instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Yes, yes, the family

I'm going to play contrarian and say I didn't find Pope Francis's talk at the Festival of Families to be any great shakes.

I mean, it was fine. I'm not objecting to or criticizing the speech. I'm just saying what the Pope said was kind of... unremarkable. I did like the bit about the family as a factory of hope, but on the whole, I don't think it would have been a standout across a year of homilies in my parish.

As I say, though, this is a contrarian position. A lot of people absolutely loved his talk. It was a stunning speech, I read. The Pope really hit it out of the park.

But maybe the two positions aren't actually contrary. Maybe people are mostly marveling at the personal connection Pope Francis made. Making a personal connection doesn't call for profundity or breaking new ground on a topic.

More to the point, maybe what the Church in the United States needs from this apostolic visitation isn't profundity but personal connection. If the Catholic Us included all Catholics in the country, united under the Pope, imagine how much stronger a witness we would be able to give to the culture. And if the culture could believe that we were "Catholic and," not "Catholic but," it would at least give us room to be Catholic.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

The felt banner of the counter-revolutionaries

The Catholic knight!

Yeah, um, no.


The moral of the story: Never read a book

I'm reading Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World, per Pope Francis's recommendation. (He's also recommended The Betrothed, which is a good read too.) Last night, just before I went to bed, I read the passage where Fr. Franklin meets the Pope (to say the least, that's a very different experience than people are having in the U.S. this week).

I wound up spending a good part of the night dreaming about Cardinal Fromme, a man so devoted to the Pope that he changed his name (from something like Eikenhardt, I think) when he thought the Pope asked him, "Are you Fromme?" and he felt obligated to answer, "Yes, your Holiness." The punchline was that the Pope had actually asked, "Where are you from?"

I woke up shortly after I realized that would have only worked if they were speaking English to each other.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Speaking of declarationist nominalism

Pope Francis laid another lump of jargon on us in his speech to the United Nations. He does this from time to time, perhaps most notoriously with Evangelii Gaudium's "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism." I'm not sure why he lets these through without expansion, or even further comment. Maybe they're just meant as Easter eggs for people who like to overanalyze.

At the UN he gave us this:
Such is the magnitude of these situations [of social and economic exclusion] and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences.
Well, obviously.

Nominalism as a philosophy (I write with the authority of some guy on the Internet) denies the existence of universals. (Though, apparently, nominalist kids these days deny the existence of abstract objects instead.) A universal is a property or characteristic that appears to be shared by multiple discrete objects; colors and shapes, like "redness" and "roundness," are common examples. (Wikipedia (or possibly Feldman) helpfully proposes the "Ness-Ity-Hood Principle" as a way of generating candidate universals. Add "-ness" or "-ity" or "-hood" to a word, and Bobness is your unclehood.)

A nominalist would say there's no such thing as "unclehood." (Part of the fun of being a realist is making nominalists say things that any sane person would giggle at.) Of less gigglity, perhaps, "humanity" isn't a real thing for nominalists, it's just a word we use to describe what we have in mind when we abstract something we notice humans have in common.

I'd say Pope Francis was referring to a degenerate form of nominalism, which shoots past "they're just words, not reality" and lands on "just words are reality." It's almost a form of sympathetic magic; if I invoke "care for the poor," then I am caring for the poor.

There is of course nothing wrong with invoking care for the poor (as long as you aren't doing it as part of a magic spell). But if a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and you say to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?


See, listen, respond. Plus a nice cuppa.

To pick one from all the examples, in his speech to the U.S. Congress Pope Francis said about migrants from southern countries:
We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.
Since I was thinking about that while making a cup of tea, the thought popped into my head of understanding Pope Francis's "theology of encounter" in the context of Argentina's custom of sharing a gourd of yerba mate.



Thursday, September 24, 2015


For those who don't believe in coincidences, I was thinking about this statement earlier today, which I did not know came from Cardinal Suhard, in the context of chewing over something from Pope Francis's homily yesterday, then I came across it in a piece on Dorothy Day, which I found linked to because Pope Francis mentioned her in his speech to Congress:

To be a witness ... means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.


