instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, October 31, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 23

There are certain qualities or characteristics that all forms of being -- rocks, humans, redness, poems -- possess. Since these characteristics transcend all boundaries, they are called transcendentals. The three most widely spoken of nowadays are goodness, truth, and beauty.

By now, you can probably guess how to pray the Transcendental Rosary. The first four Hail Marys of each decade are devoted to whatever meditation you have chosen, then two each are recited while meditating on how goodness, truth, and beauty are manifested in the mystery.

Certain mysteries seem to have a preferred transcendental. I have a hard time seeing much that is good or beautiful in the Scourging at the Pillar; the truth that by His stripes we are healed is about all I find. The more Marian mysteries, the Assumption most of all, are to me far more delightful than desirable, and therefore come across as more beautiful than good.

And yet, they are all present in each mystery. As I've written before, even the Crucifixion was pleasing -- in other words, beautiful -- to the Father. But while the Crucifixion is generally thought to be too horrible to be beautiful, the subsequent Resurrection and Ascension would seem to have been too beautiful for this life. Notice that Mary Magdalene seeks to cling to the Risen Lord, to keep Him before her, yet He insists that she let Him go. Later, the Apostles remain staring up into the sky after Jesus ascends to Heaven; angels must be sent to force them to look away. Not yet, they seem to say, that beautiful of a vision must wait. (Soon enough, St. Stephen will be granted that vision just prior to his martyrdom.)

The Miracle at Cana, perhaps showing Jesus at His most prodigal, was a sign of God's great, graceful goodness to those who have no claim on it; it was also a sign of God's presence, that what Jesus (and His mother) said was true; and of course it was simply beautiful, scores of gallons of the finest wine, just for the sake of celebration.

At the Transfiguration, when Peter was out of his mind with the beauty of the Lord manifested as the true fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, he could only babble, "How good it is for us to be here."

Goodness is that which we desire; beauty is that which pleases us; truth is a conformity between what is and what is in our minds. This is why we need never tire of praying the Rosary, because each mystery brings us into contact with these three things that enter into us and reform us into what we are to become.



The children's parish

The following note, lightly edited, is from Connie Woods, the wife of a U.S. diplomat stationed in Almaty, Kazakhstan, through June 2003:
When Pope John Paul II visited Kazakhstan in September 2001, he praised the peaceful relations between Moslems and Christians. The small Catholic presence in the country today is the result of the Communist practice of exiling Poles, Ukrainians, Russians and Germans here to labor camps and concentration camps. These exiles kept the faith alive although religion was officially prohibited until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Today the Faith is flourishing, especially among the young, and the parishes are active in a variety of apostolates, charities, and catechism programs. The majority of priests are missionaries from Poland, Slovakia and Italy.

Kazakhstan, which was the second largest republic in the Soviet Union after Russia, covers a territory roughly one-third as large as the United States, bounded by the Caspian Sea to the West, Russia to the North, China to the East, and the other "Stans" to the South (Kirghizstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan). Once the Soviet Union broke apart, Kazakhstan became an independent country. It is therefore not covered by Aid to the Church in Russia.

Kapchagai is a small city of about 30,000 people located an hour's drive north of Almaty, the former capital situated in the southeastern corner of the country near China. The city of Kapchagai consists mainly of run-down Soviet apartment complexes. It is an impoverished area with an 80% unemployment rate. The chief attraction in the town is recreational boating and swimming at Lake Kaphchagai. The Catholic parish in the town met in private apartments until 1999, when the Immaculate Conception church was built. The parishioners built the church entirely by hand.

The church first opened a soup kitchen, then began providing shelter for the abandoned children who came there to eat. Today, just three years after the they began taking children in, the parish owns four houses in close proximity to the church that have been converted into dormitories for the children. The children keep coming, so the parish is hoping to purchase one more house down the street and to build yet another house on land they already own. They attribute everything to the speedy help of the Virgin Mary.

The children range in age from two to the mid-teens. Most are not true orphans, but come from abusive, broken or impoverished homes where they simply cannot be cared for. Approximately 50 children live in the dormitories, lovingly cared for by Sister Alma, a Franciscan missionary from Slovakia, Father Massimo from Italy, and six young women who also live full-time with the children. One of these young women, being an ethnic German, had the opportunity to emigrate to a better life in Germany, but has chosen to stay in Kapchagai and dedicate her life to the care of these children instead.

I first became acquainted with these children on a train ride to the capital city of Astana to see the Pope in September 2001, and then again in the summer of 2002 at a summer camp in the Tian Shen mountains near Almaty. The diocese was able to provide only part of the $700 dollar cost of the week-long camp, and Sister Alma begged and borrowed the remainder from her Slovak relatives.

At the summer camp, which was structured around daily Mass and catechism classes, I began to realize what miracles are being worked in these children. They are openly loving and generous. Though they have nothing, they happily share everything. They are well instructed in the Faith, eager to learn, and devout in a way that can hardly be explained. For instance, every Thursday the parish has all-night adoration. Without any grown-ups taking them by the hand, the children take turns keeping vigil at the church. All on their own they come to the church in the middle of the night to do the stations of the Cross on their knees. Who can these poorest of the poor be making reparation for, except for us and for the world? They have a special devotion to Our Lady of the Eucharist.

Like the general population here, the children come from Russian, Kazakh and other ethnic backgrounds. The image that best sums up their character for me is the daily rosary. From the youngest to the oldest they take turns leading the decades in a variety of languages: Russian, Latin, Italian and Kazakh. The sight of these Kazakh kids, little descendants of Genghis Khan, reciting the Hail Mary in Latin, gives some glimpse of the great things in store for the Church in Central Asia.

The parish has only about 100 people in it, of which 50 are these abandoned children. I am looking for parishes and organizations willing to provide some kind of regular support to supplement the ad hoc donations that keep them going. A few special collections a year would go directly for food and shelter for the children. There are several major projects the parish hopes to accomplish with the help of benefactors like you. They need US $25,000 to purchase the fifth house, and at least $50,000 to build a new house on land they already own.

If you are willing to support the Immaculate Conception parish, I have already arranged a way for contributions to be made through a U.S. address. Sister Alma's motherhouse happens to be in Pennsylvania, and the sisters there have agreed to forward any contributions earmarked to Sister Alma for her work in Kapchagai. However, to avoid lots of individual money transfers and accounting that is not part of their own budget, it would be better to collect checks from individuals and then consolidate them into one check before sending it to the sisters.
This is the sort of story that comes to mind when I hear people complain that the music at the 10:30 Mass is too contemporary.

Anyone who wants to contribute to Sister Alma's work can drop me a line. I can add individual contributions to that of my Lay Dominican chapter, which I believe can provide charitable donation acknowledgement letters, to reduce the paperwork for Sister Alma's motherhouse. If you've got an organization of your own, I can put you in touch with Connie Woods for information on donating directly to the motherhouse. If you're not in the U.S., I'm sure we can work something out.


Wednesday, October 30, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 22

There's a standard way of generating a story plot: Think of a protagonist, and give him a goal. Then think of an antagonist, and give him a goal that conflicts with the protagonist's. The resolution of the conflict constitutes the plot.

This suggests the idea of a Dramatic Rosary, if you will, in which each mystery is considered from the aspect of a protagonist and an antagonist with conflicting goals.

It's up to you to choose the roles and the goals, but here's an example for the Sorrowful Mysteries:
  • The Agony in the Garden: Jesus as man wants the cup to pass from him. The Father wills otherwise.
  • The Scourging at the Pillar: Pilate has Jesus scourged to placate the Jewish leaders. They, however, insist that He be crucified.
  • The Crowning with Thorns: The King of Kings makes no claim to kingship. The Roman soldiers insist upon it, for their own amusement.
  • The Carrying of the Cross: Simon of Cyrene simply wants to go about his business. The soldiers want him to help them with their business.
  • The Crucifixion: The Jews and the Romans both want this unpleasantness to end this very day, on this very cross. For Jesus, the Cross is the foundation of the Kingdom.
By the way, something interesting can happen with the Glorious Mysteries. We think of the Rosary as a meditation on Christ, but see how He can be cast as the antagonist:
  • The Resurrection: The women want to prepare Jesus' body; Jesus prevents them. (Or, Mary Magdalene wants to hold on to Him; He tells her to let go.)
  • The Ascension: The Apostles want Jesus to restore the kingdom to Israel; Jesus wants to return to the Father.
  • The Descent of the Holy Spirit: The Apostles want to keep a low profile; the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus, wants them to proclaim His Name.
  • The Assumption: Mary's mourners bury her; Mary's Son raises her.
  • The Coronation: Mary regards herself as the handmaid of the Lord; the Lord regards Mary as His Queen.
Considered as drama, the Good News can be told as the story of humans who want less going against a God who insists on more than they could possibly imagine.




