instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, November 30, 2007

The jackboot of authority on the windpipe of conscience

So far, I have only scrolled through an electronic copy of Spe salvi, but I did notice the paragraph (n. 40) about "'offering up' the minor daily hardships." That paragraph ends with this iron-fisted assault on personal freedom:
Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves.
Actually, that's not quite... well, not terribly authoritarian, is it? Shouldn't it be something more like this:
It might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves.
Or, nuts, what's the point of being pope if you can't write:
Revive this practice.
That's what he really means, isn't it?

Or is it possible that he really does mean "maybe"? And if so, could that "maybe," coming from a Pope in an encyclical, be a more important teaching on the papacy than "revive this" is on personal piety?


Thursday, November 29, 2007

He ain't heavy

If the best thing about the Dominican Order is the cloistered nuns, the coolest thing is the cooperator brothers.

Br. Paul, OP, is a cooperator brother of the Central U.S. Province who has begun a blog on his vocation. Read all about it.

(And don't be fooled by that picture of him with a broom. The name of the file gives away the joke.)


In late Fall a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of


The Mid-Atlantic Women's Bonspiel starts today at the National Capital Curling Center, and runs through Sunday.

If you're in the area, drop in and watch some of it live.

(And why not order one of these for everyone on your Christmas list?)


The mystery of sufferance

In the post below, I'd written:
If God has an interest in the world, then all human authority comes from Him.
Rodak commented:
By what route, or mechanism, then, was the authority that Caesar had over men of God?
Here's my argument for my comment about all human authority coming from God:

God, being God, is the final authority on whatever He wants to be final authority on. Since He wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth, He must be the final authority on salvation and knowledge of the truth, and on whatever touches on these things.

Every human authority that touches on salvation or knowledge of the truth, then, must be either illegitimate or contingent.

By "illegitimate," I mean a false or brute-force authority. The authority may have the might to make or enforce law, but it has no right. (You might be able to say something along the lines of an illegitimate authority being an efficient cause, but not... a formal cause?)

By "contingent," I mean non-absolute and subordinate to God's authority. An army lieutenant has authority over the enlisted men under him, but his authority is contingent on his captain allowing him to exercise it.

This is the sense in which I mean that "all human authority comes from God." All legitimate authority is held and exercised, not at God's direct command, but at His pleasure -- though "at His sufferance" might be the better idiom. On every matter on which God is the final authority, all lesser authorities can only act by His leave.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Authority and the Cross

We all know the speech Jesus gives after the Apostles get indignant because the mother of James and John asked Jesus to sit her sons on His right and left in His kingdom:
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
The nickel exegesis of this points out how Jesus inverts our expectations, that in the Christian scheme authority entails service, not entitlement.

But notice the contrast Jesus sets up. It's between the rulers of the Gentiles and the Apostles. Jesus' usual antagonists, the scribes and Pharisees, aren't mentioned in this story. Did the scribes and Pharisees not make their authority felt?

Perhaps the difference Jesus is teaching about isn't between those who believe in Him and those who don't, but between those who believe in God and those who don't. Between, if you'll pardon my reach, those who think this world is meaningful and those who don't.

If there's no meaning, no personal God to Whom all of creation is directed, then everything becomes a matter of preference. Authority reduces to the ability to make people do what you tell them. If the world has no purpose, then neither does authority. If you can make people do what you tell them, and there's nothing you particularly should tell them to do, then of course you're going to tell them to do whatever pleases you. Why wouldn't you?

But if God does exist and does have an interest in the world, the situation changes completely. Authority, along with everything else, has a purpose, and that purpose is to tell people to do what God wants them to do. Religious authority exists to tell people under that authority how to worship God. Political authority exists to tell people under that authority how to organize themselves as a society. And, since God provides a reference, there are right and wrong ways to worship God and to organize a society.

I may be missing a step: If God has an interest in the world, then all human authority comes from Him.

