instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, July 30, 2007

Scenes from the General Chapter

These images are taken from the photo gallery of Fr. Philip McShane, O.P., of the Irish Province.

"You want how many potatoes?"

"Well, it's been a while, but let's see. There's the Unmoved Mover Argument, and the Uncaused Caused Argument... oh, and the Teleological Argument... aaaaand...."

Holy fra-joles!

"It would be so much faster to type up the official minutes if this keyboard just had an 'æ' key."

Brother Gustavo explains to his younger brothers how cell phones limit their capacity to develop themselves freely and in dignity, even if they do make ordering pizza a lot easier.


Would you gamble a stamp on Dynamic Rosary Tension?

Okay, this is a bit of a stretch (so to speak), but....

In the Church, we seem to have two ways of talking about the Rosary.

One is Beginner: "This is what a set of rosary beads looks like. You pray an Our Father on the big beads, and a Hail Mary on the little beads."

The other is Advanced: "O blessed rosary of Mary, sweet chain which unites us to God, bond of love, which connects us with the angels, tower of safety against the assaults of hell, sure harbor in the universal shipwreck, never more shall we part with thee."

And the natural question is, How do we get from, "Rats, no, today's Tuesday, so the mystery is -- wait, which decade am I on?", to, "with the spread of this devotion the meditations of the faithful have begun to be more inflamed, their prayers more fervent, and they have suddenly become different men; the darkness of heresy has been dissipated, and the light of Catholic faith has broken forth again."?

It reminds me of the old Charles Atlas ads, in which the 97 lb. weakling turns into a real he-man by... um... well, whatever "Dynamic-Tension®" is. That part's glossed over in the ads with a banner that reads "LATER."

But boy, just look at the results!

In each case, a certain amount of doubt that the prescribed method will have the advertised results is understandable.

Of course, Charles Atlas was in the business of selling his physical fitness secrets, which amount to various mechanical exercises. St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort's Secret of the Rosary isn't that kind of a secret, but you need to get beyond the mechanics to see it.

The idea that there is anything beyond the mechanics of the Rosary, before you get to the suddenly becoming different men part, seems to be missing when we are in the Beginner way of talking about the Rosary.

Maybe before we get into the diagrams and the tables of mysteries, we should say a few words about the difference between praying a Rosary, which takes fifteen or twenty minutes, and praying the Rosary, which is a lifelong devotion. Or the difference between a daily prayer like grace before meals and the daily meditation of the Rosary.

At the very least, we might suggest that the effect of praying the Rosary each day is no more apparent after praying the Rosary once than is the effect of exercising each day after exercising once. Heck, even Charles Atlas says it can take up to ten days of dipping to add an inch to your chest.



Friday, July 27, 2007

Just the perfect blendship

Catholic and Enjoying It! and Intentional Disciples are discussing the role of friendship in the Church -- here, here, here, here, and of course here. The proximate cause (at least on Mark's part) was a commentary on friendship by papal preacher Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa.

This has led to a combox discussion on how unfriendly typical American Catholic parishes are toward newcomers, as compared with the welcoming nature of Evangelical congregations.

I think it would be useful, though, to maintain the distinction between friendship and community. Friendship, in the full-bore "one soul in two bodies" sense, is necessarily personal and relatively intimate (which may be why Fr. Cantalamessa insisted that "it does not have a sexual component").

Friendship doesn't scale up the way charity does; one soul in two thousand, or even two hundred, bodies would be too much to ask for. Even if they wanted to, people can't expect to be friends with -- which entails having "the same tastes, ideals, interests" as -- more than a handful of others, much less a whole congregation.*

What they want, I gather, is a genuine community, an enduring union of persons in which the members may each and all flourish. Unity between persons is a common feature of both friendship and community -- Acts gives us, "The community of believers was of one heart and mind," and St. Paul hopes to hear that the Philippians "are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind struggling together for the faith of the Gospel" -- but the unity of community is more general and diffuse than that of friendship.

The ideal is a genuine community within which friends can be found. What I don't think will work any better than the "plastic bonhomie" community building efforts Mark derides is an effort to make a parish a place where everyone is everyone's friend.


She may not be the next Charles Joseph Minard

But Sherry Weddell's diagram, from this blog post, shall not be passed over without a laudatory link.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A heartbreaking work of staggering genius

Here is my (as far as I know) original contribution to the on-line discussion of the final Harry Potter book:
"Deathly Hallows" is an anagram of, "Aw, lady, hell's hot!"
If that doesn't convince people of the essentially Christian basis of the story, I don't know what will.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

A new chapter

The General Chapter of the Order of Preachers is underway in Bogota, Columbia.

To get an idea of the state of the Order, you can read the (lengthy) Relatio de Statu Ordinis.