Fr. William Hinnebusch, OP, wrote a book called Dominican Spirituality in which he identified six characteristics of Dominican life (ultimately concluding, if memory serves, that there isn't a simple or single thing you can point to and call "Dominican spirituality").

One of the characteristics is that Dominican life is doctrinal. Catholicism is a faith based on revealed and reasoned truth, and Dominicans are expected to know and preach the truth. In a talk to my Lay Dominican chapter, a friar proposed asking, "What are you reading?" as a way of gauging how much attention we're giving to this doctrinal aspect of our way of life.

But significantly he added, "What are you reading that you don't agree with?" In the tradition of disputatio, he pointed out the importance of being able to listen to another's argument, identify the truth within it, tease that out from the error, and so help the other -- and yourself -- to advance toward a fuller understanding of the truth.

The advantages of such an attitude -- regarding a disagreement as a joint exploration in search of the truth rather than as a debate to be won or lost -- are numerous and clear.

The disadvantage is that it doesn't satisfy personal competitiveness, but that too turns out to be an advantage.


Tuesday, October 29, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 21

A good way of emphasizing the Christological basis of the Rosary is to pray a Scriptural Rosary. Before each Hail Mary, a brief Scriptural verse (related to the mystery, of course, and sometimes in the form of versicle and response) is recited. By their nature, Scriptural Rosaries require following along in a book or other written guide, which makes them more suitable for small, regular groups, such as the family.

There are many on-line Scriptural Rosaries, including a straightforward version from, a paraphrased version for children, and a whole series of printable downloads from the Apostolate of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

The effect of a Scriptural Rosary is distinctive. It is less meditative than the traditional Dominican Rosary, more of a litany of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. It impresses upon the mind the holy words of Scripture by which each mystery is related, which in turn provides food to chew on during the day (a habit also fostered by lectio divina), and especially when you pray the Rosary in a more traditional manner. If, for example, while doing the dishes I am meditating on the Visitation, asking myself why Mary visited Elizabeth, a habit of praying a Scriptural Rosary will bring to mind Elizabeth's words, "Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled."

(And note how the various ways of praying the Rosary interact. I can pray the Scriptural Rosary (#21) with my family (#25), and later pray a part (#16) of the Circumstantial Rosary (#20) at a time when a Scriptural Rosary is impossible.)



Metablogging: Programming notes

The 31 Days, 31 Ways series will be completed -- I've got the remaining dozen ways sketched out already -- but not by the end of this month. Fortunately, Pope John Paul has announced that this is the Year of the Rosary, so I think it will be okay if it takes me an extra week or so to post them all.


Friday, October 25, 2002

But wait, there's more

Sean Gallagher had a discussion recently with A. Believer about how Catholics use the term "anti-Catholic" while Protestants don't use the term "anti-Protestant." I think some good points are made by both sides (and by JACK in a comment to Sean's post).

My general approach to these things is to ask for a definition, then see if it applies. I don't see any reason, in principle, why a particular Catholic apologist couldn't act in an anti-Protestant manner (with "anti-Protestant" given a definition equivalent to "anti-Catholic").

But here's my thought about why "anti-Protestant" behavior isn't perceived by Protestants as often as anti-Catholic behavior is perceived by Catholics:

Catholicism isn't anti-Protestant.

If I were to draw a Venn diagram of Catholicism and Protestantism, the Protestantism circle would lie entirely within the Catholicism circle. The rest of the Catholicism circle would represent those elements rejected by Protestantism: the Sacraments, the papacy, and so on.

Arguments between Catholics and Protestants, then, involve, fundamentally, Protestants trying to remove things from Catholicism and Catholics trying to add things to Protestantism. Imagine two sculptors critiquing each other's clay statues; the first tries to cut off parts of the second's statue, while the second tries to add globs of clay to the first's. Neither likes what the other is trying to do to his statue, but the things they're doing are essentially different from each other.

This essential difference in argumentation leads, naturally enough, to an essential difference in how Protestants and Catholics experience each other's arguments.

Furthermore, it suffices for the Catholic to show the necessity of Catholicism -- which, since it contains Protestantism, implies the necessity of Protestantism (interpreted in a Catholic way, if you follow me). A Catholic can argue against Protestantism without ever mentioning Protestantism.

The Protestant, though, is arguing for both the sufficiency of Protestantism (its necessity already granted, in a fashion, by the Catholic) and the excess of Catholicism. If a thing costs ten dollars, then having ten dollars is sufficient to buy it, but if I have twenty dollars I can buy it as well. The Protestant arguing against Catholicism must, metaphorically speaking, argue that if I have more than ten (or, allowing for freedom in uncertain matters, fifteen) dollars, I cannot buy the ten-dollar item. This means he has to talk about what's wrong with having twenty dollars. (The Catholic could content himself with demonstrations that the item costs twenty dollars, without ever directly considering a ten dollar price point.)


Thursday, October 24, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 20

Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando
These, as St. Thomas notes, are the seven circumstances of human acts as recorded by Tully.

They suggest what might be called the Circumstantial Rosary, wherein each mystery is considered according to a given circumstance:
  • Who is involved? Jesus, of course, and Mary. Unexpected insights can often be found by thinking in terms of other persons associated, perhaps only incidentally, with the mystery.
  • What is the effect of what is done? What changes as a result, and how have these changes affected history down to this day?
  • Where does the mystery take place? Is it a likely or unlikely place? Where in my own life do I find such places?
  • By what aids is the mystery effected? How do the supernatural and the natural work together to make the act possible?
  • Why does the act occur? What is the end for which the actors act? Is this end achieved?
  • How is it done? With what emotions, what movements, exercising which virtues or vices?
  • When does it happen? What makes it timely, how does it relate in time to the mysteries it follows and precedes?
Choose one of these circumstances and stick with it for all the decades recited during a week. The following week, choose another circumstance.

One effect of this method is an increase in awareness of the profundity of God's plan in sending His only Son into the world to suffer and be raised to glory. I have found the "where" and the "when" circumstances to be particularly fruitful for this.



Wednesday, October 23, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 19

What to do with your old 15-decade rosary once the new 20-decade set arrives from Italy?

Why not use it to pray the Stations of the Cross?

There is nothing that prevents you from praying the Stations outside of Lent and by yourself. In fact, the Church encourages it by offering a plenary indulgence, subject to certain conditions. And while there are numerous excellent collections of readings and prayers to be used for the Viae Crucis exercitium, the ones used at the Lenten parish Stations I've attended have not been particularly meditative. A decade of the Rosary in place of, or in addition to, the prayers in a "Way of the Cross" book adds nearly an hour of interior meditation on the passion and death of Christ to this devotion. At the same time, it directs the mind to the Marian dimensions of the Passion.

Now, no doubt, all Protestant and a few Catholic readers are rolling their eyes. "It's the passion and death of Jesus! Can't we lay off this mariolatry even for that?"

But the Marian dimension of the Passion is not a matter of watching Mary while she watches her Son suffer and die. Rather, it's a matter of watching her Son suffer and die through her eyes. It's not a focus on Mary, it's using Mary to focus on Jesus. We say to her, "Teach me how a Christian understands the Crucifixion," and we find that it is not so much about God dying on the Cross or the atonement for our sins as it is about the Person loved most in life dying out of love for the Person He loved most.

There are, as you know, fourteen stations in the Way of the Cross, but a multiple of five decades on most rosary beads. With the relatively new custom of the "fifteenth station," the Resurrection prayed at the tabernacle, you can finish with a traditional number of decades. If the indulgence is not important, or not possible (as when you do it in a place without the required fourteen crosses), or if you otherwise prefer, you can of course also use Pope John Paul II's Scriptural Stations.



Helpful Tips for Helpful Protestants

If you or someone you know is a Protestant who wants to witness to a Catholic that Catholic Marian dogma is evil, here are a few dos and don'ts to keep in mind:
  • Do choose your Catholic carefully. They are not all equally likely to see the indisputability of an argument like, "Mary is dead. Don't pray to her." Dominicans, members of the Rosary Confraternity, and people with web pages devoted to Mary are just some of the Catholics you can expect to be intransigent on the subject of Mary, even in the face of an impassioned email message.
  • Don't bring up apparitions. Apparitions are far from the top of the list of Marian things you disagree with. You should begin by demonstrating that invoking the saints is contrary to the will of God (and don't forget that your Catholic won't believe that "contrary to the will of God" and "not explicitly taught in Paul's epistles" are identical concepts). Arguing that Fatima's message is demonic is like trying to cut down a tree with a drill. You need to strike at the roots!
  • Do think about timing. The month of the Rosary is, all in all, not a good time to bring up how displeased God is with those who pray the Rosary, particularly if your Catholic is in the middle of a series of reflections on how to pray the Rosary in ways pleasing to God.
  • Don't use the lame "Satan is a deceiver" response to the personal witness given to you by your Catholic of how devotion to Mary has made his love of God bloom. That simply serves to remind him of how little you understand about devotion to Mary. Similarly, don't tell your Catholic that praying the Hail Mary is worshipping Mary. Witnessing to the truth is difficult enough without making the one you're witnessing to snicker.
  • Do think about the battle you're choosing. Sure, Catholics promote Mary out of all sensible Protestant proportion -- but they believe the Eucharist is God Himself! Are you sure you should be worrying about the risks Catholics run of placing a human ahead of God when Catholics explicitly teach and affirm that bread becomes Jesus?
I was going to add, "Don't respond to eighteen centuries of solid evidence of Marian devotion with accusations of satanism in Harry Potter," but that one seems a little too obvious.


