instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Home is where you wear your non-red hat

This month in the Archdiocese of Washington has been brought to you by the virtue Humility.

Not only was the cardinalship that is ours by right denied delayed in its delivery, but the $1.2 million luxury home Archbishop Wuerl bought himself in Gaithersburg isn't even his.
Archbishop Wuerl resides in an apartment adjacent to a parish in Washington, DC....
Don't rub it in.


Friday, October 26, 2007

For all your honey and goat's milk soap needs

Visit the new and improved Cloister Gift Shoppe of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, NJ.

They have some excellent Dominican books, including the Summit Choirbook (a great source of hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours), and, yes, soap.


Gospel inversion

Hwæt, I found myself driving behind a car with two bumper stickers. The one on the left said


The one on the right said


And before I could stop myself, I thought up the bumper sticker that I would put between the two, if bumpers were comboxes:


While it may well be true that the owner of that car actually is both more than a conqueror and forgiven, and while this may be a cause of genuine joy for the owner, it seems to me the underlying message of the bumper stickers is, "Ain't I fine!"

The Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations. You can teach them to observe all that Jesus has commanded you by word and by example.

If the example by which you teach is one of self-satisfaction, then you'll make self-satisfied disciples (and probably even more enemies). If the words in which you express the Gospel are turned in on yourself, then you aren't expressing the Gospel.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The hard way

I heard a priest recently say that it took years for him to see why faith was meritorious. Eventually, he came to see that the reason is that faith requires faith.

We can go a long way on habit and reason, but eventually we get to the point where we just have to take it on faith. (And if we haven't gotten there yet, then what we call our faith isn't really faith, and it isn't meritorious.)

A related thought came to me as I listened to Sunday's Gospel.

Jesus doesn't make Christian faith easy.

Sure, this part sounds great:
"Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily."
Who wouldn't love to believe in a Big Sky Daddy who gives them what they need when they ask for it.

But as a matter of empirical observation, justice is quite often not done -- at all, much less speedily -- for people who call out to God day and night. Where does that leave the disciple of Christ?

"No, well, you see, that's what Divine justice looks like."

"Uh, yeah, but for God a thousand years is speedy."

"Sure, but maybe, you know, they aren't actually His chosen ones."

Or the lamest of all:

"God will bring good out of this, somehow."

The problem with stammering out such a response isn't that it couldn't be true. The problem is that it might be true; in fact, some such response must be true.

How crummy is that?

The Calvinist temptation is go with the limited atonement excuse, which I will pretend goes, when bad things happen to good people, it means they're actually bad people.

Let me suggest the temptation for Catholics is to play the "it's a mystery" card as though "it's a mystery" is an explanation. Functionally, though, it's equivalent to volitionism. In the face of grievous human suffering, "God can do whatever He likes, so suck it up" and "God can do whatever He likes, which is good for you, so suck it up" have pretty much the same explanatory power.

I draw two conclusions from these thoughts.

First, we should never be glib when talking about the Faith in non-academic terms. That leads to truth shorn of goodness, which cannot be true.

Second, we should recognize that the Faith requires faith -- not concurrence, not resignation, but faith -- and that therefore we should give to each other the love, kindness, understanding, and patience required to build and strengthen faith.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Metaphor and perspective

Yesterday's first reading ended with a vivid metaphor:
And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
Not the sort of language you're used to in church. But Amalek wasn't just one of many tribes the Israelites fought. It was, for some reason, the most hated enemy of all. The ghost of Samuel even tells Saul that it was because he didn't completely exterminate Amalek -- even including their animals -- that the LORD took away his kingship and gave it to David.

So yes, absolutely, God is love. But God is not greeting card love.

On the subject of the language of the first reading, consider this:
As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.
"Had the better of the fight." What does that mean? It means "mowed down more of the other guys by the edge of the sword," right? So one of the lessons from this passage is:

When you don't pray enough, people die.

