instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thanks awfully

The Lord's Prayer, as you know, has seven petitions:
  1. Hallowed be Thy Name.
  2. Thy kingdom come.
  3. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
  4. Give us this day our daily bread.
  5. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
  6. Lead us not into temptation.
  7. Deliver us from evil.
The pivot petition, so to speak, is #4, when we move from petitions with "Thy" to petitions with "us." Or, as St. Thomas puts it, the first three petitions are for things that "cannot be had in their fullness except in heaven," while the fourth petition asks "for the requirements of this present life which are here obtainable in their fullness."

But what if we've already got our daily bread? What if our temporal wants were met yesterday, are met today, and (absent a cataclysm) will be met tomorrow?

Psychologically, I think, it means that we have to work at accepting the truths that it is only through God's providence that we have our temporal wants met and that it is presumption to assume they never (or even later today) will go unmet.

In addition to this well-known difficulty of being grateful for things you've never not had, though, I wonder if there isn't also a difficulty in taking the rest of the petitions seriously.

Petition #4 is the most practical of them all. Even people who don't believe in God and don't care about temptation want their daily bread. If the petition we should most fervently desire, on the natural level, is one we can't gin up much enthusiasm for, then how fervent will our prayer be that, say, God's Name be hallowed, or even that we be delivered from evil?

Gratitude is a virtue directed toward fulfilling our duty of thanking our benefactors, but it may also support the acts of religion, mercy, and hope required to pray with honest hearts as Jesus taught us.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I'm not a glutton, I'm practicing for heaven

I heard a homily on Sunday that made the point that, in our finite world, to choose something is to reject something else, and that it's the sorrow of having to reject those other things that can make choosing one thing hard. This is true whether there is only one morally permissible choice or several.

(Hence, perhaps, the popularity of cheap buffet restaurants. The appeal lies in the freedom from choice; it certainly can't be the quality of the food.)

I wondered whether that might be the point of creating a new heavens and a new earth at the end of the age. Might it be that, in the new creation, to choose something is somehow not to reject something else? If happiness is having what you want and wanting what you have, then maybe the wedding feast of Christ and His Church is a buffet, with the sort of food you'd expect God to serve at His Son's wedding feast.

Then, coincidentally, I came across this old post of mine, on the suggestion by Fr. John Corbett, OP, that (in my paraphrase) "God's promises are so wonderful the earth as it presently exists cannot contain them." Which, for what it's worth, is certainly consistent with the notion of choice without possibility of sadness.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A measured answer

Mary Kochan has inadvertently uncovered a fault line between cradle Catholics and adult converts from Protestantism in their reaction to her post, "Catholics, Please Say Something About Jesus!" I certainly come down on the cradle Catholic side myself.

I'm all for Catholics saying something about Jesus when talking religion with Protestants. I'm aware that Catholics can be regular, even daily, Massgoers without knowing the Faith very well, much less being able to articulate it in a way that resonates with non-Catholic Christians. I know that some Catholics feel closer to Mary than they do to Jesus.

That said, what I dislike about Mary Kochan's article is that it extracts the perfectly legitimate "Please say something about Jesus!" message from the story of an 80-year-old Catholic dying of cancer who expressed a docile trust in Mary's intercession.

The take-away, for me, is, "Don't be like that guy! That eighty-year-old man failed the Church by not being prepared to argue apologetics with Protestants!"

In a comment on Mark Shea's post on the topic, adult convert Bob B. hits on a formula to describe the polarized reactions:
Bottom line for me is that, as Catholics, too many times I think we take our faith for granted, and get stuck on autopilot too frequently. Then, when hit with the "what would you say to Jesus" question comes at us, we are not prepared to provide a good answer.
For adult converts, "a good answer" necessarily evangelizes Protestants. Cradle Catholics, for the most part, are satisfied with an answer that expresses the Christian Faith.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pastoral rules

I should finish my thought by saying that I unlearnedly and provisionally think of the word "pastoral" in the Catholic context as meaning something like "of or relating to the love of a pastor for those in his care."