The fun bits of the Chapter will be found in the informal chronicles, updated daily. There will also be lots of pictures of Dominicans doing what Dominicans do.

Homilies, too, will be posted as they become available. The homilist for the General Chapter's opening Mass of the Holy Spirit yesterday was Fr. Jose Gabriel Mesa Angulo, OP, Prior Provincial of the host Province of San Luis Bertrand, Colombia. He began with a recommendation for the underlingual at this trilingual General Chapter:
...when you are not able to understand them, think that they are telling you something good and you will see how communication will be born.
That might work even when people are speaking the same language.

Fr. Angulo concluded his homily by "commend[ing] this Chapter to our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Chiquinquira, Queen and Patroness of Colombia." There's an interesting story behind that title.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Church Pubescent

In a commencement speech at Emory University a couple of years ago, Tom Brokaw spoke truly:
You have been hearing all of your life that this occasion is a big step into what is called the real world. "What," you may ask, "is that real world all about?" "What is this new life?" Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2005 at Emory, real life is not college; real life is not high school. Here is a secret that no one has told you: Real life is junior high.

The world that you're about to enter is filled with junior high adolescent pettiness, pubescent rivalries, the insecurities of 13-year-olds, and the false bravado of 14-year-olds.
This is true, and it's maddening.

It's particularly frustrating that it's true of that part of real life lived by the Church Militant. Grace -- and not just an over-the-counter kind of buck-you-uppo grace, but the very Presence of God Himself within our persons -- is supposed to transform us into images of Christ. Yet in practice, contact with others -- which is to say, being confronted with the fact that we can't have everything our way right this instant -- transforms us into 13-year-olds.

Surely Christ's grace is stronger than our own petulance. But do we give witness to this by how we live and how we talk to each other?

It's a commonplace to say that on-line Catholic discussion sites are a scandal to the Church. Bitter hatred expressed in the most vile terms is only a few links away from most every non-self-contained Catholic website.

Most days, though, it's not the hatred that gets to me, but the sheer childishness of it. Someone disagrees with you? Someone's so ignorant you can hardly stand to have him around. Someone is a little too pleased with himself? Someone must be taken down a notch. Someone tries to take you down a notch? Someone's just asking for it.

A person can rise to a challenge, or he can sink to it. Living in a junior high world means most of us are predisposed to sink, and once a conversation begins to sink it's almost impossible to turn it around.

It's also decidedly unsatisfying to rise above adolescent baiting. What if no one notices how mature you're being? What if they think you're not responding, not because you've put away childish things, but because you just got served? We can't have these... these adolescents think they're getting away with something merely by being juvenile.

But worrying about what adolescents are getting away with is the job of their parents and teachers. If you're not someone's parent or teacher, then there may well be times when your being a grown up means they'll get away with something. That's no fun, but if being a grown-up were fun, we wouldn't be living in a junior high world.

In his speech, Tom Brokaw went on to give this advice, which I think is pretty good:
In your pursuit of your passions, always be young. In your relationship with others, always be grown-up. Set a standard, and stay faithful to it.
In real life, when grown-ups have grown up conversations, adolescents either leave as quickly as possible or stay and try to act like grown-ups. I bet it works the same way in the life of the Church.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An observation

When you tend to a wound, you try to make the wound get smaller.

When you tend to a plant, you try to make the plant get bigger.

Sometimes, people tend to their own spiritual and emotional wounds as though the wounds were plants.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Grand Inquisitor Says Catholic Church is Defective

Much of the commentary I've seen on St. Blog's about the CDF's "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" has to do with the quality of secular news reports on it. The CDF document itself, it's pointed out, says nothing new, and in fact says:
The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change [the Catholic doctrine on the Church], rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.
Until yesterday, though, my own understanding of the conciliar expression:
... the one Church of Christ... which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth", ... constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.
amounted to something like, "Well, you see, the Church erected by Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, don't you know." And my answer to the question, "Why didn't they just say 'is'?," was a variation adapted to time and place of, "Because, on the whole, they decided to say 'subsists in.'"

With yesterday's document, though, the penny has fallen, at least a little. "Subsists in"
comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are "numerous elements of sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure....
Subsistence accounts for the second-order phenomena of disunity in a way that identity or predication does not.

But wait. There's more.

Catholic ecclesial doctrine -- at least as it's framed in recent CDF documents -- distinguishes three kinds of Christian communities:
  1. Particular Catholic Churches, led by a bishop in communion with the Bishop of Rome (collectively, the Catholic Church).
  2. Particular Churches with true sacraments that are not in communion with the Bishop of Rome.
  3. Christian Communities that lack a sacramental priesthood.
The Lazy Reporter's Guide to Vatican Pronouncements directs you to identify all the bad things written about the second and third kinds, and indeed that can be done. With careful editing, we can get:
"It follows that these separated churches and Communities... suffer from defects...."