By "you," I mean you, the individual reading this post, and by "people," I mean real actual people alive in the world today.

Which kind of puts that whole "pray always" into perspective.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Election cycle games

Suppose my political party has Candidates A and B running against each other in a primary election, and the winner runs against the other party's Candidate C in the general election. (In this supposition, third party candidates don't stand a chance.)

Say I back one of my party's candidates, and if my candidate wins the primary I continue to back them in the general election. If my candidate loses the primary, I can choose between backing my party's general election candidate and not backing anyone. (Voting for Candidate C is out of the question.)

I can put all this in a decision tree, where the decisions alternate between me and the electorate as a whole:

The edges are green when my candidate wins; they are red when my candidate loses (or my anti-candidate wins); they are grey when the winner is from my party but not one I backed.

The bottom row in the figure -- a1, c1, and so on -- represent the different payoffs for me according to the different ways things might shake out. If I back Candidate A all the way, and Candidate A wins both elections, then the benefit to me is a1 units of good. If I back Candidate A in the primary, but B wins, and I sit out the general election in a fit of pique (indicated by a dash in the "My general vote" row) and B wins again, then my payoff is b2.

A payoff may, of course, be negative, meaning that I account the result a net loss.

Let me note two things about this little game I've set up:
  1. Different people will have different payoffs, even if they make the same decisions. So there's little point in trying to convince someone they should make the same decisions you're making based on the payoffs you've decided on for yourself; instead, you should convince them your payoffs are right, which (if they're rational) will mean they'll vote the same way you do.
  2. There are three possible results of the general election -- one of A, B, or C wins -- but there are twelve payoffs listed. My payoff can depend on other factors than who wins office. If I wind up at c6, for example, I may feel like I fought the good fight for Candidate B and not feel too bad, while a c5 outcome -- equivalent in terms of victor -- might leave me thoroughly disgusted with the whole idea of democracy.
You could make up a similar game, and make the same points, about choosing a team to root for in the playoffs, a context in which it might be easier to see that how your team wins or loses, and against whom, greatly affects how you feel about it, even if the same folks wind up with the trophy.



Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Stoic lepers

As someone with a devotion to St. Thomas the Apostle, I am sympathetic to most of the screwups mentioned in the Gospels. I think we can be too quick to reduce them to stock characters and think there's nothing more to their stories than the moral, "Don't screw up like they did."

So with the nine ungrateful lepers of Luke 17:11-19. They start out looking pretty good ("Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"), but when last they're mentioned they come off like bums:
Jesus said in reply, "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"
Let me offer an apologia pro ingratitude on their behalf:

"Where are the other nine?" They're going to show themselves to the priests, just like Jesus told them to! Since when is it wrong to do what Jesus tells you to do?

Moreover, Luke says nothing about what happened after Jesus dismissed the good-dispositioned Samaritan. Is there any reason to insist that none of the nine ever did seek out Jesus to thank Him? Or that none ever even gave thanks to God for their healing?

St. Thomas (Aquinas, now) follows Seneca on the question of whether a man is bound to repay a favor at once; according to the Stoic, "He that hastens to repay is animated with a sense, not of gratitude, but of indebtedness." (In other words: No, you don't always have to repay a favor at once.)

It might be suggested, then, that the nine unreturning lepers were entirely grateful to Jesus (and to God), but that it seemed to them more reasonable to see the priests first (perhaps praising God on their way), and then to express their gratitude to Jesus. Then they could say, not only, "Thank you for the healing," but also, "Thank you for enabling us to be restored to the community."

In a comment below, some guy on the street wonders whether the Samaritan ever did go to see the priests. I wonder whether he had to, or what would have happened if he did. Would a Jewish priest declare a Samaritan purified? Did Samaritans even observe the law for the victim of leprosy? Maybe the grateful Samaritan could afford to act on his gratitude because he didn't really have any priests he needed to see. Maybe the Samaritan priests were far enough away that it didn't make much difference if he ran back to Jesus, while the other lepers were close enough to the Jewish priests that it would be faster to see them first, then head back to Jesus.

