instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, May 29, 2014

None so blind

In the least-self-aware comment I've read all morning -- possibly all decade -- Marcus Borg tells Publisher Weekly that "it's a special treat to write fiction because I can make everything up."


Felix typo alert

Someone praised an online journalist for breaking stories instead of just commenting on them, calling him a writer "who tells readers thinks they don't already know."



Tuesday, May 27, 2014

If, then

In Sunday's Gospel reading, we heard Jesus say:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
The verb translated as "will keep" is "τηρήσετε," the second-person plural future active indicative form of "τηρέωv," which I'm told means
  • 1) to attend to carefully, take care of
    • 1a) to guard
    • 1b) metaph. to keep, one in the state in which he is
    • 1c) to observe
    • 1d) to reserve: to undergo something

As burdensome verbs go,  τηρήσετε falls short of πείθωv, which means
  • 1) persuade 
    • 1a) to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe
    • 1b) to make friends of, to win one's favour, gain one's good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one
    • 1c) to tranquillise
    • 1d) to persuade unto i.e. move or induce one to persuasion to do something
  • 2) be persuaded
    • 2a) to be persuaded, to suffer one's self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing 
      • 2a1) to believe
        2a2) to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person
    • 2b) to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with
  • 3) to trust, have confidence, be confident.
and is used among other places in James 3:3:
If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies.
Those who love Jesus keep His commandments, they don't obey them. And those who don't love Jesus, is it any wonder they find the very idea of His commandments to be like horses' bits in their mouths?


Monday, May 26, 2014

An echo of the life of the Father

Last fall, I went through the Gospel According to St. Mark to see what people said about Jesus. His Father had this to say:
What do Christians say about Jesus? "I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages."

As. Bl. Columba Marmion points out in Christ, The Life of the Soul, when we confess the Christian faith, we are doing what our Father does:
When, then, we accept the testimony of the Eternal Father, when we say to God: "This little child, sleeping in the crib, is your Son; I adore Him and deliver myself up to Him"; "this adolescent laboring in the workshop at Nazareth is your Son; I adore Him"; "this man crucified on Calvary is your Son; I adore Him"; "this fragment of bread is but the appearance under which your Son is hidden; I adore Him"; when we say to Jesus Himself: "You are Christ, the Son of the living God" and we prostrate ourselves before Him; when all our actions accord with this faith and spring from the charity that makes faith perfect -- then the whole of our life becomes an echo of the life of the Father who eternally expresses His Son in one infinite Word; and since this action of God never ceases -- embracing all time, being an eternal present -- we associate ourselves, in that way, with the very life of God.
All my actions do not accord with this faith, so the whole of my life is not an echo of the life of the Father. But some of my actions do, and I can choose, day by day and minute by minute, to strengthen that echo in my life... if, that is, associating myself with the very life of God is something I value.



Sunday, May 25, 2014

To know Christ Jesus

Let me see if I can write down, in a coherent way, a thought I just had.

I'll start with this, from Bl. Columba Marmion's Christ, the Life of the Soul:
Christianity is nothing else than acceptance -- with all its remotest doctrinal and practical consequences -- of the divinity of Christ in the Incarnation.
You can test that assertion yourself by re-reading the Gospels, all the while asking, "Is this passage about acceptance of the divinity of Christ in the Incarnation?" (Go ahead, this post will still be here when you're done.)

Here's my thought: Marian spirituality -- the contemplation of Christ through His mother (with all its remotest doctrinal and practical consequences) -- guarantees, in a way few other spiritualities do, that one is focused on acceptance of the divinity of Christ in the Incarnation.

It is in the Incarnation that God sent His Son to save the world, it is in the Incarnation that Jesus made known His Father, it is in the Incarnation that He asked for, and occasionally found, faith. It is in the Incarnation that Jesus suffered, died, and rose again.

If, then, we try to approach Jesus, to get to know Him, to love Him apart from the Incarnation, we are trying to do these things in a different way than Jesus Himself approached us and invited us to know and love Him.

What do I mean by "trying to know and love Jesus apart from the Incarnation"? I mean making as the foundation of our faith anything other than the Incarnation of the Divine Son. A foundation like, say, Scripture. If the written record of the Incarnation supersedes the Incarnation itself as the foundation of our faith, we are building on sand.