Tuesday, October 22, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 18

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
If in the Luminous Mysteries the truth that Christ is the light of the world "emerges in a special way," as Pope John Paul II writes in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, then surely John the Baptist bears witness to the Luminous Mysteries:
  1. The Baptism of the Lord. It was John's ministry, a response to a call from God received in the womb, that provided the setting for the first public revelation of Jesus' divinity. As the Baptist says in John 1:31, "for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel."
  2. The Miracle at Cana. Jesus' first miracle was to provide an astonishing abundance of the finest wine, but John in the desert came neither eating nor drinking. The fasting of the groomsman precedes the feasting of the Bridegroom. This is a lesson as important to those awaiting the return of the Groom as to those who looked for His first coming.
  3. The Preaching of the Kingdom. John, too, preached the coming of the Kingdom, though since he was not the light his preaching was preparation, not revelation. Indeed all preaching is preparation, until the Son of God should reveal Himself and His Father to those whom He chooses.
  4. The Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is the second great theophany of Jesus' public life, prefigured by John's vision at Jesus' baptism: "I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him." Though no Apostle, John was the greatest of the prophets, and was not reduced to babbling as was Peter on Mt. Thabor; instead, he knew and bore witness that this Jesus was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist. Once more, John's witness is the fast before the feast of the Eucharist. In this, the least member of the Kingdom Jesus revealed is greater than he -- how could he not be, with God Himself as his food -- but it is a greatness wholly and freely given by God.



Thursday, October 17, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 17

When learning to pray the Rosary, it's common to be uneasy about the disconnect between the words spoken and the thoughts pondered. There's nothing in the Hail Mary obviously related to the Crowning with Thorns, and Jesus Himself warned, "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words."

The theological answer is that the prayer is not the words, but the entire human act of praying the Rosary -- movement, vocalization, meditation -- and that the spoken words act as a sort of "sacred music" accompanying the contemplation of the face of Christ. But theological answers are not always entirely satisfying.

A simple compromise for those who catch themselves worrying that they're saying words that have no meaning to them is to allow some of the words to have meaning. After pronouncing the mystery, pray the Our Father and one Hail Mary as prayers to the Father and to Mary, paying attention to the words. Then pause a moment to focus on the mystery, and recite the remaining nine Hail Marys while meditating. Finally, pray the Glory Be as a genuine prayer of praise, in thanksgiving for answering the prayers that began the decade with the graces you received during the rest of the decade.



All over but the pouting

A. Hernán González points out that Rosarium Virginis Mariae contains several ideas he and I each thought up, without citing either of us.

B. So does Fr. Jeffrey Keyes's article, "The Rosary as a Prayer of Communion". Must be some sort of clerical entitlement thing.

C. The Constitution of the Friars of the Order of Preachers states, "They shall recite daily a third part of the rosary in common or in private." With the addition of the luminous mysteries, this would mean stopping after the words "Holy Mary, Mother of" in the seventh Ave of the Wedding at Cana decade, then after the words "blessed are you among" in the fourth Ave of the Carrying of the Cross decade. I'm guessing they'll devise a more creative solution.


Wednesday, October 16, 2002

That's gratitude for you

After all I've done for the world's blogreaders, no one bothers to tell me about Tenebrae.


31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 16

The Rosary is a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness, but what should people do if they don't have time to pray it?

First, they should probably examine their theory of time management. What I don't have time for is what I don't make time for; odds are the same is true of people who say they don't have time for the Rosary.

Beyond that, though, notice what the Enchiridion of Indulgences has to say about obtaining an indulgence for praying the Rosary: "The recitation of a third part only of the Rosary suffices; but the five decades must be recited continuously." This suggests that, if the indulgence is not required, the five decades need not be recited continuously.

And of course, as a private devotion, there is no "right way" of praying the Rosary (although there are approved ways, customary ways, and ways that have proven fruitful).

At any time, day or night, you may call to mind a mystery and recite a decade's worth of prayers. If your schedule is regular enough, you may find that there are five times each day when you can meditate for four minutes, taking you through a complete set of mysteries and, after a fashion, sanctifying your day much as the Liturgy of the Hours sanctifies the day for the whole Church. If you've got a ten minute drive to work, pray two decades on the way to work, one sometime during the day, and two on the drive home.

I have a friend who plays chess in a club; he keeps a rosary in his pocket, and will pray it during his opponent's turn. He doesn't obtain the Rosary indulgence (though I suppose he gets one for using an object of devotion), but he does manage to spend a few minutes in contemplation of the life, death, or resurrection of Christ, which is a pretty good deal.



Categories of judgment

Some have suggested, and no doubt more believe, that my comments below can be taken to imply "that being a Catholic meant completely annihilating your own conscience and deferring to the Pope's opinion on everything."

That is not my meaning. This is:

Catholics should strive for integrity, the integration of all the aspects of their lives -- political, social, personal -- into a single, cohesive whole based on their transformed lives in Christ.

I detect, among politically conservative American Catholics, a tendency to disintegrate the political from the religious. In particular, this disintegration manifests itself in the categorical rejection of the United Nations as a pertinent authority in the moral analysis of a military attack on Iraq. It seems to play out like this:
  1. The U.N. is bad. (Axiomatic for the purposes of the moral analysis of an attack.)
  2. The Pope, various Vatican officials, and numerous bishops have expressed the opinion that the U.N. is a legitimate authority in this analysis.
  3. Therefore, the Pope & Co. are manifestly out of their depth on this matter.
  4. Therefore, nothing they say about whether the U.N. is a legitimate authority need contribute to this analysis.
The net effect is to systematically ignore any papal, curial, or episcopal statement containing the words "United Nations" or the abbreviation "U.N."

Without getting into the question of whether the U.N. is bad and how that might affect the overall moral analysis, I think this sort of reasoning represents a failure to form one's mind according to the teachings of the Church.

The Catechism states that formation of conscience is to be "guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church." Certainly, the statements made by the hierarchy are not authoritative in a strong sense of categorically binding, irreformable, or demanding of religious submission of will. Nevertheless, as Fr. Jeffrey Keyes pointed out to me, they are expressions of the minds of those in authority.

To say, as many have, that they are indications of the poor quality of the minds of those in authority is to fail to be guided by them to the extent that they are authoritative. Since the statements were intended to provide guidance, they cannot be categorically dismissed.

It seems to me there is a great deal of room between categorical dismissal and categorical deference. In particular, there is the region where prudence both takes counsel from magisterial statements and judges according to individual conscience.


What is this thing called sanctity?

Amy Welborn reposts her reflections on St. Gerard Majella's act of heroic virtue in the face of grave calumny -- remaining silent -- an act which reportedly led St. Alphonsus Liguori to declare prophetically, "Brother Gerard is a saint."

One of the lessons she draws is "it may strike us that there's a bit of self-righteousness" in St. Gerard's silence.

A commenter adds that "Gerard sounds like a tiresome prig. I guess it proves that all kinds of folks can achieve holiness, not just the ones with attractive personalities."

This is dumbfounding.

So I won't say any more.


Speaking of fine art

Wallace and Gromit are back! They're in a series of ten "Cracking Contraptions" short films. "The Soccamatic" is available on-line.


On Rosarium Virginis Mariae

The Rosary of the Virgin Mary is a powerful, beautiful, prayerful, hopeful, Christ-filled, apostolic, pastoral letter, a fine and generous gift of the Holy Father to the Church on his anniversary, as is his proclamation of the Year of the Rosary, running through October 2003.

The Pope's endorsement of the luminous mysteries will trouble only those who don't trouble themselves to read the letter and those who read the letter looking for trouble.

[And yes, the word "luminous" may take some getting used to, especially for those of us who habitually append the word "rabbit" to it. Fortunately, a Dominican has already prepared the way. Study the paintings of Fra Angelico, the original painter of light, to see how luminous those events in Jesus' life were.]



Tuesday, October 15, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 15

Of course, you could always meditate on the luminous mysteries, each of which is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus:
  1. The Baptism of Jesus
  2. The Miracle at Cana
  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom
  4. The Transfiguration
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist
The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light. Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became “sin” for our sake, the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son, while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out.

Another mystery of light is the first of the signs, given at Cana, when Christ changes water into wine and opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary, the first among believers.

Another is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust: the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church.

The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to “listen to him” and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit.