And yet, Jesus is pleased by the Samaritan's thanks and displeased (in some measure, though it's not clear how much) that the others didn't return as well.

Here's my proposal: The fundamental mistake of the nine who didn't return was not so much ingratitude as lack of faith. [And note that Jesus praises the Samaritan's faith.]

Oh, they had faith enough in Jesus to call Him "Master" and to do what He told them to do to be healed. But their faith in Him was not great enough for them to see what their healing meant: That the community of Jesus takes precedence over the community of Israel.

By continuing on their way to the priests, the nine were acting like good sons of Jacob. Being one of the Chosen People was all important.

But they failed to understand that, in healing them in response to their pleas for pity, Jesus was calling them to membership in the New Covenant, which as the fulfillment and perfection of the Old Covenant should take precedence.

If indeed they were grateful to Jesus, but their gratitude was based more on their rejoining the Jewish community than on their healing, then they saw Jesus as just another miracle worker, provided to them by God to do their will, without thinking that He might instead have been sent to do God's will.

It isn't enough to ask for God's pity. We must also always ask for His instructions.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Thomistic leper

This past Sunday's Gospel, the healing of the ten lepers, strikes a loud chord of gratitude:
And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
Note what the one leper did:
  1. He glorified God.
  2. He thanked Jesus.
And Jesus says:
"Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God? ...
"Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."
In the Gospel account, Jesus makes no particular distinction between the former leper's thanks to God and his thanks to Jesus. But then, Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to suffer and so enter into His glory.

St. Thomas, on the other hand, was writing a theology textbook when he made the following distinctions in our obligations, from greatest to least:The Samaritan observed this order, worshipping God first, giving thanks to his benefactor second. (He can hardly be blamed if his benefactor happened to be God-made-man.)


Boni animi

In countering the argument that, because "some favors are granted without grace, and are rudely, slowly and grudgingly given... gratitude is not always due to a benefactor," St. Thomas writes:
It is the mark of a happy disposition to see good rather than evil. Wherefore if someone has conferred a favor, not as he ought to have conferred it, the recipient should not for that reason withhold his thanks. Yet he owes less thanks than if the favor had been conferred duly, since in fact the favor is less, for, as Seneca remarks (De Benef. ii.) "promptness enhances, delay discounts a favor."
"To see good rather than evil" -- the Latin is, "ut magis attendat ad bonum quam ad malum," which may be more like "to pay more attention to good than to evil."

This struck me as a neat little formula (neater still in Latin, perhaps, with the "boni/bonum" parallel). If you have a good disposition, you notice and respond more to the good in those around you than the evil. Contrapositively, if you respond more to the evil, you probably don't have a good disposition.

Moreover -- and I know nothing about the history of the "boni animi" as a philosophical concept, so this might be a silly thing to draw attention to -- St. Thomas's argument assumes that people should have a good disposition, or at the very least that they should follow the lead of those who do.

I think this points to one of my pet themes (touched on in various ways, most recently with the posts about loving the sinner) that human nature is properly oriented toward the good.

Some people express themselves primarily in terms of "away from the evil." And to be fair, there are some topics that really are about avoiding evil. But that's an unnatural orientation for a human, especially for a Christian, who ought to be directed toward Christ first and foremost, and away from other things only by implication. (If you see what I mean.)

Others strike a balance in being "away from evil toward the good." Even Scripture does this in places (e.g., "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse"). But when we think in these terms, it seems to me we need to avoid thinking we're in some third state from which we make our choice.

Let me try putting it this way: If I am looking toward Jesus, then I am necessarily looking away from other things (in the limit of Christian perfection, I'm looking away from all that is not God). But what I am actually doing is looking toward Jesus. I'm not looking away from evil and hey, what do you know, here's Jesus in front of me! I can't see what I'm not looking at; I certainly shouldn't be thinking about not looking at it.

