instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, October 31, 2008

Boss Tweedledum

Next Wednesday, we run out of excuses.

We won't have an excuse to ignore everything in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship on abortion. We won't have an excuse to ignore everything in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship except abortion.

And if in four years we find ourselves mumbling the same lame excuses as this year -- if we again decide we don't care who does the nominating as long as we do the electing -- there'll be no excuse for us.



Wednesday, October 29, 2008


The Philadelphia Phillies have just won the 2008 World Series. I had nothing to do with it -- heck, I haven't really followed the team during the regular season since the days of Del Unser -- and yet I'm very happy right now.

That's a good analogy for indulgences. Somebody else does a great deal of work, and I, through some simple act (prayer in one case, watching TV in the other) get some of the benefit.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The sorites election

How many innocent human beings can you formally cooperate with killing and still be called "basically prolife"?



Zippy has granted that I found what he calls "the weakest spot in my argument" -- viz, that, though the harm people do to themselves in voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent "may be commonplace and grave, it isn't necessary."

Invited by a commenter to "give it a rest," Zippy replies:
I will not give it a rest while Church parking lots are filled with bumper stickers singing the praises of candidates who support murdering the innocent. I will not give it a rest while the blogosphere and the Catholic media are filled with paeons to how pro-life McCain is, despite his status as an ESCR mass murderer. I will not give it a rest while pro-life organizations are busily and diligently removing ESCR from their comparisons of issues of import to pro-lifers. I will not give it a rest while Catholic lay organizations are frantically and desperately switching gears, from one election cycle to the next, from a polemic of 'non-negotiables' to a polemic of 'proportionate reason'.
He's got a point.

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Here's to you and me

Ever notice how smart you are?

You choose a side in a debate, maybe by logic, maybe by gut feeling, maybe by dartboard.

Once you've chosen your side, you begin to notice something. All the reasons your side is best turn out to be even stronger than you thought before. All the arguments against your side turn out to be trivial or irrelevant, maybe even impious. Factors you hadn't even considered before, factors that maybe seal the deal for all but lunatics and feeblewits, make themselves known to you as you review the state of the debate.

It's almost like, when you chose your side, you had a supra-rational insight into just how right your side is, which only later you were able to unpack discursively and fully appreciate.

And the other side? Feh. All their fancy talk is, in the end, built on a foundation of soap bubbles held in place by sheer contrariness. The amazing thing, the stunning thing, is that they are simply unable to see how they're fooling themselves. Things they used to think mattered, they suddenly say don't matter. They try to pawn off trivialities and irrelevancies, maybe even impieties, as crucial matters of deep import. It's like, once they've chosen a side, they're using every trick in the book to justify their choice to themselves.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Tell 'em what you told 'em

To sum up last week's posts, then: I think Zippy overestimates the harm in and underestimates the benefit of voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent.

If I'm right, though, I think we can all agree it's a pretty lousy thing to be right about. Voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent isn't as bad as all that? Whoopee.

We cannot be satisfied with this. We cannot.

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A simple artist

Tony Hillerman died yesterday.

Now, either you know who he is, or you don't much care that he died (or both, of course), but I should probably add "author of a series of mystery novels set among the Navajo in the Four Corners country" just in case.

I heard Hillerman speak at a mystery conference once, and spoke briefly with him while getting one of his books signed. He was a gentle and unassuming man, the sort who seem to value success largely because it lets him keep doing what he loves to do, to tell stories people enjoy. In his talk, he laughed about the casual anti-Catholicism he grew up with in Oklahoma; evidently the sting of "mackerel snapper" wears off.

My favorite Hillerman novel -- one of my favorite mystery novels overall, in fact -- is Coyote Waits. I'd have to reread it before I could call it a Catholic novel -- in particular, to look for that "quality of redemption" Raymond Chandler said is present in everything that can be called Art -- but it certainly has Catholic themes.

The titular Coyote is the trickster spirit who, according to Navajo lore, is always on the lookout for the chance to mess with people. In the Christian tradition, St. Peter warns us that "the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."

There are, of course, many critical differences between Navajo belief in Coyote and Christian belief in the devil -- for one, the devil has been defeated by Christ and can be resisted through faith by the Christian. But there is a commonality, too: weak men are tempted to perform bad acts.

And if we understand that all men are weak men, then we understand why we must always rely on Christ.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Tell 'em, pt. 2

Your individual vote for president -- the marked ballot itself, I mean, the thing you turn in that gets counted -- has no practical significance. The result of the election will be the same whether your ballot gets lost or not.

Thus, the claim that limiting evil is a proportionate reason to vote for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent isn't well-founded. The same amount of evil gets done regardless of how, or if, you vote.

From which it follows that people who claim limiting evil is a proportionate reason to vote for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent are incorrect.

The mistake they're making, I think, lies in their understanding of what the act of voting is.

To vote is not to choose an officeholder.

To vote is to answer the question, "Whom do you want to serve in this office?," with the understanding that the person whom most people say they want to serve gets to serve.

Thus, a proportionate reason to vote for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent is a proportionate reason to say, "I want this person to serve in this office." And, I submit (with, I submit, growing amount of support from American bishops), "This person serving in this office will limit the evil done," is a proportionate reason to say that.

