Thursday, July 31, 2008

Self-control

The second condition of freedom, then, is self-control. Self-control is just a more palatable way of saying mortification. Mortification is a bad word because we associate it with extreme practices, like self-flagellation, etc. This is not what Giussani is suggesting, however. Mortification is penitence and penitence is metanoia. Metanoia is the word our Lord uses when he proclaims, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3,2). The first word of that sentence in the original Greek is metanoia, which means to turn around, or change direction. This is Jesus' invitation to us to turn and follow him.

In the context of freedom it means going with what truly corresponds to your heart (i.e., that which leads you closer to your destiny) instead of going where you might temporarily want to go, being attracted by what turns your head and/or changes your path away from destiny. Denying what you want in such instances and turning back toward destiny is mortification, dying to self. Here Giussani introduces the example of the doctor who becomes a friar and goes to Tanzania to serve and then meets a blond to whom he is attracted, after taking final final vows, designated T and b respectively. T is the choice made in freedom, the response to what corresponds to the friar's heart, that vocation, that way of life, that authentic mode of existence that will lead him to destiny. So, even when T does not seem as attractive as b, it is the former that leads to destiny (Is It Possible to Live This Way? pgs. 68-9).


Hence, "you govern yourself according to the destiny you are aware of. This always implies a tearing away, a wound. In Christian terms it's called penitence or mortification. Mortification means that it seems like a death, like a renunciation, but it isn't! Because if someone chooses this T, he then sees this b in another light, he does not lose it" (pg. 73). He can still love b, but with a self-denying love that is "true and eternal" (ibid). Mortification is a death. It is a dying to self, which is necessary to realize destiny. One of the most beautiful things about the movie Nacho Libre is that, in the end, Ignacio, the friar, and Sr. Encarnacíon, despite their attraction to each other, do not break their vows and run away together, but stay at the orphanage and continue to be true to their religious vows and their service to the orphans, which is their path to destiny.

We do not reach our destiny by seeking to satisfy every desire of which we become aware, but of realizing what we truly desire, that it is infinite, bigger than the world. Therefore, the things of the world, while good or, at least neutral, have to be approached from the perspective of awareness of your destiny and, even when they exert great pull, tugging you against destiny, self-control, which amounts to mortification, is what is needed. Hence, self-denial is a necessary component of the spiritual life. When we fast we exert self-control, when we abstain, the same. When we decide to deny ourselves something we like, something that it is not wrong for us to have, for a time, it is self-control. Then, when we are faced with a desire that threatens us, we are better equipped to deal with it.

It is not possible to live this way in isolation, that is, by yourself. "The companionship's most external and evident value - most clearly evident - is that it calls you back to the religious sense, to destiny" (ibid). Indeed, as the Prince of Morrocco found out in his encounter with the golden casket in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, when, instead of seeing the face of the lovely Portia, he sees death, with this message written in his hollow eye:
"All that glisters is not gold;/Often have you heard that told./Many a man his life hath sold/But my outside to behold./Gilded tombs do worms enfold" (Act II, scene vii).
We have "an enormous wound", original sin. "So the community tells you not to be scandalized by temptation and not to be scandalized even at the mistakes you make, but to indomitably take up the path again" (pg. 75).

Freedom is not perfectly expressed in choosing, by having freedom of choice. We have freedom of choice because freedom is imperfect. This imperfection is easily demonstrated: "Error, the possibility of error, pertains to freedom that still isn't free, that still isn't freedom, that hasn't reached total satisfaction" (pg. 70). Jumping off the thought train, this is why learning to judge in light of the fact of the encounter, which is an event, is so crucial. Again, making correct judgments consistently can only be done when living in the awareness of destiny and not putting yourself, that is, your fleeting desires, first. This is why the fifth and final passage of faith is your responsibility to act. Freedom is necessary in order to act.

It is not because, in some Orwellian twist, freedom is a dictator that it is not perfectly realized by having choices. It is because perfect freedom seeks what corresponds to the heart, it seeks what satisfies all our desires. When you find satisfaction, that is, perfect happiness, choice is no longer necessary. To wit: what else would you choose?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The culmination of Christian morality; love of the Lord

I have been insisting for awhile now that the Church has nothing to say to people about morality until "our listeners have glimpsed God's delight in their existence" (Radcliffe, What Is the Point of Being a Christian, pg. 59). I was both surprised and gratified to stumble on a great passage by Don Giussani in Is It Possible to Live This Way?: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, Vol. 1. In the second chapter of this book Giussani comments on a passage from the last chapter of St. John's Gospel in which Peter (i.e., Simon), James, John, Andrew, Thomas, and Nathaniel had been fishing all night and caught nothing. At dawn, as they approached the shore, they saw a charcoal fire and a man. The man asked them if they had caught anything to eat. They answered that they had not. The man told them to cast the net on the right side of the boat, which they did. They caught so many fish that they were not able to pull the net back in the boat. It was then that Peter realized it was the Lord. So, Peter, true to his character (which I love), jumped out of the boat and swam to shore (Jn 21,9-17).

Here is where Don Gius' commentary picks up:


The Lord "is near Simon and He says to him, very softly, without the others realizing, He says quietly, 'Simon, do you love me more than these?' This is the culmination of Christian morality: the beginning and the end of Christian morality. He didn't tell him, 'Simon, you betrayed me. Simon, think how many mistakes you made. Simon, how many betrayals! Simon, just think that you can make the same mistake tomorrow and the day after . . .Think about how fragile you are, what a coward you are in front of me.' No! 'Simon, do you love me more than these?' He went to the depths of everything, to the bottom of everything; so this bottom of everything pulls everything along with it" (pg. 77- red-lettering of our Lord's words mine).
After this brief commentary on the Gospel, Giussani quotes the Angelic Doctor to the effect that "every living thing gives proof of its life by that operation which is most proper to it, and to which it is most inclined" (Summa Theologica Secunda Secundae Partis, q. 179, a. 1). What is most proper to the life of human beings, according to Aquinas, is "acting in accord with reason" (ibid). Taking a bit of a leap, we can conclude with Msgr. Giussani that "nothing is more intelligent than following . . . the companionship in which the Lord, who calls us, has placed us" (Is It Possible to Live This Way p. 76). Of course, for us the companionships in which the Lord has placed us are our families, our Schools of Community, and our parishes. I think in terms of a companionship dedicated to following the Lord, which is a companionship that challenges us, that corrects us, that is, having companions on the way to whom we are accountable because of our mutual love for the Lord, which makes possible our love for each other, our genuine concern for each other- these are our families and then our Schools of Community. Ideally, yes, our parishes. This is precisely where as participants in SoC we can act as leaven.