Finally there is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine, and testifies “to the end” his love for humanity, for whose salvation he will offer himself in sacrifice.

In these mysteries, apart from the miracle at Cana, the presence of Mary remains in the background. The Gospels make only the briefest reference to her occasional presence at one moment or other during the preaching of Jesus, and they give no indication that she was present at the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. Yet the role she assumed at Cana in some way accompanies Christ throughout his ministry. The revelation made directly by the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan and echoed by John the Baptist is placed upon Mary's lips at Cana, and it becomes the great maternal counsel which Mary addresses to the Church of every age: “Do whatever he tells you”. This counsel is a fitting introduction to the words and signs of Christ's public ministry and it forms the Marian foundation of all the “mysteries of light”.

[Many thanks to the men who suggested this way and provided the above commentary.]



Sound familiar?

Deal Hudson of the magazine Crisis explains why you can remain a good Catholic despite ignoring the clear, univocal message of the American bishops, the Pope, and the Vatican that a unilateral American attack on Iraq would be morally illicit:

Because Richard McBrien said you can.

No, sorry, my mistake. It's George Weigel. Deal Hudson says George Weigel says you can.

When I read this, in an email sent to me and 10,000 of Deal Hudson's closest friends last week, I thought there was something not rigorously correct in his analysis, which characterizes the various statements made by bishops and Vatican officials as "pretty ridiculous" and "nonsensical." Kevin Miller has done an excellent job giving shape to my vague misgivings.

But I think my least favorite paragraph in the letter is this one:
In the affairs of public policy, the bishops are operating with no more authority than the average lay Catholic, and oftentimes with less understanding of the situation. Twenty years ago, when Crisis was just getting started, the magazine objected to a different letter of the bishops -- this time, one that called for full nuclear disarmament as a response to the Cold War. But it was through the wise leadership of President Reagan, not the opinion of the bishops, that the Cold War was won in 1989. Where would we be had we followed the advice of the bishops on a political issue that they barely understood?
First, the whole Reagan leadership wheeze is simply ends-justifying-means reasoning, not the sort of thing I expect from Catholic sources. That the ending of the Cold War was a good thing doesn't mean that what caused it to end was good.

Second, I find the claim that the bishops "barely understood" the morality of nuclear disarmament unpersuasive; it is too drenched in the writer's manifest pride in his own superior understanding in supporting "the wise leadership of President Reagan."

Finally, if nuclear disarmament or preemptive war are simply "affairs of public policy" in which "the bishops are operating with no more authority than the average lay Catholic," then why should I particularly care what Deal Hudson -- or George Weigel, for that matter -- has to say about them? They have no more authority than the bishops -- or me, for that matter. Shouldn't I get my news and information on affairs of public policy from public policy news and information sources, rather than Catholic journalists and theologians? Isn't that like asking Brookings Institution fellows their opinions on predestination?


The Power of Positive Prayer

Driving home the other evening, it occurred to me that St. Anthony of Padua would be an appropriate saint to invoke in praying that the person or persons responsible for the Washington region sniper attacks be found. (It's not a wholly academic exercise for me, as I live in the Washington region.) After all, I have almost always found what I was looking for after asking for St. Anthony's help.

Well, okay, I have lots of silly ideas that I don't blog about (like my dream of opening a chain of retail stores that sell only peanut butter and jelly). But then when I got home I found a piece of junk mail from some Franciscans that was stuffed with devotional material for St. Anthony of Padua.

"My what a coincidence," I thought, since when two more people have been murdered and I have posted a spirited defense of the fundamental importance of prayer for Christians who seek change in the world.

So I think I will start a perpetual novena to St. Anthony until the sniper is caught.
O Holy St. Anthony, gentlest of Saints, your love for God and Charity for His creatures made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited on your word, which you were ever ready to speak for those in trouble or anxiety. Encouraged by this thought, I implore of you to obtain for my neighbors and me the arrest and confinement of those responsible for the murderous sniper attacks on the innocent people of this region. The answer to my prayer may require a miracle, even so, you are the Saint of Miracles. O gentle and loving St. Anthony, whose heart was ever full of human sympathy, whisper my petition into the ears of the Sweet Infant Jesus, who loved to be folded in your arms, and the gratitude of my heart will ever be yours. Amen.

Our Father, ...

Hail Mary, ...

Glory be ...

Pray for us, St. Anthony, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


The end of civilization as we know it

Of the criticisms I've read of impending doom in the form of papal endorsement of a fourth set of mysteries of the Rosary -- the details of which none of the critics know -- the least substantial amounts to the claim that humanity achieved immutable perfection in prayer when the Fatima Prayer was added to the Dominican Rosary.

But there is another criticism that stands out as particularly pernicious: That the prayer life of Christians isn't important enough for the Pope to waste time on.

This may be a more charitable way of phrasing the criticism than some I've read. There are those who have all but claimed that prayer is powerless in the face of the problems facing the Church, that the thing for the Pope to do is to stop praying and start acting. In short: salvation of the Church through works.

I reject this notion. Firmly, categorically -- and, in private, with vulgar language.

It's been said too often to have much impact now, but the Church is not an incorporated business. In particular, we are not stockholders to grouse about bottom-line performance, the CEO, or regional vice presidents. We are priests, prophets, and kings, and in my opinion far too many American Catholics are far too eager to play the prophet without first serving the Church as priest.

I'll set aside the protective "we" and admit that I do not pray enough. I do not act enough, either, but if I acted more without praying more I would at best be doing my work, not God's.

What a letter on the Rosary, whatever it contains, will do -- assuming it is received by those to whom it is given, and not ignored or opposed -- is teach us to pray, which is to transform ourselves into other Christs, which is to bring God's power and presence more fully into the world around us. With God's power and God's presence, we will be prepared to transform the Church and the world. This, I think, is how the universal call to holiness is answered, not by telling the Pope, "I'll pay, you obey -- and don't tell me how to pray."


31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 14

St. Thomas the Apostle is one of my patron saints. His experiences, both canonical and apocryphal, are exemplary, although his timing is terrible.

Allow me, then, to offer the Belatedly Glorious Mysteries According to St. Thomas:
  1. The Resurrection. For Thomas, either Jesus was dead or Jesus was God. That's a Christology that rules out a lot of the heresies to come (some of which are still among us). We may be too used to thinking of Jesus as our heavenly friend to full appreciate what it would have meant to a Galilean Jew to discover himself standing before the LORD.
  2. The Ascension. After the Ascension, St. Thomas was thrown back into the company of the rest of the whiners, quitter, brown-nosers, and blockheads who were together the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among them. St. Thomas's own stock couldn't have been very high. And yet somehow, the shared experience of the company of the Risen Lord brought these people together, with Mary the mother of Jesus, to pray in an upper room in Jerusalem, waiting for the promise of the Father. They managed to be the Church.
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit. According to legend, after Pentecost St. Thomas was chosen to preach the Gospel in India. He was not eager to go, and it wasn't until Jesus appeared and tricked him into being sold as a slave that he started on his eastward journey. I have received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. How eager have I been to go where the Spirit is calling me?
  4. The Assumption. According to an apocryphal work, St. Thomas was late again at the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin, arriving in Jerusalem just in time to see her rising to heaven. In answer to his prayer, she dropped her belt to him (some would say on him) from heaven, and he bore news of her Assumption to the other Apostles. We, too, are not in time to assist in Mary's burial; we too, may call upon her anyway, confident that she will give us her blessing.
  5. The Coronation. If Jesus is Thomas's Lord, then Mary is his Lady. When, having evangelized Persia and India, St. Thomas was martyred, he would have come before his King and Queen to receive his own glorious crown. A similar, if less exalted, destiny awaits those of us who remain faithful to God's call.
You'll note that in these reflections I am not particularly interested in questions of historicity. I think there is a time and a place for such questions, but they do not include devotional prayer.

St. Thomas the Apostle, companion of the Lord, pray for us!



Monday, October 14, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 13

The mysteries of the Rosary take us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and on into the establishment of His eternal kingdom. These, Christianity teaches, are the central events of creation, prefigured in the lives of God’s chosen people and preordained to be reflected in the lives of all of Christ’s disciples.

In a sense, these mysteries are to grand to be limited to a few minutes or hours al falling within several decades of each other several centuries ago. They reverberate through time, forward and backward. As Pope John Paul II teaches in Dies Domini, the Resurrection is the antitype of the First Day of creation and the prefigurement of the Last Day, the day with no evening.

It makes sense, then, to meditate on these mysteries through time, to break them open and listen to their echoes across the ages.

One technique for doing this is to identify four time frames for each mystery: the time before the event; the time of the event; the time after the event; and today. Meditations on all mysteries for a given week are relative to the same time frame (i.e., before, during, after, or today), and the time frames cycle through every four weeks.

An easy way to keep track of these time frames is to key them to the 4-week Psalter: the before meditations are done on Week I; the during on Week II; the after on Week III; and the today on Week IV.