Note too that the reason is, if you will, both proportionate and proportioned. It is proportionate to the greater evil, and it is proportioned to the act of voting. It doesn't ask too much of one's vote, as does "limiting evil" when one vote won't, in fact, limit evil. Nor does it ask too little of one's vote; voting is ultimately directed toward the common good, and an officeholder who does less evil is better for the common good.

So the people who say they're voting to limit evil really do have a proportionate reason, they're just a step removed from what it is.

On this analysis, Zippy's observations of the negligible "influence one's vote has over the outcome in national elections," while true, are irrelevant. (Of course, it's not his fault that the people whose arguments he was countering were making a mistake.) The immediate object of a vote is not to influence the outcome in national elections, so the fact that a vote doesn't influence the outcome doesn't tell you very much about the vote itself.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tell 'em, pt. 1

The crux of Zippy's argument is his claim that the "harm done to the person and those around him in voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent... far, far outweighs any influence one's vote has over the outcome in national elections." If the good effect of influencing the outcome in national elections is disproportionately small compared to the bad effect of the harm done to the voter (to say nothing of the evil being cooperated with), then it is contrary to prudence to vote that way.

But is his claim true?

It seems to me that it is not, that he is wrong about both the harm done and the good sought.

On the harm done, there are two possible kinds of harm: harm that necessarily follows from voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent; and harm that unnecessarily follows.

Unnecessary harm includes things like telling yourself or others that a candidate who supports murdering the innocent really is pro-life, or that the kinds or numbers of murders he supports really don't matter. It's getting used to saying, "There is no cannibalism in my party, absolutely none," and forgetting that when you say "none" you mean there is a certain amount.

Unnecessary harm is bad stuff indeed, and when present can certainly throw all moral calculus out of whack. But it isn't necessarily present.

I understand Zippy's position to be that much of what I consider unnecessary harm actually does follow necessarily from voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent. But I cannot see how that position is not one of begging the question. It's a tautology that repeatedly voting for candidates who support murdering the innocent habituates the voter to voting for candidates who support murdering the innocent. But that habituation is bad if and only if the voter ought not vote for those candidates, which is precisely the question being debated. If in each individual case it's morally acceptable to vote that way, then it's a morally acceptable habit that is being developed; if not, not.

Zippy has also proposed scandal as a possible harm: maybe I am virtuous enough to vote for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent without doing moral harm to myself, but I run the risk of causing others to vote for that candidate who will do themselves moral harm.

But I certainly can't scandalize anyone by casting a secret ballot; the scandal could only occur through my observable actions. A strict answer to the scandal objection is to simply not talk about my voting intentions; a sufficient answer is to only talk with prudence (which, obviously, is true regardless of the topic).

There remains a certain residual necessary harm to the voter's psyche in making a lousy choice when faced with a worse choice. But not only is this sort of harm part of the Christian's daily cross, by construction -- since we assume the voter made what he judged to be the best available choice -- the harm would be even greater had the voter made a different choice.

In sum, then, while it's entirely possible (and arguable common) to incur spiritual harm by voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent, it is not necessary, and in fact voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent may inflict less harm on the voter than any alternative.

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Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em

Zippy helpfully provides a condensed version of his months-in-the-making argument that
there is no proportionate reason to vote for a national candidate who supports murdering the innocent in circumstances like ours.
As it happens, his conclusion contradicts the teachings of a growing number of American bishops. If he's right, then the bishops are wrong.

Now, it wouldn't altogether disprove the Faith if the bishops were wrong (though there'd be no living with Zippy if they admitted it). Still, as Zippy often points out, you really don't want to vest much authority in the dictates of a pseudonymous blogger named for a comic strip clown.

JACK, for one, thinks Zippy's arguments are "worthy of real evaluation."

I agree that Zippy has raised some very interesting issues, for the most part unexplored by the hierarchy and theologians, but in the end I think that, in misanalyzing the act of voting, his argument is ultimately unsound.

(Updated per the discussion with JACK in the comments.)

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A definition of "Commonweal Catholic"

Someone who is more offended by the use of the term "pro-abortion" than by the fact that their political party and candidate are pro-abortion.


Not only can we say "both/and," it's our moral imperative

As a Roman Catholic, I am disheartened to see the communications coordinator of a national Catholic social justice lobby miscommunicate Catholic doctrine on the single most important social justice issue of our time.

Stephanie Niedringhaus of NETWORK writes, in a letter to the Washington Post:
People of all political persuasions can agree on basic moral principles while disagreeing in good conscience about how to apply them. Catholic teachings about the dignity of every human life and the tragedy of abortion are clear. Some of us would address abortion by outlawing it. Others believe that a more realistic response is to ensure that all pregnant women have access to affordable health care and other support systems that encourage them to carry their babies to term.
Bad timing for Ms. Niedringhaus, as just two days ago Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy released a joint statement saying:
Some argue that we should not focus on policies that provide help for pregnant women, but just focus on the essential task of establishing legal protections for children in the womb. Others argue that providing lifeaffirming support for pregnant women should be our only focus and this should take the place of efforts to establish legal protections for unborn children. We want to be clear that neither argument is consistent with Catholic teaching. Our faith requires us to oppose abortion on demand and to provide help to mothers facing challenging pregnancies.
This is not Compton scattering in a non-homogeneous fluid, people. This is not that complicated. Why can't people who do this for a living get it right?