Someone exercising authority over others, then, has a responsibility before God for those over whom he has authority. He is responsible for directing them to do what God wants them to do (in the sphere within which he has authority). Doing what God wants you to do is good for you. Acting for the good of another is love. So someone in authority is responsible for loving those over whom he has authority.

So far, this all follows from God caring about the world. And the idea of the king as servant was well established in Israel; in Sunday's first reading (for the Feast of Christ the King), we heard it said that David would shepherd God's people, and we all know that good shepherds worked hard on behalf of their sheep.

What Jesus adds to this line of reasoning is the mystery of the Cross. Perfect love entails death. Perfect exercise of authority entails being, not just a servant of others, but a victim for others.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The meaning of meaninglessness

In a recent speech titled "The Secular Vs. Religion?", Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick made a perceptive point:
The conflict is not between religion and the secular but between the searchers for deeper meaning and those who believe that human life has no meaning beyond what can be measured, analysed and scientifically proved.
Generally speaking, meaningfulness has it all over meaninglessness in terms of natural appeal. Hope springs eternal in the human breast, and such.

Yet meaninglessness seems to have decent traction in public conversation these days. How come that?

I don't know. But I do know that the context in which public conversation occurs presupposes meaningfulness. Even when Western materialists are talking amongst themselves, they are responding to the culture of faith from which they've come. You only say, "God is dead," when someone thinks He's alive, even if that someone died a hundred years ago.

So any notion of pure rationality, of humans acting as nothing but agents of the scientific method, is a non-starter. Every claim of meaninglessness is made in a context in which a claim of meaninglessness means something.

What it means is a poke in the eye of the Meaningfulnessians.

A person who is for whatever reason dissatisfied by the meaning proposed by Christianity can, then, still satisfy his natural desire for meaning by pursuing meaninglessness. In the West, to say, "Life has no meaning," is to say, "Christianity is false," and that is a very meaningful thing to sway.


Monday, November 26, 2007

"That's the Dominicans"

A front-page article in Saturday's Washington Post on the Nashville Dominicans, who are opening a new high school in the Diocese of Arlington, concludes:
... Maria Moghtadaie and Tania Kestermann, both parents from Woodbridge, reminisced about [religious] sisters who taught them when they were growing up. Moghtadaie remembered being ordered to kneel for hours in a public hallway; Kestermann remembered being told to slap her own face.

"There weren't nuns like the Dominicans. They're happy, open," said Moghtadaie, 44, who works in sales.

Kestermann, 38, who does clerical work part time, agreed. "I looked at them as distant," she recalled about the sisters of her childhood. But today, sisters know music and the Internet, she said. "You see them dancing, interacting with the kids. That's the Dominicans."
These are the Dominicans, too.


The twist ending

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants is a straightforward condemnation of the religious leaders who were plotting to kill Jesus. A self-fulfilling parable, in a way, since "[t]he scribes and chief priests sought to lay their hands on him at that very hour ... for they knew that he had addressed this parable to them."

But it's not a self-contained parable. In the story, the owner's son winds up a corpse in a ditch outside the vineyard, and that's the last anyone hears of him. And in real life, the "wicked tenants" did exactly what was said of them in the parable. They killed Jesus outside the walls of Jerusalem and left His body in a hole in the ground.

The unexpected thing -- and who, after all, would have believed it -- was not how God reacted to this, but how He acted through it. The Cross is both the sign of the chief priests' victory (any old prophet can be stoned, but how often can you get the Romans to crucify one?) and the throne from which Jesus offers His mercy to those of His subjects who will accept it.

With His parable, Jesus doesn't tell the whole story -- though He does hint at it, by quoting the Psalm:
"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes"
There doesn't seem to be much of a cornerstone to be made from a body lying in a ditch, nor is it all that wonderful for a rich man to avenge himself on a group of poor people.

But Jesus is not just the son of a vineyard owner. He is the Son of God, and He came into the world to obtain our salvation. It's not that He became a king through His passion and death; He is eternally King. Rather, His passion and death were the means by which He revealed Himself, in a formal and public manner, as king of this rebellious province.

