instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, May 30, 2008

Serving Christ's poor

Has it really been three years since I last mentioned the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne?

Here's a brief Q&A on them:
Q. What do the Hawthorne Dominicans do?
A. They provide nursing care for incurable cancer patients who cannot afford care.

Q. And by "cannot afford," you mean...?
A. I mean the Hawthorne Dominicans only take patients who don't have adequate Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance or private funds to cover basic nursing care.

Q. Are there that many incurable cancer patients who cannot afford care?
A. There are enough in the U.S. to fill five homes, with waiting lists. And if you open a mission in Kenya, as the Sisters did last November, there are plenty more.

Q. But in the U.S., if the patients can't afford it, the government must cover the cost of care, yes?
A. No.

Q. No?
A. No. There's no government money. There's no private insurance money. There's no money from the patients or their families. (Well, maybe a hundred bucks from the family, if they insist.)

Q. Then who--?
A. The Sisters rely on Divine Providence to supply them with what they need. After all, they're caring for God's children; why wouldn't He provide?

Q. That's a very noble thought, spiritually speaking, but it's not terribly practical, is it?
A. Sorry, did you just ask whether relying on God is impractical?

Q. No, but, it just seems, being dependent on fundraising and all--
A. Who said anything about fundraising?

Q. Didn't you just say that's how the Hawthorne Dominicans get their money?
A. No, I said they rely on Divine Providence. They don't rely on fundraising. They don't do fundraising at all. (They did once, about a hundred years ago, to raise money to buy a larger home in New York City. But Mother Alphonsa, the foundress, wasn't happy about it and stopped it after a few months, long before enough money was raised.)

Q. So they just count on God moving enough hearts to write enough checks to pay this month's bills?
A. Pretty much. Keep in mind what they're doing, though. Most human hearts don't have to be moved too far to feel compassion for people who are poor and dying and admiration toward those who care for them. From there, it's a small step to supporting the Hawthorne Dominicans' work with a (perhaps modest) check, payable to
The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne
Rosary Hill Home
600 Linda Avenue
Hawthorne, NY 10532

I have to think, too, that the Sisters' prayers on behalf of their patients are heard loud and clear before the Throne of God.

Q. Anything else while we're on this topic?
A. Oh, I could go on, and I may yet, but for now I'll just mention that, if any single Catholic women are thinking God might be calling them to a life devoted to works of mercy, there's a vocation discernment weekend coming up in October at the Motherhouse in Hawthorne, NY, and they might contact the vocation director for more information.


Friday, May 16, 2008

To forgive is divine

A common error is to think that saying something is so makes it so. It's an attitude that one's words or stated intentions define, and if necessary create, objective reality to suit one's will. Acts of type X are sinful, but I don't intend to sin, so I'm not committing an act of type X. (Zippy Catholic has been all over this error for a long time.)

In a very general sense, this is blasphemy, since God is the only One who can say, "Let there be light," and make light.

Obviously, there are lots of cases where people have the authority to create laws by fiat. Less obviously, all such authority comes ultimately from God, Who alone created all things.

Now look at what I wrote in my last post: Forgiveness
means that you tell both [your debtor] and yourself (and anyone else who has a need to know) that he doesn't owe you ... and then you erase the debt from your books and from your mind.
So forgiveness is an act of creating objective reality by fiat. Which is God's work.


As we forgive our debtors

Crazy Catholic asks a tough question:
How do you forgive someone who won't acknowledge they did something wrong?
I find thinking about forgiveness of financial debt helps in thinking about forgiveness of moral debt.

For example, say someone owes you a thousand dollars, and you decide to forgive him his debt. What does that mean?

It means that you tell both him and yourself (and anyone else who has a need to know) that he doesn't owe you the money, and then you erase the debt from your books and from your mind. (It doesn't mean you pretend he paid you back; your own creditors won't be happy to be paid with that imaginary money. Nor does it mean you can keep reminding him of your forgiveness; that's just converting what he owes you from money to gratitude.)

For his part, the debtor is free to accept your forgiveness or not. He should repay, not the original financial debt, but the new debt of gratitude. But he might choose not to be grateful, to treat your forgiveness as nothing more than his good luck. He can also choose to live as though he still owes you the money; he can even try to pay you back.

All that's on the debtor, though. If you've truly forgiven his debt, whatever he does won't change what you've erased from your books and your mind.

So what if someone owes you a thousand dollars, and you want to forgive that debt, but he won't acknowledge that he owes you the thousand dollars? It's not much different on your part. You erase the debt from your books and from your mind. He, obviously, won't respond with gratitude, still less with an attempt to repay you. But all that's on him.

