instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, July 31, 2009

Come to think of it, shouldn't we all be advocates?

I didn't figure a thriller called Orphan would be good for adoptions.

I should have figured that orphan advocates would have a response.

I'm not sure how much of an effect the movie will have on people's attitudes toward orphans -- at least those who aren't like the one in the movie and (spoiler!) most of the 145,000,000 orphans worldwide aren't -- but I understand why the Christian Alliance for Orphans would take the opportunity to bring attention to their cause.

It's not really a cause, though, is it? It's a they, and they are children.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Out of habit

If you're unfamiliar with the comic strip "My Cage," by Melissa DeJesus and Ed Power, its main character is Norm T. Platypus, "a wanna-be writer who has sold his soul to the mind-numbing corporation McGuffin, Inc." You can read it (and dozens of other comics) at the Houston Chronicle's extensive on-line comics section.

Here's today's strip, in which Norm soliloquizes in front of his co-worker Ashley T. Bengal:

Yes, the blue parakeet is really a platypus. And the thing on his head is his bald spot, and the two other characters in the last panel are the creepy janitor and a horse with a nail in his head who thinks he's a unicorn.

But that's not important now. What I want to point out is Ashley's typically heartless reply to Norm's comment that he thought he was better than envying someone else's success:

"Really? Why?"

In the strip, it's just a joke that shows the sort of chops-busting relationship they have. But if I may press the life out of this harmless bit of levity with the heavy Stone of Meaning:

It's actually a good question. Why would we presume to have virtues we have never had call to exercise?


These are not the abortion providers we're looking for

At The American Catholic (which should probably be named Eighteen American Catholics, but what are you gonna do?), Blackadder quotes William Saletan writing about the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act -- and calling such a name Orwellian is like naming a disease after the doctor famed for diagnosing it; Minitrue would never have produced such gobbledegook.

But back to Blackadder:
Saletan's naivete regarding the abortion lobby's support for the bill is almost touching:
The National Abortion Federation, a "professional association of abortion providers," issued a supportive statement even though the legislation explicitly aims to shrink the abortion market. Try getting any other medical lobby to bless a bill targeted at its livelihood. That's real courage.
And, in other news, Ruminants for Change spokesman B. Rabbit was quoted as saying, "Whatever you do, don't throw us in the briar patch!"


Monday, July 27, 2009

In heaven, on earth, and under the earth

Sherry Weddell quotes a friend saying that, for American Catholics, "Jesus is 'He who must not be named.'" She also ponders
our Catholic tendency not to "name the name". We use all kinds of euphemisms for Jesus ("Our Lord" is a classic. Reverent certainly, but also subtly distancing and for non-Christians, a but confusing. Just who do we mean?) but we seldom name his name unless the liturgy or the office requires that we do so. We talk incessantly about the Church. But not about the Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Head of the Church. Not Jesus. Not by name. Not spontaneously without the liturgy to give us "cover". To do so, seems so naked, so unsophisticated, so pietistic, so what - Protestant??
Maybe. I don't know if things are any different among Catholics who aren't surrounded by Protestants. For that matter, do Catholics pronounce Jesus' Name too rarely, or do Protestants pronounce it too readily?

My guess is that part of it is due to the tradition of reverencing the Holy Name of Jesus. If, indeed, you bow your head every time the Holy Name is spoken, then you might well fall into the habit of saying "Our Lord" or "Christ" instead. And to the extent the Mass uses Jesus' titles instead of His Name, it teaches the faithful to do likewise. For that matter, spiritual writers (going back at least to St. Paul) mix up Jesus' Name and titles, maybe for theological reasons but surely also for rhetorical variety; so too, then, will a Catholic who is trying to sound spiritualish. And if to speak the Holy Name is to make your speech holy, then, well, maybe you're just having a conversation, not trying to invoke our Blessed Redeemer and bring Him into your company.

My other guess is that part of it is due to the fact that many Catholics don't really ever express an intimate relationship with Jesus. Maybe they have an intimate relationship but don't express it. Maybe they have a relationship, but it's not intimate (on their part). Maybe they're more comfortable using His name when talking about what He did than about what He is doing. And maybe talking about what Jesus is doing isn't seen as unsophisticated so much as immodest.