While on this subject, my homily and the entire Mass of which it was a part is now available to watch, courtesy of our fantastic diocesan newspaper, The Intermountain Catholic. Tomorrow, the necessity of mortification (a.k.a. self-control) to realizing destiny, that is, true freedom, which, as it turns out, is not freedom of choice.

(Thanks to Suzanne for the graphic, which I pulled off Venite a vedere)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Love for destiny

In speaking about the conditions of freedom, Don Giussani refers back to two examples he gives about things to which we are attracted that do not lead us to our destiny. One of the examples is a married man who is attracted to his secretary more than his wife. It is his wife, his marriage, that is a conduit of his relationship with the Mystery, not a dalliance with the secretary, which is a deviation from the path that leads him to his destiny. The question becomes, "what has to happen for you to renounce that attraction [to the secretary, or whatever] and come here?" Here being where God wants you. Two things have to happen, but we'll only look at the first, which is "The awareness of destiny":


"First: a clear awareness of destiny, love for destiny. If one loses sight of destiny, then he or she errs. Everyone, a hundred out of hundred, lives like this; let's be attentive, because we too live like this. This is the horror, this is against man. It's inhuman. It's man living according to a criterion that is against man. That's what it seems like, and the whole world says: 'It's right, it's comfortable, you deserve it, you want it, so do it!' No! Because life's destiny isn't that thing we want. It's the mystery of God, awareness of the Mystery, awareness of destiny" (Is It Possible to Live This Way? pg. 72)

Awareness of our destiny is precisely what makes it possible to live this way, in the friendship of Christ, in the awareness of his Presence. Therefore, we must not lose sight of destiny, which is what corrsponds to our heart because it is only our destiny, the end for which we are created, that will satisfy our desire, which is bigger than the world. Nothing more than our desire points us to the infinite, to the Mystery. Our desire, when directed toward life's destiny, as opposed to the Mystery, is insatiable because what we seek is finite and temporal, it is here and then it is gone. So, like the rat hitting the bar for more and more crack pellets, we seek to repeat the behavior over and over, in the vain hope that this time I will be satisfied.

This is the point at which I break into a chorus of You Satisfy the Hungry Heart, about which Bruce Sprinsteen and the E Street congregation observed, everybody has one.

Where is God?

I was thinking this morning, after seeing The Dark Knight last night, about how chaotic and scary the world can be, about the terror that being alive amounts to sometimes. In other words, about the problem of evil. Without a doubt this is the reason why a good many people cannot believe in God.

As Christians we should not wonder where God is when evil seems to prevail. The presence God has in the world, dear friends, is us- the baptized, those who are Christians. Our vocation is to show forth the great love God has for the world by not being overcome by evil. Even though we are God's presence in a world already in the process of being redeemed, we are not alone. Jesus has not left us orphans. We have the Spirit of God. God's Spirit is gentle. God's Spirit is not violent, not returning evil for evil, nor an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. Again, this is where the saints are our great exemplars in responding to evil, pain, and suffering in the world.

We are all called to be holy, that is, saints. Instead of waiting for the deus ex machina, which is what most people look for and even expect when evil and chaos rear their heads, we need to prayerfully act and be Christ's presence for others, even if this can only amount to being a non-anxious presence in the midst of the chaos, the pain, or the suffering. I think that becoming mature in our faith is about just that. This came home to me last year when reading the book on Mother Teresa's life, that there comes a time in the life of a disciple when we begin to live. Such a life is captured well in the Prayer of St. Francis, which we cannot take in some sentimental sense, but in a where-the-rubber-meets-the-road existential sense:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred . . . let me sow love
Where there is injury . . . pardon
Where there is doubt . . . faith
Where there is despair . . .hope
Where there is darkness . . . light
Where there is sadness . . .joy
Divine Master,
grant that i may not so much seek
To be consoled . . .as to console
To be understood . . .as to understand,
To be loved . . . as to love
For it is in giving . . .that we receive,
It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned,
It is in dying . . .that we are born to eternal life


Jesus sought to foster such maturity among the twelve even during his lifetime, by sending them forth (Matt. 10,5-15).

As a balance to this perhaps overly existential post, I draw your attention to a post over on come to see, entitled The miracle of Christ's presence.

Monday, July 28, 2008

School of Community

In light of our being scattered these past few months, I am re-posting something from a few months ago. This something comes from Suzanne's experience expressed in a post on come to see:

"Father Carron said we need only three things to do [School of Community]:
1. Our heart
2. the books of Father Giussani (ie, the method) and
3. Christ. It doesn't depend on anything or anyone else, so we have our freedom, and no one can limit us or our freedom to do it because I have all I need and you have all you need."


This is a good reminder to us that we must make SoC a priority. We must read and reflect on our life in light of the method, and come, drawn by the Spirit, by the particular charism of CL, which is nothing but a particular manifestation of the Spirit. Because it is such, the charism may not appeal to everyone. It certainly appeals to no two people in the same way. It is the reason that unites us, our longing for what will satisfy us, which is just one thing, that which corresponds to to our heart, that which satisfies our desire, which is bigger than the world. This is why worldly pursuits, after a time, seem so empty.

So, we are picking up at chapter 2, Freedom, we'll begin by looking at the five passages of faith in light of our personal experiences and move on to freedom. This is what School of Community is about, nothing else. Of course, we can and will meet at other times in other places to do other things, but Wednesday evening is SoC, during which we accept Jesus' invitation to "Come to see" in light of the charism, according to the method of Don Giussani.

This invitation remains an open to one to all who want to join us. We meet in the Our Lady of Zion chapel at The Cathedral of the Madeleine at 7:00 PM on Wednesdays, pray the Angelus, and move to the rectory for our encounter.