Correcting the Pope

I have to say, I did not expect Pope Francis's speech to Congress to be littered with so many errors. Though, on reflection, these are just the sort of errors I've come to expect from the Vatican.

I correct some of them below (though in some cases it may be better to have said nothing at all):
Mr. Vice-President,
Mr. Speaker,
Honorable Members of Congress, Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which THAT makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which THAT offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which THAT will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which THAT we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which THAT sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which THAT affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which THAT would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which THAT can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which THAT sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which THAT Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which THAT lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which THAT awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which THAT is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which THAT we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which THAT time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which THAT seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which THAT I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which THAT includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of... developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which THAT is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which THAT have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which THAT may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which THAT pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which THAT enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which THAT becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which THAT has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!



The Canonization Mass of Saint Junipero Serra

Metro was up to the task.
In Transit

8:12 am- At Glenmont Metro. Not crowded. Train pulled out as I walked down the stairs to the platform. I offer it up.

8:14 - Next train leaves. This "offering up" business is pretty easy.

8:33 - Arrive at Brookland. Train car never doubled up seats. Gorgeous morning.

Breakfast and White House Welcoming Ceremony

Welcome to Little Rome.
8:39 - At Brookland Pint, which opened today at 7 am. Breakfast! Starting Lord of the World, at the Pope's recommendation.

8:58 - The Pope is on TV, greeting the crowd waiting for him on his way to the White House. A woman at the bar points out 3 TV stations show him outside 3 locations: "Embassy," "Nunciature," and "Diplomatic Mission."

9:30 - The Pope is not visibly digging the American Revolution marching band. He doesn't seem to like the whole statecraft business to being pope.

9:41 - I'm in a bar that has 4 TVs. All of them show the Pope. The music has been turned off, and we're listening to President Obama greet Pope Francis. In a bar. Granted, it's Little Rome, but dang.

9:43 - The Pope begins with, "Good morning." I suppose starting with the Sign of the Cross would be too much.

9:46 - Holy cow, the Pope speaks English with an Argentinian accent! That's only remarkable because I work with an Argentinian, and he has the same accent.

The draft menu was also specially curated for the big event.
9:51 - Close captioning has the phrase "open doors to corporations." Oh, local Fox station, that's "cooperation"! Freudian Autocorrect?

9:53 - The Pope's speech is over. It seemed largely harmless, something to encourage and/or bug anyone who wants to react to it.

10:00 - Yes, yes, I know, "The Liberty Bell" is a John Philip Sousa march, perfectly suited to state visits. But it's also the theme music for Monty Python's Flying Circus. Is that how we really want to play the Pope off the stage?

Getting on Campus

10:16 - I can't get to the Orange Gate entrance from where I'm standing.Good thing I have six hours to figure it out.

10:18 - A vendor's sign says "Merchandise $5." Such a deal!
On the right side of the street. The wrong side of the street is two blocks away, unless you want to take your chances vaulting the barriers.

10:21 - I've caught up with Orange Gate entrance line. Like Disneyland, it doesn't look so bad (see above), until you turn a corner and see the whole mob.

10:41 - All Things Considered radio rehearsal happening twenty feet away. I'm guessing it turned into this report.

10:57 - Okay, maybe getting through the gate by 11:30 was optimistic. But noon for sure, maybe.

11:04 - I notice that I'm surrounded by a bunch of white people chatting about various thing. Off a ways a bit, some people are singing in Spanish. Who's having more fun? (The college student next to me just mentioned the "Platonic form of unicorn." Sigh.)

11:09 - Nothing sets the mind in a large crowd at ease like the sight of bored cops. Even if they're wearing an ATF vest. Noticing there's an ATF medic, a Secret Service K-9, a gaggle of Maryland state police. And yes, the one muscled fellow in the suit with the earpiece informing us that this car is going to drive away now.

11:39 - I'm getting closer to the metal detectors. Can't wait to get through and... wait till 4:15!

11:41 - A volunteer is leading a train of Mexican friars through the line. Some white guy in a T shirt decides to follow them up to the metal detectors. I hope one of them will hear his confession before Mass.

11:58 - At long last, I'm through the checkpoint, where I'm given a most warm TSA welcome. (I will never complain about having to take off my belt at an airport again.) And a goody bag including a Mass program, a booklet on [now] St. Junipero Serra, and a ball point pen.

