instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mother's Day in October

For those in the Washington, DC, area:
What: Traditional Rosary Procession

When: Saturday, October 16, 2004 @ noon. Decoration of Our Lady's float will be at 11:30 am. Please bring flowers if you would like!

Where: Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family, 4250 Harewood Road NE, Washington DC

How: Accompany a gorgeous 42" wood carved statue of Our Immaculate Mother through Catholic University area, visiting 5 outdoor Shrines to Our Lady, while praying the Rosary and singing traditional hymns in her honor. The walk is approximately 1.5 to 2 miles and lasts approximately 60 to 90 minutes.

Why: To honor Our Immaculate Mother of God during her special month of October and during the 150th Anniversary of the proclamation of Her Immaculate Conception.
If you want more information, drop me an email and I'll tell you whom to call.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Angels in the 21st Century

When I checked my email today, the sender of one message was listed as "St. Gabriel Communications." Considering the date, I thought maybe Heaven was going hi-tech.

But how could they? Angels, being incorporeal, would necessarily be wireless, and it isn't Heaven that has the hot spots.


The myth of Mary

I have a new explanation for why so many Protestants (and Catholics!) have such difficulty with devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Mary's role in God's plan for salvation is not absolutely necessary, making it a matter of mythos rather than logos.

By that I mean all her special graces, and all that makes her unique and uniquely venerable, are simply gifts God chose to give her (and, through her, us). No need compelled God to give them to her. They can't really be argued for or reasoned to, they must simply be accepted on faith.

To be sure, there are whole libraries of books arguing for and reasoning to the special graces of Mary. I think, though, that if you read them carefully you'll find that they're all arguments for why such special graces would be, not necessary, but fitting. They address the question, "Why would Mary be given this privilege?" When they look directly at, "Was Mary given this privilege?" they depend on assertions that are by no means self-evident.

This is a problem for Westerners because Westerners like reasoned proofs. Catholics like giving reasoned proofs of Mary's special privileges and Protestants like refuting them. Catholics say things like, "Only someone free of all sin from the moment of her creation could be the Mother of God." Protestants say, "You're making that up," and in this case they may be right. Not that what the Catholics say is false, but that it's an assertion that goes beyond what has been revealed.

I think that, in discussing the Blessed Virgin with those who have no devotion to her, we're better off simply telling her story (that is, her part of Jesus' story) than making assertions like, "It is inconceivable that, having delivered Jesus, His mother would have gone on to have more children." Not only is that not what "inconceivable" means, it obscures the freedom with which God acted in giving us Mary as our mother.

It's like a husband giving roses to his wife because he loves her. We can say he gave her roses "because he loves her," but "because he loves her" doesn't really explain why it was roses rather than any other gift, why today rather than any other day. When love is the rational principle, the basis of the reasoned explanation or logos, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. But expresses as mythos -- "Once there was a man who loved his wife, and one day he gave her a bouquet of roses" -- it makes perfect sense.

Mary is a bouquet of roses God has given all His children, and that, I think, is a message that speaks to the heart whatever objections the head might raise.


Monday, September 27, 2004

Three strikes

I've long though the devil was foolish to tempt Jesus with selfishness, pride, and temporal power. Far more tempting than abandoning His mission, I suspect, would have been shortcuts to completing it, or things that would have made it easier. What would Jesus do if it meant Nazareth, or perhaps all of Judea, would have faith in Him?

Now I wonder whether the devil had much of a choice.

Jesus is the New Adam, come to undo the damage the old Adam did. That damage included what the Catechism calls a triple concupiscence:
The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason.
Key word here is was. The first man was free of these things. And then
The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
Good for food? Watch out for covetousness. Pleasing to the eyes? Ah, those pleasures of the senses. Desirable for gaining wisdom? There's that self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason.

So perhaps the devil was just playing the odds. Jesus, however, refused to play, demonstrating He was not subjugated to the pleasures of the senses ("Man does not live by bread alone"), nor to covetousness for earthly goods ("The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve"), nor to self-assertion ("You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test").

Notice that He demonstrates His freedom from concupiscence by quoting the Law. The devil's temptations would fail against anyone who fully lived the Law, but as St. Paul says, "the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me." Thanks be to God, "now we are released from the law, dead to what held us captive, so that we may serve in the newness of the spirit and not under the obsolete letter."