True, a person might flee evil and collide unexpectedly into Jesus. But once they've seen Him, they shouldn't take their eyes off Him, not even to rebuke what they've fled.

And those who look ever on the Lord are bound to have a happy disposition.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Request for information

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., has been volunteered to study philosophy in Rome, poor fellow.

If anyone has any personal information -- the kind you can't find on the Internet -- about the pontifical faculties at the Gregorian, John Lateran, or the Angelicum, he'd love to hear from you at neripowell(at)yahoo(dot)com.

And if your information is about the Greg, don't forget to give him grief about Dominicans with degrees from the Jesuits.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Neither pretense nor trump

Msgr. Thomas Wells was a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington who was murdered in his rectory several years back, but his influence continues among those who knew him.

Our parochial vicar -- a priest today due in no small part to Msgr. Wells's influence -- occasionally posts reflections he wrote as a pastor. The latest is found here, on the thorny pastoral problem of closed Communion.

Msgr. Wells concludes:
To pretend a unity that does not exist may feel good at the moment; but it allows us to avoid the painful truth that we are still far from the oneness in faith and action intended by the Lord.
True enough, but if I may, I don't think Catholics and non-Catholics who desire intercommunion are pretending a unity that does not exist. At the very least, they surely don't think they are.

What I think they're doing is acting on a unity that really does exist: namely, the unity of friendship and goodwill between fellow disciples of Jesus*. And since this unity really does exist, it won't do much good to tell people that they're just pretending. They can if they like search their hearts, discover that they aren't pretending, and conclude that, since the reason against intercommunion you gave is incorrect, there is no reason not to share Communion.

Better, I think, to point out that, whatever principle of unity they are acting upon, the Sacrament itself imposes its own principle of unity. We don't get to decide what the Eucharist is and what It isn't; we can't say, "Today, in this case, the only unity this Sign effects is the one we here all acknowledge."

It's not an easy point to make, but I think it's an extremely important point. Merely to get people to consider the possibility that the Blessed Sacrament is not the product of the community, that It Is What It Is, that It has an absolute, objective nature -- and that It's absolute, objective nature has actual, real, important implications about how we approach the Sacrament -- would be a tremendous step in the right direction.

*: Okay, so a lot of times it seems more like a unity of family and social ties and of fear of bad manners, but even then I'd guess most Christians know enough Christianity to cobble together a "what would Jesus do"-type argument in favor of open communion.


A preacher's work is never done

From Fr. Philip Powell, O.P., comes news of the on-line archives of Fr. Paul Hinnebusch, O.P.

Fr. Hinnebusch (1917-2002), a friar of the Central and Southern U.S. Dominican Provinces*, wrote 18 books, 131 articles, and who knows how many homilies. The website presents a wide variety of his work -- some in audio (MP3), others as text (.doc).

A particularly nice feature of the website is the calendar, which presents the archived material according to the liturgical calendar. For example, if you want to know what he might have preached for today, Wednesday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1, try this.

*: As noted by Fr. Powell, Fr. Hinnebusch was a son of the Central Province and a founding father of the Southern Province, which was officially formed in 1980.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Rosary: Remedy for Anger

The "remedy" rhetoric has about gone off the rails at this point, but let me propose four ways in which devotion to the Rosary produces effects that in some measure counter the vice of anger.

(And, as you remember, anger is a desire for vengeance that is sinful either because the revenge itself is unjust or because the desire is unreasonably great.)

First, the simple act of praying the Rosary is physically calming, and when you are calm you have farther to go to become unreasonably angry.

Second, praying the Rosary daily extends this physically calming experience through time. If you are calm and still every day for fifteen or twenty minutes, it will be easier to be calm and still at other times of the day.

Third, praying the Rosary affords an opportunity to bring your anger to Jesus and Mary. St. Paul's advice is, "Don't let the sun go down on your anger." You could anticipate sundown and say, "Don't let the fifth mystery finish on your anger." The time spent praying the Rosary can cool your anger down to a more reasonable zeal.

