instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, September 28, 2012

A time to keep your head down

Time, it is said, is nature's way of making sure everything doesn't happen at once.

Qoheleth, on the other hand, suggests that time is God's way of keeping us too busy to notice what He's up to:
I have seen the business that God has given to mortals to be busied about. God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.
Which, when you think about it, is an act of great loving-kindness. Who of us has faith strong enough to survive if we knew exactly what God is working on in us today?


Thursday, September 27, 2012

As a sign in thy hand

To offer first fruits to God is an act of religion. But it can also be an act of hope; if there are first fruits, then there are subsequent fruits.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Give us this day only our daily bread

Today's proverb:
Two things I ask of you, deny them not to me before I die:
Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
Lest, being full, I deny you, saying, "Who is the LORD?"
Or, being in want, I steal, and profane the name of my God.
 Some thoughts on this:
  • "Give me neither poverty nor riches" is a lot easier to pray if you're far from being, or becoming, rich.
  • "Give me neither poverty nor riches" is a lot easier to pray than, "Provide me only with the food I need."
  • If the "only" of "Provide me only with the food I need" were implied by "Give us this day our daily bread," that would take a great leap forward in the competition for the title of Least Sincerely Prayed Petition of the Lord's Prayer.
  • Note how material sufficiency is aligned with a virtue that lies between the extremes of denying God -- specifically, denying our dependency upon His goodness -- and profaning His Name. Material goods are not merely the means by which we effect acts of justice and love toward each other, they have a direct impact on our relationship with God.
  • The proverb matches well with the Parable of the Rich Fool. The rich man thought the problem his bountiful harvest caused was a lack of room to store it. Whenever we obtain bounty, though, we should first ask, "Do I risk being full and denying God?"
  • "Being in want, I steal" seems to contradict the argument that "it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another's property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery." I see four ways to resolve this:
    1. Yes, it's a contradiction, and the Catholic tradition is wrong. (I'm not keen on this way; I include it for the sake of completeness, but I think one of the following is more probable.)
    2. It's a material contradiction, in that the inspired author does not intend to distinguish between theft and licit succoring by means of another's property. It's not a formal contradiction, however, in that the inspired author does not intend to deny such a distinction. It's a proverb, after all, not a moral treatise, and his concern is to avoid the vices that scandalize the poor.
    3. It's not a contradiction; we should read it as a conjunction: "I steal AND profane the name of my God." Licitly succoring by means of another's property does not profane God's name, so such acts are not what the author has in mind.
    4. It's not a contradiction; we should read "steal" generically as "take another's property" and understand the author's main concern as the scandal to others, who may be unaware of the right of the hungry man, who claims to belong to God, to food in the possession of another.
  • I'll make the unlikely-to-be-previously-unsuggested suggestion that the two things the proverbialist asks for are related; that we might associate falsehood with denying God and lying with profaning His name. It's false to assert that God is unknown or uninvolved in my amassing of riches; it's a lie to say, "I belong to God," while sinning.
  • To reverse the previous thought, I wonder if love of truth and truth-telling is, I'll say discordant with material excess and material want. That is, might it be that the further you are, one way or another, from having the things you need, and only those things, the more attractive falsehood and lies seem?
And yes, that's a lot of words just to distract myself from the question, "Should I be asking God for these two things?"



Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Whenever I notice that the Lectionary elides a verse or two in a reading, I wonder why. Sometimes it makes the reading more cohesive, sometimes it makes the homilist's life easier, sometimes there's no particularly evident reason.

Today's first reading, for example, is Proverbs 21:1-6,10-13. When I saw that, I asked myself what it is about Proverbs 7, 8, and 9 that They Didn't Want You to Know. Here are the first 13 verses of Proverbs 21, with the elided verses emboldened:
  1. A king’s heart is channeled water in the hand of the LORD; God directs it where he pleases.
  2. All your ways may be straight in your own eyes, but it is the LORD who weighs hearts.
  3. To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
  4. Haughty eyes and a proud heart—the lamp of the wicked will fail.
  5. The plans of the diligent end in profit, but those of the hasty end in loss.
  6. Trying to get rich by lying is chasing a bubble over deadly snares.
  7. The violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is right.
  8. One’s path may be winding and unfamiliar, but one’s conduct is blameless and right.
  9. It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop than in a mansion with a quarrelsome woman.
  10. The soul of the wicked desires evil; their neighbor finds no pity in their eyes.
  11. When scoffers are punished the naive become wise; when the wise succeed, they gain knowledge.
  12. The Righteous One appraises the house of the wicked, bringing down the wicked to ruin.
  13. Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor will themselves call out and not be answered.
I suppose I could, if my GPA depended upon it, cobble together a sequence of words that bore a superficial resemblance to a reason for leaving vv 7-9 out of the reading. Though I have to say it would be a lot easier if "chasing a bubble over deadly snares" was included in the elision.

