instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The unity of the Spirit

The word that popped out to me today during the readings at Mass was "striving." As in:
... live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness,
with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace....
St. Paul doesn't (in this translation at least) tell the Ephesians to strive to live in a manner worthy of their call. Nor does he tell them to strive to live with all humility and gentleness, nor to strive to live with patience, nor to strive to bear with one another through love. He just tells them to do these things.

But he does tell them to strive to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

That might not mean anything in particular. Or it might mean that preserving the unity of the Spirit is particularly important. Or that preserving the unity of the Spirit is particularly difficult. Or that it's both important and difficult.

Consider the words in these verses that describe living in a manner worthy of the call of Christ:
  • humility
  • gentleness
  • patience
  • forbearance
  • unity
The first four are generally regarded as virtues our society honors independent of any particular religious tradition. Unity, though, doesn't fit in quite the same way. "You're really patient" is a compliment. "You really preserve unity" is... an unusual thing to say, and a compliment, I guess, if the speaker approves of the specific unity preserved.

Even then, unity is often seen as merely an instrumental good, a means to some good end. Political unity is an instrumental good that can lead to political success. Social unity leads to strengthening of the social group, against competing groups or simply against decay.

The unity St. Paul is writing of, though, is the unity of the Holy Spirit. It does happen to lead to other goods, but primarily it is a good in itself, because there is in fact
one body and
one Spirit, as you were also called to the
one hope of your call;
one Lord,
one faith,
one baptism;
one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
That seems like something worth striving for. Given the current state of US vs THEM, it's also something that needs striving for. Fortunately, St. Paul tells us how to do it: through the bond of peace. Unfortunately, through the bond of peace is how St. Paul tells us to do it, and that's not something we've worked very hard on mastering in recent decades.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Comments on Mary

While I think of it, let me steal from some comments I left on a post about Protestant concerns with Catholic devotion to Mary at Catholic and Enjoying It!. The original post was set up by a quotation from St. Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to Mary:
Devotion to our Blessed Lady is necessary for salvation,and that (even in the opinion of Oecolampadius and some other heretics) it is an infallible mark of reprobation to have no esteem and love for the holy Virgin; while on the other hand, it is an infallible mark of predestination to be entirely and truly devoted to her.
Devotion to Mary is not optional. Devotions to Mary are.

By that, I mean we are obligated to love and honor Mary, but we are not obligated to use a particular means of devotion, like the Rosary, litanies, Immaculate Heart devotion, and so forth.

As for St. Louis, my advice is that Protestants who are struggling with Catholic devotion to Mary not read him and stick to more doctrinal and dispassionate sources. Plenty of Catholics -- in his own lifetime as well as today -- don't get St. Louis either.

The particular quotation is not Catholic doctrine, in that the Church doesn't teach that giving due honor to Mary is categorically necessary for salvation (much less that it's sufficient). It is, though, wrong and contrary to God's will to fail to give due honor to Mary; that follows directly from the meaning of the words "to give due honor." In some, even most instances, it may not be culpably sinful, depending on what a person knows, believes, and wills. But if someone knows and believes what the Church teaches about honoring Mary, and still wills to do otherwise, they sin, and I suppose there are circumstances in which it could be mortal sin.

Devotion to Mary follows from the doctrine of the Incarnation, as feeding the hungry follows from the second greatest commandment. I may fail to feed someone who is hungry because I don't know he is hungry; I may fail to give due honor to Mary because I don't know what honor she is due.

The real stumbling block, which seems to be where a lot of people start on this question even though it's found pretty far down the doctrinal path, comes with the answer to, "How much honor is due Mary?" The answer is that a whacking great lot of honor is due her, way way way more than seems sensible or balanced to someone coming at it out of curiosity or intellectual questioning.

And it is nonsensical and imbalanced, unless you set it next to the answer to the question, "How much worship is due God?" Eventually, you come to see that honoring Mary not only follows from worshiping God, it leads back to it, even that, while distinguishable, the two acts are inseparable. As St. Louis de Montfort put it, true devotion to Mary is simply a means (the very best means, in his opinion) of keeping your baptismal promises.

Lumen Gentium Chapter 8 is a good place to start reading about "the duties of redeemed mankind toward the Mother of God."

St. John Paul II's 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae is pretty good on the Rosary as the "School of Mary," the general idea being to learn to see the mysteries of Jesus' life from the perspective of Mary.

