instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Like sheep without a shepherd

Catholics are freaking out.

I mean that as an [inexactly expressed] observation of an empirical fact. A good number of "faithful to the Magisterium" type Catholics are deeply unsettled by Pope Francis generally, and his extraordinary synod in particular.

Early in this papacy -- and the freakout started early, with every word of praise for the new Pope being treated as a spit in the face of the Pope Emeritus -- I saw it as mostly a matter of patients objecting to the bitterness of their medicine. Pope Francis seemed ideal for weaning a lot of Catholics off undue ultramontanism and excessive focus on the person of the pope in Catholic doctrine and practice.

When it began to show up, I was not sympathetic to the complaint that Pope Francis seemed to like non-Catholics a lot more than tradition-minded Catholics, that, while he was always finding disarming and bridge-building things to say to people far from the Church, he seemed to have only harsh words for those who had been defending the Church their whole lives. To me, the complaints sounded like they came from wounded pride, like people were mad that they weren't getting all the cuddling and skritching behind the ears that the best Catholics have a right to. There was an off note of the prodigal son's elder brother to all that -- and of course, when the parable was brought up, there was even more indignation and outrage.

Now, though, I think I was wrong.

I think I should have been sympathetic. Not supportive or encouraging, but willing to meet the people who felt that was where they were. I was too busy judging their unwillingness to take their Franciscan medicine that I didn't notice I'd been prescribed a dose myself.

And I have to wonder whether Pope Francis takes all of his own medicine. Stipulating that Catholics are wrong to freak out, should the Pope leave them to climb down off the ceiling themselves? Or should he take his own words to heart:
The Church ... is not ashamed of the fallen brother ... but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Not to tell them they don't have to take their medicine -- that would be "a deceptive mercy [that] binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them." But to assure them of his love for them, a love that wills their healing and wholeness, when all they see is disdain.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

"You Follow Me"

Julie Davis at Happy Catholic quotes St. Katharine Drexel:

It is a lesson we all need—to let alone the things that do not concern us. He has other ways for others to follow him; all do not go by the same path. It is for each of us to learn the path by which he requires us to follow him, and to follow him in that path. Let us remember our Master's injunction, and we shall be saved from many pitfalls: "What is it to you? You follow me" (John 21:22).
The question Jesus was responding to -- "Lord, what about him?" -- comes from an immature faith. He had just finished commissioning Peter as His vicar, concluding by saying, "Follow me," when Peter turned away and got distracted by the sight of John.

Was Peter simply scatterbrained, perhaps dazed by Jesus' foretelling of his death, or was he just trying to take his mind off the weight of the key he had been given? Maybe even get Jesus to change His mind?

Whatever the case, it's always been easy to take your eyes off Jesus when He is giving you your own personal mission. For that matter, it's always been easy to never look at Jesus long enough to realize He is giving you your own personal mission, and to think our own thinking about others is a mark of virtue, like St. Dominic's tearful question, "Lord, what will become of sinners?"

If with the years I grow less inclined to ask, "Lord, what about him?," it's probably less to do with my own faith maturing than with the lack of success I've had getting that question answered -- particularly when I've tried to answer the question myself. I can't say my faith is all that mature, because I haven't yet come through the night of wrestling with the question, "Lord, what about me?"


"Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, ..."

"... and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."

-- Bl. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41


Apathetic ignorance

For years, I've used the term "idiot" to mean "someone who doesn't know that he doesn't know what he's talking about." In that sense, calling someone an idiot isn't [necessarily] an insult, it's an assertion of an empirical fact. Like the word "liar", "idiot" used this way categorizes behavior, not persons. (Though, like "liar," the habit of idiocy can weaken that distinction.)

It now occurs to me that one reason there's so much idiocy -- I say "90% of everybody is an idiot" -- is that people so often talk about things they don't care about. If you don't care about golf, or campaign finance reform, or the French, not only will you not care to know what there is to know about that topic, you won't care that you don't know.

(I'm using "care about" vaguely. I mean something more like "value" or "rate as important." You might not care about something because you're indifferent to it, or because you're opposed to it. It's often useful to distinguish between indifference and opposition, but here it doesn't much matter, since neither indifference nor opposition necessarily encourages people to learn about things.)

The problem is that topics you don't care about are often related to topics you do care about, such that you can't help but mention the former when you talk about the latter.

So: Just because someone says something idiotic doesn't mean that they care that it's idiotic.

I bring this up because people say idiotic things about the Catholic Church, and Christianity in general, all the time. They misrepresent Church teaching or misinterpret some action, and often there's no getting them to come back and reconsider their mistake, because they just don't care. For a lot of people who talk about Catholicism (including some Catholics), it's simply not worth correcting a thought they have. Not only would it be a waste of time (might as well memorize Klingon verb conjugation), but it would knock them out of step with everyone else who just doesn't care what the truth of the Catholic Church is.

Hence the ubiquity of the errors (most simply repeat the errors of the handful of people who bother to invent them), as well as their persistence.