What might be interesting is to find out the extent to which Catholics who speak of Jesus but rarely use His Name also speak of the Blessed Virgin without using her name. Heck, while we're at it, let's look for correlation with Rosary recitation (two "Mary"s and one "Jesus" per Ave) and age (the young being perhaps less formal and therefore more prone to say "Jesus"?).

And by all means, let's dust off those Holy Name Society charters and revive the devotion.


Friday, July 24, 2009

A short follow-up

Two kinds of assertions that seem particularly likely to be underdetermined -- or, more generally, asserted with more confidence than is justified -- come to mind.

One is a judgment based entirely on a single news report. Even if all the facts in the report are accurate (hey, it could happen), it's unlikely there will be enough facts to settle any disputed points raised in the report.

The other is a divination of the motive behind someone's action. Although pointing out the personal failing that caused someone to do something bad (or, for that matter, the personal virtue causing something good) can be nearly irresistible, it should nearly always be resisted. Often enough, it doesn't matter, and possibly even more often, you simply don't know.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Today's word: Underdetermined

I'm thinking of a major league baseball game that was played yesterday. Tell me, did the home team win?

Or rather, don't tell me, because you don't know.

By my count, there were fifteen major league baseball games played yesterday, eleven of which were won by the home team. The odds are, then, that the game I have in mind was won by the home team. But suppose you know I'm a Phillies fan (to the extent I'm a baseball fan at all), and you also know the Phillies lost at home yesterday. And I'll add that I did not choose the game I have in mind purely randomly.

Now do you know?


You may have enough knowledge to place a rational bet. You may have a strong suspicion about what I'm up to which implies what the answer is. But no one else in the world knows whether the home team won the game I have in mind.

Any answer you give is underdetermined. Given what you know, there is another possible answer contrary to your own. You simply do not have enough information to determine, with certainty, the correct answer. The best you can do is guess.

Now, if you did guess, I could tell you whether your guess was correct, and if it was, you could say, "I knew it!" And we'd both have a good laugh, since of course the whole point is that you don't know it.

Another thing you don't know is what it is I've read in the last twenty-four hours that prompted me to write this post. You don't know the answer to the question,
What have I recently read that was a perfect illustration of an underdetermined assertion, made in a situation where all the available information, while consistent with the assertion, is also consistent with a contradictory assertion?
People generally like their situations resolved. When a situation is consistent with something they want to be true, it's often game over: if what they want to be true could be true, then it is true, and pointing out that what they want to be true could also be false is at best bullheaded contrariness.

Situations that only admit of underdetermined explanation or answers are everywhere. (Some say it's true of every situation.) We have to do a lot of guessing to get through the day.

What we don't have to do, though, is to confuse what we guess with what we know.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This week's provisional distinction

Let me try this one out on you:

A promise is not a guarantee.

A promise is a commitment to act such that something will be obtained.

A guarantee is a commitment that the thing will be obtained.

According to this (admittedly idiosyncratic) distinction, I can fail to obtain something I promised to obtain without breaking my promise. If I act in order to obtain it, but through circumstances beyond my control I don't, then I have kept my promise.

On the other hand, if I guarantee something but don't obtain it, then I have not kept my guarantee. (Though we don't really speak of "keeping" and "breaking" guarantees, do we?)

I'm looking for a distinction along these lines because we often speak of "the promises of Christ," yet we often act as though we've got a guarantee of eternal life backed by the full faith and credit of the Almighty.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Natural freedom

Last week, riffing on Jesus' statement, "For my yoke is easy, and my burden light," I implied that this may be "too straightforward for us to take too straightforwardly." Rodak quite reasonably asked what I imagined Jesus meant by it.

Without attempting detailed comparisons of the yoke of Jesus to other yokes (e.g., of the law or of slavery), I'll try to take it straightforwardly.