This can be contrasted with the connotation wryly offered by Fr. Philip in a comment on the previous post:
In my seminary, "pastoral" was code for "how to get around the rules."
You can see how such a code sets up a mutual contradiction between "pastoral" and "obedient." Those who don't think much of obedience as a virtue shouldn't be sanguine, though, since they aren't always going to be in a position to decide which rules need to be gotten around. I suspect Fr. Philip would confirm that those who approved of the "how to get around the rules" code in his seminary in fact had quite a long list of rules the getting around of which they would not have considered very "pastoral." Certainly the pastoralists at the National Catholic Reporter do.

Still, I think there is a certain tension between true pastoral love and following the rules. It is pastoral neither to ignore those rules that are contrary to the desires of those in one's care, nor to ignore those desires that are contrary to the rules. As always, virtue lies in the mean. In this case, I'd say it's a matter of understanding how the rules relate to the good of those in one's care -- which, of course, is the end the pastor seeks in loving them. To put it another way, the rules are a means to the good of the flock, but the rules aren't a good to be sought for its own sake.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fielding questions

A lot of thought is being given these days to the Christian's particular duty as steward of creation. I think we would do well to also give some thought to the Christian's particular duty as steward of language. It is, after all chiefly through language that the revelation of God's Word is preserved and transmitted -- which, as you know, is the purpose of the Church. If we fail to pass on to the next generation the words with which to preach the Word, the next generation will not be Christian.

That's the puffed-up introduction to my real point: We should not allow the language the Church uses to preach the Gospel to be debased by those, including those within the Church, who want to use that language to preach something other than the Gospel.

Today I'm thinking in particular of the word "pastoral," which some Catholics seem to use to mean something akin to "gentlemanly" as Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman understood it:
Hence it is that it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain.... The true gentleman carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast;—all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make everyone at their ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome.
That doesn't sound so bad, and indeed, "It is well to be a gentleman," but the gentleman's civil virtues "are no guarantee for sanctity or even for conscientiousness."

A fortiori, they are no guarantee for prudent leadership of those souls entrusted to a man by the Church. There are times, I submit, when a good pastor does inflict pain, just as there are times when a good doctor inflicts pain. There are times when a jar or a jolt in the mind of those with whom he is cast is precisely what is needed. People shouldn't feel at ease in their sin or at home in their error. The Gospel by its nature is irritating and wearisome to those unwilling to fully embrace it.

Yet we have Catholics who insist that irritated laity is proof of a priest or bishop who is insufficiently pastoral. Well, that's not quite true. Only if the right sort of laity are irritated about the right sort of things is it proof of an unpastoral shepherd. If the wrong sort of laity are irritated, it's good on yer, Excellency!

Such politicization of the language the Church uses to describe her shepherds is harmful to her mission. It is literally scandalous, as it can cause others in the Church to tune out all considerations of the "pastoral" nature of hierarchical offices. Catholics who use "pastoral" to mean "compliant with the wishes of Us" are training others that it doesn't mean "working for the good of those in one's care." And they won't be very happy, as recent events demonstrate, when they hear those others say, "What are you complaining about? He's perfectly compliant with the wishes of Us!"

If the word "pastoral" is debased to the point that it no longer means pastoral, then how can Catholics talk about the need for pastoral priests and bishops?


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Not Invested Here Syndrome

Last week, the Times's religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill tweeted:
China's govt-backed RC Church to ordain another bishop without Pope's approval
I was struck by the way that was phrased, and not just the "China's govt-backed RC Church" bit, though if it's the RC Church, it's the RC Church.

What really struck me was the "to ordain another bishop without Pope's approval" bit. It struck me that this is something of a dream in certain Catholic circles in the United States. And I wondered whether those circles would be caught up short by the thought that their dream is being realized right now in China, that just maybe its association with a political dictatorship might reflect poorly on the idea of trying to have your own RC Church without the Pope's approval.

Coincidentally, perhaps, just yesterday Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP, quoted a commenter at NCRonline:
Hats off to the Chinese who are standing up to Rome in much the same way as the English did in the sixteenth century!
That takes "but at least it's not the Vatican" to a whole new level.