Through prayer and meditation, we might come to understand why the Cross, of all things, was the proper way for the Son of God to reveal Himself to humanity as our eternal King. Such understanding, though, is not just for the sake of piety or intellectual satisfaction. We ourselves, each of His subjects, are commanded to go out and reveal Him to the world. Which means we ourselves, each of His subjects, get to be crucified, too.


Behold your King


Saturday, November 24, 2007

God's mercy extends to all

Felix typo alert:
In the first reading from the Mass of Friday of the first week of Advent, the Prophet Isaiah (Is 29:17-24) says, "Out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blond shall see."
Talk about old stereotypes!


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A simple question

Did you get much of a homily out of Sunday's first reading?
Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
and the day that is coming will set them on fire,
leaving them neither root nor branch,
says the LORD of hosts.
But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays.
That's full strength Old Testament prophecy, isn't it? And the tone doesn't soften in the next verse and a half:
And you will gambol like calves out of the stall and tread down the wicked;
They will become ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day I take action, says the LORD of hosts.
In context, it's part of the LORD's answer to the Israelites who said:
"It is vain to serve God, and what do we profit by keeping his command, and going about in penitential dress in awe of the LORD of hosts? Rather must we call the proud blessed; for indeed evildoers prosper, and even tempt God with impunity."
The day that is coming is one of punity, for sure.

What strikes me about the reading, though, is that both the wicked and the just experience the same thing: the rising of the sun of justice, blazing like an oven, with its healing rays (or "with healing in his wings," if you prefer the KJV). The difference in the effect of the dawning of this day -- joy or sorrow -- depends entirely on whether a person fears the LORD.

This is a Scriptural hint of the Divine Simplicity*. God really isn't all that complicated. He merely Is.

It's humans who make simple things complex, a trait that goes all the way back to Adam. "From the tree of knowledge of good and evil I shall not eat... unless the woman whom God put here with me gives me fruit from the tree!"

In the presence of the LORD, though, things return to their original simplicity. The good gambol like calves in His sunlight. As for the wicked, it's hard to become simpler than ash.

*. Yes, yes, if that's Divine Simplicity, I'd hate to see Divine Complexity! Nothing beats the classics, eh?


Friday, November 16, 2007

Three little words

I was recently reminded of the following bit of advice:
Love the Church.
It seems to me that it's particularly good advice for people who are discerning a religious or clerical vocation. A priest or religious who doesn't love the Church will bring grief upon everyone, themselves most of all.

And by "the Church," I mean the Church as she is, holy and without blemish and filled to the gills with sinners.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Here comes everybody

The brothers at Godzdogz have posted a homily by Fr. Peter Hunter, O.P., which begins with this anecdote:
Fr Bob Ombres once told me a story of travelling in his native Naples. He was talking to a man who told him he was a Catholic. Fr Ombres expressed interest and asked the man where he went to church. Puzzled, the man replied, "Cattolico, non fanatico!"
Recalling the old definition of a religious fanatic as someone who takes religion more seriously than you do.

Fr. Hunter goes on to point out that the Dominican way of life (he was preaching on the Feast of Dominican Saints, but his point is true of the Faith in general) is not a matter of fanaticism, but of love of the person of Christ.

True, if we love Christ, we may appear fanatical to others. The thing to do in that case is not to tone it down (who tones down love?), but to show the others our love.

And that would seem to involve some sort of invitation. An offer of hospitality, you might even say. And often enough, as with the Neapolitan gentleman, hospitality must begin in the home.


Humility and hospitality

I heard a good homily on Sunday's Gospel that managed to tie the sophism of the Sadducees to the charism of hospitality. What follows is an elaboration and extension of what the homilist actually said.

The Sadducees were not really interested in the answer to the question of the woman with seven husbands. It was a stock trick question, of the "rock too heavy to lift" class.

Jesus, however, gives them two answers. The first (not according to their folly of trying to trick the Son of God) showed that their question was ill-formed, based on men's ways, not God's. The second (according to their folly of only recognizing the Pentateuch) finds proof of the resurrection in Exodus.