Jesus' yoke is easy and His burden light because they are the means for us to become what His Father created us to be -- viz, His sons and daughters, not His servants or oxen. They lead us to freedom, and with each step we take we become more ourselves. Other yokes, other burdens are unnatural for us, and so weigh us down in ways we weren't created to support.

The hard part, I guess ('cause it's not like I'm writing this in a habitual state of rapt union with the Divine), is not bearing Jesus' burden but picking it up in the first place, since to do that requires setting down the unnatural burdens we've gotten used to.


Why Pauli is a bad blogger

One gimmick I've come across is to begin a brainstorming meeting by asking the question, "What would cause this meeting to fail?" Then you write down the answers, and don't do those things.

In a related vein, Pauli has done us all the favor of writing down the things that have caused his blog to fail.

#2 is one that puzzles me. I noticed people at work doing this a few years ago, when giving involved answers to questions, e.g.:
"When will the report be finalized?"

"So the main sections are complete, but the appendices are still in review."
In this context, "So" means " ". I thought it might be a bad habit in the circle of people I work with, but it seems to be widespread now.

I blame Seamus Heaney, who famously began his translation of Beowulf, "So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by...."


Monday, July 20, 2009

There is nothing else for it to be

Raymond Chandler's famous essay, "The Simple Art of Murder," may be best remembered for its concluding description of the hardboiled detective hero: "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid, &c."

In an earlier passage, to show what he thought was wrong with the common or garden mystery novel, Chandler eviscerates The Red House Mystery, a 1922 detective novel by A. A. Milne that Alexander Woolcott called "one of the three best mystery stories of all time." (What's that, you say? You didn't know Mr. Pooh was also a renowned mystery novelist? Chandler: 1 Woolcott: 0)

In showing how this novel (and by extension, pretty much the whole mystery tradition it represents) is a failure -- without its readership or even the author necessarily realizing it -- Chandler writes:
Yet, however light in texture the story may be, it is offered as a problem of logic and deduction. If it is not that, it is nothing at all. There is nothing else for it to be. If the situation is false, you cannot even accept it as a light novel, for there is no story for the light novel to be about. If the problem does not contain the elements of truth and plausibility, it is no problem; if the logic is an illusion, there is nothing to deduce.
Chandler goes on to itemize seven "deadly things," each of which is enough to sink the story. The result is a logic problem without logic -- or possibly (I haven't read the book myself) a logic problem that is so simple to solve the author (and reader) has to pretend it's confounding until it's time to solve the case in the last chapter.

If we were to look with a similarly critical eye at our entertainments today, sixty-five years after Chandler's essay first appeared, I suspect we would find an awful lot of nothing at all -- over and above the junk that doesn't pretend to be anything but junk, I mean.


Well, how much marmalade did you add?

I'm not a big fan of the Jura 10 year old, but my curiousity over the 16 y.o. has been piqued.

(Link via Whisky Party.)


"Love you? I took you to a movie, didn't I?"

A lot of people complain about the notes in the New American Bible, but I find that they can be helpful in correcting the translation itself. For example, in Mt 12:39, Jesus replies to a request from some scribes and Pharisees for a sign with:
"An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet."
A note points out that the word translated as "unfaithful" literally means "adulterous."

I'm sure the translators had their reasons to use "unfaithful" rather than "adulterous." It sounds more religiousy, and implies a broader spectrum of sins against God.

But it also loses the sense of intimacy, of exclusivity, implied by the language of a marriage bond between God and Israel.

By itself, "unfaithful" is a relatively weak negative. You can be unfaithful to a sports team, or to your home town. With respect to God, if you still believe in Him and don't literally offer incense to some pagan god, would you really say you've been "unfaithful"?

But "adulterous" is not a weak word. It's hard to dance around. And it makes you wonder what it could mean to commit adultery against God. Then, when you find out, when you realize the First Commandment doesn't just mean no pinches of incense to some pagan gods, but putting anything or anyone before God at any moment, when you realize that God wasn't joking when He said He was a jealous God... then you start to understand what it means to be faithful, that it's not just consent to a set of propositions but a commitment to live in a loving relationship with our Creator and Father.