Let me also draw attention to the first sentence I quoted from Ms. Niedringhaus's letter. I would be thrilled if people of all political persuasions actually did agree on basic moral principles. But they don't. Obama, Biden, and the Democratic Party do not agree with the basic moral principle that you cannot intentionally kill innocent life. Vote for them if you like, but do so in the clear understanding of what they believe.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lazarus, come forth

Bishop Robert Hermann, Archdiocesan Administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Louis (they're still awaiting Archbishop Burke's replacement), wrote a no-nonsense article for the archdiocesan newspaper:
Judgment Day for us is on its way. Those 47 million children our nation destroyed are still living. We have destroyed their bodies, but their souls are still alive. When our Lord comes again, they may very well be there to judge us....

It is quite possible that we might see these children, but, depending upon the choices we have made, we may very well be separated from them by a great chasm which cannot be crossed, much as the rich man who ignored Lazarus, the poor man, during his lifetime here on earth but was separated from him after death.
Bishop Hermann's concern is with the election, and his teaching is clear:
...when both candidates permit the right to abortion, but unequally so, we must chose to mitigate the evil by choosing the candidate who is less permissive of abortion.
But one of his statements calls to my mind the other Lazarus, the one Jesus loved and raised from the dead. According to Bishop Hermann,
The question I need to ask myself is this: What kind of witness will I give to Him when I go into the voting booth this election day?
I respectfully submit that more important is this question: What kind of witness will I give to Him when I come out of the voting booth?

We have more than half a million minutes a year when we're not voting. When we come forth from that voting booth, do we stay tied hand and foot, in effect dead until it's time to go back in and vote again? Or do we come forth and live in such a way that, not only do people know how we voted, they know why?



Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What's a vote?

Camassia suggests that:
Elections are a stylized and domesticated form of war; and even if you could take the violence out of them, they still draw their energy from that essential fact.
Which would make the act of voting a stylized and domesticated form of shooting into the ranks of your opponents. Whichever side has more bullets wins.

Amy Welborn endorses a comment left at And Sometimes Tea:
A vote is not your stamp of approval for any one person. It is not a marriage, or a contract, or a vow to a particular individual. It is a tool for a result.
Whichever group turns the most bolts in the same direction sets the course of the ship of state.

Zippy, meanwhile, goes old time:
Elections are a substantive civic ritual. Voting is a concrete act of participation in that ritual, with many implications.
Just sign in at the desk and take your pinch of incense into the next available voting booth.

Personally, I consider voting an act of speech (and I learn from Camassia's post that it was only in 1888 that secret ballots were instituted; prior to that voting was a visible act of speech). My vote for a candidate is my official, formal answer to the question, "Who do you want to serve in this office?"

Like many (all?) speech acts, voting can use rhetoric. My vote can be ironic, metaphorical, even insulting.
"Very good," I said coldly. "In that case, tinkerty tonk."
And I meant it to sting.
But the grammar of a vote is very limited, and whatever else I may intend it will be understood in an official, formal manner, as a tally mark next to a name. We might call that official, formal understanding the literal meaning of my vote, and as with Scripture (if the comparison isn't impious) other meanings must always come from, and after, the literal meaning.

In these terms, what the Church is just beginning to do is to work out how to answer the question, "Who do you want to serve in this office?," given the formal grammar of voting. That's not easy to do, for a lot of reasons, not least that everyone doesn't agree what kind of act a vote is to begin with.



Monday, October 20, 2008

Rosary meditations

The friars of Godzdogz have started a blog series titled "What the Rosary means to me."

How does the beauty of a set of rosary beads reflect the beauty of the Rosary? How is the use of the beads like being led by the hand to Jesus by Mary?

Find out!


The pantry of the Lord

If you want to follow Archbishop Wuerl's advice to "take a line from the New Testament, every day, and simply carry it with you ... as your personal prayer all day long," where can you find a line to take?

One obvious source is the Lectionary. Another is the Liturgy of the Hours (I don't think Archbishop Wuerl would be put out if you took a line from the Psalms instead of the New Testament as your personal prayer.)

A third source is lectio divina, where you read/meditate/pray/contemplate your way through Scripture.

In all these cases, the idea is to listen to the Word and allow the Holy Spirit to draw your attention to a single word, phrase, or line. When this happens in lectio divina, you pause to meditate on (and possibly pray over) the line; the suggestion here is to keep the line with you for meditation and prayer throughout the day.

In my own [limited and unexceptional] experience, I find it very helpful in selecting a line for the day to literally listen to the Word of God. Hearing the Gospel proclaimed at Mass, reciting a psalm during Morning Prayer, reading the lectio divina selection out loud: somehow the physical experience of hearing words that are more or less familiar draws attention to those few words that, this morning, are somehow unexpected.

What might be unexpected in a passage of Scripture? The words themselves may be new, or at least never really thought about before. Sometimes I realize I have no idea what a perfectly familiar verse means; sometimes I realize a perfectly familiar verse means a lot more than I thought a minute before I heard it again. Sometimes it's just somehow obvious that these are the words that are being spoken to me this morning, even if the reason isn't yet obvious.