Waiting in Section E

Not my view, as an ATF agent politely but firmly told me.
My view. Jumbotron on far left was to help me see what the white dots in the sanctuary were doing.

12:11 - Not a bad view. I hope the fall sun doesn't burn. (That hope proved groundless. When I finally looked in a mirror that night, I looked like a cartoon of someone with sunburn. If I had seen me in a TV show, I'd have said, "That makeup's over the top.")

12:32 - Watching the Pope speak to US bishops on the Jumbotron. I can't quite hear the translator; I'll just wait for the book. I should spread out the papal poncho from the goody bag to sit on the ground, as others have done, but then I won't have a pristine papal poncho. #popeswag

12:56 - I've seen some fellow parishioners in my section. I knew at least some from my parish got tickets in a seated section. I am pleased that, however the tickets were divvied up, I wasn't singled out for the periphery.

1:18 - Just 3 hours until Mass doesn't start on time. I hear people around me say the Pope will mobile along the path about 30 feet in front of me (see aluminum fence in above right picture). Cool, if so.

1:46 - I am sitting on my goody bag in the bright sun, unable to read the Kindle screen to see how to adjust the brightness so I can read the Kindle screen. I have decided Lord of the World is, no doubt, a good book, but not really good prep for a papal Mass. On to St. Catherine of Siena's letters.

1:58 - Two hours after passing through the gate, I have the first thought of leaving early. Like right after canonization. As I slowly broil, I'm struck by the thought that seeing the Pope is like seeing a giant panda. Having seen him, how long do you stick around to watch him?

236 - A WBAL reporter walks by, holding a microphone and asking, "Anybody from Baltimore? Anybody?"

2:43 - Prelude starts with "Simple Gifts." I am hopeful that Mass won't start too too late.

2:53 - The shade has finally reached me. I feel like I'm standing on a two-square-foot duchy on a trade crossroads that everyone wants to sweep through on their way to greener pastures. A tall fellow with binoculars (and therefore elbows out to either side, a tall fellow in a suitcoat, and a medium height fellow with a small Vatican City flag stuck in the top of his cap are now obscuring the view that was unobscured for the previous 3 hours.

3:15 - Folks have noticed a sun dog. They're common enough around here, but I suppose it never hurts to have omens in the sky on days like this.

3:17 - Here's a picture of my current  view of the sanctuary. I am moderately grouchy.

3:30 - A number of altar servers have just walked up the steps to the altar. Practice? Or are they already taking their places

3:40 - The videoscreens show the Knights of Columbus processing along the front of the basilica. Within a minute, they've come around the corner and in direct sight. Following them are four hundred bishops in white. It seems a dirty trick to be at a papal Mass with white vestments, but what are you gonna do?

3:50 - The Popemobile is spotted! By me, I mean. There were some video shots of the Pope arriving in his Fiat (say what you like about humility, that car still looks a lot nicer than mine), and then of him somewhere on campus in his Jeep, but I have now clapped eyes directly on the vehicle itself.

A picture of people taking pictures of the Pope.

3:53 - The pope just smiled at me. Well, the couple thousand of us in Section E. He really does go to the periphery! In person, he looks exactly the way he looks on TV, which is to say, happy to see people.

3:58 - He's coming back! The Popemobile did a U-turn somewhere and is passing back the way it came, at a slightly higher clip than before. I get an excellent view of the back of the Pope's head.

The Canonization

And now my phone battery is dying. I need to save it for one last text so my wife knows when to pick me up from the Metro station, so I stop my detailed record keeping. Oh, and also there's a Mass going on somewhere up there, so I should probably attempt at least a little reverence.

Though I do risk both battery and impiety with a couple of pictures during the canonization rite, including this one, which is the only picture I took that I can tell has Pope Francis in it (he's sitting in his chair, listening to the biography of St. Junipero):



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Layers of meaning

CROSS, n. 1. A Christian symbol of Jesus' love for us and obedience to the Father. 2. Something Pope Francis will be doing to downtown Washington for the next couple of days. 3. Something that will be very hard for anyone else to do to downtown Washington for the next couple of days.
adj. Something a lot of people will get when they find how hard it is to do to downtown Washington.