The letter of the Law is obsolete because Jesus has fulfilled the Law by giving us His (and its) Spirit. We can now live by the Spirit instead of the Law (though they aren't really opposed), as the first man did until he chose to place himself under the one law he had been given.

Jesus, the New Adam, had to face and overcome that which destroyed the old Adam. The old Adam's fall brought death to mankind. The new Adam's death raised mankind to life.


Sunday, September 26, 2004

What's the word?

What caught my ear today in the Gospel reading was how Abraham addressed the rich man:
My child
The rich man had ignored Moses and the prophets, and was therefore consigned to torment in the netherworld. Yet Abraham acknowledged him as his child.

That is an enduring relationship. No wonder the angels in heaven rejoice so over one who was lost and is found. If Jesus presents Abraham as recognizing his child in hell, how much more does the Father.


Thursday, September 23, 2004

Often overlooked

We should not forget that it was a Dominican, Fray Tomás de Berlanga, O.P., who in 1516 planted the first bananas in the New World. They spread so quickly, later European arrivals assumed they were native.

Almost twenty years later, while Bishop of Panama (i.e., the west coast of South America) Fray Tomás discovered the Galapagos Islands.

I mention this in case someone is wondering whether the Dominican Order is where God is calling them.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Pride and sorrow

The Kairos Guy tries to sneak in a post:
I would rather fail to feel sorrow at their sins, than feel pride at not being a sinner like them.
If those are my two choices, I'd agree.

My original post, though, had to do with things like reading a newspaper article about a murder. I will feel sorrow for the victim and his family, but little or no sorrow (i.e., "pain ... caused by an interior apprehension") for the damage the murderer does to his own soul (probably because I don't really apprehend it interiorly).

With the more common sins [objectively] committed to our knowledge on a day-to-day basis, though, JB is right to caution against feeling bad for the sinner in order to feel good about ourselves.


This interior snap of connection with God

Frederica Matthewes-Green has a good article on the difference between feelings as emotions and feelings as perceptions, and on the error of thinking all religious feeling is emotion. Near the end, she writes:
I was a near-sighted kid, and regularly found myself in situations where my parents would be pointing emphatically at something they wanted me to see, and I would squint and strain and still just not see it. A bird in a tree, for example. I might say "No, I still don't see it," or I might fib and say "Oh, I see it now," just to get it over with. But I never said, "There is no bird."
This reminds me of something Aquinas wrote:
... it would be the height of madness in a plain man to declare a philosopher's propositions false, because he could not understand them....
Just because I don't understand what someone's talking about doesn't mean he's wrong.

(Link via... um....)


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The mind of the Church

I still haven't figured out what, exactly, voting is considered as a moral act. It looks like I'm in good company:
The problem is that it's difficult to determine the purpose, or "moral object," of an act of voting, Father DiNoia said.
If the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith doesn't have a closed-form solution either, I don't feel so bad.

The article closes on what I think is a down beat:
Vatican officials ... say the best thing that could come out of the recent discussion is that Catholics in general think more seriously about their worthiness for Communion.
I think this is a down beat because I'm pretty sure that Catholics thinking more seriously about their worthiness for Communion is not going to be the major effect of the recent discussion.

I sometimes think an interdict against the United States, say from Pentecost to Advent, might be a good idea. Just to shake us out of our habits. Fortunately, I don't speak for the Church.

(Link via Ad Limina Apostolorum.}



An indefinite matter

A few weeks ago, Dawn Eden asked a question of her readers:
To Catholics, my question is, how can salvation be limited to Catholics only, when Scripture—which Catholics do reverence—appears to go against that belief? To non-Catholics, how do you feel about a Protestant's converting to Catholicism?
She got plenty of answers, and planned on responding to them. But:
Now that I've had time to think about it, I'm sorry that I can't really say anything more than I said at the first. I still read the Scripture that I cited the same way I read it before—that faith in Jesus is what's necessary for salvation, and that such faith does not have to be mediated through a church. I do believe that church should play a central part in the believer's spiritual life—there's certainly plenty of Scripture to back that up—but the one and only true mediator is Jesus Christ.
And you know what? I agree with this.