Fourth -- and more spiritually -- the Rosary has long been proposed as a prayer for peace. As the blessed Pope John Paul II wrote:
... to rediscover the Rosary means to immerse oneself in contemplation of the mystery of Christ who "is our peace", since he made "the two of us one, and broke down the dividing wall of hostility" (Eph 2:14). Consequently, one cannot recite the Rosary without feeling caught up in a clear commitment to advancing peace....
That "cannot" may be more of an exhortation than an observation, but the experience of the Church is that the Rosary fosters peace. As recently as this past Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI said:
We also desire to welcome the Virgin's maternal request [made at Fatima], committing ourselves to saying the Rosary with faith for peace in our families, in countries, and in the whole world.
If we come to the Rosary with an intention for peace, and for overcoming anger, our prayers will surely be heard.



Monday, October 08, 2007

The Rosary: Remedy for Pride

I'm sure you've heard of the humble peasant grandmother, praying her Rosary in the dim light of her little parish church, who is holier than the highbrow theologian airily holding forth from his university pulpit.

You may not have heard quite so much about the humble peasant grandmother's sister-in-law, who also prays her Rosary in the dim light of her little parish church, but who's an absolute fishwife and meaner than a wildcat in a rain barrel.

Whichever story you want to tell, though, there's no getting around the fact that the Rosary is a humble prayer. A vulgar prayer, even. Sure, people have dressed it up in all sorts of fancy ways -- see for example the "Musical Rosary" described in several posts at Orbis Catholicus -- but when you get down to it, it's a prayer designed for and sustained by the masses.

Which means it's not a prayer designed for or sustained by showing off. If you reach into your pocket or purse for something, and a set of rosary beads falls out, chances are no one who sees it will be impressed. Non-Christians will think you're one of those weird Catholic nuts; they may also be creeped out by the thought of you carrying a crucifix around with you. Protestants may shake their heads, and Evangelicals may wag their tongues, at all that vain repetition you do. Catholics who themselves carry rosary beads will think you're a bit clumsy. Catholics who don't themselves carry rosary beads (for such do exist) will think you're one of those weird Catholic nuts.

And you certainly won't come off in front of any professional Catholic as au courant, with it, or highbrow. (I'd guess even a Womyn's Mysteries Rosary is too dated these days.)

True, there is a thin slice of humanity who would think more of someone for their devotion to the Rosary. But most of those, being of the people, aren't the sort whose praise puffeths one up.

And the Rosary combats pride even if you find a retro-cool P.O.D. Catholic community in which the Rosary is where it's at. That's because, notwithstanding my constant refrain that you shouldn't worry about praying it perfectly, it can be a real challenge to pray the Rosary even half-decently.

It is a very forgiving devotion, but then, there's a lot to forgive. How many other devotions are there with uncounted numbers of pamphlets and books on how not to completely mess it up? You can't -- I insist that it's simply impossible to -- make a mental note to get a stamp for the gas bill an instant before you arrive at the "Glory Be" for the Third Sorrowful Mystery, and in that moment think you're pretty hot stuff.

In this way, the Rosary is a lot like golf, except you swear less and don't count as high.

(Speaking of counting too high, there's nothing quite like leading the group of little old ladies after daily Mass in an eleven-Ave decade.)

(Also, when I pray the Rosary in a group, I spend a lot of the time thinking, "Gosh, everyone else sounds so recollected!")

(Then there was the time someone (a little old lady, in fact, who'd prayed the Rosary daily for decades) was asked to lead the post-Mass Rosary, and after a few brave tries admitted, "I can't remember the Apostles' Creed!")

(See, the Rosary operates on a very simple and natural level, in addition to a more rarefied spiritual one.)