Sunday, September 20, 2015

Overdrawn at the schadenfreude bank

James 4:3 explains the source of much disappointment in a Christian's life:
You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
Here we might barter for a little both/and from God. "If you can't, O Lord, grind to dust the one who is obnoxious to me -- and, let's face it, we both know he's no righteous one --  could You at least knock him down a peg or two? Sure, I'll find it delectable in a way maybe I shouldn't, but You'll be working some real justice too."

If there were more evidence that the wisdom I bring to bear on my own life is pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity, I might be more confident in advising God on His providential care of others. As it is, I try to keep my corrective intercessions as general as possible, yet still frequently have to amend them to the old standby, "God bless [X] and have mercy on me."


Sometimes, you never can tell

I came across the following image on Facebook:

I have three reactions.

First, boy, that's a lot of words to cram into one of these pseudo-profound quote jobbies.

Second, the gist of all those words is basically true. The evangelist operates under the same law as the writer: Show, don't tell. Until someone grants you the authority to be their teacher, you have to operate under your authority as Christ's witness.
-- A corollary: Be sure you have witnessed Christ before you try to witness to Him.
Third, don't bet that any particular person is actually interested in how you choose to live and give. Holden Caufield Syndrome is common these days; sufferers say they despise hypocrisy, but it's probably truer to say that they just love to mock imperfections in people they disagree with -- and, of course, they are themselves the arbiters of perfection. An evangelist may well find himself dealing with someone who won't listen to him until he has demonstrated a life of perfect rectitude, which is then judged by standards that contradict what he has to say about Jesus. In effect, he may be told, "Come back when you're perfect," and they both know even that won't be enough.

It's not altogether fair, but then, who said it would be?


The direction of the Church

Is it a problem when the Pope appoints someone you don't like to a position of influence?

No, it's a problem when he appoints someone I don't like.

Often, "things [are/were] better in the Church" means "things [are/were] better aligned with my preferences," and even that is a subjective judgment based on a very limited set of empirical data.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

I Stand With Francis

Along with about 10,000 others. I'd rather sit, but lottery enterers can't be choosers.

Of all the public events during this papal visit, the Canonization Mass is the one I most wanted to attend. Blessed Junipero has been a patron of mine since I visited his shrine and prayed at his tomb twenty years ago. I haven't been an exceptionally devoted devotee, but fortunately patron saints can't be choosers, either.



Friday, September 18, 2015

A parable for our times

A college professor began class one day by setting a large, wide-mouth glass jar on his desk, where all the students could see it.

Then, from a cardboard box, he carefully poured ping pong balls into the jar, until the balls reached the top. He stood back, looked at the jar, and said, "Would you say the jar is full?"

The students all said yes.

Next, he pulled out a large bag of sand, and carefully poured the sand into the jar. The sand filled in the empty spaces between the ping pong balls. When the sand reached the top of the jar, the professor stood back, looked at the jar, and said, "Would you say the jar is full?"

The students all said yes.

Next, he pulled out a water bottle, and poured water into the jar until the water reached the top. He stood back, looked at the jar, and said, "Now the jar is full."

The moral: College students are idiots.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

As-will-be Saint Junipero Serra

Here's the biography of St. Junipero Serra that will be read next week at his canonization Mass:
Junípero Serra nació en Petra, Mallorca en 1713. Ingresó en la orden de los franciscanos cuando era joven y se ordenó de sacerdote en 1737. Ocupó la Cátedra de filosofía Escotista en la universidad Lulliana en Palma y adquirió la reputación de ser un gran profesor y predicador por toda la isla de Mallorca. A fines de la década de 1740, se ofreció a dejar su tierra natal porque sentía un gran anhelo de servir como misionero en el Nuevo Mundo. Pasó ocho años en la Sierra gorda, una región escabrosa de México. Ahí predicó a los indígenas Pame. También, durante parte de ese tiempo sirvió como presidente de las cinco misiones franciscanas en esa región. Después, por ocho años más, tuvo varios puestos en la sede de los misioneros franciscanos en la Ciudad de México. Durante este tiempo predicó gran número de misiones domésticas por muchas áreas de México.