Then you begin to see how ugly it is to insist on a sign from Him.


Sunday, July 19, 2009


Respondeo dicendum strangles a trope with its own entrails. (No photos, though.)


Friday, July 17, 2009

Take Your Daughter to a Dominican Monastery Day

July 25, courtesy of the Diocese of Arlington.


Quis criticiet ipsos critices?

Luke Coppen, editor of the U.K.'s Catholic Herald, has blogged about Archbishop Chaput's recent speech on Catholics and the press. The post includes a summary of the speech, a critique, and links to a number of other comments.

I thought the Archbishop's speech was insightful, bot not groundbreaking or epochal. Mr. Coppen's critique, though, strikes me as somewhat weak. He mentions "two glaring omissions in his account of the media":
  1. The blogosphere: "If the archbishop paid more attention to the better blogs he might worry less that the rise of the web has undermined intellectual discipline and weakened democracy."
  2. The Catholic media: "It's strange that the archbishop nowhere suggests that Catholic newspapers, radio, television and blogs can provide a healthy corrective to the mainstream media's portrayal of the Church."
Written like a man who blogs for a Catholic newspaper.

To take the second point first, I don't know about Britain, but the Catholic media in the U.S. can't provide a healthy corrective to the mainstream media's portrayal of the Church. What is not anodyne is niche, and none of it is widely read.

As for the blogosphere, if you're trying to make an argument about the effect of the better blogs on intellectual discipline and democracy, then it's not the Archbishop who needs to pay more attention, it's everyone else. I'm unconvinced a significant number of Americans read blogs any more critically than they read newspapers.

Mr. Coppen concludes his response with this:
And finally, is it true that reporters who vehemently reject religion at a personal level "will never get the story of religious faith right"? Surely at least some unbelieving journalists can, through the light of human reason and their professional training, set aside their prejudices and report accurately on religious affairs.
To which I would rejoin: Name two.


Express whose feelings?

Anthony Esolen wrote an interesting article for the Catholic Education Resource Center about an all-boys camp he attended the summer before he entered eighth grade.

His conclusion:
It occurs to me, finally, that everything I have heard for thirty years now about how we all want men and boys to express their feelings has been a bald lie. The last thing we want is that men and boys express their feelings. They may, if they wish, express feelings of weakness: They may cry, if they like, or be afraid, or look to their mothers for comfort.

They may not, however, show anger or indignation; they may not exult; they may not be proud of their masculinity. As for their need, emotional more than intellectual but surely both, to work with other boys or with men at something they can take pride in -- and their fear of humiliation or embarrassment before their more articulate sisters -- well, those on the left sneer and those on the right cough and look the other way.

That is a cruelty and callousness I at least was spared.
Is he right about the bald lie?

Cherchez le telos! Look for the end sought. Why are boys taught to express their feelings?

If it's because it helps people who relate to others through feelings -- call them PWRTOTFers (pronounced "chicks") -- relate to them, then yes, expressing feelings that makes it more difficult for PWRTOTFers relate to them will be discouraged.

If it's for some greater good of society proposed by some social theory, then yes, expressing feelings that society finds inconvenient will be discouraged.

If it's for both the personal and the common good, to help both the boy and his community thrive, then -- well, yes, even then, means of expression that are inconsistent with these goods will be discouraged, and feelings that can interfere with thriving will be, not discouraged (you feel what you feel, after all), but shown for what they are.

So maybe the answer is yes: To say you want boys to express their feelings is either a wicked lie, if the truth is that you want them to have only acceptable feelings, or a somewhat lazy approximation of the truth, if the truth is that you want them to own without being owned by their feelings.

(Link via the Summa Mamas.)


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The hardy-har-har sayings of Jesus

Every time I come across Mt 11:30 -- "For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." -- I think of trying to compile a list of the words of Jesus in the Gospels that He couldn't have seriously meant.

Easy? Light? Have you ever really tried just to get through one day doing more than the pagans do? And forget about actually dying to self!

