instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, September 30, 2013


I like the response of the rich man to the suggestion that his brothers have Moses and the prophets to listen to:
"Oh, no, Father Abraham."
Moses and the prophets? How old fashioned! Might as well ask them to listen to Bill Haley and the Comets.

I see that the Greek for "Oh, no," is, "ουχι" -- or, in Roman letters, "ouchi"!


Saturday, September 28, 2013

"Pessimistic Christians: how awful!"

In his "Meeting with the young people" in Sardinia, Pope Francis discusses failure and what to do about it, in the context of the call of Simon as related in Luke 5. I'll summarize his points as:
  1. You will have the experience of failure, as Simon did in working hard all night and catching nothing.
  2. When this happens, you respond by trusting Jesus, as Simon did in lowering his net at Jesus' command.
  3. Be prepared to keep saying yes, since Jesus is calling you, too, to become fishers of men.
Repeat as necessary.

The Pope also said a few words on how not to respond to failure:
Of course one thing is to let oneself be overcome by pessimism and distrust. Pessimistic Christians: how awful! You young people can't and mustn't be lacking in hope, hope is part of your being... You know, the merchants of death, these merchants that sell death, offer you a way out when you are sad, when you are without hope, without trust and disheartened! Please don't sell your youth to these people who sell death! All of you know what I'm talking about! You have all got it: don’t sell!
There is the threat of complaining or of resignation. Let's leave these epithets to the followers of the "goddess of lamentation." And you, are you following the "goddess of lamentation"? Are you continuously wailing as in a funeral wake? No, young people can't do that! The "goddess of lamentation" is a deception: she makes you take the wrong road.
(He keeps talking about "you young people," and I keep thinking of that Spike Jones line, "He was a young fellow about my age.")

The awfulness of pessimistic Christianity reminds me of the Pope's comments on optimism in The Interview:
I do not like to use the word optimism because that is about a psychological attitude. I like to use the word hope instead, according to what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, that I mentioned before. The fathers of the faith kept walking, facing difficulties. And hope does not disappoint, as we read in the Letter to the Romans....

See, Christian hope is not a ghost and it does not deceive. It is a theological virtue and therefore, ultimately, a gift from God that cannot be reduced to optimism, which is only human. God does not mislead hope; God cannot deny himself. God is all promise.
And that, in turn, reminds me (as so many things do) of Pope Benedict XVI's statement in Spe Salvi:
The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.
Hope: the forgotten theological virtue.

(Knowledge of the existence of Pope Francis's speech via Whispers in the Loggia.)


Friday, September 27, 2013

Visualizing Mark

Just to see what happens, here are four word clouds based on the NABRE's Gospel According to St. Mark. (Click to enlarge.)

Wordle: Disciples of Jesus
Words spoken by the disciples of Jesus.

Wordle: Enemies of Jesus
Words spoken by the enemies of Jesus.

Wordle: People Talking About Jesus
Words spoken by other people to or about Jesus.

Wordle: Heavenly Words
Words spoken by God, an angel, and John the Baptist.

Wordle: Demonic Words
Words spoken by demons.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Font of wisdom

I came across a recommendation of Jesus: A Theography, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, which included this excerpt:
Many Christians grew up reading red-letter editions of the [New] Testament. These are the Bibles wherein the words of Jesus are printed in red. Now imagine a[n Old] Testament where every reference, every prophecy, every shadow, every image, and every allusion to Christ appeared in red. If such a red-letter [Old] Testament existed, it would glow in the dark. And if Jesus is YHWH..., then it could light up a living room.
I love the idea of a red-letter Old Testament. And the Catholic Edition could have every reference, every prophecy, every shadow, every image, and every allusion to Mary appear in blue. The regular edition would have the same words in blue, but the introduction would say they refer to the Church.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Honor thy mother

Kevin O'Brien has written a terrific post on some of the effects his devotion to Mary has had on his life.

I might quibble over "Certainly, no Catholic is required to be 'Marian,'" but his is a message that should be heard. When I first read it, I particularly admired this insight:
But it is only adolescents who are embarrassed by their mothers.
Looking at the post again as I write this, I want to finish with the concluding exhortation:
Accept your mother. Honor her, and in doing so you will more greatly honor Him.

Our faith is real - every single last word of it. And she will help you see that.
(Link via Catholic and Enjoying It!)


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Can I ask you a favor?"