Year A Seventeeth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kgs 3,5.7-12; Ps. 119,75.72.76-77.127-130; Rom 8,28-30; Matt. 13,44-52

Do we, like the Psalmist, love the Lord’s commands? What an odd question, but a no less important one for its oddness. After all, what can it mean to love commands, especially when we think of commands as being restraints, rules, and restrictions externally imposed on us? We find a provisional answer in Psalm 119, which is our responsorial today. God’s commands move us forward, that is, along the pilgrim path of life, the revelation of God’s words is what sheds light on our path and prevents us from following "false ways", that is, paths that do not lead us to our destiny, the kingdom of heaven.

Suffice it to say that loving the Lord’s command is what it means to be wise. Wisdom is not magically achieved through some kind of blind and/or fear-driven obedience. Rather, it is to come to know that the path we are called walk is the true path and that we need God’s help to discern it and to stay on it. In other words, our obedience must simultaneously be intentional and humble. Intentionally following God’s commands means understanding that righteousness does not consist of mindlessly doing some things and avoiding others because the Bible or the church says so. Rather, it consists in seeking God’s face by trying to understand why God asks what he does of us as well as making an effort to learn how the constant practice of doing what is good and avoiding what is evil, as difficult as this can sometimes be, transforms us and, in turn, those with whom we come in contact. Doing this also requires humility because a sterile observance of God’s commandments all too easily leads to self-righteousness, which leads us off the narrow path to the kingdom of heaven.

In our first reading today a young King Solomon, given the opportunity in a dream to ask God for whatever he wanted, asks for wisdom. He specifically asks for the wisdom to be able to rule the kingdom of united Israel he inherited from his father, David. It is not too much to say, at least for an Israelite of that era, that Solomon is asking for wisdom to rule the society of the people of God, which amounted to something like God’s kingdom on earth. While Solomon’s rule began with great promise and even saw the expansion of the Israelite kingdom, it ended with a kingdom on the brink of division, on the verge of splitting apart. This was due in large part to Solomon’s advancing the interests of the earthly kingdom at the expense of being to faithful to the covenant, ignoring God’s commands, specifically the injunction against the toleration of false gods among the chosen people. Almost immediately following Solomon’s death, Israel divided in two, which weakening led, in time, to exile for Israel. So, we see in Solomon an illustration as to why intentionality and humility are necessary for the obedience that leads to wisdom.

Our Gospel picks up from where we left off last week, which is in the middle of no fewer than seven parables in one chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. A parable is simply a comparison. These parables compare experiences recognizable to first century Jews to the kingdom of heaven. Take our first parable, when Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a person who finds a very valuable treasure buried in a field. Instead of reporting his find to the owner of the field, or stealing it, he reburies it, sells all that he owns, and purchases the field. The take home point is simple, as it is meant to be with parables, through the use of which Jesus tries, in the words of the psalmist, to give "understanding to the simple"; receiving the kingdom of God is more valuable than everything we own. (Ps 119, 130).

Now, lest we reduce these parables to a boring moral lesson, we have to shed some light on exactly what, or, more precisely who, the kingdom of heaven is. Jesus of Nazareth is the kingdom in person. This unveiling that Jesus is the kingdom is called by that great father of the church, Origen, autobasileia. Commenting on this insight, the Holy Father, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, writes: "Jesus himself is the Kingdom; the Kingdom is not a thing, it is not a geographical dominion like worldly kingdoms. It is a person; it is he" (49). That is how, earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus can proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3,2). In these parables Jesus seeks to bring us to the realization "that he is God’s presence" (Jesus of Nazareth 49).

This brings us, via a circuitous route, to our second reading. Paul, in writing about being conformed to the image of the Son, is referring to the full restoration of Christians, through baptism, to the original image, deformed but not eradicated by sin, that we are created and intended by God to possess. This image is nothing less than the divine image, made known to the world by incarnation of the Son of God. At this point, it is important to note that Jesus Christ is still personally present, not only among us, but through us, as we are his body, the church. He tells us himself that "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18,20). Therefore, we are reassured that the kingdom of heaven is not taking an intermission until Christ comes in glory.

Along these lines, it is necessary to point out that the Greek word that we almost always reduce to mean Christ’s second coming, paraousia, really "means ‘presence,’ as opposed to ‘absence’" (Paul: A Fresh Perspective 54). New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop, N.T. Wright, commenting on Paul’s messianic apocalypticism (try saying that fast three times), writes that, for Paul "heaven and earth are not . . . separated by a great distance" (ibid). Rather, Paul sees heaven and earth "as overlapping and interlocking dimensions" (ibid). For Paul and for us, "what matters is not Jesus’ ‘coming’ from a great distance, but his ‘personal presence’" here and now (ibid).

My dear friends nowhere do heaven and earth, the kingdom that is already and not yet, overlap and interlock more than when we assemble, as now, in eucharist. Our gathering makes the kingdom of heaven a present reality, even if not yet fully present. Just as we cannot separate Jesus and the kingdom, neither can we separate the Lord from his commands. To wit: if we love the Lord, we must strive to observe what he commands in order that we may be fully conformed to his image. We are here in obedience to his command to "do this in memory of me", thus giving lie to the false distinction between being spiritual but not religious. Our striving is intentional and humble because we recognize that such a transformation can only be brought about by the power of God, which is most manifest in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. In turn, we are called to make known his image to the world. We do this by seeking to follow the Lord in all we do and say. Only in this way do we make present the kingdom of heaven, which is, indeed, like a "pearl of great of price," worth more than all we can ever possess (Matt. 13,46).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The history of HV, sex, and porn on Καθολικός διάκονος

Here is a pretty comprehensive overview of matters sexual on my humble blog. I do not intend to become a one trick pony, or a one note song on this matter, but it seems to me to be at the heart of so much that is misunderstood. The separation of sex from procreation, accomplished via contraception, is the root issue. It is almost as fundamental an error as the divorce between faith and reason. In fact, our contraceptive mindset flows from this divorce, which is precisely why the church's teaching on sexuality is considered archaic and retrograde. Stated perhaps far too simplistically, faith and reason split as a result of the Protestant schism, with Luther's turn to the subject on matters of faith, a rupture that was only widened by the Enlightenment.