The idea of the list, of course, is to show that Jesus really does mean all these things, however unlikely they may sound on first hearing.

Whenever I go through the Gospels to find examples, though, my idea falls apart. Even the things I remember as sounding unlikely -- Mt 10:37, for example -- are perfectly reasonable on first hearing, if you're hearing them from the Son of God.

It's not so much that we need to wrestle with the underlying meanings of Jesus' sayings. His yes is pretty much yes, and His no, no. The wrestling we need to do is mostly with ourselves. If anything, what Jesus tells us is too serious for us to take too seriously, too straightforward for us to take too straightforwardly.

My guess is that, when we say, "Jesus didn't really mean this," we don't really mean this. We really mean, "I'm going to ignore the fact that Jesus said this, and I dare Him to do something about it."

And once we've balked at one of His commandments, the others begin to fall as well, until we're indistinguishable from pagans who admit to worshipping one god, a god no more real than any of the others.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In plain sight

I think there are a couple of things to learn from Jesus' prayer of praise in Mt 11:25:
"I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."
The first is that, although the Father has hidden these things from the wise and the learned, He has revealed them to the childlike.

The second is that this fact is worthy of praise.

Being wise and learned is not, of course, bad in itself. Wisdom and knowledge are two of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But so are piety and fear of the Lord, the two last and most childlike gifts. There's no reason someone can't be both learned and childlike -- or rather, being learned is no excuse for not being childlike before God. If there are wise and learned people to whom the Father has revealed the mysteries of salvation, it is not by virtue of their wisdom and learning, but of their childlike piety.

And this, I suppose, is at least part of what makes the Father's revelation worthy of praise. Not everyone is capable of great natural wisdom and learning, but everyone can be childlike. There are no extraordinary prerequisites to receiving God's grace. In fact, thanks to our fallen condition being extraordinary can sometimes be a hindrance.

(This thought reminds me of the third sorrowful mystery of the Rosary, the Crowning with Thorns. Mighty few disciples of Christ will ever be in a position in this life to receive a crown of gold and honor, but we are all within reach of a crown of thorns and derision.)


Monday, July 13, 2009

Theology on Tap tomorrow evening in Washington, DC

The Office of Young Adult Ministry of the Archdiocese of Washington is holding its next Theology on Tap session on Tuesday, July 14, at 7 p.m. at James Hoban's Irish Restaurant and Bar, 1 Dupont Circle, NW. Deacon Mike Bond -- a permanent deacon from, and assigned to, my parish -- will be speaking on the topic "Where Two or Three Are Gathered."

Deacon Mike's homilies are always thoughtful, instructive but by no means pedantic, and delivered from the heart. I can see him doing very well leaning against a bar in a Theology on Tap setting.


The natural habitat of Dominicans

Where are Dominicans most at home?

Someone who knows a little about the Order might say in a classroom or library. Someone who knows a little more about the Order might say in a bar or refectory.

I propose that the place that Dominicans are, if not most at home, then at least most able to be Dominicans, is at the frontier of the Kingdom of God.

This frontier is found in many places and under many aspects, but the idea of pushing across borders so as to extend the reign of God is one that goes back to the days of Brother Dominic wandering through Languedoc on his own, preaching the Gospel to the Cathars. St. Thomas was notably active on the frontier between Christian and non-Christian philosophy. St. Martin de Porres camped on the frontiers of class and race.