To this point, I've been talking about ways to go out and find a Scriptural prayer for the day. You may of course also have your own personal stock of lines from which you choose -- built up, perhaps, with help from the above means. Or maybe you're being systematic, for example working your way line-by-line through the Bread of Life discourse. Or maybe you've got one verse for life; that seemed to work pretty well for a lot of desert Fathers.

In any case, you are allowing the words which the Holy Spirit once inspired to become a part of your life, so that He may inspire you through them.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

More than honey to my mouth

Here's a tip from the Teacher-in-Chief of the Archdiocese of Washington, taken from an interview with John Allen, Jr.:
Allen: If you had one practical thing to suggest to people in terms of spiritual use of the Bible, what would it be?

Archbishop Wuerl: To take a line from the New Testament, every day, and simply carry it with you the whole day. Read it, one line, whatever it is ... 'I am the way, the truth and the life,' or 'I am the resurrection' ... whatever it is, take that and just have that as your personal prayer all day long. It's one way to put the scripture right back into the center of your life.

Allen: Do you do that yourself?

Archbishop Wuerl: Yes. I start every day this way ... I make the sign of the cross, the morning offering, and then take a line. It's just a reminder that this is really what's at issue today. Sometimes when you're sitting there in traffic, you can forget what the issue is.
Nothing like snacking on the word of the LORD throughout the day.

(Link via Whispers in the Loggia.)


Thursday, October 16, 2008

The moral

Everyone hates people who condemn their morals.

But nobody hates them more than people who condemn people's morals.


Leading with his chin

The scholar of the law in Luke 11:45 is a real prize, isn't he?

Jesus has just unloaded both barrels on a Pharisee who had invited Him to dinner and was amazed that He didn't wash in the proper Pharisee manner. And what does the scholar say?
Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.
In other words, "Hey, we scholars of the law pay no attention to judgment and to love for God, but love the seat of honor in synagogues and greetings in marketplaces, too, you know!"

Turns out Jesus has a couple of barrels left for the scholars of the law.

Luke finishes the story with:
When Jesus left, the scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him and to interrogate him about many things, for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say.
Meaning, evidently, that telling the Pharisees they don't fulfill their obligations, and the scholars that they don't even touch theirs, aren't things they can use to condemn Him.

See, Jesus isn't merely insulting them (although "unseen graves" is pretty good). He's contradicting their own teachings about the Law. But instead of saying, "Aha! You're teaching something contrary to us! How dare you?," they're left with trying to lure him down some dark alley of the Law to mug him with trick questions.

The scholars are supposed to know the Law; Jesus knows it better. The Pharisees go beyond the Law, as does Jesus, except He goes in the right direction. He out-scribes the scribes and out-Pharisees the Pharisees. Woe to them, not because they are scribes and Pharisees, but because they are lousy scribes and Pharisees. Naturally, the ignorant scholar and the impious man of religion will be convicted by the Son of God -- unless they can get Him convicted first.


Wait'll next week

Well, good.

ObCath: Um... ya gotta believe?

(By the way, I don't know a whole lot about baseball, but 13 hits and 11 walks in 36 trips to the plate is good, right?)


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Love, and do what you will

In today's First Reading, we hear St. Paul say:
If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
He doesn't say there is no law for those guided by the Spirit, he says they aren't under the law. The Spirit guides us out from under the law.

How? By guiding us to acts of
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
And, as St. Paul observes:
Against such there is no law.
To one truly guided by the Spirit, laws against immorality, impurity, and licentiousness are no more relevant than laws against taking a lion to the movies.

I think you could say that Jesus fulfilled the law by showing how great and grand is the domain of human acts against which there is no law.


Monday, October 13, 2008

A condensed catechism

I figured it all out at Mass yesterday. Soteriology turns out to be a projection of Trinitarian life, did you know that? We aren't saved from sin as such, although of course we are; we're saved from death, which is a far bigger deal for both us and God:
On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, The web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.
I don't remember hearing those verses -- I was probably stuck on the thought of juicy, rich food -- but I did.

So anyway, the Son is the image of the Father, and Their life is an exchange of love for each Other. The way we shall live forever is to join in that life, as sons and daughters alongside the Son. The Son showed us what an exchange of love with the Father looks like in this world, and made it possible for us to join Him in that exchange in eternity by first joining Him in that exchange here on earth.

Something like that, anyway. The take away was along the lines of, "Oh, of course! The Crucifixion! How else, indeed?"

Except I can't quite shake the sense that all of the above is universally known, wrong, and/or beyond my comprehension.




Saturday, October 11, 2008

Prayers needed

A sister in Christ says she is leaving the Church. It's time, I think, to get us to God and pray for her.

UPDATE: Post redacted and most comments deleted, as this seems to have gone from a public to a private matter.


Friday, October 10, 2008

There your heart is also

Yeah, I know, but have you seen my 401-k lately!!?!


Dominicans abloom!

Let's see, there's blogger Br. Andy McAlpin, OP, of the Central U.S. Province being ordained a deacon today.

There's the priestly ordination of fr Bruno Clifton, OP, for the English Province.

And there's the professions of six brothers for the Irish Dominicans.



Thursday, October 09, 2008

A sacrament that signifies its symbol

Let me finish with my bookmarks of Signs and Mysteries by quoting a couple of passages that suggest why symbolic art is such a valuable dimension of Christianity.