That is, it’s an easy way if you’ve already figured out the 4-week Psalter. If not, you can key them to the Sundays of the month (the week of the first Sunday being before, and so on). When there’s a fifth Sunday in a month, use the time frame of eternity.

The during and today time frames are straightforward (well, the during for the Coronation is a bit tricky), but what about the before and after? There are two distinct approaches.

First, you can choose something well away from the mystery in time, an Old Testament story for the before and something from Acts or the early Church for the after. For example, Hannah’s story prefigures and Ananias’s vision echoes the Annunciation.

Second, you can think of the times immediately before and after the mystery, and meditate on how God’s actions changed the status quo and began to propagate their effects through time. For example, prior to the Annunciation Mary was, to all outward appearances, an ordinary maiden, yet she had been prepared from eternity for her role as Mother of God; after the Annunciation, she went in haste to serve the Lord on a path she did not yet fully comprehend.



31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 12

As is true of any fully human prayer, the Rosary is fundamentally incarnational. Its soul comprises the unspoken meditations, thoughts, and prayers. Its body are the spoken words, the fingers moving the beads, perhaps the reading of a Scriptural Rosary (coming soon to this series) or the listening of a choral Rosary.

Another way of adding body to the Rosary, so to speak, is through the use of sacred art. Praying the Rosary with representations of the mysteries before you adds a visual dimension that can also feed the spiritual dimension.

I find studying Fra Angelico's "The Mocking of Christ", for example, both focusses my mind on the Crowning with Thorns and brings out aspects of the mystery (in this case, the Marian dimension in particular) I would not have thought of myself.

I am, predictably, partial to the paintings of Fra Angelico, my namesake in the Dominican Order -- and handily printed in the little book Through the Rosary with Fra Angelico -- but there is no shortage of artistic depictions of the mysteries of the Rosary.

Similarly, one could listen to sacred music while praying -- perhaps a Mass of the Annunciation, or Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ -- although the connection to the particular mystery is likely to be looser.



Dziêkujê, You Holiness

Amy Welborn reports that Reuters reports that the Pope's pending letter on the Rosary will formalize a fourth set of mysteries from Christ's life.

It's very considerate of the Holy Father to assist me in my on-line project. I already have a "public life mysteries" way planned; it will be interesting to see how close it is to what the Pope will announce.

Note, incidentally, the historical credulity of the Reuters reporter, who claims that this will mark a change to the Rosary "for the first time in nine centuries." Pace St. Louis de Montfort, the history of the Rosary is more complicated than that. The version prayed in 1102 consisted, as you know, of the Angelic Salutation recited 150 times; even Elizabeth's words, "and blessed is the fruit of thy womb," often weren't used. The notion of decades, the addition of the Pater noster, the choice and manner of applying mysteries, the addition of the Gloria: all these came centuries later. The division of mysteries into joyful (white roses), sorrowful (red roses), and glorious (gold roses) came about barely five hundred years ago.

Anyway, I'll take this as magisterial approval of the whole "31 Days, 31 Ways" idea, since I don't think Pope John Paul would make such a change if he had not personally confirmed its fruitfulness by praying the Rosary in a different way than what he was taught as a child.


31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 11

Here's a very simple idea: Pray the Rosary while listening to the evening news.

The news provides a steady stream of prayer intentions. There are likely to be several sorrowful reports, of war, famine, pestilence, and death. But there may well be one or more joyful reports, of anticipations or births or happy endings. Once in a while, something both glorious and newsworthy happens, too.

Even the sports and weather reports can be prayed over. As ephemeral as sports is, the outcome of an event can have a pronounced effect on the moods of many for days, and sometimes years. We give thanks for good weather, we pray for perseverance in bad weather -- and almost any weather can be good or bad, depending on whether we're prepared for it.

What I've found praying the Rosary during the news does is to make both the Rosary and the news more real to me. The news, because I am no longer passively listening, with an occasional fleeting, "Oh, no!"; I am praying to God over the stories that I hear. And the Rosary is no longer simply a discipline I use to think of the things of God for a few minutes a day; the beads become a weapon in my hands as I invoke the mercy or the justice of the Lord in the faith and hope of being heard.



Saturday, October 12, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 10

Continuing in the paraliturgical vein, when the Rosary is prayed in large groups, particularly in a church, it is often prayed in a choral manner. This doesn't mean it's sung, but that the group is divided into two parts which recite the prayers alternately to each other, much the way religious houses recite the Liturgy of the Hours in choir.

What does the alternation do for you? One line of thought is that it makes the Rosary a conversation across the aisle, with each side speaking, then listening, proclaiming the word, then receiving it. It becomes a joint work of prayer, not between myself and the group as a whole, as with group prayer with a single leader; but between my side of the aisle and your side.

The idea of reciting the Rosary as the psalms are recited during the Liturgy of the Hours brings to mind the custom, in some religious orders, of standing and bowing at the words "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit." This adds to the physical dimension of the Rosary: the speaking, the listening, the use of beads. Adding a physical dimension to prayer is something I have found very helpful, and I'll point out that you can stand and bow even when praying the Rosary by yourself.



More on the Opus Dei debate

Here's something I heard from a priest last year:

"You know the definition of 'religious fanatic,' right? It's someone who takes religion more seriously than you do."


Friday, October 11, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 9

I've found a website that states that the following is a customary way of praying the Rosary in Mexico:

Open with the following prayers:
V. Hail purest Mary.
R. Conceived without sin.
V. By the Sign of the Holy Cross.
R. From our enemies free us, O Lord, My God.
(+) In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
V. Lord, open my lips.
R. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.
V. God, come to my assistance.
R. Lord make haste to help me.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
The five decades follow as usual, although suitably hymns may be sung between the decades. The site also suggests several alternative invocations to the Fatima Prayer, including this Homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe:
V. My heart is occupied eternally in loving you.
R. And my tongue in praising you, O Virgin of Guadalupe, my Mother.
At the end of the five decades comes the following Marian sequence: an Our Father; the Marian Salutations; the Hail Holy Queen, the Litany of Loreto; and the Sub Tuum Praesidium.

Next comes an offertory prayer, perhaps "O God, Whose Only Begotten Son," or this:
Grant to us, your children, we beseech you O Lord God, to enjoy continual health of mind and body, and by the glorious intercession of Blessed Mary ever virgin, to be delivered from the sorrows of this life, and enjoy the happiness of life everlasting. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
And finally, the concluding prayers:
Sweet Mother, do not depart from me. Do not lose me from your sight. Accompany me everywhere and never leave me all alone. Because you protect me like a true Mother, obtain for me the blessing of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
V. By the Sign of the Holy Cross.
R. From our enemies free us, O Lord, My God.
(+) In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
V. Hail purest Mary.
R. Conceived without sin.
Now that's what I call a paraliturgy!

While you're at it, throw in a brief sermon before the Marian sequence if there's a priest or deacon available. I can't imagine many of the American parishes I've attended praying so elaborate a Rosary except on special occasions (like, perhaps, when one of the Marian feasts is not obligatory or goes unobserved liturgically), so why not talk the pastor into a full-fledged and full-throated parish event, complete with choir and refreshments afterward?



Apologetics for beginners

Next time your Protestant brother-in-law says, "What is it about you Catholics? You call Mary a 'mediatrix,' but the Bible says Jesus is the one mediator," answer him this way:

"In your words is truth, as St. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:5, 'For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.'"

That ought to stun him into silence long enough for a speech along these lines:
And the Catholic Church insists on this truth. In fact, the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which confirms the invocation of Mary as Mediatrix, refers to Jesus as the "one," "sole," "unique," or "only" Mediator eleven times.

Look at it this way. The Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus is the one high priest, but 1 Peter says we are all members of a holy priesthood. Our priesthood is a share in Jesus' priesthood, communicated to each of us in different ways for the good of His Church. Just so, Jesus' unique mediation between God and man is not replaced or supplemented by Mary's subordinate mediation; hers is a cooperation in His mediation made possible by the presence in her soul of the Holy Spirit to Whom she said yes.

It's a mistake -- sometimes made by Catholics, too -- to think of Mary as our Mediatrix as though God had given her a jar full of grace-filled gumdrops, which she is now doling out on the playground of the world to whichever good little boys and girls ask her nicely.

A better image, perhaps, is that God has given her a sackful of wrapped presents to distribute to her children according to the names on the labels. Occasionally, a child asks her for a particular present; she turns to God and repeats the request, and God tells her the present is already in the sack He has given her.

This is what Catholics believe about Mary's mediation. She does nothing apart from the will of God, everything she gives comes from God. Her spiritual role is simply the continuation of her role as Mother of the Incarnate God, in which by uniting herself to God's will she was able to give the world His Son.


31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 8

There is a technique for focusing your Rosary meditations through the lens of the three virtues that endure: faith, hope, and love.

Simply meditate on the mystery as you normally would for the first four Hail Marys, then for two Hail Marys each, consider the mystery in the light of the virtue – or the virtue in the light of the mystery.