I think this all carries over pretty much directly when forgiving a wrong that's been done to you. You tell the one who wronged you, and yourself, that you forgive him. (You might also need to tell other people who have noted the wrong done to you in their own books.) That he will not acknowledge the wrong he has done is something else you would need to forgive, if you really want to forgive him. (Otherwise, it would be like pardoning someone for robbing a bank, but still bringing weapons charging against him.)

I suppose you should make a good faith effort to convince him that he has wronged you, both for his own sake (being forgiven is good for the soul) and against the chance that he might go on to wrong someone else (or even you again) in the same way in the future. But you can't force him to acknowledge his wrong, and what can't be done can't be obligated.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An impulse to a conspicuous revenge

Mark Shea links to a blog post by Tom Piatak titled, "I Confess: I Don't Understand Why Some Atheists Are So Angry." Commenters at both sites suggest answers.

The Philosopher says:
Anger may be defined as an impulse, accompanied by pain, to a conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight directed without justification towards what concerns oneself or towards what concerns one's friends.
In which case, everyone who is angry feels (in both the sensitive and intellectual sense) he has been conspicuously and unjustifiably slighted.

Who or what might an angry atheist feel he has been slighted by?

Various theological and psychological suggestions have been made. Maybe atheists are angry at God for not making things be other than they are; maybe they're angry at their fathers and just transferring their anger to the greatest Father figure of them all.

Atheists themselves, though, tend to say they've been slighted, not by a God they only pretend not to believe in, nor by a universe that fails to live up to their expectations, but by theists. Hypocrisy, irrationality, and wickedness are three specific charges I've heard atheists make against theists.

Hypocrisy is an insult to the intelligence. It says, "You aren't smart enough to see through my pretence." It's also an affront to justice to benefit from telling lies.

All religious faith may seem irrational to some atheists, but I think what really drives them up the wall is an attitude like, "I don't care what science or logic can prove to be true, I'm going to continue to believe whatever it is I happen to believe." That attitude strikes at the highest good of rational atheists. Without God, human reason is all we have to go by to define the meaning of life; if we can't get as far as a definition, we can at least prescribe the area within which we can choose to declare our own meaning. And if the one thing you value above all else is rejected as completely worthless, that can sting.

By wickedness, I mean here that many atheists regard various religious actions as inherently evil. Google "crusades" or "inquisition" for examples. Some of the wickedness imputed to theists I, too, impute to them (e.g., forced conversions, human sacrifices); some is imputed through historical ignorance; some is imputed through a flawed moral view, as e.g. the view that raising your children in the Christian faith is child abuse.

Now, hypocrisy in particular and wickedness in general are both reasonable causes of anger. And if irrationality as such isn't a conspicuous slight directed toward another, it can certainly give rise to any number of wrongs. Broadly speaking, then, atheists are angry for many of the same reasons that theists, conservatives, environmentalists, and Orioles fans might be angry.

I do suspect that the more conspicuously angry atheists -- those who write books and maintain blogs in which they stoke their anger -- find in the hypocrisy and irrationality of theists extra barbs that prick their egos. If so, though, I'd say it's not because they're atheists, but because they're egoists.

St. Thomas follows Aristotle in teaching that "excellence makes men prone to anger... those who excel in any matter, are most of all angry, if they be slighted in that matter...." Those who regard themselves as excelling in clear thinking are most of all angry if they be slighted in their clear thoughts.


Monday, May 12, 2008

The morning after the solemnity before

Yesterday's collect was a prayer to God our Father that the Spirit He sent on His Church to begin the teaching of the gospel continue to work in the world through the hearts of all who believe.

The Spirit blows wherever He wills, so why does He usually seem to will to blow through the hearts of all who believe, instead of directly on the places in need of justice or faith? If He can appear as tongues of fire over the heads of the Apostles, why not go ahead and do the same over everyone's head?

We can answer such questions in a more or less convincing fashion, but whatever we come up with, we're still left with the fact that this is how the Holy Spirit prefers to operate. That is, we're still left praying that the Holy Spirit continue to work in the world through our own hearts, even in Ordinary Time.


Sunday, May 11, 2008


If someone asked you, "What do Catholics do?," how would you answer?

I'd probably say something about the Mass. And in fact, the Acts of the Apostles describes how the Apostles "devoted themselves with one accord to prayer."

But this is in Chapter 1, before the Pentecost we celebrate today.

It isn't until devout Jews from every nation under heaven hear in their own tongues the Apostles speak of the mighty acts of God that the Church is born.

So whatever Catholics actually do, what we ought to do is speak to every nation under heaven of the mighty acts of God. That's as one, holy, and apostolic as it gets.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Reception, not "receiving"

Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre has written what I think is an excellent pastoral letter "regarding the proper celebration of the Eucharist and the distribution of Holy Communion."

It was written to inform his diocese that "no weekday Celebrations of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion will be allowed" as of July 1. Unfortunately, such a context and purpose allows readers to overlook the Eucharistic theology in favor of whatever issues of Church polity they're concerned with.