While explaining the purpose of the book in the first chapter, Mike Aquilina writes:
...there is no shortage of books that treat the interpretation of symbols like a sort of algebra: the fish = Jesus Christ; the ship = the Church; and so on. Such books are extremely valuable. But the meaning of symbols is rarely so simple. Sometimes a lone symbol stands for a multitude of realities: either the fish or the lamb can represent Jesus, or the individual believer, or the Eucharist that binds the Christian to Christ -- or, most likely, it can represent all three at once....

Each symbol reflects a different aspect of some reality that many symbols hold in common. The Eucharist as mother's milk elicits a different response in the beholder than, say, the Eucharist as the Passover Lamb or the ubiquitous fish.
In the chapter on the banquet -- a once-common image (usually featuring seven diners, one of them a woman) whose meaning is much debated -- he writes:
Early Christian art rarely presents anything in a merely realistic manner. It is beyond symbolic. It is symbolist -- or, better, sacramental. It depicts common material things and ordinary events as signs of deeper spiritual realities.
To use Christian symbols is to suggest that the whole created order is a language that can glorify God, without ever plumbing the depths of the mystery of His life and His love for us.



A Dominican intervention

Fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa, O.P., Master of the Order of Preachers, gave a densely-packed intervention at the Synod of Bishops on Tuesday.

As you may know, the theme of the Synod is "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." The Master's speech was very much on topic -- and, if my understanding is accurate, perhaps surprising to many.

He begins with:
The "primacy" of the Holy Scripture has its basis precisely in Trinitarian life.
That in itself is an unusual way to start talking about the Bible.

As Fr. Carlos explains it, the procession of Divine Persons within the Trinity is the cause of the procession of creatures from God. The Father loves His creatures enough to will to reveal Himself to them, and things can only be revealed to humans in human ways. Supremely through the human life of the Son, but also "through human culture, people and languages," the record of which is kept in the Bible.

So far so good, and we might even see the point of the quotation marks around "primacy" (if that's an accurate reflection of the Master's intent; the Vatican translation seems a bit dodgy), since Holy Scripture is very much a derived effect.

Fr. Carlos goes on to say that, as a product "of history and of human cultures," Scripture "requires profound knowledge of the cultures and literary genres in which it was expressed." Here we're back in familiar territory, a statement of the necessity (though not, of course, sufficiency) of the historical-critical method. A proper application of the method, though, doesn't turn the Bible into a dead thing fit only for academic dissection, but reveals "its richness: the fact that it is -- exactly -- a song for several voices."

The Master goes on to make the claim that "the New Testament is principally the same Holy Spirit which in us produces charity." This isn't what I was taught in religion class, but of course it follows from the Trinitarian theology above.

Like the word "Gospel," "testament" refers to both a thing and to the written record of the thing. The thing that is "principally" the New Testament is the covenant made between God and man in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus: "Behold, I will be with you even to the end of the age."

That testament -- the promise and the reality -- is made known to us most immediately by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Only secondarily is it made known through the written record (for most of us, a translation of the written record) we usually have in mind when we say "New Testament." And of course, even in reading that record, we depend upon the Holy Spirit to interpret it correctly.

Thus, Fr. Carlos says the Christian faith "must first of all be considered [a] 'religion of the Spirit' ... and only secondarily ... considered [a] 'religion of the Book.'"

The last sentence of his intervention --
This process of revelation and of salvation is also the unveiling of the veritas iustitiae of our life, of the justice of God which is the foundation of the truth of our being and which is, for us, above all "justifying justice" that is to say based on its mercy which is the permanent precondition of divine justice, because it is the first root and also its crowning.
-- I'm going to have to chew on a bit more. I'm pretty sure it means something; I just haven't figured out what yet.


The beginning of wisdom

"The fear of the Lord" is a term we backpedal from with vigor. It's not fear, we explain to each other, it's more like respect. The Catechism, for example, teaches us that the respect we all owe to our parents "has its roots in the fear of God."

Psalm 86, Inclina, Domine, tells us something about the fear of the Lord. The Grail Psalter translates vv 11-17 as:
Show me, Lord, your way
so that I may walk in your truth.
Guide my heart to fear your name.

I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart
and glorify your name for ever;
for your love to me has been great:
you have saved me from the depths of the grave.

The proud have risen against me;
ruthless men seek my life;
to you they pay no heed.

But you, God of mercy and compassion,
slow to anger, O Lord,
abounding in love and truth,
turn and take pity on me.

O give your strength to your servant
and save your handmaid's child.
Show me a sign of your favor
that my foes may see to their shame
that you console me and give me your help
The psalmist (this psalm is "a prayer for David himself") fears the LORD. His foes do not; in fact, so far from fearing the LORD, they ignore Him.

How many gods do you pay heed to? Baal, Ares, Isis, that crowd? None of them, right? Because they're nothing. They can't do anything. Even if you were willing to admit any of them existed, you couldn't help but notice that they're not deeply involved in our day-to-day activities.

The psalmist, though, has already been saved by the LORD from the depths of the grave. He confidently asks for God's pity, strength, salvation, favor, consolation, and help.

Well, any god who extends pity, strength, salvation, favor, consolation, and help to his devotee is worthy of respect. And brother, if his devotee is your foe, you'd better fear him, too.

Such fear, an awareness of the power and potency of God, comes before devotion; fear of the LORD, after all, is only the beginning of wisdom, not its full flower. If wisdom is judging things according to God's will, then the first step down the path of wisdom is to realize that God's will matters.