HV:
The Good News

In defense of marriage

John Paul I on "this most delicate matter"

Marriage and the Gift of Life: Some Diaconal Observations

From Vive l'Evangile- "I believe that children are our future" and so does the Pope

Sex and porn:

WYD- The Pope speaks to us quite directly

The evil dynamic of lust: the story of Amnon, Son of David

Life as a dirty joke: one post-feminist perspective

The cinema on sex

Baise Moi- literally, pardon my French

Re-paganization

Urgently needed:The development of a healthy understanding of sexuality

. . . "lust isolates, while love unites" Archbishop George Niederauer's Keynote Address to the Lighted Candle Society

The virtue of chastity

Friday: A Shepherd Calls His Flock to Repentance on the Threshold of Advent

Observing the gap through the prism of sexuality

Friday, July 25, 2008

Humane Vitae turns 40, part II

In my rush to get out the door this morning I limited myself to providing the link for and encouraging you, dear reader, to look-up and read Mary Eberstat’s wonderful article on this encyclical. Now that I have a bit more time, I want to look at a few elements, or, more precisely, mine a few salient quotes that help make the points she makes so well. As I mentioned this morning, Humane Vitae, specifically number 17, warned about four consequences that would follow from the widespread use and easy availability of easy to use contraceptives:
“a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments” (Eberstat).
Let’s start with the last consequence by using the quote from historian Matthew Connelly’s book, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, employed in the First Things article:
"The great tragedy of population control, the fatal misconception, was to think that one could know other people’s interests better than they knew it themselves. . . . The essence of population control, whether it targeted migrants, the 'unfit,' or families that seemed either too big or too small, was to make rules for other people without having to answer to them. It appealed to people with power because, with the spread of emancipatory movements, it began to appear easier and more profitable to control populations than to control territory. That is why opponents were essentially correct in viewing it as another chapter in the unfinished business of imperialism.”
Next, let’s tackle the lessening of respect for women by men. Here Eberhart quotes Archbishop Chaput of Denver from an article he wrote ten years ago on the thirtieth anniversary of the encyclical, which gives more than due regard to feminist concerns: "Contraception has released males—to a historically unprecedented degree—from responsibility for their sexual aggression."

This leads us to the general lowering of moral standards and marital infidelity, which in the old fashion sense of adulterous relations continues apace, but also takes on a new dimension in what Eberhart herself calls "the Pill’s bastard child, ubiquitous pornography".
"’The onslaught of porn,’ one social observer wrote, ‘is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn-worthy.’ Further, ‘sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity. . . . If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.’
Finally, we come to the late, great philosopher, student of my dear W, G.E.M. Anscombe, who wrote:
”If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here—not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behavior in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. I am not saying: if you think contraception all right you will do these other things; not at all. The habit of respectability persists and old prejudices die hard. But I am saying: you will have no solid reason against these things. You will have no answer to someone who proclaims as many do that they are good too. You cannot point to the known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things. Because, if you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition.”
Again, I appreciate very much that Eberhart dispenses with the secondary, juridical concerns surrounding this issue and deals with questions of truth. Rarely has a moral argument been so overwhelmingly vindicated by empirical evidence. So, love God and do what will, as St. Augustine urged. However, disregard sound moral teaching at your own and others’ peril.

Lest you think I have exhausted Eberstat’s observations, I assure you I have not. There is plenty more for the mulling. Near the end of the article she once again quotes Archbishop Chaput, who pointed out ten years ago that "If Paul VI was right about so many of the consequences deriving from contraception, it is because he was right about contraception itself." This causes Eberstat to observe that
“This is exactly the connection few people in 2008 want to make, because contraceptive sex—as commentators from all over, religious or not, agree—is the fundamental social fact of our time. And the fierce and widespread desire to keep it so is responsible for a great many perverse outcomes. Despite an empirical record that is unmistakably on Paul VI’s side by now, there is extraordinary resistance to crediting Catholic moral teaching with having been right about anything, no matter how detailed the record.”
If you care, you’ll read and ponder. I also highly recommend picking up a copy of Prof. Janet’s Smith’s book Why Humane Vitae Was Right: A Reader. Again, it is necessary to know in order to make judgments about to how to live.

Humane Vitae turns 40

Updated and expanded 26 July 2008

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s promulgation of the encyclical Humane Vitae, which reaffirmed the constant teaching of the Church over two millennia. What is sad is that the document rarely gets discussed on its own merits. It is usually employed by those arguing against the spectre of creeping papal infallibility, which, according to such arguments, began at Vatican I and was reinforced, that is, strengthened by the Second Vatican Council, particularly in number twenty-five of Lumen Gentium.

It is important to put aside all such juridical arguments and to seek the truth in order to make a judgment about how to live. I do not have the time or energy to do this at present. I have written on this topic (see Marriage and the Gift of Life: Some Diaconal Observations) and preached on it several times. To that end, there is a very good article available for free on the First Things website, by Mary Eberstat, entitled The Vindication of Humane Vitae, which is well worth your time. In her article she ignores all the secondary issues and gets to the heart of the matter. It does not matter, for example, that Pope Paul rejected the recommendation of the majority of the Papal Commission, set up by his predecessor, Bl. John XXIII. What matters is fidelity to the truth, which is fidelity to the Lord. That issue is dealt with in number six:
"However, the conclusions arrived at by the commission could not be considered by Us as definitive and absolutely certain, dispensing Us from the duty of examining personally this serious question. This was all the more necessary because, within the commission itself, there was not complete agreement concerning the moral norms to be proposed, and especially because certain approaches and criteria for a solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church."
To wit: it is one thing to recommend that the church alter its teaching in the light of human advancement, as with, say, usury. It is a another thing entirely to make a recommendation that is at odds with the natural, that is, the moral law, which is inscribed in nature and, if we seek to be discerning, on our hearts. The fact that we can deny comatose people food while making their passing comfortable and that many people are in favor of doing this does not make it right. In other words, just because technology enables us to do something does not mean that we ought to do it. Such an anti-ethic is yet another human attempt to play God, which is the original sin.

What caused the whole discussion to begin was the introduction of the birth control pill in 1960. What was unique about this method at the time was that it dispensed with the need for blocking methods, like condoms, or withdrawal prior to ejaculation, both of which are immoral. In other words, by using the Pill the act could be completed without the risk of pregnancy. What was not known, even in 1968, is that the so-called Pill often and unpredictably acts as an abortifacient. In other words, it does not always prevent conception, but sometimes causes a very early term abortion after conception, an outcome not under the control of the user. So, apart from the question about the morality of contraception, which constitutes the heart of the matter, at least as regards the Pill, there are other grave issues at stake. All this before getting to the long-term health effects that use of the Pill cause in women who employ this method of contraception.