As Bishop Murphy writes,
The shape of the Eucharist involves the four actions of taking (the Presentation of the Gifts), blessing (the Eucharistic Prayer), breaking (the fraction rite) and giving (Communion). To celebrate the Eucharist means to do what Christ did, namely, offering to God the Father these actions that together form the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
And later,
The reception of Holy Communion is never just passively "getting" or "receiving" Holy Communion... Receiving the Sacrament is the culmination of participating in the sacrifice.
Without getting into the pastoral issues the letter goes on to address, I think this understanding of the Eucharist as a single action can stand to be strengthened, among both the faithful and the priests.

In fact, I'll say attention must be paid, even as Eucharistic piety makes a comeback. As wonderful as Adoration and Benediction are, they must be referred back to the sacrifice of the Mass, lest the Mass's integrity be lost and the Liturgy of the Eucharist be reduced to a process for manufacturing consecrated Hosts.

I put it crudely, of course. But I have in my time heard a lot about receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, and not very much at all about how my reception relates to what happened on the altar a few minutes earlier. I have heard priests say that the reason we layfolk come to Mass is to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, without even a hint that we're also involved in the offering to the Father.

Even the sacred language we use poses a problem. We speak of "the Eucharist" to mean both the liturgical act and the consecrated Host. I've only heard "the Blessed Sacrament" used to mean Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine, but the sacramental act itself is (per St. Thomas) the priest pronouncing the words of institution over the bread and wine.

Such dual meanings should tie offering and reception more closely together in our minds, but to the extent we feel involved in the latter and remote from the former, I think they make things worse. At least, my own disposition is to think and speak in terms of "the Mass" and "the Eucharist," the former being where I receive the latter, and when someone uses the latter to mean the former, they're just being fancy.

So by all means, let's preach and promote devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. But let's do it in a way that ensures everyone understands the source and summit of the Christian life is achieved principally through the altar, not the altar rail.


Glorious things are said of thee, O mother of God

Using the old patristic principle that everything that can be said in faith of the Church in general can be said of Mary in particular as your guide, you can wind up in all sorts of places.

For example, one thing that can be said in faith of the Church in general is that Jerusalem in the Old Testament is a type of the Church. That, surely, is how Christians read Psalm 87(86):
The Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob.
Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God.
I will be mindful of Rahab and of Babylon knowing me. Behold the foreigners, and Tyre, and the people of the Ethiopians, these were there.
Shall not Sion say: This man and that man is born in her? and the Highest himself hath founded her.
The Lord shall tell in his writings of peoples and of princes, of them that have been in her.
The dwelling in thee is as it were of all rejoicing.
Sion => the Church <==> Mary. So we can interpret this psalm as foretelling Mary saying this man and that man, these peoples and those princes, are her children. And, indeed, the Highest himself hath founded her as mother of all the living.

Now, we all know there are lots of Christians, including lots of Catholics, who think devotion to Mary is at best a matter of personal inclination. They follow Jesus, not Mary.

Here, the metaphor (though it may be more than a metaphor) is that you cannot worship at the Temple if you aren't in Jerusalem. Imagine a Jew in the centuries before Christ arguing that worshipping in Jerusalem isn't important, only worshipping at the Temple matters. That's geographical nonsense. Jerusalem matters -- not in and of itself, to be sure, but it matters nonetheless.

Moving to the antitypes, arguing that Mary isn't important, only Jesus is important, is incarnational nonsense. It assumes that what is contingent is irrelevant. But everything is contingent: not just the person who happened to give birth to the Son of God, but also the very fact that the Son of God was born. Our salvation, our Church, our Bible are all contingent on God's grace. Arguing Mary's irrelevance from Jesus' importance is just as sound as arguing Revelation's irrelevance from His importance.

I worry somewhat that, when it comes to talking of Mary, we [American Catholics who talk of Mary] think relatively too much in terms of apologetics, of intellectual acceptance of enumerated dogmas, and relatively not enough in terms of mystagogy, of living a life in communion with the person who is the subject of those dogmas.

But the Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob. If we do the same, if for us the dwelling in Mary is as it were of all rejoicing, then so, some day, shall it be for Rahab and Babylon.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Uh oh

In today's first reading, St. Paul is headed for Jerusalem, trying to get there in time for Pentecost. (He does not know what fate awaits him; he only knows he must be brave.)

In Miletus, he tells the presbyters from Ephesus:
"But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God."
If you put that last bit contrapositively, you get something like:
I shrank from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God, so I am responsible for the blood of some of you.
Which, if you think about it, is kind of unsettling. If, you know, you happen to be one of those rotten scoundrels who tends to shrink from proclaiming to others the entire plan of God.


Felix typo alert

In a comment on a post at The Curt Jester,
"Truth cannot contradict himself."
Indeed He cannot.