"... these venerable Christian communities [i.e., Particular Churches not in communion with Rome] lack something in their condition as particular churches."

"... these Communities [that] do not enjoy apostolic succession ... are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church [and] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense."
Nothing new here, right?

But yesterday's document also includes a knock against the Catholic Church! A gentle knock, to be sure, but a knock nonetheless:
On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history.
This, I take it, is part of the development and deepening of the Catholic doctrine on the Church that occurred at the Second Vatican Council. Sure, the Orthodox are hosed up by not being in communion with the Successor of Peter. And sure, the other Christian communities are even more hosed up by lacking apostolic succession and all that implies.

But Catholics are also hosed up! We lack the fullness of universality, the "plenitudo catholicitatis"! The Catholic Church may possess the mark of catholicity, but she isn't fully catholic in history as long as there are Christian communities outside her. (The commentary on the CDF document distinguishes "the fullness of the means of salvation," which the Catholic Church has, and "the fullness of catholicity proper to her," which "still has to grow in the brethren who are not yet in full communion with it and also in its own members who are sinners.")

And it's looking at herself in this way -- not merely as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church calling to those Christians outside her fold, as the one who has lecturing those who have not, but as a Body herself genuinely wounded and lacking -- that informs the Church's post-conciliar efforts in ecumenism and Christian unity. Not a take-it-or-leave-it triumphalism, not a mix-n-match indifferentism, but a true-to-your-proper-nature catholicism.

Oh, and we should never forget that the proper nature of Catholicism has been given to the Church, not by Council or Pope, but by Jesus Himself. As the commentary puts it, "progress in fullness is rooted in the ongoing process of dynamic union with Christ."

I knew this before, of course, maybe even a little better than I knew why Lumen gentium says "subsists in," but something in the brevity and clarity of yesterday's Q&A made it pop out for me.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Felix typo: a prayer of St. Francis Xavier
'I love you, not because you have the power to give heaven or hell, but simply because you are you – my kin and my God,'



The view D+2

There was a somewhat confused announcement at Mass yesterday, to the effect that we will await direction from Archbishop Wuerl in regards to Summorum Pontificum, but that the whole thing seems to hinge on having a priest who knows enough Latin, and at the moment we're fresh out of those in our parish.

One person clapped, which I thought was an odd reaction. Were they expecting mandatory re-education camps?

But odd reactions to all this aren't exactly extraordinary, if that's the word I want. If, as has been suggested, those who feel the attraction of the 1962 Missal "may not be treated any longer like the nutty aunt in the attic," that doesn't mean none of them are nutty. Within hours of its release, the motu proprio had been weaponized by what I can only call "Spirit of Summorum Pontificum" types, who have proven as adept as anyone at imposing their own preconceptions in place of what the documents really say.

For myself, I am not as sanguine as the Pope on how unfounded the fear is of division within parish communities -- though perhaps a more founded fear is of the legitimization of a division that already exists, as Michael Liccione suggests. I suspect it will be a rare problem, but a very serious one for those parishes where it does occur, and I don't envy the parishioners, pastors, or bishops who have to deal with it.

The Pope writes that such situations will be improved by the "charity and pastoral prudence" of the bishops. Which... well... I suppose no human enmity runs so deep it can't be filled in with the help of prayer and fasting.

Be that as it may, I think this statement by the director of the Vatican press office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, is a nice summary of the Pope's broader hope:
The Pope wishes that the coexistence of the two forms of the rite will lead both, not to oppose each other, but to mutually enrich each other, on one side through a greater depth of sacrality, and on the other side through a greater variety and expressiveness of elements.
Taking a cue from what the Pope wrote about "omissions on the part of the Church [having] their share of blame for the fact that ... divisions were able to harden," I'd say the important thing is not whether those who might object to a greater depth of sacrality or to a greater variety and expressiveness of elements are nutty aunts, but that they be treated like aunts rather than nuts. That calls for wide hearts indeed.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Good advice
"Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows."
What I find interesting about this invitation is not so much the making room for everything that the Faith itself allows as where the room is to be made: in our hearts.

You don't tolerate what's in your heart, you don't put up with it, you don't grant in principle the right for it to be. You love it.

I doubt there are many people who truly love everything that the Faith itself allows. I wouldn't say I do. I try to make room in my head for it all, but there are any number of things the Faith allows that I at best don't wish bad things upon.

Just imagine a heart big enough to love it all, a heart that actively seeks the good of the whole Faith. Nothing smaller can properly be called a Catholic heart.

Do you have it in you? Do you have it in you to have it in you?


Thursday, July 05, 2007

This you should write on the threshold and door of your mouth

If you're familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours, you're familiar with Psalm 70:2, nee Psalm 69:2, which begins every canonical hour (except the first of the day):
Deus in adjutorium meum intende; Domine ad adjuvandum me festina.