This concept of life on the frontier is not altogether unique to Dominicans, but it is explicitly recognized by the Order. In his foreword to the 2007 book Dominican Approaches in Education, fra Carlos Azpiroz Costa, OP, Master of the Order of Preachers, writes:
The mission of the Order was and must continue to be a mission beyond the frontiers. This is a mission situated on les lignes de fracture, so well described by our martyred brother, Pierre Claverie, bishop of Oran, as the "lines of brokenness" which go across our globalised world so often marked by injustice and the violence of racial, social and religious conflicts. The implication from these two basic principles is that what is "demanded of a Dominican community is the attitude and practice of itinerancy and mobility, the continuous displacement towards the new frontiers to which the priorities of our mission guide us."
The 1986 General Chapter of the Friars identified five frontiers along which the Order must work:
  1. The frontier between life and death, or the challenge of justice and peace in the world.
  2. The frontier between humanity and inhumanity, or the challenge of the marginalised.
  3. The frontier of Christian experience, or the challenge of the great world religions.
  4. The frontier of religious experience, or the challenge of secular ideologies.
  5. The frontier of the Church, or the challenge of non-Catholic Christians and the sects.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Notes on the ordination
  • Contrary to popular rumors, the ordination of a bishop does not include a part where they remove the spine. (I doubt it would have worked this time anyway.)
  • You figure a Mass in which the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is supposed to ordain the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is going to be liturgically sound. (Granted, the Prefect didn't make it due to visa problems.)
  • You figure a Mass in which the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is presider and homilist is going to be doctrinally sound.
  • I did not realize "sacerdotal" is best pronounced with a soft "c." Thanks, your Eminence, for letting me know before I embarrassed myself. (Reminds me of a long talk I once heard a friar give, the only detail of which I recall is how "Chalcedon" is pronounced.)
  • The letter from the Pope, read by provincial prior Dominic Izzo, OP, was impressive. (The Latin is on page 5 of this PDF program.) What made it even more impressive is that all that talk about the Pope's "beloved son" was directed toward someone who worked directly for the Pope for several years, and so is probably not just Vaticanese for "you there."
  • The two deacons holding the Gospel over the head of the candidate is a pretty effective gesture.
  • For my Franciscan readers, Fr. Groeshel was there, looking a bit frail but with strength enough to recess out. And wasn't that Archbishop Chaput processing in?
  • The crozier Abp. DiNoia used belonged to Bishop Edward Dominic Fenwick, OP, founder of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, first bishop of Cincinnati, and namesake of my Lay Dominican chapter. A number of sacred articles used by Bishop Fenwick during his ministry on the frontier of the young United States -- he returned to the U.S. from England in 1804 and died in 1832 -- are on display at the Dominican House of Studies across the street from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
  • The ordination of a bishop is a leisurely thing, but a dozen bishops can lay hands on a single episcopal ordinand a lot faster than two hundred priests can lay hands on six sacerdotal ordinands (as happened at the only other Ordination Mass I've attended).
  • Archbishop DiNoia is the first titular bishop of Oregon City. As Cardinal Levada explained, the cathedral was moved from Oregon City to Portland in 1928, and "Oregon City" was added to the list of available titular sees (given to bishops who aren't assigned to active sees) while the Cardinal (for whom the new Archbishop worked for the last four years) was Archbishop of Portland.
  • The best thing about an Ordination Mass: After the ordination, there's still a Mass. More precisely, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It's the same as with a marriage or a baptism. Once the temporal particulars are addressed, we move on to the action that unites, not only this moment with the moment of Christ's sacrifice and with eternity -- as all sacraments do -- but also this moment with every other moment the Mass has been and will be offered, from the Last Supper through the Last Day. As important as the particulars may be, the Eucharist remains the source and summit of the Christian life.


In Oboedientia Veritatis

Archbishop DiNoia's episcopal motto comes from 1 Peter 1:22:
Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love, love one another intensely from a pure heart.
In his homily at yesterday's Ordination Mass, Cardinal Levada quoted from Pope Benedict XVI's comments on that verse on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul:
It is obedience to the truth that purifies the soul and it is coexistence with falsehood that pollutes it. Obedience to the truth begins with the small truths of daily life that can often be demanding and painful. This obedience then extends to obedience without reservations before the Truth itself that is Christ. This obedience not only purifies us but above all also frees us for service to Christ and thus for the salvation of the world, which nevertheless always begins with the obedient purification of one's own soul through the truth. We may point out the way towards the truth only if by obedience and patience we let ourselves be purified by the truth.
To the extent we as individuals are not ourselves purified by obedience to the truth -- starting with "the small truths of daily life" -- we cannot point others towards the truth. That's a challenge to those who might think looking at the stars excuses being in the gutter.