So does the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which the word "mediator" appears twelve times, each time in reference to Christ. It is prefaced by such words as "the one" (5 times), "unique" (2), "only" (2), and "one and only" (once). Another paragraph reads:
Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The remaining paragraph that mentions "mediator" is worth a closer look:
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
The interior quotation is from Lumen Gentium 14. It neatly expresses the Catholic doctrine that Jesus is the one Mediator and the Church is necessary for salvation.

Why? Because Christ's Body is the Church. Faith in Christ does not have to be mediated through "a church," but salvation does come only through the Church, which is to say through Christ's Body.

When Saul of Tarsus was knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus, he heard a Voice say, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? ... I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."

Jesus didn't ask Saul why he was persecuting His disciples, or even His church. It was Jesus Himself whom Saul was persecuting.

So, while it is of course possible to distinguish between Jesus and the Church, it is impossible to separate them. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A genuine expertise in their various fields

Here's a sociological experiment: Put a Catholic journalist, a Catholic surgeon, and a Catholic politician together. Have each spend half an hour or so telling the others about the various ethical issues in his field, then have them each vote on how well the other two follow Catholic teaching in their respective fields.

I would not be surprised if the results showed that no one scored very highly.

I've noticed that, when Catholic experts explain themselves before Catholic non-experts, the non-experts are often shocked and appalled by what the experts consider run-of-the-mill ethical decisions. A while back, Catholic journalists were baffled at the lack of traction their claim that journalists have to "go where the story takes them" received among Catholic non-journalists, who were more concerned with detraction and scandal than good journalism. Catholic medical ethicists should by now be used to trying to explain to their co-religionists why certain standard operating procedures in hospitals aren't sins crying out to heaven for vengeance. And Catholic politicians....

Gaudium et spes 43 includes the following passage:
Secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to laymen. Therefore acting as citizens in the world, whether individually or socially, they will keep the laws proper to each discipline, and labor to equip themselves with a genuine expertise in their various fields.... Acknowledging the demands of faith and endowed with its force, they will unhesitatingly devise new enterprises, where they are appropriate, and put them into action. Laymen should also know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city....
I think that often -- not always, of course, but far too often -- Catholic laity keep the laws proper to their disciplines a lot more faithfully than they keep the divine law.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Triumph of the man

The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary present Jesus at His most human. He prays for deliverance, He is whipped and mocked, He is burdened by a cross, He is killed. What god can bleed? What god can die?

Only a God who has become like us in all things but sin.

In His passion, Jesus does nothing beyond the strength of anyone acting in His name. Even the angel who appears does nothing but comfort Him. Even the power of the Name, "I AM," is unveiled for only an instant. The few words He speaks at His trials, when silence is not the better part of wisdom, are simple declarations of Who Jesus is.

It is in His passion and death, in His most human moment, that Jesus triumphs -- a triumph only possible because He is the Son of the Most High. His humanity is made perfect through obedience, but obedience meant the Passion only because He was God's Son. The Cross is a triumph we celebrate only because it is the triumph of a man, and it is a triumph only because that man is God.



Monday, September 13, 2004

More joy in heaven

Notice the progression in the three parables Jesus tells in Luke 15.

First, there are one hundred sheep, and one of them gets lost.

Next, there are ten coins,and one of them gets lost.

Then comes two sons, and one of them gets lost.

We go from a 99% rate of righteousness, to 90%, to 50%. And by the end of the parable of the prodigal son, that 50% rate drops to zero.

"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them" is a psalm of joy and praise -- not to mention deep personal relief -- whether the psalmist realizes it or not.


Sunday, September 12, 2004

Our laddie of sorrow

A prayer at Mass today for those killed in terrorist attacks got me thinking.

Pretty much everyone, I suppose, grieves over the evils people experience in this life. Natural disasters, accidents, violence against the innocent, war: human suffering arouses our compassion.

But moral evil? Not so much.

How often, when someone sins, do you feel sorrow that they have sinned, that they have injured and possibly broken their relationship with God? Not very, if you're like me. I understand the evil effects of sin on the sinner, but I really don't feel very strongly about it unless the sinner is someone I know and love (me, for example).