I will even say that a foundation like devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, if it does not constantly refer back to the death and resurrection of Jesus, is built on sand. If the Incarnation is somehow prologue or mere fact, with spiritual or Sacramental presence now the root of our faith, then we're doing it wrong.

Having said that, I will add that even Marian spirituality -- which I am trying to suggest is by its nature specially oriented toward the divinity of Christ in the Incarnation -- can become spiritualized, disconnected from the Incarnation, starting rather than ending with Mary as Queen of Heaven and Mediatrix of Grace. This, too, is a foundation of sand.

But if I can get away with saying that true Marian spirituality seeks to know and love Jesus as Mary knows and loves Him, then true Marian spirituality is founded on the Incarnation. How did Mary come to know and love Jesus? Not through spiritual visions or studying Scripture or Eucharistic adoration, but through carrying Him in her womb, giving birth to Him, swaddling and nursing Him, raising Him, cooking for Him, teaching Him, talking with Him, praying with Him to God, listening to His words, suffering with Him at Golgotha, rejoicing with Him Easter morning. Even now, as Queen of Heaven, Mary knows the Eternally Begotten Son as the Son she gave birth to and raised.

Mary knows Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, better than St. Paul, better than St. John, better than all the Evangelists and inspired writers of Holy Scripture. She certainly knows Him in the Incarnation better than we know Him in the Blessed Sacrament (which Itself is completely unintelligible apart from the Incarnation).

If we too want to know Jesus in the Incarnation, Mary is a safe and sure way.



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

[Not] A Word of Wisdom

I may not be cut out for this small group sharing thing.

I'm going through the discernment in depth phase of the Called & Gifted program at my parish. I'm supposed to spend two hours a week testing whether I have been given the charism of wisdom. Every two weeks thirty or so of us get together to listen to a short presentation on CD, then break into smaller groups to discuss how things are going with our discernment.

As I mentioned the other day, the gift of wisdom that is given to every Christian at Baptism is associated with the beatitude, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God." Wisdom sets things in order, and from order comes peace.

I have not had a peaceful two weeks. My work has been jam packed with opportunities, "opportunity" being the positive way of speaking of "challenges," by which I mean "bull goose looniness has been screaming up and down the hall all month."

If I were using my gift of wisdom properly, I would have set, if not things, at least myself in order, and taken the craziness in stride. In the event, however, I took the craziness in the floating ribs.

All of which is to say, I have not found a superfluity of wisdom in my heart, to pour out like unction upon the troubles of others, since the last discernment in depth meeting.

Which meeting was last night.

After an eleven hour day, I had enough wits left to do the math: There were eight of us in our small group, we had forty-five minutes to discuss before reconvening with the rest of the discerners, so if everyone talked for six and a half minutes on average, I wouldn't have to say a word.

I was prepared to say something along the lines of, "Know wisdom, know peace. No peace, so no wisdom. I'll restatus you in two weeks," but I think we all agree it would be better if I didn't have to say a word.

As it happens, everyone did talk for six and a half minutes on average, and I didn't say a word. Ah bliss! (Some people think introverts don't like it when extroverts talk a lot. Whether we like it depends a lot on what would happen if they weren't talking. If what would happen is me talking a lot, then please, chatter away.)

I say I didn't say a word, and I mean that literally. I nodded and smiled, but said absolutely nothing -- until the very end, when, as we were getting ready to reconvene, someone said, "And Tom, you were working on the charism of wisdom?"

I shook my head and corrected her, "Silence."

It was a stretch, I admit, both because most of the people in the group don't know me apart from the few words I'd said (which were not memorable) at the previous meeting and because I left off the words, "No, the charism of..." to maximize the humor at the expense of intelligibility. But eventually most people got it, I think, and one person said I hadn't changed since the Renew 2000 small group we'd been in together.

What are the three signs of a charism?
  1. An unmistakable inner experience of peace, energy, and joy when you're using the gift
  2. Unusually effective and successful results in what you're trying to accomplish
  3. Other people's direct or indirect recognition of the gift's presence
I was certainly pleased with my joke (here I am, blogging about it the next morning).It was certainly effective (hey, mutterings and groans are effects too). And I received direct recognition that, after fifteen years, I still got it.

Apparently I have the charism of wit. Won't my family be surprised?