Also yesterday, Bishop Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph published an article on U.S. silence in the face of Chinese persecution of Catholics:
According to a July 17 CNN story, leaders in China have, in turn, accused the Vatican of interfering in its religious affairs. Last November the U.S. State Department listed China as one of eight countries of "particular concern" on religious freedom. Specifically the U.S. accused China of persecuting followers of the Dalai Lama in Tibet and Uyghur Muslims in western China. While President Barak Obama met last week with the Dalai Lama, apparently no public mention has yet been made by the administration about actions against Catholics.
I can't much blame President Obama, though, given the relative silence from Catholics in the U.S. But then, what should we do, when we don't even know whether Chinese Catholics would vote Republican or Democratic?

Bishop Finn has a suggestion:
For our Catholic brothers and sisters on the Mainland who have endured so much to hold on to an authentic Catholic faith, this is hardly an intellectual exercise. They need our support in prayer and political clout. Mary, Mother of the Church, intercede for your children. St. Joseph, defender of justice, pray for us.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reserving judgment

Anyone can put on a ballcap, your Excellency. The question is, can you boo Polanco for striking out with a man on second in the eighth when they're up by three?

(Image via Abp. Chaput, captip to Thomas Peters.)


An active archbishop

In other news, Abp. Chaput is going to Philadelphia. Archbishops of the archdiocese in which I grew up who have replied to my email questions? This is the first.

The thing I like about Abp. Chaput is that he, in a word, tries. He tries to make the Christian Faith relevant to how Catholics act in society. He is willing to say, "This Catholics must do, and this Catholics must not do." I'm not sure if it's also true grammatically, but message-wise he very much favors the active voice over the passive voice.

There are those in the Church who prefer bishops to use a passive voice, at least when it comes to criticizing Democrats. They will say Abp. Chaput is too partisan and not sufficiently pastoral. To the former charge, I'd answer yes, Abp. Chaput is extremely partisan; he stands with the weak against the strong. To the latter charge, I'd answer that they are failing to see that their universal pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, is trying to teach them something in giving Abp. Chaput to Philadelphia, and if I had to guess, I'd say the lesson is that "pastoral" doesn't always mean letting the flock do whatever it was going to do anyway.

Still, those who aren't happy about this news are part of Us, too, and we're all together supposed to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ. Best wishes and prayers to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, her new archbishop, the Church in the United States, and the whole Church Militant!

Oh, and let me finish with a favorite quotation from the Franciscan archbishop's time in Denver, just to keep things focused:
If we ignore the poor, we will go to hell.
UPDATE: Abp. Chaput is still on message:
In part, the picture that emerges is already familiar. Chaput wants to lead the church back "to a clear embrace of the Gospel, without compromise." He tackles the Latin Mass, the visitation of American nuns, health care, communion bans for pro-choice politicians, and gay marriage -- in each case, staking out what most would regard as strongly conservative positions.

Yet there are also surprises....

"If we don't love the poor, and do all we can to improve their lot, we're going to go to Hell," Chaput says, in typically blunt fashion.
Why is it a suprise that a "strongly conservative" archbishop would say that?


Rome has spoken

Have you heard the news from Rome? Father Thomas Dowd has been appointed auxiliary bishop of Montreal!

New bishops who are younger than I am? Old news. New bishops with whom I've disputed on this blog? This is the first, as far as I know.

Congratulations, Bp-Des Dowd! Congratulations, Montreal!

(News heard through @ApostolicPalace.)


Monday, July 18, 2011

The particular needs of the listeners

Speaking of hard topics, my parish has a new pastor, and at Mass yesterday, just before distributing Communion, he spoke from the altar about the large number of parishioners ("-- adults; I sort of expect it from teenagers") who leave immediately after receiving Communion. Apart from great need, we should, he said, remain until the end, and not leave ahead of the cross; and if we do leave earlier, from great need or otherwise, as custodians of the Blessed Sacrament we ought not to leave the church with It still in our mouths.

So, that's where we are as a parish. Abortion? Social justice? We don't even know how to eat!