Humanae Vitae, oddly enough, is a very progressive document, not a reactionary one. It does far more than reiterate the ban on artificial contraception, or respond to new arguments in favor of reversing the constant teaching of the church. Again, it is not a matter of pointing to issues on which the church’s position has evolved and changed, like on slavery, usury, the death penalty, etc. Rather, it is a question about this particular issue on a matter that gets right at what it means to be human. Sexuality is qualitatively different from charging interest on a loan, or the other issues, which have to be understood in the context of the times. To wit: the purpose of sex touches directly the question of our humanity.
"The question of human procreation, like every other question which touches human life, involves more than the limited aspects specific to such disciplines as biology, psychology, demography or sociology. It is the whole man and the whole mission to which he is called that must be considered: both its natural, earthly aspects and its supernatural, eternal aspects" (par. 7).
Humanae Vitae recognizes that in addition to having a procreative dimension, sexual intercourse also has a unitive dimension (HV par. 12). In other words, there is a value for married couples to engage such intimate relations, not completely divorced from but in addition to having children. The separation of sex from procreation is the most disastrous consequence of the contraceptive mindset. Sex has become recreation, not procreation. Pregnancy is now what goes wrong when engaging in sex. This is borderline insanity, that is, a denial of reality.

It is also important to note, especially for those of us who practice Natural Family Planning, which is not the rhythm method, that it is not merely an acceptable form of contraception. In marriage vows, we promise to receive children lovingly from God. We do not promise to accept every possible child we are physically capable of having, nor any set number of children. Nonetheless, as St. Thomas teaches us, love is profuse. Anyway, the church does not oppose birth control, that is, the number and spacing of children. The constant tradition of the church opposes contraception, which is not to be conflated and identified with birth control. Once again it becomes, to a certain extent, another case of ends and means. To wit: we always adhere to the principle that ends do not justify means; we may never do evil that good may come of it.

In number ten Humane Vitae teaches that husbands and wives need to arrive at a "full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood". Therefore, taking into account the "physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time" (underlining mine). "From this it follows," Pope Paul wrote, "that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out" (HV 10).

If you find yourself feeling recoiling from and being challenged by this teaching, it is important to note what Pope John Paul II wrote regarding the church's missionary activity: "The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience" (Redemptoris Missio par. 39). I would note that Giussani's criterion applies here, too, what corresponds to your heart, what leads you to destiny? Both of these precepts are predicated on consciences properly formed, that is, a sincere desire to be happy, to reach our destination, to fulfill the end for which we are created and redeemed, which is not self-gratification that leads to isolation and emptiness that ultimately results in desolation. In other words, do not desecrate the sanctuary of conscience by "using freedom as a pretext for evil" (1 Pet. 2,16).

The church also teaches that the best birth control is self-control. Self-control is in short supply in our country these days and not just with regard to sex.

"In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife"
(HV par. 18).Pope Paul also pointed to the societal consequences of the widespread use of contraceptives, this is the focus of Eberstat's article:

1) Marital infidelity will increase
2) There will be a general lowering of moral standards that will profoundly influence young people
3) Women will be reduced and objectified
4) Governments will coercively impose the use of these technical means

I find these predictions more than fulfilled. One of the worst afflictions in the U.S. and the West generally is confusion about the nature and purpose of sex, this is as true for married couples as it is for single people. This confusion goes to the heart of who we are and who we are made to be. It is an impediment, an obstacle, to destiny. These four predictions are truly prophetic and not because Paul VI accurately predicted the future. Anybody with half a brain could deduce the results of the widepread and encouraged use of easily obtainable and easy-to-use contraceptives. However, it takes a prophet to remind us that when we prefer anything to God, like sexual pleasure, that thing becomes for us a god and this is idolatry. It is the role of the prophet to denounce false gods. The prophetic nature of HV, therefore, lies in Pope Paul VI's courage, which he demonstrated frequently, as with Populorum Progresso, in the face of hostility, to speak the truth to power in love. In this he truly demonstrated heroic virtue and for this reason, in my mind, he is blessed. HV does not mark the low ebb of his pontificate, but its high point, thus demonstrating that worldy success is not a Gospel category.

I encourage you to read both HV and Eberstat.

"Why, why did I ever let you go?"



How could I not, given the success of a film I really want to see, but only after Dark Knight, which I will see on Monday? Besides, for some odd reason, even though the song is about a melancholy subject, the tune makes me feel good. Mama Mia is our Friday traditio.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My response and preconceptions

To adhere means to give my support or to maintain loyalty. Perhaps more concretely, it means to stick to, to bind myself to in observance. This requires that I both acknowledge and affirm, which is nothing less than expressing my dedication to, the encounter. This takes the form of testifying to it, becoming a witness of the encounter, the One who my I encounters. This is the only reasonable response that fulfills my responsibility, which is freely chosen.

"Reasonableness," Giussani tells us, "means to affirm the correspondence between" the Other I encounter in an exceptional way and my heart (Is It Possible to Live This Way? pg 59). In order to deny this correspondence, which arises from the event, you "need to be attached to something you want to defend" (ibid). Giussani calls this "a preconception" (ibid). We might more accessibly call it an ideology. Giussani uses the example of the resistance, which took the form of denying the truth that microbes exist, put up by the scientific community to Pasteur's discovery, put up by the very people who should have and affirmed and adhered to the truth of this discovery by testing it through peer review and replication, instead of opposing it on non-scientific grounds and by unscientific means.

At the time, it was a truth that changed everything in biology and, more practically, medicine. So exceptional was this revelation, that is, the unveiling of the existence of microbes, that it not only necessitated a response, but a humble response, which was seen by many scientists as personal humiliation. Returning to Giussani's account, the humiliation consisted of going into the classroom and saying, "What I've told you up to now is bull" (pg 60). In order avoid humility, seen as humiliation, which required facing the truth, "those scientists were the last to give in" to the truth because of their attachment to a preconception, their adherence to an ideology.