While you can't make yourself feel something you don't feel, I think the lack of sorrow for the sins of others is a sign of the lack of love for others.


Unreal presence

If, as Fr. Dowd suggests, an idol can be thought of as a focus of the god's "real presence," then today's first reading makes more sense to me than it used to.
The LORD said to Moses, "Go down at once to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved. They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out, 'This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!'"
I never understood why people would think a statue they saw being made was a god. It makes more sense if they thought that the LORD had become truly present in the statue.

God's reaction also makes more sense:
"I see how stiff-necked this people is," continued the LORD to Moses. "Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation."
After all God did to show His power and majesty to His People, that they might know He Is Who Is, at the first chance they get, they reduce Him to their plaything. They tell each other the idol is God, as though they could by their own words make Him become present in the idol. Their offense isn't common or garden idolatry; it's blasphemy, a claim that they control God -- and, by extension, that they brought themselves out of Egypt.

The reading contrasts the Israelites treatment of God with Moses':
But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, "Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand? Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
and how you swore to them by your own self, saying, 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.'"
So the LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.
Moses doesn't force God to do anything. He doesn't say, "You can't do that!" All he does is remind God Who He is, Whom He has shown Himself to be to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to Pharaoh and the Israelites.

You can't control God. You'd better not even try. But you can depend on Him to be Who He is -- which, if you are who you're supposed to be, is more than good enough.


Friday, September 10, 2004

If I believed what you believe

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie recommends saying, "If I were you, I'd do the same thing," on suitable occasions. He reassures the scrupulous that it's not a lie: if you were him, by definition you'd do whatever it is that he does.

I don't usually care to shave things as finely as that. (Neither, on the whole, did Carnegie; his book has lots of good advice that can be used without malicious intent.) But I do find myself saying things like, "If I believed what you believe, I'd do what you do."

(And not just to Rob in the comments here.)

There are many cases where the conclusion of an argument is true only if the premises are true. (For example: He committed this crime, so he should be punished for it.) If I don't accept your premise, I'm not going to accept your argument, and I'm unlikely to accept your conclusion (though I may accept a different argument with the same conclusion).

It sounds obvious enough when stated, but I think it's common for someone to find a certain premise so blindingly obvious he never bothers to prove it to people who don't accept it. He simply restates or polishes his argument based on that premise, and cannot understand why others refuse to accept his conclusion.

Evaluating arguments for validity ("Does the conclusion follow logically from the premises?") is the (relatively) easy part. Evaluating them for soundness ("But are the premises true?") is the hard part, and often enough a matter of subjective judgment ("But is he a louse, or just a bum?").

Disagreement is often based, not on the conclusions, but on the premises. Maybe that's one reason disagreement is so hard to reach.


Proportionate reasons

For some reason, the question of what might be proportionate reasons for voting for a pro-abortion candidate has flared up again this week on St. Blogs.

My favorite proportionate reason, taken from real life (the 2000 race for congressional representative of Maryland's 8th district) is this:

The major policy initiative of the only pro-life candidate on the ballot was to make public the government's use of UFO technology.



Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Reading Scripture

Steven Riddle asks a question many of us might be asking:
I know that St. Blogs is filled with inveterate readers and so I thought I'd pose this question that niggles at me from time to time. If I am such an inveterate reader, why do I not read scripture with the avidity with which I approach Walker Percy, Flannery O'Connor, and others?

The Gospels are far shorter than the novels we read. They are, in fact, easily read in one sitting, were we so inclined. So why is it that we seem to be so little inclined? Why is it that I do not read the Gospels through at least once a month. (One a week for four weeks.)
Based on my own failed attempts to put the Bible on my to-be-read list, I think an important part of the answer is that reading the Bible is not like reading any other book. The Bible is not "like any great work of literature," at least not from the perspective of a Christian who wants to read it to become a better disciple of Christ.

In fact, reading the Bible to become a better disciple of Christ is significantly unlike anything else we might do. It's a unique combination of prayer and study, of reading and contemplation, of asking and listening.

So I don't think it will work, generally speaking, to read the Bible instead of some other book. You (by which I mean I) wind up judging the experience as though it were a reading experience, and very little of the Bible makes for a good reading experience.

