instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

You keep using that term "intrinsic evil"

Kristin of The Catholic Realist has produced her own, relatively brief, Catholic voter's guide:
  1. Use all the resources at your disposal (not just what the pundits, bloggers, or your friends are saying) to truly form your conscience.  Examine Church teaching, pray for guidance, and talk with a spiritual director.
  2. Prayerfully and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and through your informed conscience, discern who you think is going to do the least moral harm.
  3. Vote, or, if your fully formed conscience deems it necessary, Don’t Vote.
(And, unlike some producers of voter's guides, she shows her work.)

I could quibble (I can always quibble), but on the whole I'd say this guide is good enough for civics work. Here I just want to pull on one throw-away line from the post. After quoting Bishop Lori --
"Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that's the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn't be voting for such a person."
-- and Bishop Paprocki --
"A vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy."
-- then listing some of the many actions or behaviors the Church teaches are intrinsically evil, Kristin concludes with the observation:
Not to mention that as lying makes the list of intrinsic evils, I’m fairly certain that I cannot vote for anyone who has ever run for political office.
This is a joke, of course, but it prompts me to ask, "Why shouldn't lying disqualify a candidate from office?"

Not a single act of lying, necessarily, but the habit of lying. If someone repeatedly manifests behavior that is contrary to the virtue of truth-telling, that is inconsistent with an interior appetite for the natural good of signifying with words and gestures that which he holds to be true in his mind -- in short, if someone is a liar, then how can he be fit for public office?

The answer, I suppose, is, "He's not, but the other scoundrel's an even worse liar."*

I don't find that a satisfactory answer, and each time I hear some outrage against the truth, followed by a blithe "and I approve this message," I am the more determined to support no liar with my vote.

* Well, the actual answer is more likely to be along the lines of, "Look, Mr. Holier-Than-Thou, Jesus isn't running. There is no perfect candidate, so stop making the perfect the enemy of the good. The bishops say we can vote for less than perfect candidates. If we couldn't vote for a liar, wouldn't the bishops have said so?

"Besides, the other scoundrel's an even worse liar."

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We fly to thy patronage

Damage from a fire in Breezy Point, Queens. Photo by Frank Franklin II, Associated Press.


Monday, October 29, 2012

The moral life

Here's some advice from St. Paul:
Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.
How much of our lives, how many of the decisions we make each day, does "be kind and live in love" cover? How many blog posts, how many books, complicate this message trying to explain it?

I'll try to avoid complicating that message by just making one short observation about the bit in between, where St. Paul tells Christians to "be imitators of God." That's basically what the serpent told Eve to do. Turns out, though, that we humans are capable of imitating God, not through knowledge, but through love.


Cultivating questions

The parable in Saturday's Gospel reading illustrates the difference between a good parable and a good story:
And he told them this parable: "There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?'

He said to him in reply, 'Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.'"
If this were a plain old story, we might ask questions like: Who's the protagonist here? Where's the character growth? What kind of dramatic arc do you call that?

Since it's a parable, though, we know to ask questions like: Who does the orchard owner represent? Who does the gardener represent? Who does the fig tree represent? What does "cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it" (or, in the Douay Rheims earthier translation, "dig about it, and dung it") signify?

And since this particular parable is told to dispel any notion that the people killed by the falling tower at Siloam were somehow guiltier than all the people who weren't killed, we should be sure to ask: How many times has the orchard owner checked for my fruit without finding any? How do I respond when the ground around me is dug about? How do I respond to being dunged?


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Caritadynamic economics

For your consideration:

Since it is a means to an end, wealth is a measure of love.

Wealth we possess or store up is potential love. Wealth we spend or consume is kinetic love. Our good deeds, including our use of wealth for our good and the good of others, are always in the mind of God; rightly-ordered kinetic love lasts forever as treasure in heaven.

The metric that matters to God is our kinetic love divided by our potential love ("to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more"). Getting more potential love is wonderful -- as long as it gets converted into everlasting kinetic love.


Monday, October 22, 2012

A Trick Question

There are all sort of reasons -- some just, some not -- that might have led that person to shout to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me."

Jesus cuts him off with a quick rhetorical question: "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?"

Except that it's not altogether rhetorical.

The ordinary meaning of the question is, of course, that Jesus is not their judge and arbitrator, and therefore He's not going to get involved in who does what with the inheritance.

At the same time, it so happens that the Father has appointed Jesus as our judge. So another meaning to Jesus' response is, "Before you ask for My ruling, you'd better make sure you're prepared for the court in which I serve."

The Parable of the Rich Fool, which follows the above exchange, is therefore not simply another passage on the theme of worldly riches that St. Luke concatenated with the story of the disinherited brother. It is, so to speak, divine counsel from the bench to help prepare both brothers for the one judgment that really matters. In a parabolic way, Jesus says, "One day I will judge and arbitrate the dispensation of the inheritance, and I will do it according to the wisdom of My Father. Go, then, and prepare your case."


Sunday, October 21, 2012

William of St. Thierry on blogrolls

Haphazard reading, constantly varied and as if lighted on by chance does not edify but makes the mind unstable.
-- The Golden Epistle, n. 120


An RCIA lesson, taught to the catechist

Man, we have a multisyllabic Latinate term for everything, don't we?



Thursday, October 18, 2012

You want some, you got some

Occasionally someone suggests that I only point out how lousy various political candidates are out of vainglorious sanctimony.

They are mistaken. I only point out how lousy various political candidates are out of disgust.

If they want some vainglorious sanctimony from me, though, I'm happy to oblige:

What if Roman Catholics in the United States spent as much time and energy trying to convert people to Jesus Christ as they spend trying to convert people to their preferred political candidates?


They spoke of His exodus

One of the subtler symbolisms involved in praying the Rosary with beads is that each bead, each prayer, each mystery brings you closer to the cross at the end. (The cross is also at the beginning, of course, which is maybe even subtler.)

I was thinking this morning how quickly the Luminous Mysteries move from the glory on the mountaintop at the Transfiguration to the self-sacrifice of the Institution of the Eucharist a few hours before Jesus' crucifixion.

Then I remembered that, even as Jesus' "face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white," and "two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory," they "spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem."

Even during His most glorious, divine, and luminous moment before His resurrection, Jesus was looking toward the desolation of the Cross.

We can work backwards through the Luminous Mysteries, and see how the Proclamation of the Kingdom to Sinners can only be realized through Jesus' sacrificial death; how the Miracle at Cana prefigures the joy obtained through the Blood of the Cross. And of course Baptism itself is a baptism into Christ Jesus's death. Which brings us to the cross at the beginning of the Rosary.



Saturday, October 13, 2012

A spirited campaign

Some people say there are no candidates that can meet my standards.

This is not true.

UPDATE: If it need be said, by "whiskey" I mean "the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; .. the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows."


How will his kingdom stand?

When Jesus said, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste," He was responding to the idea that Satan was divided against himself.

I caught a radio bit by Fr. Pat Egan yesterday in which he riffed on this passage to point out that the division of Western Christianity against itself has greatly weakened the voice of Christ in the West. If Lutherans and Catholics can't agree on what's right, then why should a person agree with either of them, when that agreement implies death to self?

A question, then, early in this year of faith, is: Would you say that the Catholic Church today is divided against itself?


Sunday, October 07, 2012

A slice of married life

While cleaning up around the house this weekend, I discovered two things.

First, the question of whether to throw something out is a lot different when you've got a 20 yard dumpster in your driveway. Who knew we had 19 3/4 cubic yards of junk? The obvious spiritual lesson to draw from this is, you see, that it's good to, you know, rent an, ah, spiritual dumpster, as it were, from time to time.

The other thing I discovered was a notebook that I used during a retreat I took the year before I started blogging. Hard to believe they had invented notebooks that long ago, but I have the written proof right here.

Coincidentally (if you believe in that sort of thing), the last note I made relates to today's readings:. The note reads:
marriage is a reconciliation between
   male and female
no picnic for either
As I recall, the idea I was recording is that, while Eve was pretty much literally bone of Adam's bones and flesh of his flesh, every marriage since then has been a post-Edenic effort to overcome the twin betrayals of Genesis 3.
"So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her..."

"'The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it."
That would certainly explain the importance of having God do the joining.


Saturday, October 06, 2012

Peace of mind through ignorance of Scripture

In a comment on the post below, CowPi points out the parallel between the Lord giving and the Lord taking away in Genesis 2-3 and in Job 1.

Which led me to this thought: The Book of Job makes it pretty clear that the Lord might taketh away for reasons not related to the sin of the one from whom it's taken away. "In all this Job did not sin."

Yet the Gospels also make it pretty clear that the Jews of Jesus' day, even those who had been Jesus' disciples for some time, thought that bad things were caused by sin. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” "Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?

My guess: By nature, humans want to understand what's going on. We are happier with an explanation. Even when we're told again and again that we cannot discover God's ways, we still try to come up with an explanation consistent with our observations. And "this bad thing happened as punishment" is a nice, neat hypothesis, with the advantage over other potential explanations that, as long as we don't do something bad, that bad thing won't happen to us. Superstitious? Sure, but comforting.


Friday, October 05, 2012

Shorter Job

If I had to pick a thesis statement for the Book of Job (yes, my children are taking high school English; why do you ask?), I would go with Jb 1:21b:
The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away:
As it hath pleased the Lord so is it done:
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
On one level, this can be seen as teaching a sort of stoic fidelity. God does whatever He wants, constrained by no absolute rights of ours; and for our part, we ought to bless the Lord always and regardless.This thought aligns well with the verses from Ecclesiastes I quoted the other day, which suggests that we're supposed to work on our day-to-day tasks and leave God to work out His grand plan.

To that, I'll add the suggestion that "the Lord gave" and "the Lord hath taken away" refer to two related but distinct attributes (or names) of God, according to which our blessing takes different aspects.

Very briefly, "the Lord gave" can be taken to signify God as Loving Father and "the Lord hath taken away" to signify God as Sovereign Lord. This is, of course, based more on our own perception of things than any tension in the Divine Will. We like it when the Lord gives, we don't like it when He takes away, and so our blessing of His Name has a different character in the former case than in the latter.

This diversity in the character of the blessing of the name of the Lord is, I suppose, not incidental to the perfection of God's creation.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Pax et bonum

Who doesn't love St. Francis of Assisi?

People who don't love Christ and His Church, for starters.

Also, people who think of him as though he were St. Francis of Assisi, this summer's sleeper hit. "What was your favorite scene? I loved the part with the wolf!"

People who love St. Francis of An Outsized Personality, but don't even know (and so can't love) the man who actually lived and died and now intercedes for us in heaven.

As I wrote in the previous post, "If I love an imbalanced image of Jesus, then it isn't Jesus Himself that I love." The same goes for His servant Francis.

Granted, we don't have a whole bible full of divinely inspired scriptures through which to come to know St. Francis himself. But there is a library's worth of books -- starting, I suppose, with The Little Flowers of Saint Francis -- that will, at least, answer the question, "Who do these authors say that St. Francis was?"

Some of the books do present an imbalanced image of him. Somewhere in my house I have a biography written by a Protestant who paints a portrait of St. Francis as the first Reformer. But even such a misinterpretation as this is an attempt to interpret his life, rather than explain it away. St. Francis did challenge his fellow Catholics, hierarchy and laity, in the Thirteenth Century. If he doesn't challenge his fellow Catholics in the Twenty-First Century, is that because we've fully embraced his challenge, or because we've set it aside?


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A becoming need

We become what we love. Therefore, we need to read the Bible.

The angle I'm playing here is this: By temperament, a Christian is likely to find different aspects of the Faith more appealing than other aspects. There are "Christmas people," and "Good Friday people," and "Easter people."

That's all right and fine; such diversity gives glory to the God Who gave us Christmas and Good Friday and Easter.

What's less right and fine is for me to become, say, a Christmas-without-Good-Friday person. That can happen if I love Christmas too much. Or even if I love the Incarnate Jesus "too much," which I could do by, for example, loving the mystery of His Incarnation in an abstract way isolated from the death and resurrection that were the goal of the Incarnation. (To [try to] be clear, I don't mean we can love Jesus too much, I mean we can love the dogma of His Incarnation too much.)

What's needed, in a word, is balance. We need to balance our natural temperaments with the fullness of God's revelation; hence we need to read the Bible. (More generally, we need to know Revelation.) The longer I go without reading the Bible, the more I am going to form myself based on whatever happens to be in my head. That, naturally (using that word in a very strict and literal sense), will be an imbalanced image of the Person of Jesus. If I love an imbalanced image of Jesus, then it isn't Jesus Himself that I love, and it won't be His co-heir that I become by my love.

Reading the Bible, maintaining that direct contact with the Holy Spirit Who gives life to the words of Scripture, will help me obtain the grace needed to perfect my natural inclination to think of the Faith in terms of, say, babies and joy. I'll still think of the Faith principally in terms of babies and joy, but within in the context of the full Gospel.