I find it helpful to spend one Hail Mary thinking about the mystery-virtue combination as it happened, then one thinking about what it means today. So, for example, on the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, I might ask myself something like the following questions on the following beads:
5. How did Mary’s faith support the others in the upper room?
6. How can Mary’s faith support me?
7. What hope was in Mary’s heart after the Ascension?
8. Do I share her hope?
9. How was Mary’s maternal love for Jesus affected by the power of the Holy Spirit enlightening her knowledge of His divinity?
10. How do I love Jesus in His humanity?
There are a couple of things to note about these questions. First, they are substantive theological and spiritual questions. This reflects the fact that I am typing them up for public consumption. I’d be finished the decade before I finished asking myself question number 9. In practice, what goes through my mind is often more along the lines of, “Um, now what about hope?” Questions as meaty as the above might take several passes through the mystery to form.

Second, the questions require substantive theological and spiritual answers. I wouldn’t be able to answer question 9 before I was done chanting the Salve Regina and kissing the crucifix.

This brings me back to a point I’ve made before, that the Rosary isn’t a twenty-minute prayer but a lifelong meditation. The few moments every few days that I might spend asking whether I share Mary’s hope in her crucified and risen Son now at the right hand of the Father, these are not so much devoted to composing a discursive answer as to giving the Holy Spirit a chance to form my heart in imitation of Mary (and therefore of Jesus). This method of praying the Rosary is akin to a gentle stretching in all directions, to keep my heart supple and ready to receive the answers God wants to give me when He wants to give them to me.



Thursday, October 10, 2002

Things good Catholics do

The apostolate of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne is a straightforward one: "to nurse and shelter incurable cancer patients who cannot afford care elsewhere."

As if that weren't remarkable enough, they do it for free. No charge to the patient or family, no Medicaid or Medicare, no private insurance.

It is, shall we say, a unique business plan in these days of for-profit healthcare, but they've been doing it for almost 102 years. They now have six homes -- homes to both the sisters and their patients -- in five states, all entirely supported by "generous benefactors." (Their trust in God's providence is so great, the sisters don't even have a PayPal link on their website.)

The Hawthorne Dominicans are perhaps best known for two relatively unimportant reasons (relative to the work they do, at least). First, they were founded by Rose Hawthorne, daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne and a writer herself. (Alice Huber is considered the co-foundress, but Rose began the work and was better known.)

Second, Flannery O'Connor wrote the introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann, written by the Hawthorne Dominicans of Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Home in Atlanta. O'Connor's name brought attention to a book that would otherwise have sunk without a trace in manuscript form, without ever being published.
[Incidentally, A Memoir of Mary Ann is one of the most wonderful books I have ever read. Find this book. Read this book. If it does not repay your time and money, I'll make up the difference.]
There are good reasons for trusting that God will continue to bless the Hawthorne Dominicans and their work. First, they know what their work is, which is what it has been and always will be: to care for the poor, pained, dying souls with nowhere else to go. (The poor, the pained, the dying: our society crosses the road to avoid each of these; put them all together and you've got the lepers of Twenty-first Century America.)

Second, they know why they do the work they do. As it says on their lovely website:
We profess our vows on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Our lives must be lived relative to the Cross and Jesus Suffering and Crucified. We adore and attempt to conform outselves to Christ Crucified. We serve the suffering Christ in our suffering patients, and we bring our own sufferings and the sufferings of our patients to Jesus on the Cross. Ultimately, we accept the Cross fully, uniting ourselves to the Suffering Savior for our own sanctification and the salvation of the world. The only way to the Resurrection is through the Cross. Our pilgrimage to the Father is through this charism.
"The only way to the Resurrection is through the Cross." This is the Gospel. The rest is commentary.

Third, they're ... well, Dominicans:
Traditions of the Dominican Order ... love of the Church and the Holy Father, wearing the habit, devotion to the Passion of Christ and Our Blessed Mother ... are a major focus of the community's life.
Allow me to post this notice from their current newsletter:
Help Wanted - Vocation Volunteers

Can you help us with our Vocation Campaign? For our Vocation Campaign to be successful, we need to make ourselves known to women who are exploring their religious vocation. Our commitment to our apostolic work makes it difficult for us to visit parishes and dioceses as much as we would wish to tell women about our community. We need your help.

We ask that you place our vocation pamphlets and posters in your church (and, if possible, in neighboring churches) with the permission of the pastor. A woman who is exploring her religious vocation may learn of us through these materials, and find that God is calling her to join our community.

If you would like to be a Hawthorne Dominican Vocation Volunteer, please call Sr. Teresa Marie at (914) 769-4794....

We would be very grateful for your help, and you would have a special place in our prayers.


Reflections on the sapiential dimensions of blogging

Why do I blog? As a public service, pure and simple. Instruct, enlighten, and entertain: that's my guiding principle.
Père Henri de Lubac
Was always under attack.
Then he got a red hat;
End of spat.

Père Marie-Dominique Chenu
Moaned, "What more can I do?
How can I get Garrigou-Lagrange to see there's nothing dodgy
About la nouvelle theologie?"


Pot: Kettle Black

TS O'Rama expresses the logical difficulty in criticizing critics. I think the easiest way through this thicket is for the Pharisee to pray like the publican.


31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 7

The Rosary is a combination of vocal prayer, mental meditation, and physical movement (if you use a set of rosary beads). There are times, though, when meditation is impossible, times of great stress or sorrow, times when the concentration just can't be mustered long enough to do more than name the mysteries.

At such times, prayer is as necessary as it is difficult. A possible path is to move backward through the history of the Marian Rosary to the primitive* Psalter of Our Lady, which is simply the recitation of 150 Aves:

Make the Sign of the Cross, offer any spontaneous prayer you might have, and begin reciting Hail Marys. Don't worry about Our Fathers, don't worry about mysteries, don't worry about decades. This is a time when your body prays on behalf of your soul, your voice takes you into God's presence although your heart is too weighed down to move. It is conversational prayer, where the conversation is an outpouring of your worries to One who can act in you simply by listening.

At the same time, of course, you are also speaking to Mary, through whose immaculate heart you may confidently hope your anguish will be placed before God and healed. Such confidence is, unfortunately, a matter of faith rather than feeling; it is hopeful, not yet seen. As with Peter on the sea, it can waver and fail, but, as with Peter, Christ will be there to take your hand and bring you to safety. And His mother, who standing at the foot of the Cross was able to embrace the Father's will that Jesus should die, who is no less united to His will now, will be with you, too.

PEDANTIC NOTE:As prayed in the Thirteenth Century, the Ave was called the Angelic Salutation and ended with the words "and blessed is the fruit of your womb." St. Thomas preached that had three parts:
The Angel gave one part, namely: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women."[1] The other part was given by Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, namely: "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb."[2] The Church adds the third part, that is, "Mary"....
I don't know if you need to go that primitive.



Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Revealing my sources

In case you were wondering, the Moteminders post below was sparked by growing frustration at the number and brazenness of those whose hobby is documenting the weaknesses, failings, and sins of the American episcopate. I'm used to it coming from the ritually pure who hate everything that has happened since the death of St. Pius X of happy memory, but now I'm seeing it flowing freely from those who I think would describe themselves as conservative Catholics.

The practical result of this is that they have no bishops. Oh, they realize that there are men living in the area whose signatures validate the sacraments they receive, but these hypercritical Catholics reserve all rights of teaching to their own judgment. Anything a bishop says that might be inconsistent with an opinion they happen to hold is taken as evidence of the bishop's infirmity of mind or morals, rather than as a reason to suspect a deficiency in their own formation.

I exaggerate, but perhaps not by much. Consider, for example, this excerpt from a comment on a Catholic Light post criticising the bishops' support for gun control:
My opinion, is that unless a document is voted on by the entire body of bishops and approved by the Vatican, it's best to ignore anything that comes from the USCCB.
Think about that last phrase. Unless the Vatican explicitly approves a document, it is best to ignore it. Not allowable, but best. Not prayerfully consider, not even evaluate in context, but ignore.

Meanwhile on HMS Blog, Duncan Maxwell Anderson refers to "proto-schismatic organizations like the NCCB," then in a follow-up assumes what
is not in dispute here is the socialist, feminist, anti-patriotic character of the NCCB’s public positions, which rhetorically undermine family life in America and profit only Democratic Party pressure groups.
More recently, he blithely rejects the authority of the Catechism:
I'm sure the Catechism will be revised in the area of guns and the state as those who come of age in our era become its editors.
This is precisely the attitude -- replacing "guns and the state" with "sexuality and the role of women," the very words -- of those who are trying to hasten the day the Vatican ordains women priests, allows contraception, and blesses gay marriages.

Where the bishop is, there is the Church. Exhort him, challenge him, correct him if you must, but do not try to replace him. The perfect bishop of your imagination is not the one God has appointed to teach, to govern, and to sanctify.