If I had not abjured the cynicism of my youth, I might think v. 9 was left out to spare pastors the ire of quarrelsome female daily communicants, with vv 7-8 as cover with which to plausibly deny it.

Here, by the way, are the elided verses in Douay-Rheims translation:
  1. The robberies of the wicked shall be their downfall, because they would not do judgment.
  2. The perverse way of a man is strange: but as for him that is pure, his work is right.
  3. It is better to sit in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling women, and in a common house. 
I don't have a clear preference for one translation over the other across all three verses. "They refuse to do what is right" works better, I think, than "they would not do judgment." On the other hand, the Douay-Rheims has it all over the NABRE with v. 8. And I personally like the idea of combining the two on v. 9, to get "than in a mansion with a brawling woman." (You can't say that's irrelevant to life today; entire cable television networks are built upon that proverb.)


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Argumentum ad leporine

This is a picture of a tiny bunny:

Whether the caption is an invalid argument or two unrelated assertions is harder to tell.


Monday, September 17, 2012

A necessary rejection

Stop me if you've heard this before:
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.
What stuck out for me yesterday at Mass was the middle bit, "that the Son of Man must... be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes."

That Jesus would be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, sure; that's telegraphed way back in Chapter 2. But He could have suffered greatly, and be killed, and rise after three days without being rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes. Why "must" they reject Him?

I don't know.

But I have a thought:

Man had never really understood the relationship between God and man. Adam and Eve gambled on becoming like gods; the builders at Babel thought they could literally reach heaven on their own; the Israelites felt they needed a golden calf, and wearied the LORD with their grumbling, and much later thought a king would be just the thing. By Jesus' day, the LORD's people had the Law wrapped so tightly with legalisms, the simple observations that loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength was the greatest commandment was taken as a sign of great wisdom.

And so, although Jesus' death and resurrection were the fulfillment of the Scriptures, maybe it could be said that He "must" fulfill them in a way men -- even, perhaps especially, those men to whom the Scriptures were entrusted -- did not anticipate and would not, on their own, accept. His obedience to the Father was perfect reparation for Adam's disobedience, and maybe that perfect obedience needed to be chosen in direct opposition to the chronic human choice to prescribe who God is and proscribe what He does.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

An adorable crucifix

To which add:
Sooner or later, the enfleshed image of the God Who Is Love will lay down His life for his friends. That crucifix on your rosary is an image of perfect love.

But that image of perfect love on the end of your rosary is only a crucifix because the Word became flesh in a world where we crucify people.

My point, such as it is, is that Jesus' willingness to die for us isn't a reason to love Him so much as it is a sign or symptom of what makes Him -- and the Father Whose Image He Is -- so lovable.


Friday, September 07, 2012

On the Executive Director of a Catholic Social Justice Organization Being Unable to Say Whether Abortion Should Be Illegal

Look, if Sr. Simone tells us she's a moral imbecile, who am I to disagree?


Monday, September 03, 2012

Does the Church Militant have a Missal Gap?

I learned yesterday that Carlo Cardinal Martini, Archbishop of Milan from 1980 to 2002, died this past Friday. Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

The news of his death was, alas, the framing story for the news of his final interview; in which (intentionally or not) he bequeaths a small pile of bricks to progressive Catholics (and, in a foreseeable wrinkle I didn't foresee, to non-Catholics who don't like the Church) for their use against conservative Catholics.

Having characterized the interview as a weapons cache, I have no animus toward Cardinal Martini for what he said. Under the circumstances -- 84 years old, a Cardinal for nearly 30 of those years, coming home to die, often feeling a sense of helplessness over the state of the Church today -- he can say what's on his mind, as far as his own prudence allows him.

One of the red hot pull-quotes from the interview is this:
The Church is 200 years out of date.
Marcel LeJeune (in a piece I found via The Curt Jester) reflects on that statement:
But is this true? Is the Catholic Church out of touch, out of date, and does it need to change?
As much as I love the fact that he starts by asking, "But is this true?," I have to note that, in his answer, he adds an implication that is not present in Cardinal Martini's statement:
It is true that when we look at the Church through the lens of modern western culture, that the Church is not trendy. Church leaders are not interested in changing doctrine to keep up with the times. It seems the Church is too old and stuck in her ways.
Where'd that "changing doctrine" bit come from?