And hence also, if our response to these errors doesn't go beyond factual correction, those making the errors aren't likely to be corrected. If we don't give people a reason to care about the truth of the Catholic Church, they will remain susceptible to falsehoods.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

There's no pleasing some people

For years, they make fun of the way the Church uses the words "ordinary" and "extraordinary."

Then the Church finally has an "Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops" that is extraordinary, and they complain.

(There's no pleasing me, either. Are there no Italian-to-English translators who know the difference between "which" and "that"? If not, ask the Germans.)


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Not reality. Actuality.

I've just checked, and it's been more than six years since we've heard from Bishop Booster and Monsignor Reeves. They were born of the vision, in the years after the Scandal broke, of the USCCB as the Drones Club, filled with privileged bachelors who were generally good hearted but mentally negligible and seemed always to get themselves into the most implausible soup.

Now is not the time to resume telling those tales, though, since the Real Housecardinals of Rome show makes the current bench of American bishops look like these guys:


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Today's buzzword

Msgr. Pope writes about the risk that the law gradualism will become a gradualism of law, particularly in an environment of pervasive universalism.

I do agree that universalism destroys the sense of urgency of conversion. (And I see Msgr. Pope has written about Ralph Martin's book Will Many Be Saved?)

I'll add, though, that urgency requires more than rejecting universalism. I have to think, not only that people can be damned, but that they can be damned for specific, known, identifiable behavior. And I have to care.

I can identify damnable behavior with a catechism, but to care I have to love them -- which, in these polarized days, often means I have to love THEM, that group of the categorically unlovable that are categorically opposed to US.

As fraught with risk as gradualism is, I suspect it's being entertained at they synod at least in part because the status quo ante already includes a failed gradualism, on the part of those Catholics who teach that what the Church teaches is sinful isn't. Too often, this is matched with a failed... um, abruptism?, which amounts to saying, "Here's God's law. Call me when you're ready to follow it." The sinners themselves provide the pretext for an argument over doctrine, and in the battle they go uncared for.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

A paradox of virtue

Wait, should I be praying to grow in humility, or to shrink?


Monday, October 06, 2014

Lesson for the catechist

Someone in RCIA mentioned the common misconception of Jesus as someone who simply loves everyone uncritically. One of the catechists replied that, while the Gospels do tell of Jesus spending time with sinners, in no case does He leave a sinner thinking the sin was okay.

Another catechist then mentioned one of the reasons -- less often mentioned than moral cowardice -- fraternal correction in charity is so often left undone: If I point out your sins, you just might point out mine.

As he described the unspoken conspiracy, I thought of St. Thomas's observation that, "There can be concord in evil between wicked men." This is the start of his sed contra against the proposition that peace is the same as concord; he goes on to write:

But "there is no peace to the wicked." Therefore peace is not the same as concord.
The question comes up in the context of peace considered as one of the interior acts of charity (the others are joy and mercy).

Which brings me back to the distinction between Divine love and humanistic love I wrote briefly about a couple of weeks ago. In a relativistic society, the god of love loves that you love whatever it is that you happen to love, and he'd love it if his devotees also loved that. In such a society, the Christian has to teach -- starting, perhaps, with himself -- that correction-free concord is not an act of love, it is an act of convenience.



Saturday, October 04, 2014

The name of "Jesus"

At last week's RCIA class, the question was asked, why do we call Jesus "Jesus" instead of the Hebrew name "Yehoshua" or "Yeshua" or the English transliteration "Joshua"?
The short answer is we call Him "Jesus" because we speak English. The English name "Jesus" comes from the Latin "Iesus," which comes from the Greek "Iesous" that was used when the New Testament was first written in Greek in the First Century by Jesus' disciples or people who knew them. When people spoke to Jesus in Greek -- as some almost certainly did, since Greek was the common language in that part of the Roman Empire -- they would have called him "Iesous."
What would His fellow Jews have called Him? Hebrew was mostly reserved for prayer and religious services, although (based on my reading of a Wikipedia page) the Aramaic spoken at home and in the streets seems to have still used the Hebrew forms of the name. The older form is "Yehoshua," the later form is "Yeshua." Ancient Hebrew Scriptures use both forms, sometimes for the same man. (The Greek Septuagint, which as we said last week was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures we call the Old Testament, used "Iesous" throughout.) "Yehoshua" was (again, per Wikipedia) more common in Galilee while Jesus lives there, while "Yeshua" was more common in Jerusalem.
Between His birth and His death, then, Jesus would have been called a number of things, even by people who were just calling Him by name.
Here's another thought: When Jesus was condemned to death, Pontius Pilate ordered that the charge against Him be written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and posted over His head on the cross. This was a common custom, so people would know what sort of crimes were dealt with in the most brutal manner the Romans had devised. In Jesus' case, Pilate had it written, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," in part as a message to the Jewish religious leaders. In classical Latin, this is, "Iesus Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm," which is why so many crucifixes have the sign "INRI" at the top of the cross. The Greek would have read something like "Iesous o Nazoraios o Basileus ton Ioudaios" (though, of course, in Greek letters; see below). The Hebrew was probably [Hebrew letters that would be pronounced] "Yeshua."
So "Iesus"/"Iesous"/"Yeshua" is literally the Name under which we are saved.