En 1767 lo eligieron presidente del grupo de franciscanos designado a reemplazar a los jesuitas expulsados de sus misiones en Baja California. Dos años después, Serra tomó parte en la expedición para extender la frontera española hacia el norte y ocupar Alta California. De 1769 hasta su muerte en 1784, Serra fue presidente de las misiones franciscanas en Alta California. Durante su presidencia, se fundaron nueve misiones por la costa de California entre diversos grupos de indígenas, incluso los Kumeyaay, Ohlone, Salinan, Tongva, Acjachemen y Chumash.

Serra se esforzó por congregar dentro del complejo misional a los indígenas que vivían cerca. Esperaba poder darles a conocer, poco a poco y de una manera voluntaria, los fundamentos del catolicismo. Muy a menudo peleaba con las autoridades militares acerca de la mejor manera de tratar a los indígenas y hasta viajó una vez a la capital de México para persuadirle al virrey, en persona, de apartar a un comandante militar de su mando. Durante los años que Serra estaba en California, miles de indígenas fueron bautizados y confirmados. Pero también muchos perecieron en las misiones, muchas veces a causa de las enfermedades introducidas por la incursión española al área. Serra emprendió muchos viajes misioneros por California. Se mantuvo firme en estos viajes arduos hasta el fin de su vida a pesar de las enfermedades y debilidades físicas de las que padecía y que le agotaron de sus fuerzas. falleció el 28 de agosto de 1784 en la Misión de San Carlos en Carmel. fue beatificado por San Juan Pablo II el 25 de septiembre de 1988.
In lightly edited Google Translate English:
Junipero Serra was born in Petra, Mallorca in 1713. He entered the Franciscan order when he was young and was ordained priest in 1737. He held the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy in Lulliana University in Palma and acquired a reputation as a great teacher and preacher throughout the island of Mallorca. In the late 1740s, he offered to leave his homeland because he felt a great desire to serve as a missionary in the New World. He spent eight years in the Sierra Gorda, a rugged region of Mexico. There he preached to the Pame Indians. Also, during part of that time he served as president of the five Franciscan missions in that region. Then, for another eight years, he held various positions at the headquarters of the Franciscan missionaries in Mexico City. During this time he preached many home missions in many areas of Mexico.
In 1767 he was elected chairman of the Franciscans appointed to replace the Jesuits expelled from their missions in Baja California. Two years later, Serra took part in the expedition to extend the Spanish border to the north and occupy Alta California. From 1769 until his death in 1784, Serra was president of the Franciscan missions in Alta California. During his presidency, nine missions were established along the coast of California between different indigenous groups, including the Kumeyaay, Ohlone, Salinan, Tongva, Acjachemen and Chumash.
Serra worked to gather inside the mission
complex the Indians who lived nearby, hoping to introduce them, gradually and on a voluntary basis, to the fundamentals of Catholicism. Very often he fought with military authorities about the best way to treat the indigenous people and once traveled to Mexico City to persuade the viceroy, in person, to relieve a military commander of his command. During the years that Serra was in California, thousands of indigenous people were baptized and confirmed. But many died in the missions, often due to diseases introduced by the Spanish incursion into the area. Serra undertook many missionary journeys in California. He was adamant in these arduous journeys to the end of his life despite illness and physical weakness of suffering, and he ran out of strength(?). He died on August 28, 1784 at Mission San Carlos in Carmel. He was beatified by John Paul II on September 25, 1988.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The three languages of catechesis

Yes, it is important that catechesis not be purely theoretical. That won’t do.

Catechesis is about giving them doctrine for life and, therefore, it has to include three languages: The language of the mind, the language of the heart and the language of the hands.

Catechesis has to include those three: that the young person might think and know what faith is, but, at the same time, feel with his heart what faith is and, on the other hand, get things done. If the catechesis is missing one of these three languages, it stagnates.

Three languages: thinking about how you feel and what you do, feeling what you think and what you do, doing what you feel and what you think.
-- Pope Francis

This was in reference to catechizing the young, but it seems applicable when catechizing anyone.



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mercy Me!