"Yes," I replied, waiting for a chance to get at the pastries the RCIA director was arranging on the table.

"Can you lead the RCIA discussion in two weeks?"

"Sure, what's the topic?"


"No, no, just a sort of top-level overview. We'll go deeper in later classes."

So, yeah, that's what I'll be working on for the next couple of weeks. An hour-long presentation, to people interested in being received into full communion with the Catholic Church, on the topic, "Jesus."



Monday, September 23, 2013

It pierces more surely than a two-edged sword

Mary DeTurris Poust expresses great anguish over her experiences at Mass:
As a lifelong Catholic who’s been a Catholic journalist for almost 30 years, I don’t take the whole “losing my religion” thing lightly. In fact, just last week I went on a silent retreat specifically because I felt I needed to pray on this and spend time in solitude with God. So, if you don’t know me, try to understand that none of this comes from a place of boredom or single-homily frustration or from an unwillingness on my part to bring something to the table, as was suggested a bunch of times yesterday. This has been years in the making, thanks to one bad experience after another, and it is a cross for me. And what I said yesterday, I said out of love for my faith and my Church and my brothers and sisters sitting in the pews beside me and feeling just as alone and deprived.
I'm not particularly good at comforting the afflicted. But I'm happy to propose partial solutions to a problem somewhat related to what she is writing about.

Problem Statement:
We come out of the Word. We are bound to the Word. We live by the Word. And if the Word isn’t being preached in a way that relates to people’s lives, well, there’s not much chance they’re going to find meaning in the Eucharist.
Which I will reduce to the problem of systemically crummy Liturgies of the Word, and in particular lousy preaching.

I won't pile on about the need for better preaching, and I'll leave the ideas for effecting better preaching to those who are already working on it. For the laity who, in the meantime, suffer through dead words, I offer two suggestions:

First, if you don't expect the Word to be broken open for you, then hook up your own plow. Read the day's readings ahead of time. If you really want to live by the Word, read the Sunday readings on Saturday -- or even better, read them during the week, then meet with a few people for breakfast after Saturday morning Mass to discuss them. Then, after the opening rites at Sunday Mass, pray that the Holy Spirit will come and fill the hearts of the faithful, pray that Jesus the Word of God will make His presence known. When Scripture is read at Sunday Mass, listen for a word or phrase that sticks out; maybe one you noticed in your preparations, maybe one you didn't.

Second, if the homily is crap, don't waste your time thinking, "Wow, this homily is crap." Spend the time praying. Pray to the Holy Spirit, that He may make the Word come alive and effective, in the heart and on the lips of the homilist, in the hearts and on the lips of the congregation, in your own heart and on your own lips. Chew on the word or phrase God gave you in hearing the readings read or the Gospel proclaimed.


Do the works of mercy with mercy

Rocco Palmo quotes Pope Francis:
"We cannot follow Jesus on the way of charity if we don't love those around us first of all. It's necessary to do the works of mercy with mercy! The works of charity with charity!"
Which is probably why I don't often find instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner brings me much peace.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

"God is in everyone's life."

Here's the passage from Pope Francis's interview I wish media outlets had asked the experts about, and the blogs had dug into:
I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.


Spell check

Blogger's spell checker doesn't like "evangelization." Its suggested corrections:
  • generalization
  • novelization
  • evangelize
  • Anglicization
Let's go with "Add to Dictionary," shall we?


Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus Spiritus Sanctus. Et tamen non tres dii, sed unus est Deus.

Fr. Matt Malone, editor-in-chief of America, was asked on Newshour about the most controversial part of Pope Francis's interview. He answered in part:
What [Pope Francis] is reminding the Church is that the fundamental and most important teaching of the Church is that we have a God of love Who has created us and has redeemed us, and only in the context of our relationship with Him does the rest of what the Church teaches make sense.
Well, amen to that.

One of the comments on the Newshour page, though, points out a significant difference between Francis's interview and Fr. Malone's:
In Pope Francis' actual interview (which I suggest you read in its entirety!), he mentions "Jesus", "Christ", and "Jesus Christ" twenty-one times, not counting the many times he refers to the "Society of Jesus".

Yet in Fr. Malone's summary of the Pope's message, he never mentions Jesus once. He refers only to "this God of love who has created and redeemed us"... never mentioning the price that Jesus paid for this redemption.

This comment produced a remarkable response:
How can you say that Fr. Malone never mentions Jesus once. Is not Jesus the one who redeemed us? Jesus is fully human AND fully divine (the hypostatic union). Therefore, Fr. Malone presents a very orthodox and completely accurate reference to Jesus as the second person of the triune God who redeemed us.
I think we have here a microcosm of a much broader phenomenon. A priest preaches the Gospel to the world using grammatically unitarian language, which is understood as trinitiarian by a catechized Catholic who hears him.

But what do non-{catechized Catholics} understand by "a God of love Who has created us and has redeemed us"?

It wasn't the time or the place for Fr. Malone to explain the hypostatic union, but I do think the first commenter has a point. I think Fr. Malone fit Pope Francis's words to a pattern he -- well, all of us already had, of using orthodox but vague language to describe something the Pope was more precise about.

This touches on one of my own recent posts, in which I advise, "Don't let Jesus go without saying."


Friday, September 20, 2013

For those discussing Pope Francis's words with friends and neighbors

The strong public fascination with Pope Francis brings with it an opportunity for Catholics to talk about the Faith with others, including marginal and former Catholics. We should not allow this to go to waste, even if we aren't used to such conversations.

I've taken enough self-assessment tests to know that active listening is something I need to work on. I found the following tip to be quite helpful, and I offer it here for what it's worth:


To put it another way

Pope Francis is not a catechist. He is a pastor.

Catholics need to stop reading him as though he is trying to catechize us.

More to the point, we need to stop treating what he is trying to teach us as though it were catechetical. That way only leads to the response, "Nothing new here, he already agrees with me," and we come away having learned nothing, because we are looking at what the Pope is saying from a perspective which blinds us to his message.

The media will do what the media will do. That's no excuse for Catholics to do what the media does.


"The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant."

In his epochal interview, Pope Francis said:
The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.
I think this is very much along the same lines as the point I was trying to make with a recent post in which I wrote:
But the Catholic Faith, the burning realization that God is love and His Son died for our sins, is not narrow and technical.... When Catholics talk about Catholicism, we sound like people trying to make sure we're getting all the details right, not like we're trying to keep up as best we can with the love and mercy and graces our mad lover Jesus is giving us.

I'm a little worried about agreeing with Pope Francis in what he says in this interview. Worried, because agreement makes it harder to learn from what someone else says. It's easy to think, "He used words that are superficially similar to mine, therefore his opinion and perspective are essentially identical to mine." And once that's thought, it's easy to interpret subsequent, more important statements according to a hermeneutic of he-thinks-the-way-I-do.

So let me say that Pope Francis does not think the way I do. He thinks pastorally, and I do not. He, for example, intends a pastoral dimension to this sentence, which I overlooked the first couple of times I read it despite the subject of the sentence:
The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
My own thinking would pare this down to something like, "The Church cannot be obsessed with the transmission of doctrines to be imposed." Pope Francis was answering a question about how the clergy should respond to certain challenging circumstances. My mind turns his answer into an observation on how the laity receives the Gospel.

I don't know if those who need to hear that transmission of doctrines to be imposed cannot be an obsession will hear that. This includes both those who are repelled by their perception of a Church obsessed with insistently imposed, disjointed doctrines, and those who embrace that vision of the Church. I've already seen several responses that try to recast the Pope's words into Culture War terms, as though those are the only terms in which the Catholic Faith is expressible. Does this mean Pope Francis is now for gay marriage? Surely we are still to forcefully insist that abortion is evil!

There are those who rush to say, "Pope Francis is saying nothing new." And yes, if you filter out everything but doctrine, this son of the Church is offering no new doctrine. But Pope Francis is not talking about doctrine! If you want to talk about what the Pope is talking about, you shouldn't talk about doctrine either.

The Pope is talking about proposing the Gospel in a simple, profound, radiant way. And it doesn't matter whether you can grep up a quotation from Benedict or John Paul that says the same thing, what matters is whether the Church does something about it.

And yes, that would be new.

More than new, it's transformative. The Pope is repudiating the way lots of Catholics have been Catholic for many years -- the way of moral doctrines. This is not a repudiation of the doctrines themselves, but of starting with those doctrines, which, according to the Church herself, are only derivative teachings, second- and third-order consequences of the Gospel that Jesus founded His Church to preach to the world.

No transformative message is received easily. This one is, I think, a challenge just to be heard. After all, if the Church herself teaches that moral doctrines are only derivative of the Gospel, then isn't Pope Francis merely repeating Church doctrine? And how can repeating Church doctrine be something new, much less transformative?

A long time ago, I wrote about the high Ginger Factor of papal statements, how so much of what a pope says sounds like, "Blah blah blah abortion blah blah should not receive Holy Communion blah blah." Those who think the name of the Catholic game is the imposition of moral doctrines will not even hear what the Pope says when he is not talking about imposing moral doctrines. And I think the responses to this six-month-old papacy bear this out.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

The voices of the parable

Riffing on something I heard in a homily today:

There are three perspectives on a repentant sinner in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
  1. The younger son's: "I no longer deserve to be called your son."
  2. The older son's: "You never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends."
  3. The father's: "Let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again."
And there are two sides to repentance: The one who repents and the one who accepts.

So the question is, whose voice do you hear when you ask for repentance, and whose voice do you hear when someone else asks for repentance, and is it the same voice, and is it the voice of the Father?



I'm not sure I noticed the progression in the parables in Luke 15 before. The value to God of a sinner who repents is compared:
First, to one sheep out of a hundred.

Then, to one coin out of ten.

Finally, to one son out of two.
You can't get much more valuable than that, unless a sinner who repents is worth an only-begotten Son.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Five Crosses of the Holy Rosary

A rosary, as you know, is a loop of beads with a short tail of additional beads, at the end of which is a crucifix. When you "pray a Rosary," you start and end with a cross. If you pray all twenty decades of the Rosary at once, you will come to the crucifix (or at least the tail on which the crucifix hangs) five times.
  1. The first cross is the cross of mankind without a savior. "Our span is seventy years, or eighty for those who are strong. And most of these are emptiness and pain. They pass swiftly and we are gone." It is from this cross that we first hear the good news: "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
  2. The joy of the Incarnation, of God-with-us as our Savior, is everlasting, but in this life it is a joy mixed with sorrow. The Savior Himself is destined to suffer, and so are His disciples who help Him in His work. The shadow of Jesus' cross falls upon the joy of His reunion with His parents in the Temple. Jesus' mother kept these things in her heart, including her experience of the cross of discipleship, the suffering that comes from surrendering oneself altogether to God's will, a suffering joined to Jesus' own passion, the baptism for which He came into the world.
  3. "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him." Jesus revealed Himself, and the Father's glory, but He was not known or accepted. On the night He was betrayed, He gave those who did know and accept Him the incomparable gift of the Eucharist, by which His Church is joined to His passion until His return. This union is only realized in a fruitful way, though, if we each individually take up the cross of daily obedience, joining our thoughts, words, and actions to Jesus' perfect act of obedience unto death.
  4. The sorrowful mysteries bring us at last to the Cross. Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, hangs dead, blood and water from His side poured out upon the earth as His mother and the beloved disciple stand before Him. "It is finished." This horror is the perfect image of perfect love, and we who would become other Christs must form this image in our hearts.
  5. But death on a cross is not Jesus' last act. All proceeds from the Father, all must return to the Father. The love of Jesus is the image of the love of His Father, Who will not leave His Son in death. Nor will the Father leave His adopted sons and daughters -- adopted through the blood of the Son -- in death, but will draw them to Him as well. And most gloriously will He draw His most glorious daughter Mary, who was united with Jesus from the beginning. And having gone through this whole journey of Jesus and His mother, the disciple of Jesus and child of Mary will rush with renewed enthusiasm to embrace the cross of evangelization, the sufferings of the children of God through which His salvation is brought to the world and He Himself is glorified in His saints.
All that said, ultimately there are only two crosses: the cross of Jesus, unto life, and the cross without Jesus, unto death. We shall each be crucified on one or the other. The Rosary, as the recapitulation of the Gospel, encourages us to take up -- daily, right now -- the cross of Jesus, in all the dimensions it presents in our lives.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Strengthening charity in daily life

Paragraph 1394 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I quoted in my previous post, includes an admission of something that may be too much a part of life to catch the attention: "our charity...tends to be weakened in daily life."

Decide for yourself whether this is true in your own case, but if it is, it should be one of the central facts -- up there with gravity and taxes -- around which you build your life. Why? Because charity is what we have been created to do, and we all spend a great deal of time in daily life. We need to take action to overcome any tendency for the latter to weaken the former.

Para. 1394 proposes the reception of Holy Communion as a (really the pre-eminent) way to overcome that tendency. (Again, that would be the fruitful reception of Holy Communion, which presupposes the proper disposition of the recipient, but then having the intention of strengthening your charity by receiving Holy Communion is the lion's share of a proper disposition.)

Prayer is, of course, another way to resist the weakening of charity. If charity is weakened in daily life, then prayer should occur in daily life. In the same circumstances, in the very moments in which charity would otherwise be weakened, we should be praying. Again, decide for yourself which moments those are.


Sunday, September 08, 2013

The fruits of Holy Communion

If, as I suggested the other day, one way for the reception of Holy Communion to be more fruitful in the Church is to tell people who don't already know that "yes, there are fruits to be had from reception of Holy Communion, but since the Sacraments aren't magic, they require something from the recipient as well," the question arises, what are the fruits to be had?

Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1391-1397,
The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus.

Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh "given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit," preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism.

Holy Communion separates us from sin... the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins.

...the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins.

...the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins.

Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body - the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism.

The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren.
If you are prepared for these things to happen in your life, and receive Communion as the means for them to happen, then they will happen.

On the other hand, if you aren't prepared for these things to happen in your life, then why are you receiving Communion?


Sometimes there is no prudent balance

Boy, there are so many reasons for the U.S. not to attack Syria that it was hard to boil them down into a single message, particularly one that might get through to a Congressman who has already issued a statement supporting "a narrowly drawn resolution to authorize military force so long as it is limited in scope and purpose."

I wound up sending this:
Please reconsider your position and vote against any resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria.

Military intervention of the sort being considered is a bad idea, militarily, strategically, politically, and morally.

Militarily, because there is no prudent balance between a token demonstration of power and a attack sufficient to change the balance of power in Syria. A U.S. attack will not constitute deterrence to the use of chemical weapons unless it leads to regime change.

Strategically, because no amount of overt U.S. involvement in the Syrian Civil War -- from a single cruise missile to a full-scale invasion -- will make the U.S. or our allies any new friends, while any amount will make new enemies and stir up old ones. Not to mention that Russia has its own interests.

Politically, because the American people oppose it, and because to vote in favor of attacking Syria is to own the military and strategic problems it will cause. Ask yourself: What about the way the U.S. has responded to the Syrian Civil War to date makes you confident the U.S. will handle to consequences of military intervention in a way that benefits U.S. interests, or even the interests of the Democratic Party in 2014 and beyond?

Morally, because even if we stipulate that such an intervention might be justified in some circumstances, the military, strategic, and political reasons against intervention make it imprudent in these circumstances, and to act imprudently is to act immorally.

For all these reasons, please vote against the use of military force against Syria.
I don't expect it to do any good. But that just means I can hope it will.


Friday, September 06, 2013

Pull yourself up

There's a bit of a bootstrap problem with talk of fruitful reception of Holy Communion by the faithful.

Okay, the bigger problem is that there isn't talk of fruitful reception of Holy Communion by the faithful. But let's pretend someone wanted to start a conversation on the subject. They would then encounter the problem that fruitful reception generally depends "on the disposition of the one who receives them."

It takes work to be disposed to receive the Eucharist fruitfully, and people don't work for things they don't desire. A lot of Catholics (I bet) don't desire to receive the Eucharist fruitfully, because (I bet) they don't know that receiving the Eucharist fruitfully is a thing to desire. They receive the Eucharist plenty often enough (even Christmas and Easter Catholics might receive the Eucharist twice as often as a lot of fervent Catholics in the years before Pope St. Pius X encouraged frequent Communion), and it's never a fruitful experience.

If you don't think there are any fruits of Holy Communion, then you won't desire them, and you won't work to be disposed to receive them, so you won't receive them, so your experience will confirm your impression that there are no fruits of Holy Communion.

The resolution to the problem, then, starts with telling people yes, there are fruits to be had from reception of Holy Communion, but since the Sacraments aren't magic, they require something from the recipient as well.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Without saying, it goes

My advice for today is this: Don't let Jesus go without saying.

If you're talking about something to which Jesus is relevant, mention Him. Don't leave the Son of God implicit in your speech. Be explicit.