Taking up the slack

With the suspension sine die of La vita nuova, it's encumbent upon the rest of us to do what we can to keep modern poetry before the masses.

And so, an original compostion:
Father Edward Schillebeeckx
Writes books that are extraordinarily complex.
And every time he does, the Vatican
Gets madigan.
Thank you.


A Church for the rest of us

Speaking of envy, I also envy those Catholic who are so holy they founded their own church, one without all those irritating rules they were ignoring all along anyway. With the help of some roving bishop of questionable or regrettable provenance, they set up their shingle with a name like United Liberal Progressive American Autocephalous Orthodox Old Western Catholic Church.

Doctrinally, such churches tend to replace the marks of "one" and "holy" with "inclusive" and "welcoming," although they insist quite strongly on "catholic" and "apostolic" (often with a numbing choronology of irregular episcopal ordinations intended to demonstrate that apostolic succession is alive and well and living in the ULPAAOOWCC).

What I envy about these churches (besides the fact that every third person gets to be a bishop) is the way they've managed to preserve everything they like about Roman Catholicism while jettisoning everything they find inconvenient. "Same great grace, but with 1/3 fewer sins!"

Still, there are other things I'd jettison before prohibitions against invalid marriage and female priests. I mean, as long as we are quite literally inventing our dogmas, why not put in some that I personally benefit from, like
  • saying, "Oh, that's a shame," when tragedy befalls one's neighbor demonstrates sufficient charity
  • thinking about how lousy it would be to be poor is a corporal work of mercy
  • eating a lot is encouraged as a form of praising God's bounteous providence
  • sleep is the preeminent sanctification of time
  • the performance of the local sports team is an accurate oracle of how pleased God is with the local church; therefore close observation and study of sports is a form of theology
  • "Oops!" is a valid rite of self-administered sacramental confession
  • God doesn't really take all that stuff in the Bible seriously, either
Now that's a statement of principles that meets me where I live!


Kairos rocks the party!

Check out JB's "The stages of Catholic blogging."

Then come back here. Remember: Every time my sitemeter rings, an angel gets her wings.



Envy, as you know, is sorrow for another's good. (So next time you tell a friend your vacation plans, and they say, "I'm so jealous," fraternally correct them: "No, you're envious.")

And although envy is a vice opposed to our neighbor's interior act of charity that is joy, I have to confess that I have the habit of envy.

In particular, I envy those people who are so holy, so perfect, so sinless, that they can spot and condemn the mote in someone's eye from across the country, or even across the world. I don't envy them their holiness and perfection. If I wanted to be holy and perfect, I could be; God doesn't ask the impossible. What I envy is their ability to criticize others.

See, I enjoy criticizing others. The problem is that I find it very difficult to criticize others without, explicitly or implicitly, praising myself. "O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men...." And I do not go home justified.

So when I see these living saints sit back and reel off, day in and day out, the many and various faults, failings, vices, sins of commission and of omission, of others, I say to myself, "Gee, I wish I could do that without imperiling my soul."


Tuesday, October 08, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 6

The word “joyful” is wholly inadequate to describe the unutterable depths to which the Blessed Virgin, all mankind, and the whole of creation visible and invisible are or should be moved by the events composing the Joyful Mysteries.

On the other hand, I can’t help but think they left St. Joseph a nervous wreck.

As a non-immaculate husband and father, I find it easy to imagine the Anxious Mysteries:
  1. The Annunciation. Joseph’s betrothed, against whom no one can say a word, is found with child! As if that weren’t bad enough, it’s the LORD’s child! Talk about assuming responsibility for raising a family.
  2. The Visitation. Mary leaves, and she stays left. This betrothal is not going according to custom.
  3. The Nativity. “A census, just when the baby is due. What’s next, there won’t be any room at the inn?” “Jumpin’ Jehosaphat, my wife’s going to have the LORD’s baby in a stable! This can’t be the way I’m supposed to be husbanding.”
  4. The Presentation. Redeeming the Son of God with a couple of doves. You just know it’s going to be a harder bargain than it sounds. And then the old man very kindly tells the young mother that her heart will be pierced.
  5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. “I lost Jesus. I lost Jesus. I lost Jesus. Not only did I lose my own son, I lost the LORD’s Son!
The Litany of St. Joseph speaks of him as “chaste and just…prudent and brave…obedient and loyal.” But something else he simply must have been, by the time the twelve-year-old Jesus was safely back in Nazareth, is one of the humblest men to have ever walked the Earth. Time and again, events had proven to him the limits of his own abilities. Time and again, God had proven to him the limitlessness of His providential care. Time and again, Joseph got up and did what the LORD commanded.



Sola fides

TS O'Rama adds, "Perhaps the supreme example of not trusting our senses is the Eucharist. My senses tell me one thing, my faith another."


St. Thomas is the one who convinced the people who convinced me that we must trust our senses. Yet St. Thomas also wrote
Verbum caro, panem verum
Verbo carnem efficit:
Fitque sanguis Christi merum,
Et si sensus deficit,
Ad firmandum cor sincerum
Sola fides sufficit.
In the vulgar,
The Word in Flesh makes true Bread
His Flesh with a word;
Wine becomes the Blood of Christ,
And if sense is deficient,
To confirm sincere hearts,
Faith alone suffices.
Someone suggested that in these most un-Thomistic lines St. Thomas betrays his philosophy, but I think he rather confirms his theology.


Not that I have anything against black and white

DioceseReport.Com advertises itself as
Your Catholic News
Black & White
without all the Gray
There, in six words and an ampersand, is what is wrong with reactionary Catholicism. Anyone who preaches a black and white world is not preaching the Catholic faith.

The world, in case you haven't noticed, is in color.


Making sense of the Resurrection

TS O'Rama posts what I find to be undernuanced thoughts:
Is it not funny that after the Resurrection Jesus was not recognized even by those most close to Him. How perfect is that? Is that not an exclamation point on the intangibility of God, and how he determines when we see Him and when we don’t? Was there a better way to tell us not to trust our senses?
O no, we must trust our senses, or else we will have lost our senses. Let those who have ears, hear!

What we should be told, I think, is to purify our senses according to the Gospel. If St. Mary Magdalene had reformed her hearing in the light of Jesus' preaching (a bit much to ask, I suppose, prior to Pentecost, but perhaps not impossible), then she would have prepared her eyes for the sight of the Living Lord on the third day. St. John saw the empty tomb and believed, though he did not yet understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Surely he was not one of the apostles who saw the risen Christ but doubted what their senses told them.

I agree with TS, though, that it is God who determines what there is to see. We are to prepare ourselves, our minds and our hearts, our eyes and our ears, but God decides what shall be revealed to us, and when.


Monday, October 07, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 5

Of the three traditional sets of mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries are the most dramatic. They tell the story of Jesus during the last hours of His life, moving from the solitude of the garden to the solitude of the cross.

The Sorrowful Mysteries are progressive and cumulative in a way the other two sets are not. The Joyful Mysteries are not a build-up to the Finding in the Temple. The Resurrection is not the first act of a movement that culminates in the Coronation.

We might, then, tailor meditations on the Sorrowful Mysteries to take advantage of this, to make them build upon each other, rather than merely follow each other in sequence.

Here is one way to do this:
  1. In the garden, the Son of God is abandoned by His disciples.
  2. Pilate has Jesus scourged as a gesture of appeasement after the Son of God is rejected by the religious leaders.
  3. For all the Roman soldiers knew or cared, Jesus really was the king of the Jews. Their mockery shows the Son of God ridiculed by the mighty.
  4. Jesus bore the cross through the city He had triumphantly entered the week before. The Son of God is ignored by His Chosen People.
  5. At the Place of the Skull, the Son of God is forgotten by the world.
At each mystery, another potential source of human comfort is torn away from Jesus, starting with those closest to Him, until the end, when He dies wretched and alone in the world. The scope of His abandonment widens as His isolation deepens, until the Son of God is moved to pray that unfathomnable psalm, "My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?"

This is His sorrowful passion; this, in the salvific economy decreed by the will of the Father, is the guarantee of divine mercy upon all who invoke it out of the depths.



La caminata bajo las estrellas

Hernan Gonzalez does have something better to do than translate Disputations. Much better. Like joining a million other pilgrims on the last 20 kilometers of the annual overnight 60 km walk in honor of Our Lady of Luján.


Our Lady of the Rosary

De Virtutibus features a selection from St. Thomas's exposition on the Angelic Salutation. The full exposition is online elsewhere (along with St. Thomas's catechetical instructions on the Creed, the sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer).

Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us!


Saturday, October 05, 2002

And I thought I had too much time on my hands

Hernan Gonzales of fotos del apocalipsis is translating "31 Days, 31 Ways" into Spanish. Or at least some of it. I'm sure by the time I get to "Number 26: Whistling the Rosary," he'll settle for providing the links and pointing out the little Spanish flag on my Babelfish translator in the column on the left.