Mary is not only my spiritual mother. She is also the Mother of God, whom we can come to know through her actions, joys, and sorrows during her earthly life. If any thought of a mother is troublesome, Mary is Queen of Heaven and Earth -- though I once saw someone say they can't relate to queens.

The Litany of Loreto, to pick one source, also presents Mary as Mirror of justice, Seat of wisdom, Cause of our joy, Spiritual vessel, Vessel of honor, Singular vessel of devotion, Mystical rose, Tower of David, Tower of ivory, House of gold, Ark of the covenant, Gate of heaven, Morning star, Health of the sick, Refuge of sinners, Comforter of the afflicted, and Help of Christians.

If the tradition of the Church offers no means at all for someone to relate to Mary, I'm not sure what to say; maybe it's for that person to provide the tradition with a new way.


Changing the subject

I asked my spiritual director, "How can I become holy?"

He said, "Love the poor."

"Sure, I'll love the poor," I replied. "But how can I become holy?"


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rhetoric matters ran a story with a remarkable headline over the weekend:
O'Malley apologizes for saying 'all lives matter' at liberal conference
To many who don't frequent liberal conferences, this headline may sound like a step beyond Animal Farm, with "some lives are more equal than others" too feeble a way of saying what these liberals are really thinking.

I think, though, what's going on is a failure of rhetoric. The words "Black lives matter" are being spoken as a slogan to invoke the problem of black citizens dying at the hands of white police, but they are being heard as an assertion in a free-flowing conversation about race in the United States.

To put it another way, what's being said is "#BlackLivesMatter" and what's being heard is "Resolved: Black lives matter."

As a proposition, "Black lives matter" is unassailable. This very unassailability, though, makes its emphasis in (what is taken to be) a free-flowing conversation about race suspicious. Why press this uncontested point? Is the implication that I am a racist? Is it that black lives matter more?

Hence the reflexive response that got Martin O'Malley booed: "All lives matter." It is equally unassailable, and it counters both worrisome implications.

If anything, the rhetorical failure leads to worse things if it happens when the context of deadly force used against black Americans is recognized, particularly if trust and respect between the parties in the discussion are lacking. Then the impulse is to find an unassailable counterargument to confound those who are saying, "Black lives matter." So we hear, "Are you saying cops lives don't matter?" Or, "Why aren't you chanting, 'Black lives matter!' when black Americans are killed by black criminals?"

This sort of thing can be a sound counter-argument -- but it assumes an argument to counter. The safety of police, and the incidence of black-on-black crime, are legitimate problems. But so is the alleged mistreatment of blacks by police. If every time someone tries to allege the mistreatment of blacks by police, others change the subject, then when do we discuss allegations of police mistreatment of blacks?


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Religious submission of the intellect and will


I miter've known

Our parish was assigned one of the priests who was just ordained for the Archdiocese. Last weekend was his first at the parish, but we were out of town, so as we pulled into the parking lot this morning my wife and I wondered whether we'd see him.

We did. He was the young fellow processing in next to the pastor, just in front of the deacon who was in front of the bishop.

Boy, you're gone for a week and they change everything.

(Actually, it was of course the visiting Archbishop Dufour of Jamaica. Our parish is sponsoring what looks to be semi-annual missions to Jamaica to help with the Mustard Seed Communities there.)


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mass Etiquette, annotated

The graphic on the left is from Veritas Kapanalig. I thought I'd add some more detail. Click on the image to enlarge.
No need to thank me. It's what I do.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Since no one's buying "Safe, legal, and rare" anymore

Time for a new motto:

Own it, America.


Sunday, July 05, 2015

Semper reformanda

The homilist today preached that what the Church calls the Seven Deadly Sins (which are really the Seven Capital Vices, but what are you going to do?) are the principal thorns in the flesh that people experience. He summed up:
"Pride, jealousy, greed, anger, gluttony, lust, and sloth. These are the seven major sins of the Church."
Ain't that the truth, Father?


Lumen Gentium on prophesy and gifts

12. The holy people of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name.(110) The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples' supernatural discernment in matters of faith when "from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" (8*) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God.(112) Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints,(113) penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life.