And since it's not a good reading experience, all the weaknesses Steven mentions are able to stop us from doing something we don't much enjoy anyway:
We read them and they accuse us of our faults and failings. They point out how we fail to be what God calls us to be. I know that in real life I avoid mirrors at all costs. I do not like to look at myself--I don't much care for what I see. (One of the chief advantages of being me is that I am on the inside looking out.) How much more then will I dislike looking in the mirror of the soul. How much less likely I am to like what I see there.
The trick, I think, is not to say, "As a reader, I ought to be reading Scripture," but, "As a Christian, I ought to be spending time with Scripture." We don't read the Bible instead of reading some other book. We do Sacrae Scripturae lectio instead of reading a book -- or watching TV, or sleeping until 7 a.m., or blogging.


A little politics

The Catholic Church explicitly rejects single-issue voting.

Not all Catholics do, however. Sr. Joan Chittister, for example, adding single-issue voting to the list of topics about which she considers herself wiser than the Church, advocates voting on the single issue of aid to the poor, and other progressive Catholics aren't real certain why that's wrong.

But of course, "single-issue voting" plus "American Catholics" far more often adds up to "abortion," or more generally "right to life."

What the Church teaches is that the right to life (with new facets of it made explicit as new ways of offending against it are dreamed up) is the primary political issue, but far from the only political issue. Many pro-life Catholics don't like the way this teaching is abused -- by, for example, Sr. Joan Chittister -- to assert a moral equivalence between the right to life and other, lesser issues.

The fact that it is abused, though, is not a reason to conceal the teaching. The Church can't say, "The right to life is the one issue a candidate must be right on. We have no further comment until there are enough pro-life candidates."

And it's not only a matter of teaching the truth that there are right and wrong positions on issues other than the right to life. It's also a matter of politics.

Catholics need to know what is, as well as what ought to be. And what is, in the United States, is a marketplace of political ideas, of ideas on what which level of government should and shouldn't do. What is is that ideas about issues other than the right to life are being proposed, debated, evaluated, accepted, and acted upon.

A rightly-ordered concern with the primacy of the right to life cannot ignore what is. The Church cannot remain silent on other issues until and unless the country accepts what the Church says about the right to life. Catholics have an obligation to participate in the political life of their society. To meet this obligation, we have to participate in the political life as it exists, not as we want it to exist.

My point is narrow: It's wrong to criticize Catholic statements on politics for mentioning issues other than the right to life. Particular statements may be criticized for muddling the issues, but not simply for mentioning them. To do so is to fail both politically and morally(!); politically because you'll never get what you want if you don't tell anyone what you want; and morally because you have an obligation under justice to contribute to the common good by promoting Church teaching on the issues to the body politic.

[And yes, of course specific personal obligations under justice will vary; that's what makes them personal.]



Tuesday, September 07, 2004

What is this thing called hate?

So if I want to insist that, when Jesus said, "If anyone comes to Me without hating ... his own self, he cannot be My disciple," He really did mean "hating," what does "hating" really mean?

In a comment below, Jamie brought up St. Augustine's
distinction between 'use' (uti) and 'enjoyment' (frui).... We 'use' that which we love only as a means of attaining something else; we 'enjoy' that which we love for its own sake.
With this distinction in mind, I'll suggest that the "holy hatred" we are to have toward ourselves, each other, and all that is not God, is a refusal to love something for its own sake without respect to God.

This sort of hate is not quite the opposite of the sort of love that is the desire for the good of another. It's more of a repudiation of the desire for the apparent good of another.

What makes this repudiation good is that the apparent good of another cannot be their true good if it is not consistent with God's will for that person. We can only truly love someone else if we love them through God.

As an example, a mother can be said to hate her children in this sense if she refuses to seek her children's material prosperity for their own sake. Material prosperity, regardless of God's will, is an apparent good, and desiring it for another, or for yourself, is so to speak an "apparent love."

We must repudiate this "apparent love" if we are to truly love anyone. To truly love God, as I suggested below, we must repudiate all apparent loves for everyone.