Indeed, the truth is a scandal, that is, an obstacle, when looked at through the lens of my preconception, which tells me "it can't be this way" (1 Cor. 1,23). The real scandal, however, "is the objection that comes from an interest that is not professed in the name of truth, in search of the truth" (ibid). So, it seems that the stumbling block, the scandalon, is not the truth, but our pride, our preconception, our deep-seated belief that it can't possibly be this way, even in the face of evidence that this is the way (Jn 14,6). Looked at from a different standpoint, the truth is the scandalon, the rock, against which my preconceptions, my ideological way of viewing reality, precisely because it does not correspond to my heart, my desire, which is bigger than the world, is shattered. The humility necessary to affirm my encounter arises from the encounter itself because it produces wonder by catching me off guard, while my defenses, my preconceptions, are down, like the experience described by Giussani of the student at the wedding in Bologna, who observed that "truth is discovered, by surprise, in one moment, in a determined moment" (pg 57).

I want to draw your attention to Deep Furrows, specifically Fred's post, the title of which is a quote from Fr. Carron, "The saints . . . block us from reducing Christ to our measure". For my money, that quote alone is worth a week of meditatio. Still basking in the glow of the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, I am reminded of the words of Fr. Tonino Lasconi, a parish priest and author of numerous volumes on the renewal of catechesis in Italy, who observes, "Without the saints, the faith vanishes". Why is this so? Because they keep us from reducing Christ to our measure by affirming with their whole lives, witnessing to, being martyrs for, the correspondence between the event and the human heart, that is, their own hearts. Christian witness, then, is a matter of cor ad cor loquitur, heart speaking to heart, beginning with Jesus' Sacred Heart, the "king and center of all hearts".

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

School of Community

THE FIVE PASSAGES OF FAITH

First of all, faith is "an event" that takes "the form of an encounter".

Secondly, the "exceptionality of this encounter" consists in the reality, the existential fact, that it "is something that corresponds to the heart".

Third, "this exceptionality creates wonder". Wonder is the result of how overwhelming, almost heart-breaking, the encounter is. So, it is best expressed as a question, like "how can it be like this?"

Fourth, the question gets more specific because this exceptional encounter is not with something, but someone. So, "Who is this man?"

Fifth, comes your responsibility to act in light of the encounter that you have experienced. (Giussani, Is It Possible to Live This Way?: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, Vol. 1 pgs. 57-59).

My response, which is my experience:

My encounter with the Mystery corresponds to my heart because my I is already a direct relationship with the Mystery. Precisely because my act (i.e.,actus fidei) is my responsibility means that I am free. Freedom is a necessary condition to acting responsibly. Responsibility means that I am called on to answer, to respond. Isn't refusing to answer a response? Isn't choosing not to decide still making a choice?

In the encounter I was asked "What are you looking for?" It is a question that demands a response and not just a bunch of stammering (Jn 1,38). My first response was, I want to be happy. In time I realized that being happy means fulfilling my destiny, the end for which I was created! Now, discovering my identity, I realize that happiness consists of living the truth of who I am, which is the only authentic mode of existence for me. I have come to see that it is the correspondence of the event, which is an encounter with someone who is genuinely Other, that is, someone who is not me, with what is in me, that is, my heart, that reveals to me that I am a direct relationship with the Mystery. This fills me with wonder and, at the same time, shows me how I must live, though I remain free to live in another way, according to a different, albeit, inauthentic mode. Nonetheless, I find living authentically a great challenge and one that I am sometimes not up to and do not always feel like pursuing. Yet, because of my encounter I cannot live in any other way. I am free, but unable, to live another way because neither my inability nor my feelings change the fact of my encounter, it is real and so changes my life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

Today is a solemnity at my parish, The Cathedral of the Madeleine. It is, after all, the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene!



Father,
your Son first entrusted to Mary Magdalene
the joyful news of his resurrection.
By her prayers and example
may we proclaim Christ as our living Lord
and one day see him in glory,
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


Sancta Maria Magdalena- ora pro nobis!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The deacon that I am

In my on-going research that I hope will result in something new and useful about the permanent diaconate, not to mention a completed IPR leading to a Master’s degree, I acquired a copy of Deacon Bill Ditewig's latest book The Emerging Diaconate: Servant Leaders in a Servant Church, which marks another great contribution by Dr. Ditewig to the growing literature on the permanent diaconate, most of which is being published by Paulist Press. Just having started the book last night, I have to state that I very much appreciate Ditewig's look at and interpretation of the burgeoning data on the diaconate in the United States. While I will not bore you with all my interest in his analysis, I do want to share my sitz im leben as a Roman Catholic deacon in the U.S. in the early twenty-first century. He looks at five sets of data, four of which are compiled by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), located at Georgetown University over the past few decades and one of which was compiled by the USCCB’s Committee on the Diaconate. Only two of the CARA sets will be relevant to accomplish my purpose here.

According to the March 2007 CARA post-formation survey, I am one of some 16,661 permanent deacons in this country. The 2004 CARA Profile on the Diaconate indicates that I am one of some 4,932 deacons in the western part of the U.S. Turning again to the 2007 survey, I am one of 13,495 Caucasian deacons in this country, a more ethnically diverse group than priests. Also as of 2004, the year of my ordination, according to the Catholic Hierarchy database, I am one of some 70 permanent deacons in the Diocese of Salt Lake City ( I know this number is not exact). CARA’s 2007 survey, using data from 2006, locates me among the some 15,495 permanent deacons in the U.S. who are married and among the 30% of permanent deacons employed in a secular occupation.

At 42, according to Dr. Ditewig, I am one year older than "the average age of deacons in nearly every other part of the world" (24). The 2007 CARA survey indicates that I am twenty years younger than the average age of permanent deacons in this country. CARA’s 2004 profile shows that by being ordained at 38, which is just three years older than the minimum age established by canon 1031§2, which sets the minimum age for a married man to be ordained a permanent deacon at 35, I was fifteen years younger than the average age at ordination of permanent deacons in the U.S. Hence, as of 2007, I am one of only some 1,500 U.S. deacons who are younger than 50. Having been born in 1965, the year the Second Vatican Council ended, which, according once again to the 2004 profile, places me among the one percent of deacons in the U.S. who are considered part of the post-Vatican II generation.

Never having actually completed my thesis in philosophy, I am, according to CARA in 2007, in the 35% of permanent deacons who have a bachelor’s degree. Next year (God willing) I will join the 19% who hold graduate degrees. Besides, my blog, translated, is called Catholic Deacon.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Surrendered to self preservation" Lord save me!