But the psalmist is already aware that God's will matters. Why does he still pray that his heart be guided to fear God's name?

I don't know, of course; I wasn't there. But it's a reasonable thing to do.

St. Augustine teaches that "the fear of God not only begins but also perfects wisdom," and, following on this, St. Thomas teaches that "filial fear, whereby a son fears to offend his father or to be separated from him" necessarily increases as one grows in love of God, while "servile fear, whereby one fears punishment," must decrease.

So fear of the LORD -- which is, after all, a gift of the Holy Spirit and therefore something that can always be had more perfectly in this life -- is something that we may profitably pray be increased in us.

Note, too, that the psalmist is in trouble. The proud have risen against him, and ruthless men seek his life. In these circumstances, there is a real risk that he will come to fear his enemies more than he fears God, and that's never a good thing.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The endless flow of words

The thing that gets me about the latest Commonweal editorial (caution: link takes you to a Commonweal editorial) is not that they took 800 words to say, "Vote For Obama!" --

No, I lie. That is the thing that gets me. Let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.

[Edited through shame down from 335 words.]


Notes on the Rule of the Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic, iii

The first part of the Rule, the Fundamental Constitution for the Dominican Laity, consists of seven paragraphs describing how those two concepts, "Dominican" and "Laity," are combined.

This point is key to understanding Lay Dominicans: We are both lay and Dominican. If we fail to be both, then we fail to live according to our Rule.

There are many ways we can fail. We can fail to be lay by thinking of ourselves as mini-monks, as members of a quasi-secret religious sect whose ways are not those of mere mortal laity. We can fail to be lay by believing that paying our dues and attending our meetings meets our duties as lay members of Christ's Church.

We can also fail to be Dominican by getting hopped up on the externals -- the culture and history and customs of the Order -- and never quite get around to sanctifying ourselves or preaching to others. We can fail to be Dominican by neglecting to form ourselves according to the vivifying spirit of St. Dominic.

We can, I bet, fail in many different ways all at once.

But there are also many different ways to succeed. If you've met one Dominican, you've met one Dominican, and the lay state doesn't impose much in the way of uniformity either. The key to success, written into the very structure of the Fundamental Constitution, is to maintain both aspects, to simply be what you say you are: a Lay Dominican.



Tuesday, October 07, 2008

More on signs

To me, three of the most interesting symbols discussed in Mike Aquilina's Signs and Mysteries are the fish, the orant, and the cross. The fish I discussed a little in my earlier post, and I think a very revealing essay could be written comparing and contrasting how Christians of the first few centuries used it to how Christians of today use it.

The orant posture -- standing with outstretched and upturned hands -- is well known to anyone who goes to Mass. I'd heard it a traditional posture for ancient Christian prayer, but I didn't know till I read it in this book that it was the standard posture for prayer for Christians and pagans alike, nor did I know that depictions of figures, usually female, in this posture were very common in Christian catacombs. Signs and Mysteries quotes the Catechism:
In the catacombs the Church is often represented as a woman in prayer, arms outstretched in the praying position. Like Christ who stretched out his arms on the cross, through him, with him, and in him, she offers herself and intercedes for all men.
Thus the orant recalls the Cross and is a priestly gesture, once used by the whole Church. (The female figures in the catacombs may also represent the souls of the dead, praying for the living or simply worshipping God in heaven (female because souls were always regarded as female).)

The cross is a fascinating symbol, both because the Cross is what our Faith is all about and we can meditate on it for a lifetime, and because it took so many centuries before Christians began using it commonly and openly. Signs and Mysteries touches on the ongoing scholarly debates over which if any of the intersecting line segments found in very early Christian art should be understood to be crosses, hidden or not.

But even at a time when Christians were not using crosses in their artwork, they were seeing crosses all around them, in the masts of ships and in farmers' plows, in nature and in pagan religions. We might speak, then, of two sorts of "crypto-crosses": those Christians hid in their art; and those God hid in His art.



Nihil sub sole novum

As quoted on Receiving Light:
Just look at the life which has now been created: radio, magazines, television, newspapers, cinemas and theater create a standardized way of thinking, the same for everyone. This leads a person being unable to be alone with his own thoughts, to feel the presence of God....

People are fed, informed and taught what someone else has decided they need. Huge numbers of people are gathered together, but they are separated by the daily battle for life.

All this has affected even the believers, brought them closer to the norm, made them indifferent. A prescribed way of thinking makes it difficult for a person to become a believer and makes it difficult for the believers to preserve his faith.
This is from a description of life in communist Russia, written by Fr. Arseny.

Perhaps the solution he offers (also quoted at Receiving Light) will work here and now, too.


The allegory of the parable of the dishonest steward

You know the parable of the dishonest steward in the Gospel according to St. Luke, in which the steward reduces the debts of his master's debtors so that they will welcome the steward into their homes after he's fired.

What if we interpret dismissal as death? Then the steward's reduction of debt is an act of kindness intended to obtain prayers for his soul.


Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary!