By the way, when I heard the Gospel proclaimed this weekend, I caught a note of hope I'd missed before. Jesus says:
Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, 'This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.' ...
In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be My disciple.
It's expressed in negative terms, possibly because Jesus was speaking to people who wrongly believed they were His disciples, but if we put it in positive terms, we have, "Everyone of you who renounces all his possessions can be My disciple."

Parabolically, if we sit down and calculate the cost to construct a tower, we will each find there is enough for its completion, if we sell the rest of our possessions. Sure, selling the rest of our possessions is difficult, but it can be done if we choose.

Even as Jesus tells us what prevents us from being His disciples, He tells us what enables us to be His disciples. It's a free choice. If we want to complete the tower, if we want to repel the enemy, we can. If we want to be Christ's disciples, we can.

The question, "Do I want to be Christ's disciple?" can't be answered with words. It can only be answered with deeds, and one way or another, everyone who lives answers it.


Friday, September 03, 2004

Voting guide for the "you can't be serious!" Catholic

Sr. Joan Chittister offers her own voting guide:
If you want to cast a moral vote, print out one of the many comparative lists of the issues espoused by each candidate. Ask yourself the question, "Will this proposal, this position, affect the poor of this country or the world positively, negatively or neither? Ascribe to each of the items in the platform or on the proposed legislative agenda a plus, a minus or a zero. Now count up the pluses. The program that will bring the most aid to the poor is the moral position.
Of course, St. Joan can't be taken seriously as a political observer; she believes the single most important issue of 2004 is the 2000 Florida recount, and her vision of "the rise of a new Christian Taliban" is, shall we say, no credit to her perspicacity.

Then, too, the heuristic she proposes is simply absurd. I mean, I certainly enjoy pretending that mathematical measurement techniques can be rigorously applied to moral reasoning. But I'm pretending. Sr. Joan is not only serious about her idea, she's downright sanctimonious:
That is the way you and I are really expected to vote this year.
How do I know? Easy. You see, what God says to Moses at the burning bush after "And I mean to deliver them" is this: "So I am sending you to pharaoh to say, 'Let my people go.' "
That's the most direct election guidance I've seen so far -- including what we're getting from bishops and campaign committees.
From where I stand, sending that message to pharaoh is the only real reason to vote.
But setting aside the tone and details of the proposal, we're still left with the fundamental and categorical claim, "The program that will bring the most aid to the poor is the moral position."

There's a lot to be said for this claim on behalf of the poor, particularly during a campaign focused on national security and the economy. If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep jobs in America, and sleep well in safety," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?

On the other hand, the chief downside to the claim is that it isn't true. Bringing the most aid to the poor isn't the sole, or even primary, purpose of government. There is a tendency among politically liberal Roman Catholics to confuse the duties of the state with the duties of the individual Christian, and the role of the state with the role of God. (One of my sharpest memories of treppenwitz is being a day late in thinking to reply to a liberal Catholic who said the Magnificat was a sound Socialist manifesto, "Socialists do think the State is God, don't they?")

And of course the claim ignores the risk of doing evil that good may result and the clear teaching of the Church on the primary place of right to life issues in voting.

It's a shame that the truths various commenters have to offer are so often deeply sunk in rubbish. It makes it easy, even tempting, to sink them as deeply in our own rubbish, if we don't simply throw them out altogether.



Thursday, September 02, 2004

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, I gotta hate all men

Ad Limina Apostolorum has an Augustinian reflection on the verse:
If anyone comes to Me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own self, he cannot be My disciple.
[Important note: If, while visiting Jamie's blog, you feel yourself drawn against your will to stare at the picture of the Cabbage Patch doll, and to obey its commands, close your browser as quickly as possible and pray this.]

I wonder how many homilies this Sunday will offer the assurance that "hate" here doesn't mean "hate," it means "love less."

Jamie point out, though, that the word St. Luke uses for "hate" here is the same he uses later, when Jesus says, "All men will hate you because of me." You "love less" someone who roots for the wrong team; you "hate" someone who represents what you are mortally opposed to.

"If anyone does not hate his own self, he cannot be My disciple." This is a hard saying. We should expect it to be hard, even insist that it not be softened. Now, actually hating your own self may not be hard; the difficulty a person has doing this depends on the temperament he has and the graces he is given.