I am home alone for a few days. So, last night I finally watched the film Control, about the life of Ian Curtis, who was the singer and lyricist for one of my all-time favorite bands, Joy Division. The movie captured the drama of Curtis' life without being tawdry, or sinking to the level of a biopic. It was made with a lot of care, one might even say love, by Anton Corbjin, who knew Ian Curtis. It was Corbjin who took the picture that really captured the band. You know the one, taken in black and white (Corbjin's movie was shot in b&w), where they're in the tunnel and facing away from the camera, with only Ian turning to look behind? Given what occurred, this picture speaks in excess of a thousand words about what was happening. For those who do not know, after Ian's suicide, the surviving members of the band went on to success as New Order, which also rates as one of my favorite bands. I was too young for the original punk explosion, which, given its intensity, burned out quickly. Hence, I was even a bit too young for the immediate post-punk era, which Joy Division represents. By the time I was old enough to really be aware we were riding the New Wave of the early '80s. So, like many, I came to Joy Division through New Order. I also feel like mentioning that, like Charlie from So I Married an Axe Murderer, who "cares for Apple Jacks a great deal," I also care a great deal for Echo and the Bunnymen.

I gravitated to those bands and still do for solace because they express for me the truth about the world, the reality of alienation and the angst it produces. Also included would be REM, The Smiths, post-Smiths Morrissey, and a few other less well-known bands, without whose music I would have never made it through college. Newer groups, like Radiohead, who mine this same vein, also appeal to me. While I have come to appreciate a lot of varied music, these bands, people, music, and lyrics, along with the writings of Camus, Marcel, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Milan Kundera, Jack Kerouac remain anchors of meaning for me on life's stormy seas. Of course, it is Jesus who calms the storm.

I would have never come to faith without these experiences because I was never interested in a phony-baloney kind of belief that offers simple answers to complex questions. Put simply, truth is not propositional, it is experiential and relational. Therefore, it has to not only make sense, but make sense to me in the context of my own life and experiences- in the words of Morrissey from the The Smiths song Panic, in which the crowd is encouraged "to hang the dj" because "the music that he constantly plays says nothing to me about my life". As one called (and hopefully gifted) to teach the faith I find it both frustrating and liberating that this cannot be communicated in a classroom, no matter how many of my famous diagrams I draw on the blackboard.

It also bears mentioning that way back, some fifteen years ago when I first encountered the writings of Giussani, in the form of a little booklet on prayer, which I sent away for through an ad in 30 Giorni, I began connecting the dots between belief and experience, between faith and life. While I was already Catholic and had been so for about three years, I was really struggling and not even attending mass regularly. Shortly after that, almost by chance, I acquired a little book, which remains one of my prized possessions. This book consists of the Hensley Henson Lectures of 1993-94, given at Oxford by John Macquarrie, who, along with the late Edward Robinson, first translated Heidegger's Sein und Zeit into English. The monograph is Heidegger and Christianity. By means of this book I met a student of Macquarrie, who hails from the north of England, like Joy Division, whose friendship and mentoring changed the direction of my life and whose kindness and unfailing generosity still grace me.

It may surprise many, I am not trying to be dramatic here, just honest so that I can communicate something of myself, but I have and still continue to struggle with depression. I have mentioned before that, by nature, I am not much of a people person. For example, what I like about being home alone these few days is just that, being alone. It has never bothered me to be alone. I am never bored when I am by myself, but I do get bored around people. I never feel more alone than when I am in a crowd. Sometimes that anonymity is fine, even enjoyable, I relish these times because I think of New Order, the English Beat, Echo, et. al. playing the old fair grounds in SLC in the early '80s. Other times it is angst-inducing. Sadly, I never know beforehand which it will be, my prior mood is not much of an indicator. One sign of my ambivalence is that I love going to mass in really big churches that are far from full. One of my fondest memories is attending a daily mass in Notre Dame Basilica in Geneva, Switzerland quite a few years ago. I just love how the eucharist anchors reality. Whether anybody pays attention or not the daily sacrifice goes on and on until, at last, Christ returns. I find this image comforting whether I think of a nearly empty gothic basilica in Europe or a missionary priest in Bangladesh offering mass in his hut all by himself. Of course we are welcome, we are expected and I love the liturgy, beyond all else it is what gives my life meaning. Nonetheless we are never coerced, especially not by shame and guilt, to attend. Perhaps the most truthful statement I have ever read, apart from "Jesus is Lord," was this one, written by His Excellency, Archbishop Francisco Javier Martinez: "the Eucharist is the only place of resistance to annihilation of the human subject".

Apart from my wife, and a few close friends, the closest of whom died immediately after high school and for whom my oldest son is named, I always feel a little bit phony relating to people, especially in a role, whether as father, boss, deacon, etc. I am convinced that my wife is the only person I could ever be married to and who could be married to me because while she understands and accepts me, she doesn't let me get away with a lot of nonsense to which I am so prone. After a time, like at the end of this weekend, I will be so glad everyone is back because I love my family more than my isolation, more than myself. This is good, this is God at work in me while "I'm doing the best that I can".



I would also like to, once again, give my gratitude to KRAD for giving me the Joy Division catalogue. Somehow, I think we're on the same wavelenghth.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Just too cool to pass by

The BBC reports, complete with video clip, on Cesare Bonizzi, the metal monk. OF course, he is a Franciscan, what else?
Please remember that today is Friday. Therefore, let us be mindful of the love God has shown us in Christ, who, "while we were still sinners," died for us (Rom 5,8). We do so by abstaining from the meat of warm-blooded animals, or fasting. We can fast not only from food, but from anything that distracts us from God.

We also intensify our prayer as well as actively and intentionally seek to perform works of mercy. We do not perform our works of mercy as a way of demonstrating our own righteousness because, let's face it, apart from Christ Jesus we are unrighteous. Rather, we perform such acts that the mercy of God, in some small way, may be shown forth through us and in gratitude for what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ, our one hope.

Again, our traditio this week was posted a day early.

