proposition I know is, or even merely judge to be, false.

Moreover, the "explicit teaching of the Magisterium" criterion grossly mischaracterizes the role and function of the Magisterium. The teaching authority of the Church exists to pass on God's self-revelation, most especially the revelation of His Incarnate Word. It does not exist to exhaustively document the moral status of every conceivable human act, to include object, circumstances, and intention. It doesn't, and it's not supposed to, produce a list of every sin forbidden until the next revision of the list.

That's a good thing, not least because generating a list of every sin (to include object, circumstances, and intention) is impossible.

It's also not necessary. We don't need the Magisterium to teach us things that are knowable by human reason. We can know whether a conclusion follows from a set of premises without appeal to Divine revelation -- though we may need Divine revelation to know whether one or more of the premises are true.

That said, while we can know whether a conclusion follows from a set of premises, we can also be doubtful, or mistaken, or contrary, or uninterested in the question. The Magisterium certainly may, and occasionally does, teach propositions that human reason can derive from other propositions taught by the Magisterium, for the benefit of the faithful.

But that doesn't mean the faithful aren't bound by derivable propositions not taught by the Magisterium, to the extent they can see that the truth of what is taught implies the truth of what is derived. So teaches the Magisterium:
It is in accordance with their dignity as persons -- that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility -- that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. (DH 2)
I'll add that the privilege to bear personal responsibility is yet another reason it would be ill-done for the Magisterium to produce excessive lists of corollaries and conclusions that logically follow from the fundamental teachings of the Faith. We are called to be children of the Father, co-heirs with the Son, sharing in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. We are all supposed to meditate on God's word, study His commandments, understand His law, and in doing so we approach their fullness -- not as written rules to be read and followed, but as Living Wisdom to be known and loved.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Taking another look

Jesus' teaching about the mote in your brother's eye may be too well known for me to learn anything from it, but let me try.

I start with the teaching as recorded in Matthew 7:
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother, "Let me remove that splinter from your eye," while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.
I note two thing. First, the same image is used three times in a row.  What the Holy Spirit tells you three times is true. And probably important.

Second, while the image is repeated, its application is different each time.
  1. Why? Why do we notice others' splinters and not our own beams?

    We notice what we look at attentively. If we notice our brother's splinter, we must be looking at his eye. If we aren't looking at our own reflection, we can't notice our beams.

    The answer to Jesus' question is, because I am more interested in my brother's faults than my own. That's fine -- if I know I am fault free. Otherwise...

    Notice this doesn't mean we think our brother's minor faults are worse than our major faults. It means we think we're so wonderful there's no point in even checking to see if we have any faults at all.

  2. How? Well, of course we can offer to remove our brother's splinter because we haven't noticed the wooden beam.

    But as I said, it's not just that we didn't notice, it's that we didn't even look. So our offer to help is based on the presumption that we're capable of helping, rather than on easily obtainable knowledge. That's like helping someone get to work on time by changing lanes without checking to see of there's another car there.

    How can I do such a thing? Is the hypocrisy of such an action in thinking my brother's fault is worse than mine, or in saying I'm doing it out of genuine love for my brother?

  3. Do! Remove your own fault first -- which presupposes noticing it, which presupposes looking for it (and again, beams aren't hard to spot if you're looking at them).

    With a truly clear eye, you'll truly be able to help your brother. Not only that, but he might even let you help him, rather than take one look at you coming at him with a beam in your own eye and say, "No thanks, I'm good."

    One might wonder whether Jesus really means for us to take splinters out of each other's eyes, or whether we'll find we never quite get around to removing all our own beams once we start looking. That may be a question whose answer only becomes clear once you've removed all your beams. Given other teachings on fraternal correction, though, I'd guess this particular verse is more about humbling yourself than ignoring your brother.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Children's Day

As a father, I'd just as soon not bother with Father's Day.

No, that's not quite right.

Personally, I'd just as soon not bother with Father's Day. As a father, I have to bother with it, because my family wants me to.

They want me to tell them what I want to eat (as long as it's something everyone else wants to eat, too), and have me open presents (which aren't what I said I wanted*), and be reminded that I can do whatever I want because it's Father's Day (that privilege, apparently, being a once-a-year boon granted by proclamation of the President).

Father's Day, in my experience, is about the wife and children doing whatever they want to do for the husband and father. It isn't really about the father.

And that's as it should be, because being a father isn't really about the father. It's about raising and sustaining the people a father is given to raise and sustain, to help them become as whole and complete and perfect as they are capable of becoming. With respect to the daily death to self fatherhood requires, Father's Day merely emphasizes the conforming of your desires to whatever your family thinks you desire.

That may sound too passive, but to be whole and complete and perfect, children need to be able to perform acts of love for their father. A father should, I think, desire that his children perform those acts of love more for their own sake than for his. (And, as a practical matter, if a particular meal or gift is important enough to him, he's got plenty of time to make his desires known.)

This is, of course, right in line with what we believe about our worship of God. The only thing God gets out of our worship is us. He desires mercy, not sacrifice, because mercy is a fruit of wholeness, completeness, and perfection.

I, on the other hand, not being perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect, do get more out of letting my family do what they want to do for me on Father's Day. I get a lesson in desiring acts of love, out of love for my family.

* This year I said I wanted a straw hat and a blowgun. My wife replied, "Why do you want a straw hat?"


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Out of habit

I have no strong opinions about the wearing of habits by religious sisters, particularly in comparison to my strong opinions against telling other people how they should live their lives.

I've heard the arguments for and against, and it seems to me that not wearing a habit optimizes the attainment of somewhat different ends than wearing a habit -- different, but perfectly legitimate ends for religious sisters to aim for.