But if the demands placed on a Christian are not demanding, then Christianity would just happen and the ideals St. Paul preached would be realized.

I used to wonder about Jesus' saying:
No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.
I got the part about divided loyalties, but... hating the one? Despising the other? Isn't that a bit extreme? Can't you just prefer the one and make duplicitous excuses to the other?

Now, though, I think Jesus might have been right after all. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as "loving less." If you love two things, you can love neither. (Here I mean loving something for its own sake.)

In particular, you can't love both God and yourself (or your family, or anything else) -- and here I have to add, in the same way. Obviously, you have to love both God and yourself to be a good Christian. But love for God is to be with all your heart. Your heart is what you love with. There shouldn't be any part of you left with which you can love anything other than God. The way you love your neighbor, as yourself, is by loving him through your love of God.

Love cannot be partitioned. You can't say, "This part of my love is for God, that part for my parents, this other part for my children."

Well, you can say that, and I'd guess most of us do. But when we do, what we call "love" is not the love Christ calls us to. The "part of my love" with which I love God is certainly not the love of God that is the first and greatest commandment.

That, I think, is why Jesus says we must hate our own selves to be His disciple. As humans, we are capable of loving. As fallen humans, we misuse our capability of loving by trying to love things other than, or in addition to, God. We can only restore the integrity of our capacity to love by an act of the will, by choosing not to use what should love only God to love things other than God. By, to get technical, hating what is not God.


Wednesday, September 01, 2004

How Christ-like an act is is a pretty good measure of how morally right it is, wouldn't you say?

Or would you?

To be a good measure, "Christ-likeness" must be a quality that is always proportional to moral rectitude, and it must be a quality that can actually (if not literally) be measured.

But what does "Christ-like" mean? I think as it's used it has one of two meanings: more often, it means "similar to Jesus as He was in His public life"; less often, "animated by Christ's Spirit of love." And I think there's an important difference between the two meanings, despite the fact that of course in His public life Jesus Himself was animated by His Spirit of love.

Is "similarity to Jesus as He was in His public life" a quality that is always proportional to moral rectitude? If "similarity" connotes the idea of acting as Jesus acted in a similar situation, then I think the answer is no, for several reasons.

First -- and we really shouldn't lose sight of this -- Jesus is God, and we aren't. If someone pleads for my help, I oughtn't to reply, "My son, your sins are forgiven."

There are other, related reasons -- Jesus had a different mission, He lived in different times under different circumstances, and so on -- that all boil down to this: We are not Jesus, and aren't supposed to be Jesus. We are supposed to let Him live in us, to make us perfect, not to re-perfect a Galilean carpenter.

But there's another reason doing now what Jesus did then isn't necessarily the best choice, which is also the reason measuring the similarity to Jesus as He was in His public life is often impractical and even impossible: We know Jesus as He was in His public life almost entirely from the Gospels, and the Gospels don't do a very good job of portraying Jesus as He was.

They tell us a lot of things that Jesus did and said, but very little about how He did and said them. Often enough it's not entirely clear why He did and said things. The Gospels do not provide a psychological portrait of Jesus, so any attempt to transport Him to the here and now, to answer what Jesus would do, necessarily involves a certain amount of invention, of filling in details as they make sense to us.

The result is that what is said to be "Christ-like" in the sense of "like Jesus was," to be "Jesus-like" if you will, tends to be speaker-like. If I value a sense of humor, then my portrait of Jesus contains a strong sense of humor, and it's absolutely Christ-like to tell that joke; it might even be Christ-like to call the people who don't think that joke should be told whited sepulchers. How I value informality will inform how Christ-like I think a particular priest is while he offers Mass.

Overall, then, I don't think similarity to Jesus in His public life is a great measure of moral rectitude. What He did isn't necessarily what we should do, and what we think He would do isn't necessarily true either.

What about the other meaning of Christ-like, "animated by Christ's Spirit of love"? It's certainly a quality that is always proportional to moral rectitude. Can it actually be measured? Sure, by someone animated by Christ's Spirit of love. For someone like me, though, who is not particularly Christ-like, it can be tough to accurately judge how Christ-like many actions are, at least when they aren't clearly animated by something other than love.