In Buenos Aires I met a Capuchin friar, a little younger than me, who was a great confessor. He always has a long queue, lots of people, and he confesses all day. He is a great “forgiver”, he forgives so much. And sometimes he feels guilty for having forgiven so much.

Once we were talking and he said: “Sometimes I feel guilty”.

And I asked him: “And what do you do when you feel guilty like that?”

“I go before the tabernacle, I look at the Lord and say to Him: Lord, forgive me, today I forgave so much, but let it be very clear that it is all your fault, because you were the one who set me the bad example!” 
 -- Pope Francis


Who can't accept it?

While listening to the proclamation of Mark 8:27-35 at Mass yesterday, I realized St. Mark left off the part at the end where the people say, "This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?"

They must have said that, right? They think they might be following John the Baptist, or maybe Elijah or one of the prophets, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Whoever he is, he astonishes all with word and deed.

Then, out of the blue, Jesus tells them,
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.
Wait, "whoever loses his life"? "For my sake"? Look, mister, we're just hear for the miracles and the oracles. Nobody said anything about anybody dying, much less for your sake.

And what does "take up his cross" even mean? You Nazarenes might have some colorful idioms, but the only crosses in these parts are the ones the Romans use to crucify the worst of the worst criminals.

I wouldn't think the crowd cared for this sort of talk any more than Peter cared for Jesus speaking openly of His own suffering and death. St. Mark, though, only records Peter's response. The crowds are largely silent in this stretch of St. Mark's Gospel, from the time they remark that Jesus "does all things well" at the end of Chapter 7 until they shout, "Hosanna!" in Chapter 11.

It's probably safe to say the response of the crowd to Jesus' teaching to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him is less important than the response of those who claim to be His disciples. The disciples who were right there when He said these words didn't seem to get what He was talking about, even when He spoke openly about His death.

Personally, I find it very easy to accept this saying, as long as I get to decide how much denying I have to do and which cross is mine.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Old apologetics to new evangelization

The thought occurred that you can saw off the end of today's Second Reading and get this:
I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
Which suggests a way to get at the problem of evangelizing a society that thinks it's heard that whole Christian shtick before.

We can probably pull it out of a specific Christian context altogether and say that our works, whatever they may be, demonstrate what we believe in, whatever we may say we believe in. A person without works is dead; if we're still alive, we're demonstrating our faith to others. Let us pray that it be faith in Christ.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Christians at Risk

Click on the image to donate to the Knights of Columbus relief effort for Christians in Syria and Iraq.


Monday, September 07, 2015

To those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!

Here's something suggested by, if not outright preached in, the homily I heard yesterday.

Isaiah's oracle --
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing. 
-- told Israel what it would look like when God came to save them. The district of the Decapolis, where Jesus healed the deaf and dumb man, was pagan territory. They may not have know Isaiah's prophecy, but they knew that what Jesus did among them was remarkable. The NABRE notes, of Mk 7:36, "He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.":
The more they proclaimed it: the same verb proclaim attributed here to the crowd in relation to the miracles of Jesus is elsewhere used in Mark for the preaching of the gospel on the part of Jesus, of his disciples, and of the Christian community (Mk 1:14; 13:10; 14:9). Implied in the action of the crowd is a recognition of the salvific mission of Jesus; see note on Mt 11:56.
People recognize the deaf hearing and the mute speaking as signs of God's salvific presence. True, the recognition is made within the overall context of a person's beliefs and opinions; a thing is received according to the mode of the receiver. There's more to proclaiming the Gospel than proclaiming that Jesus did all things well. But the recognition is there to be made, if people see the deaf hear and the mute speak.

The question for me is, do I hear what I was once deaf to, and if so do I speak of it? Following Isaiah, do I sing of it?

Lagniappe:The Rite of Baptism (the homilist pointed out) includes the "Ephphetha Prayer":
Priest: The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth, to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.
All: Amen.
Receiving Jesus' word and proclaiming His faith is the work of the baptized. That pagan fellow from the district of the Decapolis, who couldn't hear or speak until he was brought to Jesus, then couldn't stop speaking about Jesus? He is us. Those of us who didn't fully live out our baptism yesterday should be working on being him today.