The lesson for the Sadducees -- beyond the narrow one of faith in the resurrection of the dead -- is one of humility in the face of mystery. You can't know all there is to know about God's revelation. How many times had the Sadducees read the words, "I AM the God of Abraham," without realizing what that implies?

And where there is humility about one's own knowledge and wisdom, there must be openness to what others have to say. If I don't know everything, then it's at least in principle possible that you might know something I don't know. If I haven't grasped the fullness of God's revelation, then perhaps you've grasped something I haven't.

Moreover, true openness to others calls for a spirit of hospitality. If my spirit is open to your ideas, then my home must be open to you.

That sounds rash, doesn't it, particularly for people who natter away via computer with any and all. "Honey, this is, from South America, I think. You remember, we had an e-debate over deforestation. He, and I'm not sure why I thought he was a she, but he's a he, will be having dinner with us tonight."

But if spiritual openness and corporal openness operate on different scales -- if I'm much more likely to ask someone to explain something he wrote than I am to ask him to visit my family -- I don't think they're completely independent. If I truly believe that a person has spiritual value, as I must if I truly believe I can learn from him, then I must believe he has corporal value, since I am not a Manichee. And if I truly believe that someone has corporal value, then I will act with the good of his physical body in mind, whether that takes the form of showing him hospitality in the literal sense of making him my personal guest or in the broader sense of "welcoming the stranger" through my church or my community.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Barnyard politics

A Little Red Hen lived in a barnyard.

One day the Little Red Hen found a Politician. It was a Pro-Abortion Politician, but the Little Red Hen was so accustomed to bugs and worms that she supposed that, if encouraged, it could be made into a Nominee and then into a President.

So she called loudly:

"Who will plant the Seed of this Politician's electability in the minds of the Press and the Party?"

But the Pig said, "Not I," and the Cat said, "Not I," and the Rat said, "Not I."

"Well, then," said the Little Red Hen, "I will."

And she did.

Then one day the Little Red Hen chanced to notice how well the Politician was doing, so she ran about calling briskly: "Who will ask the other Candidates to cut their losses and join the Campaign?"

The Pig said, "Not I," the Cat said, "Not I," and the Rat said, "Not I."

"Well, then," said the Little Red Hen, "I will."

And she did.

Again, in a very hopeful tone, she called out, "Who will thresh the Pundits who aren't bowing to the Pro-Abortion Politician's inevitable victory?"

But the Pig, with a grunt, said, "Not I," and the Cat, with a meow, said, "Not I," and the Rat, with a squeak, said, "Not I."

So the Little Red Hen, looking, it must be admitted, rather discouraged, said, "Well, I will, then."

And she did.

Then she called out: "Who will carry the Voters to the Primaries to elect the Politician?"

Turning their backs with snippy glee, that Pig said, "Not I," and that Cat said, "Not I," and that Rat said, "Not I."

So the good Little Red Hen could do nothing but say, "I will then." And she did.

Still confident that they would surely help her some day she sang out, "Who will vote for the Candidate in the General Election?"

Alas for the Little Red Hen! Once more her hopes were dashed! For the Pig said, "Not I," the Cat said, "Not I," and the Rat said, "Not I."

So the Little Red Hen said once more, "I will then," and she did.

At last the great moment arrived. The Politician --

Oh, dear! The Politician lost the General Election.

Then the Red Hen called: "Who will blame Somebody Else for this Debacle?"

The Pig said, "I will," the Cat said, "I will," the Rat said, "I will."

But the Little Red Hen said,

"No, you won't. I will."

And she did.


Friday, November 02, 2007


A kind reader has brought to my attention a couple of posts at that use a simple diagram to explore the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, as well as an earlier post on the Shield of Faith:

And I in no way blame the kind reader for the fact that my attention wandered down to another post, and from there to a YouTube video that kind of puts my parish's youth Mass band in perspective.


With You is found forgiveness

Today's a good day to start memorizing the De Profundis, Psalm 130(129). Pray it daily for the souls in purgatory, then you'll have it on hand whenever you pass a cemetery.