I don't know any more than I did yesterday about praying the Rosary, but here are some collections of past Disputations posts on the topic:
  • 31 Days, 31 Ways, a series of posts (rearranged for easier reading) on different ways of praying the Rosary
  • My Secrets of the Rosary, a short series of things I've learned about the Rosary
  • Rosary as Remedy, a short series on how the Rosary can help overcome vice
  • Praying the Rosary, miscellaneous posts containing the word "Rosary," some of which address those who would like to like praying the Rosary more than they do



Monday, October 06, 2008

Signifying everything

Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols -- a review copy of which I received from The Catholic Company -- is a wonderful collection of illustrated essays on twenty-five Christian symbols used -- in churches, on sarcophagi, as decoration, as graffiti -- in the first few centuries of the Church.

Blogger Mike Aquilina wrote the text. As he explains in the introduction:
This is not a work of scholarship, but an act of devotion -- an act of piety toward our ancestors, so that we might learn to see the world one again with their eyes, and to pray and live as they once prayed and lived.
We're all familiar with some of the symbols he describes -- the cross, certainly, and the fish, and I'd guess we've all seen the Chi-Rho or labarum even if we don't know what's up with it -- but I suspect few of us see them in quite the way our ancestors did.

Today, for example, a fish symbolizes a Christian (perhaps it even connotes a certain type of Christian), and it's no sign of great scholarship to know that "ιχθυς" is both a Greek word meaning "fish" and a Greek acronym meaning "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior."

But do we also understand that "the fish is also the individual believer," as Mike points out? That, just as fish die when they are taken from the water, so die outside the waters of baptism (i.e., the Church)? Surely most of us don't recognize
the original and the deepest meaning of the fish. The fish is the primal symbol of the Holy Eucharist.... Erwin Goodenough, an agnostic scholar at Yale University, wrote that the Gospel According to John... gives us "the earliest explicit acceptance of the fish as a eucharistic symbol and as a symbol of the Savior who was eaten in the Eucharist."
An understanding of and appreciation for the symbol of the "Eucharistic fish" certainly puts the Darwin fish wars in a different light.

That light, or perspective, is one I very much think Christians would do well to recover. In Mike's words:
But the art of nascent Christianity intended to "incorporate the events of history into the sacrament"... by participating in the rites of the Church, each and every Christian was stepping into the stream of salvation history.... God's saving action was not a matter of the long-ago past or a vague and distant future, but a reality of the most immediate present -- it was really present, and experienced in the baptismal water, the oil of anointing, and in the bread and wine of the liturgy.
Hence the fish and the ship, the lamp and the oil flask, the vine and the wheat sheaves were all symbols used by the early Christians and discussed in this book. (More obscure symbols include the philosopher, the peacock, milk, and the ankh).

A book about symbols relies heavily on the illustrations, and Lea Marie Ravotti does a marvelous job. Nearly every page has a drawing of an ancient fresco, statue, coin, carving, or mosaic; the styles are as varied as the sources. From the wall scratchings of a pilgrim to the sculpting of an artistic genius, they make plain the rich symbolic heritage Christians may, and ought to, claim in our own age of imagery.



Sunday, October 05, 2008

Think about these things

Fr. Shaffer concluded his homily today with these words:
Finally, St. Paul gives us beautiful words to meditate on this week. He writes about "whatever is true ... whatever is honorable ... just ... pure ... lovely ... gracious ... excellent ... worthy of praise." We can meditate on them and realize that, among other things, he is describing the Eucharist. And, he is describing human life.
As he was quoting St. Paul, my eyes were on a smiling baby in his father's arms a few rows in front of me.

Parents know what it's like to meditate on their babies, and it's nice to know St. Paul tells us to do just that. Not so much the "just" part -- babies are notoriously fickle about giving to others their due -- but true, pure, lovely, and excellent? Yup.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Feeling left out?

It occurs to me that talk of the Rosary during this, the Month of the Rosary, might be hitting hard those who have never found it to be a fruitful devotion. "Am I less of a Roman Catholic because I don't, or can't, pray the Rosary?" they may be asking. "Am I the unpitted olive of the relish tray of the Church?"

Semper opifer, is my motto. In that spirit, then, and as a means of encouragement, I offer the following questions for reflection to the non-Rosarian Roman Catholics among us:

1. Am I reprobate? Maybe not. A lack of personal appreciation for the Rosary doesn't in itself imply eternal damnation. So buck up, and put the thought that your lack of devotion marks you as the devil's consort clean out of your mind.

2. Do I hate Mary or something? Not necessarily. As with damnation, your disinclination to pray the Rosary is not an incontrovertible sign that you do not love our Blessed Mother. No doubt you do, in your own way. Though, just out of curiosity, what would you say is your own way of loving our Blessed Mother? Not that it has to be through any formal devotion or anything, but as we all know, love of Mary is part and parcel of the Catholic faith.

3. Do I even know how to pray the Rosary? This is a trick question. There's a lot more to knowing how to pray the Rosary than knowing which prayer to say on which bead while meditating on which mystery when. To know how to use something, you have to know what it is and why you're using it. "It's doing what this pamphlet says to do, using this set of beads" and "Because this time of year all the smug and proper Catholics hound me, hound me, do you hear?" fall short of full knowledge of what and how.

4. So what is wrong with me, anyway? Hard to say. Impossible, actually, since I don't even know who you are. Maybe there's nothing wrong with you; the Church is full of saints, a tiny fraction of whom had well-documented difficulties with the Rosary. Maybe your expectations, of yourself or of the Rosary, are misplaced. Maybe you're too spun up to be contemplative for twenty minutes straight -- which is bad, but fixable.