Sunday, September 06, 2015

Psalm 95:7b

Grail Psalter: "Today, listen to the voice of the Lord."
New American Bible (Revised Edition): "Oh, that today you would hear his voice"
Douay Rheims: "To day if you shall hear his voice"
American Standard Version: "To-day, oh that ye would hear his voice!"
Complete Jewish Bible: "If only today you would listen to his voice."
Geneva: "today, if ye will hear his voice"
King James Version: "To day if ye will hear his voice"
Orthodox Jewish Bible: "Today if ye will hear His voice"
Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition: "O that today you would hearken to his voice!"
Young's Literal Translation: "To-day, if to His voice ye hearken"

The point being:

The "if" is not on God's part. God is speaking to you. Today.

The "if" is on your part -- and my part, and everyone's part, every day since Adam and Eve hid themselves when God called to them in the Garden.


I don't want to alarm anyone

But bears and wolves are forming alliances.


Saturday, September 05, 2015

Here comes Papa

It seems to me that pretty much everything people love, hate, and worry about Pope Francis was on display during last night's "Pope Francis and the People." There was what you might call his charism of nearness -- I think I saw someone mention a "theology of accompaniment" -- that I think fuels much of his popularity. You would love to have a neighbor like him, especially if you were going through rough times, and somehow the world finds it astonishing that a Pope might be so -- I was going to write "approachable," but actually he's the one who seems to do most of the approaching. If you'll pardon the limping analogy, St. John Paul II was a master of the stadium concert, while Francis is happiest doing acoustic sets in coffee shops and on street corners. People love rock stars, and they really love rock stars who make personal connections with their audience. (Benedict, I suppose, would be a technical virtuoso whose ability was overlooked by many.)

There was also, I think, a sort of generic humanism in a lot of what Pope Francis said. He didn't quote the Bible much, he didn't mention Jesus all that often, he only made a firm challenge to the spirit of generic humanism once (in congratulating the mother for not aborting her children). If Twitter is to be believed, that approach appealed to a lot of people, including non-Catholic Christians, non-Christians, and non-theists. At the same time, it bothered some Catholics and other Christians, who saw missed opportunities to preach the Gospel in an explicit and doctrinal way, or to give traditional Catholic moral guidance like frequent reception of the Sacraments and prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

When he did mention Jesus, it was more in a pastoral than a doctrinal way (recognizing that he just argued against a "false opposition ... between theology and pastoral ministry, between Christian reflection and Christian life). Was Jesus really "homeless" when He was born? I'd say no, not in the way that the homeless in Los Angeles shelters are homeless. But what good would my saying that do for the homeless in Los Angeles shelters? The Pope seems less interested in precision of speech than in embracing the person he's speaking to. I'd say why not both, but then he's not speaking to me.

Except in the example he's setting. You can't bring the Gospel, however precisely expressed, to a place you aren't, and the Pope has a way of getting into the hearts of people who are worried about bigger things than precision.

I have seen complaints that a pope can't sacrifice precision for getting into people's hearts, and even the worry that it's precisely through his vagueness that Pope Francis (or at least an impression of him) gets into a lot of hearts that would be closed to him if they saw him coming with the whole of Catholic teaching. Maybe so. I'm not a good judge of that sort of thing.


Want accurate reporting? Be careful what you wish for.

I am so far inside the bubble that it never would have occurred to me that Pope Francis's granting to all priests the authority to forgive the sin of abortion would be noticed, much less featured, by secular news.

Silly me. I was thinking about what the news was, rather than what it would sound like to someone who doesn't know the from that Pope Francis is changing to. Journalism has evolved from saying, "Lord Jones is dead," to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive to saying, "Lord Jones's death confirms our readers' biases." In this case, the biases are that the Church is medieval and heartless, and Pope Francis is changing everything.

Couple that with the Pew survey about Catholics who don't believe Catholicism, and it's little surprise that NPR's Morning Edition spent several minutes Wednesday morning talking about the Church.

I braced myself for bias, but I don't think the NPR reporters honked up any worse than the Catholics they interviewed. I've seen a lot of reporting with such basic errors that I've wondered if there is not a single practicing Catholic on the whole news staff, but it can be said that, as a class, we American Catholics don't practice all that hard.