Maxim-izing understanding

To clear up a point from my post on, "Hate the sin, love the sinner," my position is this:

We ought to hate sin. We ought to love sinners. We ought not tell each other and ourselves, "Hate the sin, love the sinner." It is as a maxim or a rule that the statement is bunk.

A rule of conduct must be sound and correct on its own, without additional context. "Hate the sin, love the sinner" fails to do this, on both the "hate/love" and the "sin/sinner" parallels.

Hate and love are not parallel in Christian thought. The second greatest commandment is not, "Hate what is opposed to the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength." Christian hatred must be situated within the larger context of Christian charity, and that maxim doesn't do that.

True, the lack of parallel between "sin" and "sinner" --
As an aside, what are the contraries of "sin" and "sinner"? English doesn't have a word meaning "a morally good act," and the customary "saints and sinners" pairing is actually a class ("sinners") and a sub-class ("saints"), not two mutually exclusive classes.
-- can be taken as an attempt to provide the context ("love the sinner") for the root maxim ("hate the sin"). I don't think that's a very convincing take on it, but even if that were the intent, it wouldn't rescue the saying.

A maxim is a shortcut, a way of reducing a problem (or at least one part of a larger problem) to one that has already been solved. So "you may not do evil that good may result" shaves away all intrinsically evil means to the end you seek. Show that a means under consideration is intrinsically evil, and you're done with considering it.

"Hate the sin, love the sinner" doesn't seem to work that way. As applied by fallen human beings, it tends to devolve to either hating the sinner or loving the sin.

St. Augustine is generally held to be the inspiration for the formula. And in fact I'd say, "Observe due love for the persons and hatred of the sins," which is pretty much what he wrote, is a great improvement over the more common version Gandhi popularized. Not just because it starts with love rather than hate, but because it doesn't present them as contraries. They're both things that are due, and the words themselves give no suggestion that the listener is expected to be more inclined toward failing in one direction than the other.


"Study always"

We all know that Jolly Old Saint Francis preached to the birds. But do we ever ask what he preached to them?

It was the natural virtue of gratitude:
My little sisters the birds, ye owe much to God, your Creator, and ye ought to sing his praise at all times and in all places, because he has given you liberty to fly about into all places; and though ye neither spin nor sew, he has given you a twofold and a threefold clothing for yourselves and for your offspring. Two of all your species he sent into the Ark with Noe that you might not be lost to the world; besides which, he feeds you, though ye neither sow nor reap. He has given you fountains and rivers to quench your thirst, mountains and valleys in which to take refuge, and trees in which to build your nests; so that your Creator loves you much, having thus favoured you with such bounties.

Beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praise to God.
St. Francis may have been God's Fool, but he was not so foolish as to think there can be virtue without risk of vice. That's the part the pagan cult of the mythical St. Francis the Garden Gnome never quite gets around to acknowledging.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Week in review

On Monday, I read this (via this), from an Anglican pastor in Baghdad:
Throughout my life I have listened to countless sermons, telling us we do not have to like our enemies -— we just have to love them. Love is reduced to not pursuing the negative of hate.

To this attitude I say nonsense! Love is real. It is difficult, it is costly and it changes lives because it enables people to see Jesus. In our context, it is not some liberal concept of evangelism without risks—even loving these people is taking great risks.
On Tuesday, I learned that Gandhi originated the expression, "Hate the sin, love the sinner."

On Friday, I read Kathy Shaidle's words:
I could easily hand out pamphlets or design a website that said "Women who get abortions are sinners." And I would be right. But all the explanations and FAQs about how, see, in Catholic theology we are all sinners and Jesus came to forgive sinners blah blah blah mean diddly because every pro-choice woman who lays eyes on that site will have her heart hardened even more.
Putting it all together (with some help from Kathy's well-documented dislike of Gandhi):

The maxim, "Hate the sin, love the sinner," is bunk.

Not because we shouldn't hate sin. Not because we shouldn't love sinners.

Because we can't do both at the same time.