It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, "allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills,"(114) He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit".(115) These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use; but judgment as to their genuinity and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good.(116)

110 Cf. Heb. 13:15.
111 Cf. Jn. 2:20, 27
112 Cf. 1 Thess. 2:13.
113 Cf. Jud. 3
114 1 Cor. 12:11.
115 Cf. 1 Thess 5:12, 19-21.
116 Cf. Jn. 11:52.
(8) Cfr. Leo XIII, Epist. Encycl Divinum illud, 9 maii 1897: AAS 29 (1896-97) p. 6S0. Pius XII, Litt Encyl. Mystici Corporis, 1. c., pp 219-220; Denz. 2288 (3808).S. Augustinus, Serm. 268, 2: PL 38 232, ct alibi. S. Io. Chrysostomus n Eph. Hom. 9, 3: PG 62, 72. idymus Alex., Trin. 2, 1: PG 39 49 s. S. Thomas, In Col. 1, 18 cet. 5 ed. Marietti, II, n. 46-Sieut constituitur unum eorpus ex nitate animae, ita Ecelesia ex unil atc Spiritus.....


Saturday, July 04, 2015

The Triune God is love

The homily I heard on Trinity Sunday, after the traditional bad analogies, wound up here: "Because God is love, there can be no instance of love in which God is not present."

This got me wondering about what people who don't believe God is love believe about love. Such people would include straight-up atheists as well as folks with all sorts of incorrect conceptions about God (e.g., God as a cold-hearted rule giver, an indifferent watchmaker, a capricious cosmic vending machine, a god of culture war, an affirmer of human will).

And then we had the "#lovewins" explosion. I offered a positive view of that here, but a negative view might suggest it signals just how far our society -- and, let's not kid ourselves, that includes a lot of practicing Catholics -- is from a right conception of love, and therefore from a right conception of God, and therefore from a right conception of that creature whom He created in His own image and likeness.

I'll add, unoriginally, that one thing needed is the recovery (or reintroduction) of the sense of sin. I don't mean of the fact that this or that specific behavior is sinful, but the fundamental realization that there is such a thing as sin, that we are capable of it, and that we ought not do it. For there to be sin, there must be something objective, outside our own will, to which we are and ought to be accountable. There is a right relation to God and to each other that we can know but we can't define by our own authority. We can choose to live according to that right relation, or we can choose otherwise, but we can't invent it.

If we believe that -- I mean we, those who don't think #lovewon on June 24, or on a whole sequence of dates on which our society moved incrementally further from the common good -- we can learn to explain it to others, by teaching and witness. And we can evolve, in their eyes, from hate-filled lunatics to well-meaning lunatics, maybe even to error-prone thinkers. At some point, not of our choosing, Love will win.


Friday, July 03, 2015

While I'm at it

Two quick notes on the other two readings from last Sunday:

The Second Reading, 2 Cor 8:7,9,13-15, ends a bit obscurely:
As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
and whoever had little did not have less.
The reference is to Exodus 16, in which the Israelites are commanded to gather one omer (about 9.3 cups) of manna per person.
Some gathered a large and some a small amount. But when they measured it out by the omer, the one who had gathered a large amount did not have too much, and the one who had gathered a small amount did not have too little. They gathered as much as each needed to eat.
St. Paul is relating the wealth of the Corinthian Christians to the manna the LORD supplied the Israelites in the desert. That seems to play out to an extraordinarily radical view of wealth, but in its source -- provided by God, lying their on the ground for you to collect -- and its destination -- to be given to others until everyone has as much as each needs to eat (in these lax days, we might say "to live in dignity").

Exodus 16 goes on to say:
Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.”
But they did not listen to Moses, and some kept a part of it over until morning, and it became wormy and stank.
A word to the wise about the hoarding of riches.

Of course, manna also prefigures the Eucharist, so 2 Corinthians indirectly intertwines the Sacrament and "the ministry of charity [that is] part of the fundamental structure of the Church."

What jumped out at me when listening to the Gospel proclamation were these words of Jesus, to the woman who was healed of the hemorrhage:
"Go in peace and be cured of your affliction."
He said this after she was healed. This wasn't like the lepers who were healed on their way to the priests. This woman's miracle of healing had already occurred.

But she had spent the previous twelve years being ill. Her time, her money, her attention had all been consumed. What I got out of hearing those words of Jesus is that He was telling her to live as a person who has been cured by Him. The remaining years of her life were not to be consumed by memory of the illness, or sorrow over all she lost during that time, or resentment at the doctors who bumbled their way through her money. She was freed from the prison of her illness, and she was not to remain in the cell after Jesus opened the door.