Which is good, because then he'll have time to post other, more interesting things to his blog, like his recent reflections on guardian angels.


Friday, October 04, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 4

What way for October 4 but the Franciscan Crown? To quote from the old Catholic Encyclopedia:
The Franciscan Crown dates back to the year 1422. [A] young novice who had that year been received into the Franciscan Order had, previous to his reception, been accustomed to adorn a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a wreath of fresh and beautiful flowers as a mark of his piety and devotion. Not being able to continue this practice in the novitiate, he decided to return to the world. The Blessed Virgin appeared to him and prevented him from carrying out his purpose. She then instructed him how, by reciting daily a rosary of seven decades in honour of her seven joys, he might weave a crown that would be more pleasing to her than the material wreath of flowers he had been wont to place on her statue. From that time the practice of reciting the crown of the seven joys became general in the order.
What are the seven joys of Mary meditated on while praying the Franciscan Crown? Traditionally, they are
  1. The Annunciation
  2. The Visitation
  3. The Nativity of our Lord
  4. The Adoration of the Magi
  5. The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple
  6. The Resurrection of Our Lord
  7. Thee Assumption and Coronation of the Blessed Virgin
Each decade comprises an Our Father and ten Hail Marys. The mysteries may be announced before the Our Father, as with the Dominican Rosary, or after the name of Jesus in the first Hail Mary of each decade; for example, "...and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, whom you gave birth to in Bethlehem. Holy Mary, ...."

Add two Hail Marys at the end for a total of seventy-two -- in honor of the seventy-two years Mary is said to have lived -- and you've got the Franciscan Crown (a.k.a., the Seraphic Rosary). You can find seven decade rosaries for sale; the instructions that came with one I bought seemed quite proud that this was "the simplest way to pray the Rosary."

Since the simplifications of the 1968 Enchiridion of Indulgences, the custom has grown of combining the Nativity with the Adoration of the Magi into the third mystery and adding the Presentation in the Temple and the Purification of Mary as the fourth mystery. (This earns you the indulgence for praying the joyful mysteries.)

It has also become common in certain circles to begin the Franciscan Crown with the Apostles' Creed, an Our Father, and three Hail Marys; to finish each decade with a Glory Be and the Fatima Prayer; and to end it with an Our Father and a Hail Mary offered for the Pope. But simplicity, in my opinion, is a good old Franciscan virtue, and there's something to be said for keeping it to just seven Our Fathers and seventy-two Hail Marys.

Holy Father Francis, image of the Poor Messiah, pray for us!



Thursday, October 03, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 3

The Rosary is like Latin was. You may have to read that sentence a couple of times, but my meaning is that, just as Latin was once the common and universally known liturgical language, so the Rosary is the common and universally known private devotion. There are whole volumes of collections of chaplets, litanies, and devotions, but the Rosary is the one I'd expect most of the people in any group of active Catholics to know.

This may be one of the reasons it's so often the devotion used when active Catholics gather in groups. (The primary reason, I'd say, is the Rosary's spiritual fruitfulness, which has led to its tireless promotion, which is why it's known by most active Catholics.)

When the Rosary is prayed in a group, as you probably know, it's common for there to be one or more leaders whose job is to announce the mysteries and pray the first halves of the Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes. The rest of the group prays the second halves, and everyone joins in (at least in my neck of the woods) for the other prayers.

Praying the Rosary in a group is a much different experience than praying it by yourself. Some differences I notice are that, in a group, I am much more concerned with how fast the prayers are being said (does everyone pray slower by themselves?), and with whether I've missed a bead; sometimes my mind goes blank, and all I can think as the Hail Marys roll past is, "What mystery are we on again?"

In short, it's the ordeal of community. I sacrifice my own habits, inclinations, strengths, and weaknesses to become a participant in this group. I go through similar ordeals in my family, at work, during Mass, even to some extent while driving. That's just part of what it means to belong to a group.

So what do I get out of this sacrifice? Community, of course! I am physically (visually and aurally) joined to others in a common prayer to God. This union is central to the meaning of Christianity, the group of people called out to worship God and His only Son in His Holy Spirit. There is Jesus in the midst of us, in a different way than He is present to me when I close the door and pray alone.

But wait, there's more! When I'm praying the Rosary by myself and my mind wanders, the only thing that's there is the sound of my voice. When my mind wanders in a group, isn't it likely that at least one of the others is meditating well, and so supporting me in my moments of wandering? Just as when I am meditating well, I might be supporting others who have lost track of their thoughts.

Then there are the stray prayers I might benefit from, as others pray for me as a fellow member, and whatever opportunities might arise for me to ask the group to pray for specific intentions.

Finally, never underestimate the grace of being asked to pray for someone else's intention, for this is angels' work.



Amazonian ironies is a website full of unintended ironies. Small presses go to great lengths to get listed with Amazon, which then offers buyers used copies of the books, at substantial discounts for the buyer and no revenue at all for the publisher, on the same page where new copies are ordered. It features blistering unsigned editorial reviews from Publishers Weekly, then asks, "Ready to buy?"

The software Amazon uses to suggest "related" products can also produce some surprises. For example, Patrick Sweeney of the Catholic Evidence Guild has defined a list of recommended books called Info on Islam for Catholics. A box along the right edge of the page lists "Related So You'd Like to" pages, created by other customers. One of these is So you'd like to ... Be a Protestant Apologist to Roman Catholics

We can all see why the lists are related, of course, but I doubt the Catholic Evidence Guild is enthusiastic about supporting Julie Staples, Protestant apologist and former Roman Catholic, in her work to convert Catholics.

The irony deepens, though, when you look at the books on the "So you'd like to ... Be a Protestant Apologist to Roman Catholics" page. Julie Staples is honest enough to include some "examples of the work of some notable Roman Catholic Apologists," so would-be Protestant apologists will be familiar with their opponents' arguments. If you check the reader ratings of all the books recommended on this page, you'll find that the average of the Protestant apologetics works is 3.8 out of 5, while the average of the Catholic apologetics works is 4.2.

The best books on a page devoted to recommending books of Protestant apologetics are by Catholic apologetics.


Wednesday, October 02, 2002

31 Days, 31 Ways: Number 2

In The Teaching of the Catholic Church -- a slim book of 264 questions and answers, suitable for meditative study or for giving to those with questions about Catholicism -- Herbert McCabe OP wrote:
Is there other prayer besides the prayer of petition?
Besides the prayer of petition, there is also prayer of thanksgiving and of praise. Meditation, or reflection on the mysteries of faith, is closely related to prayer and will naturally lead to it. A popular form of this is the Rosary.
What's this? The Rosary isn't a prayer?

Well, yes and no. It is mental meditation embedded in vocal prayer (although the first half of the Hail Mary -- which wasn't attached to to the second half until the Sixteenth Century -- isn't really a prayer, but a greeting; hence the term "Angelic Salutation"). There are generally prayers recited before and after the decades, but their purpose is to provide the setting for the Rosary meditations proper.

But look again at Fr. McCabe's words. The Rosary is a form of meditation that will naturally lead to prayer. Meditation leading naturally to prayer is also a key component of lectio divina, a method of reading Scripture and other Spirit-filled texts consisting of these four steps:
  1. Reading. A selection, usually from Scripture, is chosen, and the reader begins to read. Carefully, slowly, possibly out loud, not so much to understand or study the text as to listen to the Word of God speaking to him here and now.
  2. Meditation. As the reader reads, the Holy Spirit will suggest certain key words, phrases, or sentences. The reader pauses, repeating these key words, allowing them to fill his mind and his heart. When it seems appropriate, the reader continues reading.
  3. Prayer. Meditiation leads naturally to prayer; the meditation stage of lectio divina is no exception. At times, the reader will feel moved to offer spontaneous prayer to God -- of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise. Following the prayer, the reader continues meditating or reading.
  4. Contemplation. The contemplation of lectio divina is called "infused contemplation," a gift of God which the reader may or may not experience. This is a simple, wordless, receptive resting in God's presence.
The Benedictines seem to be the primary agents for lectio divina in the Church, although its popularity among the laity has grown explosively in the past couple of decades.

If these steps are suited to reading the Word of God, why not to meditating on the Word's life, death, and resurrection? Let the announcement of the mystery be the reading of the word. Repeat the mystery until some aspect of it speaks to you as something to meditate on. As you recite the Hail Marys, allow yourself to feel moved to interrupt and offer a spontaneous prayer -- as strange as it may sound to interrupt one prayer for another. This will bring your meditation into direct contact with your concerns and joys of today. Perhaps God will bless you with a moment of contemplation; if so, when it is over, pick up where you left off on your meditation.

Obviously, this way of praying the Rosary is only suited to individual recitation in a quiet environment. But imagine what a half an hour of peaceful solitude, alone with God, even just once a week could bring to the madness of the other one hundred sixty-seven and a half hours.