"Hate the sin, love the sinner," -- like "We do not have to like our enemies, we just have to love them" -- isn't a moral precept. It's a counsel of lesser evil. It's what we tell people (including ourselves) to get them to stop hating, but it won't get them to start loving.

You can't yoke hate and love and expect to plow a straight furrow. The intellect and will of the vast majority of humans are not purified enough to do that. God can pull it off. I'd trust the angels with it, too.

Whatever remains of hatred in human hearts, though -- even hatred of sin -- is poison.


Too long for an aphorism, too short for a sermon

Some people act as though compassion is weakness. They're right. Compassion is weakness. But lack of compassion is not strength.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

A poor mention of an interesting book

Somewhere I've got a review copy of Jon M. Sweeney's Light in the Dark Ages: The Friendship of Francis and Clare of Assisi filled with bookmarks, just waiting to be used in the production of some real crackerjack posts.

But the liturgical calendar waits for no man, so I thought I'd make do on this Feast of our Holy Father Francis (that's on the Dominican calendar; the General Roman Calendar marks it as the Memorial of Francis of Assisi, Religious) by simply mentioning it.

Two points of note:

First, the subtitle is misleading. The book isn't about the friendship of the two saints, although it's certainly mentioned. The book is about St. Francis's personal vision of religious life, and St. Clare plays a supporting role.

Second, the main title is exactly right. Jon Sweeney sees the Thirteenth Century as a Dark Age of the Church and St. Francis as the light that saved the Church from that darkness. Moreover, if I'm reading him right, he sees St. Francis as the light that can save the Church from her present, persistent darkness, if only we go back to his original ideal.

I've read a few books on St. Francis, but this is the only one whose author is himself a Spiritual. It does make for a fresh take on the Poverello.



Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Rosary: Remedy for Sloth, v

There are two loose ends I want to tie up here.

First: In these posts, I've treated the Rosary in a very utilitarian fashion. Meditate on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I've been saying, and you could wind up less lazy. Substitute "the Rosary" with "fifteen minutes of sitting in a chair with a Bible on your head," and the arguments are basically unchanged.

So let me add that, though doing a lousy job praying the Rosary may still be a remedy for sloth, no one should settle for doing a lousy job praying the Rosary. Then, too, I don't believe it's even possible to pray the Rosary every day without improving in all sorts of non-sloth-related ways.

Second: If someone is slothful, why would he resolve to pray the Rosary daily in the first place? All five posts are concerned with what could happen to people who may not even exist. To this, I'd say I have in mind the sort of person who knows he's slothful, who sort of wishes he weren't, and who's looking for some [easy, of course] way to do something about it.



The Rosary: Remedy for Sloth, iv

Those who find the Rosary itself burdensome often get the short, barbed end of the stick in devotional literature. The Rosary is such a wonderful prayer, we might infer, all true Catholics ought to love love love praying it.

Yet finding the Rosary burdensome is not a moral failing. Good thing, too, since it seems to be relatively common.

What, then, can someone who dislikes praying the Rosary learn from praying the Rosary? In a word, discipline. Someone who pursues a spiritual good even though he finds the pursuit wearying will not be put off other spiritual goods out of sloth.

In general, simply knuckling down and doing good will erode the habit of doing nothing instead. And someone who is showing his love for God by doing something he doesn't enjoy will hardly be predisposed against showing his love for God by doing something he does enjoy.

Which is not to say that the Rosary is such a wonderful prayer, all true Catholics ought to pray it even if they hate it. I have always taken the "whatever works" approach to prayer, and if the Rosary doesn't work for you, then try something else.

But if the work you want done is to overcome a habit of sloth, then devotion to the Rosary could work, even if you never do obtain any other consolations from it.



The Rosary: Remedy for Sloth, iii

Those who are slothful during the week meet their Sunday obligation, but lack any real daily prayer life. Who has the time?