[As for how the message was received, my wife did say afterwards that she felt scolded, though we customarily leave after the cross (fleeing dreadful recessional songs counts as great need, right?). Still, as hard lessons go, "Don't leave early" is a good place to start; at the very least, most counter-scolders will probably be gone before the priest gets to the vestibule.]


Saturday, July 16, 2011

In respect of respect

On the Archdiocese of Washington's blog, Msgr. Pope has a thoughtful post on the deceptively-names moral fault of "respect of persons." Among his examples, he lists the common problem of the self-editing homilist:
A pastor of a parish has a mandate from God and the Church to preach the whole counsel of God. But over the years he has struggled to preach the hard things. After all teaching on things like abortion, fornication, divorce, contraception, homosexuality, euthanasia, Capital Punishment, and so forth, causes some people to be upset. He fears this anger, he fears offending people, he fears being misunderstood.... He chooses to preach only in abstractions and generalities. It is enough to exhort people to be a little more kind, a little more generous, but specificity he avoids. He does this because he fears man more than God. That God might be displeased that his people are not hearing the truth on the important moral issues of the day, or receiving proper instruction in the disciplines of discipleship is a vague and distant fear to this priest. But one person raising an eyebrow at what he says is enough to ruin his whole week.
I doubt you can avoid raising a single eyebrow without lowering a whole lot of eyelids. But let me offer this partial defense of the pusillanimous pastor:

First, I question how well suited the homily, as currently understood and practiced, really is for providing "proper instruction in the disciplines of discipleship." The General Instruction of the Roman Missal instructs that the homily
should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners. [65]
By design, then, the homily is to be constrained by the other words read at Mass, as well as by the disposition of the audience -- which, in general, includes plenty of bruised weeds and smouldering wicks (to say nothing of young children).

Relatedly, and meaning no disrespect toward our priests, I question how many homilists could do a decent job homilizing on a tough issue anyway. Think about the quality of the last homily you heard on, say, forgiveness or humility, the sort of subject no one objects to hearing about in church. Would you expect the man who gave that homily to give an effective homily -- meaning one that, on the whole, does more good than harm -- on, say, contraception?

Still, I'd guess that a bad homily on forgiveness is likely to be better than a bad homily on contraception, so I can understand why a homilist might choose the former rather than the latter (quite apart from the frequency with which these themes are suggested by the readings).

Finally, one of the reasons effective homilies on contraception are likely to be thin on the ground (improbable, perhaps, even as a percentage of homilies on contraception) is that the reception of a hard lesson depends greatly on the authority of the teacher. Gone are the days in which the laity grants the pastor authority simply by virtue of his office. (And let's say nothing of the freshfaced baby priests.) Achieving the level of authority required to impart a message the laity aren't predisposed to receive is not easy to do, particularly when a priest is only around for three or six years.

The above are reasons it may well be prudent, in the circs., for a homilist to avoid a third-rail homily. Fearing man more than God is not such a reason -- although, I suppose, if a man rightly understand that he does fear man more than God and would therefore make a complete hash out of an attempt to preach against his listeners' wishes, then maybe he should work on his fear of God before working on his homily against contraception.

I still get a kick out of Blogger's spell-checker flagging "homilist" and recommending "homeliest." There's a lesson in homility there. ("Homility" is the feeling felt by the priest in the old story: After Mass, old Mrs. O'Malley told him, "That was a lovely homily, Father," prompting him to say, "Thank you. I just try to let the Holy Spirit speak through me," to which she answered, "It wasn't that good.")


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"It is about who we are"

A speech this morning on the U.S. Senate floor by Senator John McCain:

In fact, not only did the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed; it actually produced false and misleading information...

I have sought further information from the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and they confirm for me that, in fact, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti's real role in Al-Qaeda and his true relationship to Osama bin Laden — was obtained through standard, non-coercive means, not through any "enhanced interrogation technique."

In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden. I hope former Attorney General Mukasey will correct his misstatement. It's important that he do so because we are again engaged in this important debate, with much at stake for America's security and reputation. Each side should make its own case, but do so without making up its own facts.
This is a follow-up to his op-ed that ran in the Washington Post this morning, in which he writes:
Individuals might forfeit their life as punishment for breaking laws, but even then, as recognized in our Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, they are still entitled to respect for their basic human dignity, even if they have denied that respect to others.