Sunday, May 18, 2014

Use your gifts and be happy

While I'm thinking of it, here are the virtues, gifts, and beatitudes St. Thomas associates with each other:
  1. The gift of wisdom corresponds to the virtue of charity and to the beatitude, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
  2. The gift of understanding corresponds to the virtue of faith and to the beatitude, "Blessed are the pure of heart."
  3. The gift of counsel corresponds to the virtue of prudence and to the beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful."
  4. The gift of fortitude corresponds to the virtue of fortitude and to the beatitude, "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after justice."
  5. The gift of knowledge corresponds to the virtue of faith and to the beatitude, "Blessed are they who mourn."
  6. The gift of piety corresponds to the virtue of justice and to the beatitude, "Blessed are the meek."
  7. The gift of the fear of the Lord corresponds to the virtue of hope and to the beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
Some of the connections seem pretty straightforward. Fortitude and counsel are pretty obviously related to fortitude and prudence.

Some connections are more obscure. Wisdom, for example, "sets things in order," and peace, in St. Augustine's famous phrase, is the tranquility of order.

Some, I have to say, are stretches of the sort you wind up making when you're trying to build these parallels. Sure, peacemakers will be called children of God, and sure, we are children of God insofar as we bear the likeness of His only-begotten Son, and sure, His on;y-begotten Son is Wisdom Begotten. So the reward is "fittingly ascribed" to the gift, or at least not unfittingly ascribed, but that particular reward could be fittingly ascribed to most or all of the gifts.

The most curious one, to my mind, is the association of the gift of knowledge with, "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted." For St. Thomas, the gift of knowledge is a certitude of judgment about created things, and he suggests that, when you judge rightly about created things, you realize how often you sin through them, which causes sorrow, and then you are consoled, because you start using created things properly. He gets this -- and much of the above list -- from St. Augustine, who simply says that, with knowledge of created things, "the loss of the highest good is mourned over, because it sticks fast in what is lowest."



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Long Homily --> Bad Priest

Pope Francis recently taught ex cathedra (Latin for "while leaping from his chair") that Catholic homilies must not be longer than ten minutes under pain of mortal boredom. In his solicitude for the poor, the Pope has embraced the poor saps sitting in the pews. Let us see what comes of it.


Monday, May 12, 2014

From virtue to gift to charism

A charism is a special capacity for being the channel of God's grace to others. The different charisms are distinguished by the different graces they channel. Regardless of the specific graces in question, the effectiveness of your charism -- and remember, if you are a baptized Christian, you have a charism (if you aren't a baptized Christian, drop me a line and we'll see what we can do) -- depends upon your relationship with God.

From the negative perspective: To the extent you place sin -- including indifference, which is what we call the sin of impiety these days -- between you and Jesus, you clog up the channel of graces to others by which your charism is meant to operate.

But there's also a positive perspective: As you build up your relationship with God, particularly along the lines He calls you to, so you build up how well your charism operates (which is to say, how freely God's grace flows through you to others). For example, someone with a charism of hospitality might find their charism more effective the more they contemplate God as welcomer of the stranger or Jesus as the Good Shepherd who celebrates the arrival of the one lost sheep.

Note that this means discerning a charism is a good thing to do whether or not you have the charism, since either way you will be building up your relationship with God.

The charism of wisdom, as described in the Catherine of Siena Institute's Called and Gifted program, happens to share a name with one of the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit, but they're two distinct gifts. General distinctions between the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the charisms include:
  • The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are the seven gifts explicitly mentioned in Isaiah 11:2-3; while there are several lists of charisms given in the Bible, there's no complete, canonical set.
  • Each baptized Christians gets all 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit; each baptized Christian gets one or more charism, and must discern which ones they have been given.
  • The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are primarily for the sanctification of the individual Christian who receives them; charisms are primarily for others to receive grace.
If, then, I were in the process of discerning whether I have the charism of wisdom, then it would help if I were to contemplate God's wisdom, and a good way to do that is to develop the Holy Spirit's gift of wisdom, which I know for sure I have, since I am a baptized Christian.

And if I do that, I will come across St. Thomas's argument for why the gift of wisdom is associated with the virtue of charity:
[W]isdom denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the Eternal Law....