What an archbishop is called

Semper opifer is my motto. Always helpful. So at Archbishop DiNoia's episcopal ordination yesterday, I was happy to be able to answer the question a number of people had: How do you address an archbishop?

What I wouldn't have been able to do, ahead of time, was to answer the question: How did you address an archbishop?

The answer to the first question is, "Your excellency." The answer to the second question is, "Fath-"


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Off to the ordination

I'm heading down soon to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the Episcopal Ordination Mass of Augustine DiNoia, OP, who will become titular archbishop of Oregon City and Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

Fr. DiNoia had asked to be ordained a bishop in Washington so that his family could be there. And not just his family family, but his brothers and sisters in St. Dominic as well. They're saying there should be about one hundred Friars there, and I think they're hoping for another couple hundred Lay Dominicans. I'm sure there will be plenty of apostolic Sisters, too. (The cloistered Nuns, though, never seem to make these things.)

Thomas Peters and Rocco Palmo will also be there, if you're looking for actual news on the event.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Your tax dollars at work

John Boehner and Thaddeus McCotter -- House Republican Leader and Republican Policy Committee Chairman, respectively, and Catholics both -- have released a statement stating that the message of Caritas in Vertiate
is clearly distinct from efforts to "remake" government into a soul-crushing centralized welfare state in which independent citizens are remade into dependent servants.
If I understand them correctly, then, it seems that Pope Benedict XVI is not calling for a soul-crushing centralized welfare state.

Good to know.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

To our beloved Catholic pundits

Your throats must be parched after all your chatter about how to interpret the Pope's latest encyclical within a framework of binary American politics. Here, have a nice big swig.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Can any two things be any less correlated?

This kind of thing really gets up my nose:
"Bad luck means that the encyclical is coming out on the day of Michael Jackson's funeral. No one will be paying attention," [Fr. Thomas Reese] said.
Seriously, Fr. Reese? Seriously?

Does anyone remember the big story the day Evangelium Vitae was officially released? How about the day Mit Brennender Sorge came out? Rerum Novarum? (Or, for that matter, Slavorum Apostoli or Invicti Athletae?)

Here's the thing about news: it gets old. If you treat the contents of an encyclical like a news story, then the answer to the article's headline, "Will Benedict XVI's New Encyclical Matter?," is assuredly, "No."

(Link via The Deacon's Bench.)


Monday, July 06, 2009

Domestic gods

In isolation, the first verse of yesterday's Gospel reading could sound encouraging:
Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples.
We might think of Jesus' native place as heaven, where we disciples will spend eternity with Him.

Alas, "the Greek word patris here refers to Nazareth," and the passage concludes with the disheartening
He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Worse, what if Jesus' patris today could be said (metaphorically) to be the Church?

Certainly, many of us have known Jesus since we were babies. Not as a carpenter, like the Nazarenes of old, but as the Son of God and Savior of the world. He's on the cross, He's in the tabernacle, He's sitting at the right hand of the Father in glory. He is remote in His transcendence, and if we do draw near Him in any but a casual way it's almost always within the safe confines of a church.

So what would happen if He showed up in our lives, looking and acting differently than we're used to? Like, that is to say, a living Person right here in our midst, not content to wait patiently at the altar but stepping out into the world? Would He be amazed at us, too?


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Felix thorna

If power is made perfect in weakness -- and we have it on good authority that it is -- then strength always leaves power imperfect.

St. Paul was bothered by his thorn in the flesh, and so came to understand that when he was weak in himself, then he was strong in Christ.

Suppose, though, we are strong enough in ourselves, at least for day to day living.
(Though whether any of us are actually strong enough in ourselves, and not merely deceiving ourselves about what discipleship demands of us, is another question.) Then, even if we make it through this life without collapsing, we'll still have failed to be the channels of God's power in the world that He intends us to be.

It seems that we can be strong in ourselves, or strong in Christ, and Christ leaves the choice to us. Pray for the grace to make the right choice!