All of these arguments have the force of right, but they are beside the most important point. Ultimately, this is more than a utilitarian debate. This is a moral debate. It is about who we are.
[Links via The Plum Line.]



Monday, July 11, 2011

Just a pinch

Those who are worthy of Jesus are not citizens of the world, and the world knows this.

That is, the world knows its own, and it knows that Jesus is not one of its own.

The world also knows how to test those who say they belong to Jesus. In this way, the world understands His message better than a lot of Christians who are trying to preach it to the world.

“If you believe what you yourself say,” the world correctly reasons, “then you won’t offer this pinch of incense to our gods.”

The world does not require fidelity to its own gods, at least not when fidelity would be inconvenient. It merely requires infidelity to any god opposed to its own gods. Rail all you want against the world; as long as the world knows you don’t really mean it, you’ll be welcomed as a fellow citizen of the world. The world has a special place in its heart for hypocrites.

The Christian is at a disadvantage before the world. The world is not only rulemaker, opponent, referee, and scorekeeper; it’s also the playing field, home town crowd, and teammate.

And when you think of it, what’s a pinch of incense anyway? It’s just something people do and think no more about. If a pinch of incense – offered, needless to say, with full mental reservation – is what it takes to live a quiet life, go to church, raise your children in the Faith as best you can, witness to the world as best you can, then that’s what it takes. Surely God understands… if, that is, there’s even anything to understand in this business that’s no big deal, that everyone does, that’s perfectly consistent with the Faith, that only fanatics would complain about.

But the world, shrewd as a snake, knows better. And God knows better. And so should His people, the disciples of His Son. The Christian should be wise as a serpent, not to become one himself, but to overcome them all.


Saturday, July 09, 2011


Matthew 10:38 records this astonishing saying of Jesus:
Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.
We may not be too astonished by this today -- my own parish church, for example, has a twelve-foot high crucifix hanging from the ceiling above the altar, in case anyone forgets what happened.

But, in Matthew's telling, this is part of the instruction Jesus gives the Apostles before sending them out to preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. My guess: they weren't thinking, as they accepted authority over unclean spirits and diseases, that the kingdom of heaven was going to be founded upon a crucifixion.

The NAB has a note on this verse:
The first mention of the cross in Matthew, explicitly that of the disciple, but implicitly that of Jesus (and follow after me). Crucifixion was a form of capital punishment used by the Romans for offenders who were not Roman citizens.
I knew that about crucifixion being reserved for non-citizens, but only now have I noticed the spiritual implication of this most secular law: those who are worthy of Jesus are not citizens of the world, and the world knows this.


Thursday, July 07, 2011

In case of a fall


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

You don't have to be hypostatically united to the Godhead, but it helps

In Book XIV, Chapter 8 of his De Trinitate, St. Augustine writes that the human mind is God's image
in this very point, that it is capable of Him, and can be partaker of Him; which so great good is only made possible by its being His image.
This is, as far as I can tell, the source of the term "capax Dei," which refers to the doctrine -- or maybe it's just an observation -- that, through his reason, man is able to know and love God.

St. Thomas extends the teaching in e.g. his Commentary on Psalm 8:
Also, [God] does not have only care for man, but He has a familiarity with him; and this why [the psalmist] says, "That thou art mindful of him." [v.5] Only the rational nature is capable of God [Sola natura rationalis est capax Dei], to know Him, and to love Him. Inasmuch therefore as God makes Himself present to us, by love or cognition, He cares for us: Job 10[:12b]: "And thy visitation hath preserved my spirit."
Man's capacity for God is, of course, most perfectly demonstrated by the man Jesus. There's a lot of theological speculation about Jesus' human knowledge of God, but we shouldn't neglect His human love of God. Moreover, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus shouldn't neglect the fact that, with the same human heart with which He loves us, He loves the Father (and Himself, and the Holy Spirit).

Knowing that we are capable of God, and having Jesus as our example of that capability, what sort of false self-love must we have if we settle for less than God?