O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.
The practice of beginning the Office with this verse goes back to St. Benedict, and even earlier Cassian reports on its use by desert monks "for keeping up continual recollection of God":
For it embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults. Since
  • it contains an invocation of God against every danger,
  • it contains humble and pious confession,
  • it contains the watchfulness of anxiety and continual fear,
  • it contains the thought of one’s own weakness, confidence in the answer, and the assurance of a present and ever ready help....
  • It contains the glow of love and charity,
  • it contains a view of the plots, and a dread of the enemies, from which one, who sees himself day and night hemmed in by them, confesses that he cannot be set free without the aid of his defender.
Abba Isaac's advice can be summed up this way:

When you want or need God's assistance and help, recite this prayer.

When you don't, don't.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

If he stops to think, he starts to cry

There's been a discussion on my parochial vicar's blog, sparked by this past Sunday's Gospel, on the different excuses people offer when Jesus says to them, "Follow Me."

Roughly speaking, the excuses seem to divide into three general classes:
  1. "I've got something better to do."
  2. "I will follow You, but only on my own terms."
  3. "You don't really want someone like me to follow You."
Or, in terms of how they view Jesus:
  1. "You're not worth it."
  2. "You're not leading correctly."
  3. "You're not powerful enough."
Is anyone who isn't following Jesus -- ever, for a time, at this moment -- saying one of these things?


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Merry Thomasmas!

Quoting [the old Catholic encyclopedia, which quotes] an ancient Syrian liturgical calendar:
3 July, St. Thomas who was pierced with a lance in India. His body is at Urhai [Edessa] having been brought there by the merchant Khabin. A great festival.
The Roman Martyrology has:
At Edessa in Mesopotamia, the translation of the apostle St. Thomas from India. His relics were afterwards taken to Ortona.
Mike Aquilina collects several of his posts on the Apostle of India here.

And, just because, you can go here and read about St. Thomas's confrontation with a dragon and his poignant meeting with the scion of a most illustrious family of donkeys.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Among all kinds of death, none was more execrable

In thinking about Christ's passion and death, I haven't really spent much time pondering the suitability, if you will, of the specific means by which He died.

Crucifixion seems grisly enough to elicit compassion from sufferers and compunction from sinners, and it affords time for a few words that might profitably be spoken. The humiliation involved is a lesson for the disciple, on both what he can expect for himself and what perfect love really involves.

St. Thomas lists seven reasons "it was most fitting that Christ should suffer the death of the cross," four cribbed from St. Augustine: it was an example of fearlessness; at the Tree of Life, the New Adam atones for the Old Adam's sin at the Tree of Knowledge; being raised up, Christ sanctified the air; being raised up, Christ prepares for our ascent to heaven; the shape of the cross, and Christ's outstretched arms, signify the salvation of the whole world; a cross and a cruciform posture signify various virtues (good works, longanimity) and graces; and salvation is often associated with wooden rods and other objects in the Old Testament.

I recently came across yet another perspective on the suitability of crucifixion, among all the awful ways of death, being at the center of the Christian faith.

In his Institutes, John Cassian records an exhortation by Abba Pinufius of Egypt, in which he explains to a newly admitted monk what it means for a Christian to say with St. Paul, "The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world":
As then one who is crucified no longer has the power of moving or turning his limbs in any direction as he pleases, so we also ought to affix our wishes and desires -— not in accordance with what is pleasant and delightful to us now, but in accordance with the law of the Lord, where it constrains us.

And as he who is fastened to the wood of the cross no longer considers things present, nor thinks about his likings, nor is perplexed by anxiety and care for the morrow, nor disturbed by any desire of possession, nor inflamed by any pride or strife or rivalry, grieves not at present injuries, remembers not past ones, and while he is still breathing in the body considers that he is dead to all earthly things, sending the thoughts of his heart on before to that place whither he doubts not that he is shortly to come: so we also, when crucified by the fear of the Lord ought to be dead indeed to all these things....
In other words, crucifixion is an excellent image of the Christian life, since we live in this world still but find ourselves constrained in our actions and focused in our thoughts. (No doubt a lot of people also suppose living as a faithful disciple of Christ to be as enjoyable as being nailed to a tree.)

This thought reminds me of St. Catherine's observation that Jesus was fixed to the Cross, not by nails, but by His love for us. We, too, are held to our own crosses not by physical things, but by our own love for Him. We can (we do!) come down from our crosses at any time, simply by not loving God with all our hearts or our neighbor as ourselves. After a while, through the grace of God, we return.

I suppose it would be nice, in a way, to be held to the cross of Christian living by something stronger and more reliable than free will. If God is Love, though, then depending on our own love in response likely isn't a regrettable side-effect of an arbitrarily chosen means of salvation; it's kind of the only way that makes sense.