Monday, May 05, 2008

A great fog of witnesses

At Intentional Disciples, Fr. Mike, O.P., writes about the many stories he's been told of Divine irruption into the lives of ordinary Catholics. He quotes Peter Herbeck of Renewal Ministries:
All the spiritual writers in the Catholic mystical tradition warn against an excessive focus on religious experience and the need to apply solid discernment when we encounter spiritual phenomena...Yet, despite their constant warning, the mystical writers understand that religious experience is a normal part of the Christian life. In fact, their warnings assume it.
And Pope Benedict XVI:
Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us?
And he concludes in his own words:
Let's stop underestimating God, and pray that the gifts given us in Confirmation may begin to bear fruit in our lives. May we believe that it is really possible for Jesus to abide in us and we in Him through the action of the Holy Spirit.
Coincidentally (as if!), I was thinking the other day about my own "personal experiences of God's power." Nothing astonishing, I hasten to say, no visions or wonders, not even anything inexplicable in natural terms.

It occurred to me, though, that explicating experiences in natural terms is a right daft way of living my life. Look, I told myself, I believe that God loves me. If I can believe something as ridiculous as that, why can't I believe that something I subjectively experience as His love for me objectively is His love for me?

If my wife makes me my favorite breakfast, I'll freely say it's because she loves me. I don't say, "Sure, she loves me and all, but why would she make me my favorite breakfast just because of that? It's probably just a coincidence."

Shall I be like the man on the desert island who prays, "Dear God, please send a ship to rescue me -- oh, never mind, there's one now."?

Or shall I instead trust in God, particularly in His presence and involvement in my life, even at the risk of -- what? Seeing God present and involved in my life?


Cracking the Jesus Code

Today's Gospel reading illustrates the difference between believing a truth and believing in the Truth.

The disciples think they've finally figured Jesus out. They've endured all the hints, all the parables and signs and proverbs and suggestions. The time for subtleties has passed, and at last Jesus tells them plainly, "I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father."

Aha, the disciples think to themselves, we thought so. And they say with one voice:
"Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God."
If Jesus came from the Father, then He knows everything the Father knows, which is everything. And if Jesus knows everything, that would certainly explain why He seems to know everything. But if He knows everything, then He must come from God. QED.

The problem is, Jesus is not a fact. God did not so love the world that He gave His only Proposition. In the beginning was not the Datum.

Fact, truth; proposition, Word; assent, faith. These may seem like academic distinctions, not at all the sort of thing the disciples thought about, but Jesus draws their attention to a most practical difference:
"Do you believe now? Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone."
He doesn't say the disciples don't believe that He came from God. He warns them that their newly-minted belief in His origins does not yet amount to faith in Him personally. They have not yet worked through the implications of their profession; they aren't quite ready to declare boldly, "What will separate us from the love of Christ?"

Well, they're ready to declare it. They aren't ready to live it.

Still, Jesus loved them to the end. He did not belittle them for their immature declaration of belief, but directed them beyond declarations to Himself:
"I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world."
He neither demands nor expects the disciples to take courage that night. He might have commanded them to stay with Him, and some might have, but would any have stayed out of personal love for Him? Jesus is from God, Jesus tells me to be arrested and condemned with Him, what someone from God tells me to do I must do, therefore I must be arrested and condemned with Him. QED. Is that the discipleship God became man to obtain?

Instead, Jesus tells them at the Last Supper to take courage so that, after the Ascension, they might remember His words and take courage despite their troubles. They would be led where they did not want to go, but not until they could endure it with peace in Christ. The seed Jesus planted during His ministry was not to be uprooted, but watered with His blood and brought to full flower in the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps, then, whenever we disciples of today have our own "Aha!" moments, we should listen all the more carefully to Jesus, Who doesn't want our faith to rest in anything short of Himself.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

OPrdination Month

On May 11, two brothers of the (Central U.S.) Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great will be ordained to the priesthood in St. Louis, MO. They are:

Kevin John Henry Newman Stephens, OP
Simon-Felix Michalski, OP

On May 23, four brothers of the (Eastern U.S.) Dominican Province of St. Joseph and one brother of the Vietnamese Vicariate of St. Vincent Lem will be ordained to the priesthood in Washington, DC. They are:

Martin Phillip Bui Thai Nhan, OP
Joseph Pius Pietrzyk, OP
Kevin Hugh Vincent Dyer, OP
Salvador John Martin Ruiz-Mayorga, OP
Seth Thomas Joseph White, OP

On May 31, four brothers of the (Western U.S.) Dominican Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus will be ordained to the priesthood in San Francisco, CA. They are:

Dismas Edward Sayre, OP
James Junipero Moore, OP
Augustine Hilander, OP
Dominic DeMaio, OP

The Western Dominicans even have their own website.