Again, a commitment to the Rosary will demonstrate that we all have the time, that daily prayer need not be an onerous burden. (It should also demonstrate that daily prayer is a true blessing, but for now I'm just looking at getting rid of vice, not instilling virtue.)

And if daily prayer isn't burdensome, then neither is praying for specific intentions. Once a person allows himself to think of God when it isn't Sunday morning, he can think of God in his need. If he has prayed to God in the past twenty-four hours, the thought of reaching out to Him shouldn't seem too taxing. It's easier and more natural to ask for a favor (or for forgiveness) from someone you talk to every day than from someone you haven't spoken to in too long.



The Rosary: Remedy for Sloth, ii

Those beset by sloth generally generally avoid spiritually good acts. They don't pray; they attend Mass inattentively, possibly irregularly. It all seems like a lot of bother, and for what?

If they resolve to pray five decades of the Rosary each day, however -- and if they follow through -- they will find that they have taken on a relatively light burden. Call it fifteen minutes for someone who doesn't want to linger, everything nicely regimented, never a question about what to do next.

Even if the mind wanders, even if there's a sense of frustration or that it's all been a waste of time, when the last prayer is prayed, it's done.

What such a person who sticks with the Rosary will find, if he looks for it, is that the Rosary is not at all oppressive or wearisome or a cause for sorrow. He may need to adjust his own expectations of what he'll get out of this devotion, he may not understand right away that what he puts into it determines what he gets out of it.

But he will have developed a habit of spiritual good. He will have demonstrated to himself that the thought of loving God needn't cause sorrow. He will find that he has the capacity for charity and that making use of that capacity isn't as wearisome as it once seemed.



The Rosary: Remedy for Sloth, i

The capital sin of Sloth, according to St. Thomas, is "sorrow for spiritual good," in particular "sorrow in the Divine good about which charity rejoices." In other words, an act of sloth is a rejection of God's invitation to love Him because loving God seems like an oppressive burden.

(Of course, an "act of sloth" is primarily an interior act, since sloth as such inclines you to do nothing. In practice, what happens is sloth stops you from doing the right thing, then one of her daughters ("malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, sluggishness in regard to the commandments, wandering of the mind after unlawful things") prompts you to do a wrong thing. Devil's playthings, and all that.)

Given all that, it could be argued that the Rosary actually encourages sloth, since a lot of people say they find the Rosary wearisome, they despair of getting it right, they are sluggish in praying it, and when they do their minds wander (albeit not necessarily after unlawful things).

Let me suggest, though, that the Rosary can be a remedy for sloth (emphasis on "can"; it's not a magic spell), in different ways depending on how sloth is present in one's life.



Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Quoniam angelis suis mandabit de te ut custodiant te in omnibus viis tuis
According to the plan of Divine Providence, we find that in all things the movable and variable are moved and regulated by the immovable and invariable; as all corporeal things by immovable spiritual substances, and the inferior bodies by the superior which are invariable in substance. We ourselves also are regulated as regards conclusions, about which we may have various opinions, by the principles which we hold in an invariable manner. It is moreover manifest that as regards things to be done human knowledge and affection can vary and fail from good in many ways; and so it was necessary that angels should be deputed for the guardianship of men, in order to regulate them and move them to good.
Today's memorial has not gone without mention on Catholic blogs. That's a good sign.

(Links via, mostly.)


October is Proust Month!

Give Proust the same chance you would capers.


The Rosary: Good for what ails you

The Rosary is medicine for the soul.

It might really be more of an exercise regimen for the soul, but I can't find an Exercise Regiment Generator.

So, what ails the soul? Vice. Lined up, for the most part, under the capital vices. And if, like most of us, you're beset by one or more of these vices (or perhaps their annoying daughters), you might be surprised by how effective devotion to the Rosary can be in stamping them down.



Monday, October 01, 2007

October is the Month of the Rosary!

Reflect that the Rosary may be an acquired taste. You probably did not like olives the first time you tasted them. Now you probably do. Give the Rosary the same chance you would an olive.