[I]t belongs to the wisdom that is an intellectual virtue to pronounce right judgment about Divine things after reason has made its inquiry, but it belongs to wisdom as a gift of the Holy Ghost to judge aright about them on account of connaturality with them...

Now this sympathy or connaturality for Divine things is the result of charity, which unites us to God, according to 1 Corinthians 6:17: "He who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit." Consequently wisdom which is a gift, has its cause in the will, which cause is charity....
To improve the chances of observing the charism of wisdom in action, then, I should make better use of my gift of wisdom, and to do that I should do all I can to grow in charity.

And lately I've been asking St. Catherine of Siena to pray for me to grow in charity. Getting me involved in a small discernment group that will require exactly that seems like just the sort of thing she would do.



Sunday, May 11, 2014

H_0: I am not wise.

As those of you with eidetic memories who read aloud every post I write will recall,
My results from taking the Catherine of Siena Institute charism self-assessment indicate I might work on discerning whether I have the charisms of knowledge, writing, wisdom, teaching, and encouragement.
When I was invited to join my parish in a six-week charism1 discernment program, I decided I would attempt to discern whether I have the charism of wisdom, since it was the highest scoring implausible charism on that list. (Frankly, it hardly matters whether I have the charisms of knowledge, writing, or teaching, since either way I'm going to keep on doing the things that gave me high scores on the self-assessment; encouragement was lower scoring and is even less plausible than wisdom.)

In Catherine of Siena Institute parlance, the charism of wisdom is defined as "insight that comes up with creative solutions to specific problems and enables others to make good decisions." (The key feature that wisdom is practical is what makes it implausible that I have the charism.)

CSI's charism discernment process involves looking for indications of the presence of these three signs (quoting from "Discerning Charisms: A Workbook for Navigating the Discernment Process"):
  1. An unmistakable inner experience of peace, energy, and joy when you're using the gift
  2. Unusually effective and successful results in what you're trying to accomplish
  3. Other people's direct or indirect recognition of the gift's presence
The idea is to repeatedly arrange circumstances in which I could make use of a charism if I had it, and then discern how often the signs were present. In my case, the basic question is, what happens when I am presented with someone else's specific problem?

If you have a specific problem you'd like some help with, let me know, and I'll give it a whirl. (Most of my readers these days seem to be Chinese hackers, but there's no reason we can't be interfaith about it.)

That said, I do wonder whether I've been tricked into doing this by St. Catherine. The saint, I mean, not the institute.

1. "Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world." Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 799.



Saturday, May 10, 2014

The road to Emmaus is the road to Jerusalem

Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus.

I heard an excellent homily on last Sunday's Gospel reading. It hinged on the point that Emmaus lies to the west of Jerusalem.

Just as East is the direction of the rising sun, and of light and clarity -- and the direction Jews and Christians alike face to pray to God -- so West is the direction of shadows and confusion, the direction of those moving away from God.
The two disciples of Emmaus, then, weren't merely going home, they were going in the wrong direction. Yet God finds them and joins them on the road, invites them into a conversation, and -- as long as they listen -- explains Himself to them.

Jesus was even prepared to go further into the west, but the disciples urged Him, "Stay with us." So He did, and He made Himself known to them.

What happened next? The two disciples got up, left their home though it was evening (the beginning of a new day), and traveled back to the east, back to the holy city of God, back toward the truth and light and clarity, to share their story with the other disciples of Jesus.

This Gospel passage, then, can be abstracted into an archetypal journey:
  1. In times of doubt and trouble, we turn away and travel alone along shadowy and confusing paths.
  2. Jesus comes and finds us on these paths, inviting us into a conversation with Him.
  3. If we listen to Jesus, even though we continue to wander, the wisdom of God will ignite our hearts within us.
  4. We must, we must, invite Jesus to stay with us, even if we aren't in a place suitable for Him. (Jesus was born in a stable; He's used to staying in dirty places.)
  5. When Jesus has restored and healed us, we return to the company of the Church, to give Him glory and share His goodness.


Monday, May 05, 2014

The dignified toga of silence

It is sometimes becoming enough for a man to wrap himself in the dignified toga of silence, and proclaim himself indifferent to public attacks; but it is a sort of dignity which it is very difficult to maintain.
-- Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorne
Which may explain why bloggers so rarely don the toga of silence.