Where it came from, of course, is the progressive Catholic camp, in which, "The Church is 200 years behind," implies that the Church should be following right behind Western culture.

But that implication is not present in the Cardinal's last interview. True, he proposes changing sacramental discipline to allow (at least under some circumstances) divorced and remarried couples to receive the Eucharist. But his proposal looks to me to accord with what he sees as orthodox sacramental and ecclesiological theology. He may be wrong about that -- I wouldn't know; I find Church teaching on marriage to be far more confusing and mysterious than Church teaching on the Trinity -- but he is not (as far as I can tell) arguing that Church doctrine needs to change.

Moreover, he is certainly right when he says, "If [remarried] parents feel outside the Church or do not feel the support, the Church will lose the next generation." What is the Church's response to that fact? "No worries, we'll catch them with our new social media network"?

In any case, Catholics are wrong to wave away the statement, "The Church is 200 years behind," as though it meant, "The Church is not trendy." If your country was 200 years behind its aggressive neighbor in military technology, you wouldn't say, "Who needs a trendy army?" For that matter, do conservative Catholics object to complaints that the music at Mass, or their parish DRE, is 30 years out of date?

I think the primary point of Cardinal Martini's diagnosis is that there is much in Church culture that, being incomprehensible to the world, is an unnecessary impediment to the preaching of the Gospel. He may be right or wrong about what, specifically, in Church culture is an unnecessary impediment; he may be right or wrong about what to do about a specific unnecessary impediment.

But surely it's true that Catholics have underthought how "what Catholics do" can interfere with "what Catholics have been commissioned by Jesus to do." I wrote a bunch of words recently about the ineffectivity (not to say disinterest) of Catholic parishes in the United States at forming disciples of Jesus Christ. Does it matter, fundamentally, whether that's because Catholic parishes are still doing what they did in 1975, or 1957, rather than 1810?

More concretely, I don't agree with Cardinal Martini that "our rites and our vestments are pompous." But if -- if -- it came to it, which am I more willing to give up, vestments or souls?


Sunday, September 02, 2012

The August Sacrament

Homilists spent the month of August telling the Catholic faithful that the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 is Eucharistic. And well they might, of course; as the Catechism puts it, Jesus' words in this Discourse "prepare for the institution of the Eucharist."

I think it's important, though, that we not lightly say, "Oh, sure, when Jesus says,
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world,
He's just talking about the Eucharist," -- as though the Eucharist were less mysterious than the Discourse.

Moreover, whether we're thinking about the preparation for the Eucharist in John 6, the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, or our own reception of the Eucharist at Mass this morning, I think we need to keep the dogma of the Real Presence in perspective, a perspective that can't see "My flesh is true food" without seeing "My flesh given for the life of the world."

It may be that we don't find the thought of God dying for us to be as mysterious as the thought of God being present under the appearance of bread and wine. But the two thoughts go together.

UPDATE: For a post I'd been mulling over for weeks, this one sure is a dud. Let me try to pump it up a bit with this (while, I hope, not straying too far into material heresy):

Jesus' flesh is not true food because we can receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament under the appearance of bread and wine. Jesus' flesh is true food because He offered it for the life of the world. We can receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament under the appearance of bread and wine because He offered his body and blood for the life of the world. The identification of "My flesh is true food" with the dogma of the Real Presence is correct, but that identification in itself doesn't touch the mystery; for that, we must look, not to Capernaum or the 9:30 a.m. Mass, but to Golgotha.


That doing them, thou mayst live

Here's how today's First Reading begins:
Moses said to the people:
"Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you."
I like the ambiguity of the highlighted phrase. It makes the attentive listener say, "Wait, is Moses teaching Israel how to observe the statutes and decrees, or is he teaching them the statutes and decrees in order for Israel to observe them?"

And of course it's the latter. In teaching Israel the LORD's statues and decrees, Moses places life and death before them in order for them to choose life.

Moses does not teach Israel for his health. He does not give them the LORD's statutes and decrees indifferently, for their situational awareness. He does it because he loves the LORD's people, with a love analogous (in the weak way human love can be) to the LORD's own infinite love for His people.

For their part, Israel -- collectively and individually -- have a real choice to make. Listening to Moses isn't enough for them to live. Learning, even studying, the LORD's statutes and decrees isn't enough for them to live. They need to observe the Law, to follow the teaching, to conform themselves to the LORD's will. To enable them to do that is why the LORD sent Moses to them.

The same can be said, of course, of Jesus and the Church. He did not come into the world for us to merely know Him and His commandments, but for us to love Him by following His commandments.

And Jesus did Moses one better, by also teaching us how to follow His commandments: