instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Jesus in the Temple

A sketch of a thought:
  • When Jesus is brought to the Temple at the Presentation, he comes as king, from the royal city of David.
  • When Jesus is found in the Temple by his parents when he is twelve, he is there as prophet, engaging the teachers of the Law on the wisdom of the Lord.
  • When Jesus visits the Temple after His Baptism, and in particular the week before His death, he is there as priest, both purifying the Temple as a place to offer sacrifice (driving out the moneychangers, praising the poor widow) and of course preparing Himself for His own sacrificial offering.
Not absolutely clean distinctions here, of course, but still a path for meditation on how the infinite God layered meaning into the finite time available and actions performed by Jesus in His earthly life.


Today's supplication

Dear Lord, please give me the gift of enunciation, because empirical evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that my prayers to grow in patience come out sounding like, "May I grow impatient."


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A confession

In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the Confiteor was recited twice, first by the priest asking for prayers from the saints and the congregation --
Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, all the Saints, and you, brethren, to pray to the Lord our God for me.
-- and then by the congregation asking for prayers from the saints and the priest:
Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, all the Saints, and thee, Father, to pray to the Lord our God for me.
In the Ordinary Form, the Confiteor is recited once, with everyone asking for prayers from the saints and the congregation (including, implicitly, the priest):
Therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
While the simplification in the Ordinary Form works for me in terms of both efficiency and sufficiency, I confess it took me more than forty years to figure out what we are really doing at the end of the prayer. We aren't, as I'd thought (if you'd call it "thought"), asking everyone present for prayers. The prayer isn't the Confweteor. I am asking each person present to pray for me -- and each person present is asking me to pray for him.

This is a profoundly humble act, if performed with conscious intent. I am saying to the other people at Mass -- to the Old Bore, and Mme. Screechowl, and even to the Dressliketheyrecleaningthegarage family -- that my sins are grievous enough that, not only am I willing to ask each of them for their prayers, but I believe their prayers will actually do me some good.

It's also a great responsibility, to be asked by each of them -- whom I ask to pray for me -- to pray for them to the Lord our God. What are my choices? To accept and act on that responsibility, or to shuck it. What would come of my own prayers, for myself and for those I love, if I don't accept and act?


Friday, February 14, 2014

Not everybody

Michael Liccione commented on Facebook that, "The most important thing I learned in college is that not everybody who disagrees with me about religion or politics is stupid, evil, or crazy."

That is a valuable lesson, though paradoxically there's far more money to be made (if not necessarily in academia) teaching others that  everybody who disagrees with you about religion or politics is stupid, evil, or crazy. People love to be right, and they hate to think, and they'll reward those who give them being right in exchange for having to think about it.

That said, there sure is a lot of stupid, evil, and crazy out there.

Which brings us to another valuable lesson: Not everybody who agrees with you about religion or politics is smart, good, and sane.


As long as I'm riffing on Mark Shea taglines

The saying, "Sin makes you stupid," means that choosing to act against your own happiness weakens your virtue and clouds your intellect, leaving you both more likely to sin again and less able to comprehend what is good.

In this sense, to sin does indeed make you stupid -- but that's no excuse for someone else's sin to make you stupid.

Here's the process that brought this to mind:
  1. Someone -- Pope Francis, say, or the governor, local bishop -- says or does something that makes the news.
  2. People of weak virtue and clouded intellect misapprehend the Pope and draw unsound conclusions about what he has said or done.
  3. Others observe the unsound conclusions, and draw the subsequent unsound conclusion that the fault lies with Pope Francis or the governor or the local bishop.
Note that I am not implying the Pope (or governor, or bishop) can do no wrong. It is possible that, in a given instance (even a great many instances), the fault lies with the Pope (or governor, or bishop). With Step 3 above, I have in mind a subsequent unsound conclusion along the lines of, "What the Pope (or governor, or bishop) did made THEM happy. THEM should be unhappy. Therefore, what the Pope (or governor, or bishop) did was wrong."

In this process, it's not actually the sin of someone else -- Step 2's people of weak virtue and clouded intellect -- that causes the stupidity of the moral actors in Step 3. The Step 2 folks don't necessarily sin at all, they just act in accordance with their sin-weakened hearts minds. The Step 3 folks, meanwhile, are primed for stupid by their a priori US vs. THEM thinking -- well, and more than thinking; they have set their hearts against THEM and are eager for their fall.

In short, the actors in Step 3 have weakened their virtue and clouded their intellect in such a way that the entirely foreseeable stupidities of THEM will cause them to react stupidly.

Which is stupid.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

God likes miracles

As Mark Shea likes to say,
Under carefully controlled experimental conditions, God will behave however he likes.
That's true enough, but God has also given us some examples of how He likes to behave. I'm thinking in particular of Mark 6:
He departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”

So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
The Douay-Rheims Bible has "he could not do any miracles there," and adds the note:
Not for want of power, but because he would not work miracles in favour of obstinate and incredulous people, who were unworthy of such favours.
What God wants to do is work miracles in favor of those who have faith in Him.

Combine that with Mark Shea's observation that God will behave however He likes, and you get:

God works miracles in favor of those who have faith in Him.

That's not merely the conclusion of an abstract syllogism. It's an empirical observation of the world we live in. God works miracles in favor of those who have faith in Him. I'd guess not a day goes by that God doesn't work miracles.

How we regard the fact that God performs miracles in our world today -- assuming we ever think about it at all -- has a lot to do with whether any of His miracles are performed in our own lives or at our request.

Do we think of God's miracles as something that could happen, but doesn't? Something that might happen, but won't? Something that does happen, but only rarely, and not to us? Those are good ways of thinking if the goal is for God to not work miracles in our favor.

If we do want God to work miracles in our favor, it seems to really help to need miracles. There's nothing like sure and certain knowledge of your own inadequacy to meet your needs on your own to create room for that faith in God that He seems to love to reward. The people who begged Jesus that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak needed to be healed more than they needed to see themselves as above begging. The people of Nazareth, on the other hand, needed to put Jesus in His place more than they needed healing. Both groups got what they thought they needed most.

These days, we might run the risk of needed to understand the theory and science of miracles more than we need miracles. This gets at the "carefully controlled experimental conditions" part of Mark Shea's Harvard Law of Divine Behavior. There's no way to make God work a miracle, no guaranteed process. Even when God does grant a miracle to someone, there's no guarantee He will grant them the next miracle they ask for. I know a priest with a gift of healing; he says he has witnessed lots of miracles, but he has also prayed over a lot of people who were not physically healed.

How do you have faith that God will work a miracle when you know that God doesn't always work miracles? Strictly speaking, you don't. We have faith in God, in His Son Jesus Christ. We believe -- and at least some of us have had rather striking experiences to back up our belief -- that God is our loving Father, who does not give us a stone when we ask for bread.

Do we know what we need? Do we know that what we ask God for really is bread, and not a stone that we perceive to be bread?

Let me suggest that, if we have the luxury to ask ourselves whether we really need this miracle, then we don't really need this miracle. If my child is ill, I don't stop to think, "Well, perhaps his illness will work out for the good." I do all I can to heal him, and that includes asking God for healing.

Now, all truly Christian supplication includes at least an implicit, "Thy will be done." But this isn't the diffidence of a creature groveling before the Supreme Being, a passive, "But if You don't, never mind, forget I ask," much less a "get out of Your promises free" card we issue in preparation for disappointment. It is rather the recognition of a child that his Father may actually have a better understanding of what the child lacks, and how to provide it.

And even this recognition may well require a degree of theological sophistication the supplicant is too needy to afford. My guess is that a lot of sophisticated requests for miracles go unanswered, because what the requester needs even more than a miracle is to shuck the sophistication and throw himself upon God with the totality of a child clinging to his father.