Don't think, "Surely it goes without saying that, 'Fidelity to the Magisterium is important,' means, 'Fidelity to Christ through fidelity to His Magisterium is important." Empirically, it has gone without saying, which is part of the reason we're at the point where it doesn't go without saying -- that is, it can't be assumed to be understood by the listener (and, maybe, not always even by the speaker) that Jesus is relevant to what's being said.

We've gone without saying that Jesus is relevant to our religious conversations for so long that it is not at all clear that Jesus is still relevant to our religious conversations. Even if it is crystal clear to us, what about the way things are would justify the assumption that it's clear to those listening to us?


Sunday, September 01, 2013

The child of Mary is an evangelist of Jesus

Last month, Cardinal Wuerl (my bishop) blogged "a three-part reflection on learning from Our Blessed Mother how to be evangelizers." The posts are:
  1. Mary, Star of Evangelization.
  2. Mary: Bringing People to Jesus
  3. Mary: Mother of the Church
Mary is both the ideal evangelist -- you can't do more to bring Jesus to the world than she did -- and the ideal model for us as evangelists. In her faith, in her fidelity to the mission given her by God, and in the love she has for the spiritual children given to her by her Son, she teaches us how it's done and she helps us to do it too, according to the mission given us by God and those given us to love by her Son.


The disciple of Jesus is the child of Mary

The place of our Blessed Mother Mary in the life of a Christian is a contentious topic between Catholics and Protestants -- or at least, between those Catholics and Protestants who still care one way or another. There are certainly plenty of Catholics who entered the Church as adults who say the Marian doctrines were the final hurdle (and even, I think, plenty who say they entered the Church despite not really getting those doctrines beforehand).

Most of the contention is due to ignorance or foolishness. When I started typing the previous sentence, I'd planned on ending it with "of the Protestants," because it is foolish to contend against what you're ignorant of (according to the old capere non potest principle, "it would be the height of folly for a simple person to assert that what a philosopher proposes is false on the ground that he himself cannot understand it"). But the ignorance of the Protestants would ordinarily be corrected by the knowledge of the Catholics, and I'm not sure we Catholics have enough knowledge of Mary to spare on correcting the ignorance of others, such fools are we.

Catholics ought to be neither triumphalistic nor diffident about devotion to Mary. We shouldn't say, "Honoring Mary is what Catholics do, so there!" Nor should we say, "Honoring Mary is what Catholics do, so don't worry about it."

Honoring Mary is what Christians do, and it's right there in the Bible.


Four words of Sirach

Today's first reading is from the Book of Sirach, Chapter 3, vv. 17-18, 21, 29-30. That's six omitted verses in a passage thirteen verses long (apparently, v. 3:19 doesn't count anymore, but there's one more verse in the chapter that isn't part of the reading). If you didn't know this, you might just think this Sirach fellow wasn't very good at sticking to one point.

When you look at the whole passage (the Lectionary verses are in bold; the italicized headings are mine), you can see that the writer is actually developing (albeit briefly) several different points, any one of which could easily fill your daily allowance of lectio divina:
My son, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find mercy in the sight of God.

For great is the power of the Lord;
by the humble he is glorified.

What is too sublime for you, do not seek;
do not reach into things that are hidden from you.

What is committed to you, pay heed to;
what is hidden is not your concern.
In matters that are beyond you do not meddle,
when you have been shown more than you can understand.
Indeed, many are the conceits of human beings;
evil imaginations lead them astray.

Without the pupil of the eye, light is missing;
without knowledge, wisdom is missing.
A stubborn heart will fare badly in the end;
those who love danger will perish in it.
A stubborn heart will have many a hurt;
adding sin to sin is madness.
When the proud are afflicted, there is no cure;
for they are offshoots of an evil plant.
The mind of the wise appreciates proverbs,
and the ear that listens to wisdom rejoices.

As water quenches a flaming fire,
so almsgiving atones for sins.

The kindness people have done crosses their paths later on;
should they stumble, they will find support.
The Gospel reading (Luke 14:7-14, with Luke 14:1 as an introduction) does present Jesus teaching on both humility and almsgiving, so I can see why the first reading might try to touch on both as well. Still, there's something about the piecemeal hastiness with which the above half-chapter is read to the people that almost guarantees it will be undercomprehended and underpreached. I don't know the history of this pericope -- it's use may be a venerable tradition -- but for the common or garden Catholic parishes in the U.S. that I'm familiar with, I don't think it effectively presents the true sublimity of the wisdom of Sirach.