On the other hand, to be cured isn't the same as to never have been ill. Gratitude for being cured is part of being cured, as well as humility and a readily acknowledged dependence on the One Who cured her.

"Go in peace and be cured of your affliction" seems like what Jesus says as we leave the confessional, too.


The wicked with hands and words invited death

There was some harrowing language in last Sunday's First Reading (Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24). In particular, the conclusion:
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who belong to his company experience it.
"They who belong to his company"? How's that for a matter of fact description of the damned? Another translation has "they that do hold of his side," which makes it sound like they not only happen to belong to the devil, they hold onto him.

That's even without getting into the fact that these people experience death, in a way that, by implication, those not belonging to the devil's company do not. The inspired author isn't writing about physical death, or at least not principally.

You'll note that the reading skips from 1:15 to 2:23. If they had included 1:16, it might really have made the people listening sit up straight in the pew:
It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death,
considered it a friend, and pined for it,
and made a covenant with it,
Because they deserve to be allied with it.
That's some unsettling stuff. Inviting, befriending, pining for death? What is wrong with these people?

Oh, right. They're "the wicked."

Here's a question: Does this verse, in associating the wicked with such awful behavior, make wickedness a narrower notion or a broader one? That is, is it saying that, unless you invite and pine for death, you aren't really wicked? Or is it saying that even low-level wickedness -- which, in a creation of a jealous God, is anything that isn't sanctity -- is a deserved covenant with death?


Not really a red meat kind of guy, my bishop

"Defiant" isn't a word I usually associate with the USCCB, but Archbishop Kurtz's statement on Obergefell v. Hodges has a touch of firebrand in it:
Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare.... Obergefell v. Hodges ...will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. ...profoundly immoral and unjust....a tragic error....
Not so Cardinal Wuerl's statement. The Cardinal is a teacher, a catechist, who treats the Supreme Court decision as a settled fact, more a circumstance in which teaching occurs than a subject of teaching in itself:
The law of the land affirms that “marriage” in civil law may now include two persons of the same sex. While this is not the Church’s understanding of marriage, it is a definition confirmed by the Court....
These reflections come with the hope that we try clearly to respect the law of the land and its implications and at the same time we are equally clear on our understanding of marriage and what it means in the light of the Gospel.
On the day the decision was announced, I found Archbishop Kurtz's words much more to my liking. When the common good takes a hit like that and the majority cheers, it's time for good old fashioned bold speech, some clarifying parrhesia and confident encouragement from our bishops. Compared to some red-blooded episcopal responses, Cardinal Wuerl's phlegmatic take comes off as anemic, maybe even submissive.

As we get on with things, though, Cardinal Wuerl's even tone doesn't seem so out of place. If his statement doesn't buoy us up for the fight, it does give guidance for the conversations we might have, when people are open to at least hearing the opinions or beliefs of others. If he is talking more to his flock than to the media, then his repeated point about respecting those who do not accept Church teaching, while leaving out anything about deploring the Supreme Court decision, makes sense. People who already deplore the decision don't need to be told to deplore it, but they do need to respond in a manner that bears witness to Christ.

I might also point out that the Archdiocese of Washington issued a separate press release, which echoes the Cardinal's blog post but, leaving out the counsel to the faithful, reads as a clear and firm statement of faith -- and history and nature too:
Marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a truth that predates courts and constitutions. This understanding transcends cultures, religions and all time – it is the foundation of civilization. More than just a bond between people who love and are committed to each other, marriage is also about creating and nurturing the next generation – something that requires both a man and a woman with their distinctive and complementary gifts. This is the reason that civil governments have given marriage special recognition throughout all of human history. Men and women are not interchangeable. Marriage is not ours to define.  History, nature and revelation all profess these truths.
Both the Cardinal's blog post and the Archdiocese's press release bring up the risk of conflict between Church teaching and civil law. I know Cardinal Wuerl has a reputation in some circles for being something of a squish, but when push comes to shove and actual conflict with civil authority arises, he stands firm in maintaining Catholic identity and teaching Catholic faith. He won't deny Communion to Nancy Pelosi, but he smacks her down as soon as she claims her nonsense is consistent with Catholic teaching. He is criticized because "he neglects to mention what the sin is" that we are supposed to hate while loving the sinner, but years ago he shut down archdiocesan foster care and adoption services rather than conform to the District of Columbia's SSM law. He doesn't fight when, where, and how a lot of people want him to, but he does fight.