That said, looking at pictures from the big-hair '80s has suggested a new (to me) argument in favor of the wearing of the veil:

It protects a religious sister from the indignity of a fashionable hairstyle.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Do over

To those who might fret over their relationship with their parents, I say, "It's okay. It's impossible to have a relationship with your parents."

I say that because the word "parents" simply means "mother and father." "Your parents" has no being or existence distinct from the being and existence of your mother and your father. You have a relationship with your mother, you have a relationship with your father; there's nothing more or different when they're together with which to have a relationship.

The closer your parents are to each other, the more alike in temperament and interest and opinion, the more similar your relationships with each are. If you always see them together, then everything you experience with one of them, you experience with the other (which is not to say that you and your father relating in a given moment is identical to and indistinguishable from you and your mother relating in the same moment).

Now, someone who doesn't know your parents could be said to have a single relationship with them. Someone in the neighborhood could have the relationship of waving when they pass in a car; the power company, to broaden the sense of "someone," could be said to have a supplier-consumer relationship with your parents. But no one who knows them individually can have a corporate relationship with them.

The point of my previous post is that there is an analogous situation with your relationship with God. You can't have a relationship with "God," in the sense of the Three Divine Persons collectively, if you know the Three Divine Persons individually. And if you don't know Them, this limit on your knowledge of God will greatly limit your relationship with God.

Even Israel, God's own People, were limited in their relationship with God. They knew Him as Father and Redeemer and Sanctifier, but they didn't fully see that there is within God a distinction of Persons. This distinction isn't a curiosity or a minor point, either. To not know of God the Son is to not know, really, what it means to say that God is "Father;" it's to fail to appreciate the completeness and utterness with which God fathers. Israel knew, at least in her better moments, that the LORD loved her like a father, but it wasn't until the revelation of the Son that she could know just how weak that metaphor is, how much more there is to Divine Fatherhood than to human fatherhood -- and, therefore, how much more there is to the call to be children of God! We are called to be co-heirs with Christ. And, as pleasant as a land flowing with milk and honey might be, the Son's inheritance is nothing less than the fullness of the Father Himself.

We Christians, then, are crippling ourselves whenever we speak of, and still more when we pray to, God without reference to or thought of the individual Persons of the Trinity. The ancient formula, "Glory to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit," probably expresses what we would mean if we thought about it. By thinking about it, we will come to know each Divine Person better, and from better knowledge flows better love.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Et hoc dicimus Deum

What does it mean to "have a relationship with God"?

That depends on what "God" means, right?

Catholics often speak of "God" in an equivocal way. Sometimes, it's understood to refer exclusively to the First Person of the Trinity, sometimes to the whole Trinity -- and, I suspect quite frequently, it's not altogether clear in the mind of the speaker just how many Divine Persons are meant.

The thing is, Christians aren't called to have a relationship with "the whole Trinity," with "God" undifferentiated by Person. In a sense, we can't have such a relationship. We know by faith both that God is a Trinity of Persons, and that the Trinity isn't more, or other, than the Three Divine Persons. A Christian's "relationship with God" is a relationship with the Father, a relationship with the Son, and a relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Given the procession and union of the Divine Persons, each of these relationships is necessarily proportionate with the others. I can't truly love the Son and truly be lukewarm toward the Holy Spirit (though I can, of course, be convinced that such is the case). I can't love the Father and hate the Son, which is what Jesus tried to get the Jewish leaders of His day to understand. I can't love the Father as I ought to love Him if I don't even know the Son, which is one reason we should take Jesus' commandment to preach the Gospel to every living creature seriously.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Insert Pop/Father pun here

Every now and then, a few words or a phrase pops out at me when I'm listening to the readings at Mass. (It would probably happen more often if I listened better.) On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity last week, the phrase was "a spirit of adoption." As in:
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, "Abba, Father!"
In context, St. Paul is teaching that those united to the Father through Jesus are true children of God -- "and if children, then heirs." Children by adoption, not by nature, yet we are still "joint heirs with Christ," the only begotten Son of God.

All basic catechetical stuff, but in this passage St. Paul goes a little further into how we were adopted. It wasn't by the filing of some Divine paperwork or the issuance of some Divine decree, and it certainly wasn't through our own hard work and wits. No: "you received a Spirit of adoption."

The Holy Spirit is Himself a Spirit of adoption. Adoptivity, if you will, is one of His attributes. He blows where He wills, and what He wills is the adoption of men into the family of God.

If I have received the Spirit of adoption, then I too should have a spirit of adoption. Like Father, like son. I too should will the adoption of men into the family of God.

"To will" here is a very active verb. It doesn't mean "to be okay with" or "to take pleasure in a fortuitous occurrence." It means "to desire, and to act in a way that achieves what is desired."

Okay, so this is still basic catechetical stuff:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations....
But I can't do what I should do if I myself don't have a spirit of adoption, if I am not in the habit of wanting everyone I meet to be my brother or sister and a joint heir with Christ.

In olden days, they'd talk of "zeal for souls." (In her own zeal, St. Catherine of Siena talked of eating souls.) These days, zeal for souls is widely regarded as foolishness. If it's not triumphalistic, it's tacky -- or, coming at it from a different direction, it's throwing pearls before swine.

I suspect, though, that zeal for souls was always widely regarded as foolishness, and impressions to the contrary arise because it's the zealous who make history.

And I'm quite certain that, whatever the spirit of the age might say about it, the Holy Spirit remains a Spirit of adoption, and the true children of God go out and make disciples, whom God makes His children.