Saturday, July 04, 2009

An incomplete number

Eleven men begin their postulancy in the Order of Preachers' Province of St. Joseph tomorrow.


Still: Eleven men? Sounds familiar. Whom is God calling to make that number complete?


Friday, July 03, 2009

What I tell you three times

If there's one insight I've had that I think is worth wide dissemination -- and I don't claim it's original, but I'm pretty sure it was independently derived -- it's this:

Our saying something does not cause it to be so. God alone can create light by saying, "Let there be light." For the rest of us, there is at best a contingent relationship between what we say and what is. Even a dictator whose word is literally law depends on those around him continuing to agree that his word is law. God alone is sovereign.

That seems obvious enough in the abstract; who would claim that their saying, "I am holding a donut," causes a donut to exist in their hand?

But if the mere fact of our saying something doesn't cause it to be so, then it follows the mere fact of our saying something doesn't mean it is so. Additional conditions are necessary.

If we know the truth, and if we intend to express the truth, and if we say something is true, then it is true.

Often, though, people rearrange this to something like: If we intend to express the truth, and if we say something is true, then we know the truth and what we say is true is true. From here, it's a short step of assuming people we like (including ourselves) always intend to express the truth to conclude that everything they say is true.

But few people are quite that simplistic. Most of us know anyone can be mistaken about some dry, external, objective fact. But who can tell you you're mistaken about some internal state or experience of your own?

So "Everything this admirable person says is true" becomes "Everything this admirable person says that refers to himself is true." If he tells you what is motives are, those are his motives. If he tells you what his influences are, those are his influences. If he tells you he has consulted his conscience to the best of his ability on the matter, he has consulted his conscience to the best of his ability on the matter. And what Catholic can criticize the actions of a person who follows their conscience?

Except: Every human can be wrong about what is true, even if -- arguably especially if -- it refers to themselves.


Blogging can be risky

Okay, correlation is not causation, but still. Brendon is, "for all intents and purposes, a seminarian," and Kat has applied for an Aspirancy.

So you never know.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Habemus punditii

It's true, as is sometimes pointed out, that if the Pope wrote a laundry list it wouldn't be considered infallible.

It probably would be considered bloggable, though.

And people might scramble to be among the first to read it, and maybe write a sneak-peek preview of it before it was officially released. Maybe that sense of urgency would even make a kind of sense, if only because another laundry list would likely be coming along in a week or two.

Encyclicals, though, come out rarely, and they don't come with an expiration date. I really don't understand the need to read them the day they come out, much less the week before.

I'm not knocking anyone's hobby, much less their profession, and I suppose bloggers can be excused for wanting to generate content that will attract hits.

But personally, I'm far more interested in reading about how Pope Benedict's first encyclical has changed someone's life since it came out three years ago than in reading which four sentences of his newest encyclical jump out at them as they scan it for money grafs as soon as the link works.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Nothing remains but sorrow and displeasure

St. John Fisher's "A Spiritual Consolation" is written from the point of view of someone of indifferent virtue who has died unexpectedly in his sleep. He's not sure where he's going to wind up, but he doesn't like the odds.

His friends aren't the sort who will pray for him –- and why should they?
If I, who was most bound to have done good for myself, forgot my own good in my lifetime, no marvel therefore if others forget me after my departing from here.
The sort who will pray for him, the saints in heaven, he hadn't quite gotten around to making his friends:
My purpose was good, but it lacked execution. My will was straight, but it was not effectual. My mind well intended, but no fruit came of it. All because I delayed so often and never put it in effect, that which I had proposed.
I think my favorite bit in the treatise comes after the man bemoans all the time and care he had spent during his life meeting the fickle desires of his body (or, as he calls it, "o satchel full of dung!"), only to realize his body won't even be there for his particular judgment:
And yet now you forsake me at my greatest need, when account and reckoning of all our misdeeds must be given before the throne of the most terrible Judge. Now you will refuse me and leave me to jeopardy in this matter.
And when you think about it, the world and the devil won't be there to share the blame when we have to answer for our lives, either.

So why do we let them get us into trouble, when we know they won't pay the price with us later?