O.P.s over there

It's improbable that I will find myself in Staffordshire the first week in March, but if I do I hope I'd be able to make it to St. Dominic's Convent in Stone, for a study weekend led by Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P., on the topic, "Our Lady in Lent."

While we're on the subject of English Dominicans, three friars were recently ordained, with a fourth's ordination coming later this month. Needless to say, there was cake.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Notes on the Rule of the Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic, ii

What does the Rule tell us about Lay Dominicans?

At a minimum, it tells us what someone is getting himself into when he joins the Dominican Order as a Lay Dominican. The Rule includes (n. 14) the promise Lay Dominicans make*:
To the honour of almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of Saint Dominic, I, ___ ___, promise before you ___ ___, the President of this Fraternity/Chapter, and ___ ___, the Religious Assistant, in place of the Master of the Order of Friars Preachers, that I will live according to the Rule of the Laity of Saint Dominic [for three years] / [for my entire life].
While not a religious vow, a public promise like that (preferably made during a Mass when it's a "for my entire life" promise) is serious business.

So what's in the Rule? It's divided into three sections:
I. The Fundamental Constitution for the Dominican Laity: This section explains how Lay Dominicans combine both the lay vocation and the Dominican vocation.

II. Life of the Fraternities: This section describes what all Lay Dominicans are expected to actually do to prepare themselves to grow in their vocation.

III. Organization and Government of the Fraternities: This section defines how the Lay Fraternities (called Chapters in my Province) are governed, at the levels of individual Chapters, the Provinces, and the whole Order (national and international councils are also mentioned).
We might say, then, that a Lay Dominican is someone who has promised to live a certain kind of life that is both lay and Dominican, and that is organized and governed in a particular way. Section I tells us what it means to be both lay and Dominican. Section II tells us what that certain kind of life entails. Section III tells us how the life is organized and governed. All three facets are involved in keeping the promise of a Lay Dominican.

*: In my Province, the nominal timeline is six months as an inquirer (we have six "postulancy" formation modules the inquirer is supposed to review with the Chapter formation director), followed by reception into the Order and one year of "novitiate" formation, followed by the temporary promise "for three years," followed by the "life" or "final" promise.



Radical Love

A short movie (with still photographs) by Toni Greaves of life among the Summit Dominicans.


Happy Feast of the Guardian Angels!

St. Thomas teaches that each individual angel is a species unto himself, since there's no distinction between two incorporeal beings of the same species.

So while you might be justified in saying that angelfood cake is the baked good appropriate for today, I would answer that a jelly donut is likewise appropriate, as being a species distinct from angelfood cake just as my guardian angel is distinct from yours.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Notes on the Rule of the Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic, i

The current Rule of the Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic was definitively approved by the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes on January 15, 1987. This is the fifth Rule for Lay Dominicans, with the others being approved in 1972 (on an experimental basis), 1964 (in response to Vatican II), 1923 (in response to the 1917 Code of Canon Law), and 1405 (the year formal papal approval was first obtained). The 1405 Rule is essentially the one by Munio de Zamora, OP, written in 1285 to supersede the many Rules written by and for the individual fraternities that sprang up around Dominican houses in different cities.

The official Rule is, of course, written in Latin. The story of translating this Rule into English is long and dull -- unlike the Rule itself, which is short and (in its way) surprising. The Latin text, along with some introductory material and an English translation made by "a team of Latinists of the English Province of Dominican friars," can be found here.

Since my Lay Dominican Chapter is reviewing the Rule according to a new translation (not yet on-line) -- more accurate than the one I'd promised to live according to for life several years back, less Latinate than the one the English friars produced -- I thought I'd post some comments on the Rule on my blog.

As mentioned above, the Rule itself is short, less than five pages leisurely formatted. This is consistent with the let's-get-on-with-it spirit of St. Dominic, who adopted the relatively brief Rule of St. Augustine for his new Order of Friars Preachers. In fact, without the animating spirit of St. Dominic, the Rule of his Lay Fraternities has no real life of its own. Those who promise to live according to this Rule, then, must take care that they don't substitute some other spirit -- or worse, inform their accord with no spirit at all and let it remain a dead thing.



Sixty million Americans can't be wrong

Ah, but which sixty million? From The Onion:
According to an eye-opening report released Tuesday, 60 million people whom you would never talk to, would never be in a position to talk to, and wouldn't even be able to talk to if you tried will be voting for the other candidate in this year's presidential election, and there is nothing you can do about it....

The report also confirmed that even if you were able to communicate with these other citizens, your passion and conviction would never be enough to convince them not to vote for their candidate, just as they would never be able to convince you not to vote for your candidate, and just as nobody can convince anybody else that what they believe to be right is wrong, regardless of how clear the evidence to the contrary may be.
Because, in the end, there can be only one. One form of persuasive argument, I mean. And that one is, argument from authority. And that authority is me. (Or, in the case of you, you.)


October is the Month of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary!

Pray it.



October is Proust Month!

So where are you? About halfway through The Sweet Cheat Gone? Just finished The Guermantes Way? Not quite up to the bit with the madeline?

Wherever, it's time to blow the dust off the book (or the zip file; hey, there's a use for a Kindle for you!), find your old bookmark, and get back in the saddle.