UPDATE:
I just want Fr. Erik to know that he is not the first person to associate me with Scott Evil.
"Well my friend Sweet Jay took me to that video arcade in town, right, and they don't speak English there, so Jay got into a fight and he's all, 'Hey quit hasslin' me cuz' I don't speak French' or whatever! And then the guy said something in Paris talk, and I'm like, 'Just back off!' And they're all, 'Get out!' And we're like, 'Make me!' It was cool."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More on Paul

From Within Creation, by Farid de la Ossa Arrieta, CMF
In the first major section of his Letter to the Romans, Paul, to quote from Bishop N.T. Wright, gives "an exposition of God's goodness and power in creation" (Paul In Fresh Perspective p.29). He does so in order to call "the human race to account for not recognizing God and giving him the praise and honor that were his due" (ibid). "For what can be known about God," Paul writes,
"is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse" (Rom 1,19-20).
The result of this refusal to give God the praise he is due in light of the evidence to be found "in what he has made," is that human beings, bearers of the imago dei, have become corrupt. Hence, "violence and hatred fills the world; and even those who think they are above such things,", namely the people of the covenant, Israel, "are themselves in fact no better" (Wright 29).

I still think this falls short of anything like universal condemnation. Paul wants to give credit where it is due and is certainly willing to give more credit to Gentiles, especially those who, "by nature do what the law requires" despite not having the law, despite not being people of the covenant, than to those, like himself, who are sharers in the covenant. Nonetheless, even though by their behavior "[t]hey show that the work of the law is written on their hearts,", like the observant Jew, they are not righteous. After all, "their conflicting thoughts" will both accuse and excuse them on the day of judgment (Rom. 2, 12-16).

I just want to be clear that I am not making an argument for justification apart from God's grace given to us in and through Christ Jesus, without which humanity has no hope, even less do I want to dismiss original sin. I do, however, want to argue against total depravity and the two misunderstandings about original sin as well as maintain that those who make an all too simplistic argument for universal condemnation, which is incompatible with either a just or merciful God, must necessarily aasert both total depravity and believe that God, in his wrath, is punishing us all for the sins of another. No, God's wrath is reserved for our failure to give God the praise he is due, whether we are sharers in the covenant or not. Therefore, I remain convinced that for adherents of other religions, at least those that constitute the world's great faiths, what we know as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam, who have never heard of Christ, as well as for those who have never had Christ proclaimed to them in an authentic way, Paul does not foreclose the either possibility of salvation or that their faith and practice is a positive means of achieving salvation. Though anyone who attains salvation does through Christ, if even in a mysterious and unseen manner.

"Lights will guide you home"

In our Sunday liturgies we have been reciting the eighth chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. While the entire letter is suitable for the practice of lectio divina, this chapter in particular contains much of that which God seeks to constantly remind us about, especially in and through the liturgy.

It was ruminating on passages from this chapter today. These thoughts prompted me to respond to something I read several days ago, written by somebody who wrote about feeling lost in her mind and so wasted a lovely sunny day in her room, blinds closed listening to ColdPlay's Fix You.

I see the Holy Spirit working in that situation, making her whole, healing her brokenness, satsifying that deep longing for what is good, true, and beautiful, for that which is eternal. The Holy Spirit's chosen instrument in that situation was Coldplay's Fix You. The song was her prayer, the Holy Spirit's intercession on her behalf, His translation of her groaning into prayer. A little painful, but hey, no pain no gain, our precious Lord teaches this to us Himself.

With Paul, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us" ( Rom 8:18). Indeed, "In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will. We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:26-28). By whatever path, we are called according to our Father's purpose.

Here is an early traditio:



"When you try your best but you don't succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse


Speaking of that which is beautiful, thus revealing God, Sharon, who is such a gifted photographer, writer, and commentator, has posted, at the request of the Ironic Catholic (another smart and very gifted peron) some pics of our beloved St. Mary's University in Winona, Minnesota. I would also like to direct you, dear reader, to the homily given in our lovely Madeleine, whose feast day I anticipate with eagerness this coming Tuesday, by His Excellency, Bishop Alexander Sample of the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, who visits us each July and with whom I have the privilege of serving at the altar.

(Appropriately, this is the 800th post on Καθολικός διάκονος)

WYD- The Pope speaks to us quite directly

In his speech (read full-text here) welcoming young people to WYD down-under, in Sydney, the Holy Father spoke directly to the late modern (I hereby repudiate the term post-modern) situation in which young adults find themselves weary of Enlightment-style false progress and skeptical about fundamentalistic, that is, bad religion, which seems to abound, even in western societies. Pope Benedict clearly understands that this situation presents a great opportunity for an authentic proclamation of the Gospel, the good news that is Jesus Christ. He acknowledges this with this statement: "My dear friends, God’s creation is one and it is good. The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity. They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable. Our world has grown weary of greed, exploitation and division, of the tedium of false idols and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises. Our hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion. This is the work of the Holy Spirit! This is the hope held out by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to bear witness to this reality that you were created anew at Baptism and strengthened through the gifts of the Spirit at Confirmation".

He also made a plea for environmental protection, securing a future for generations to come lamenting the "scars which mark the surface of our earth - erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world's mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption".

This leads him to the heart of his remarks- "And we discover that not only the natural but also the social environment – the habitat we fashion for ourselves – has its scars; wounds indicating that something is amiss. Here too, in our personal lives and in our communities, we can encounter a hostility, something dangerous; a poison which threatens to corrode what is good, reshape who we are, and distort the purpose for which we have been created. Examples abound, as you yourselves know. Among the more prevalent are alcohol and drug abuse, and the exaltation of violence and sexual degradation, often presented through television and the internet as entertainment. I ask myself, could anyone standing face to face with people who actually do suffer violence and sexual exploitation 'explain' that these tragedies, portrayed in virtual form, are considered merely 'entertainment'?

"There is also something sinister which stems from the fact that freedom and tolerance are so often separated from truth. This is fuelled by the notion, widely held today, that there are no absolute truths to guide our lives. Relativism, by indiscriminately giving value to practically everything, has made 'experience' all-important. Yet, experiences, detached from any consideration of what is good or true, can lead, not to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair.

"Dear friends, life is not governed by chance; it is not random. Your very existence has been willed by God, blessed and given a purpose (cf. Gen 1:28)! Life is not just a succession of events or experiences, helpful though many of them are. It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy. Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth."


Extrapolating a bit from some the Pontiff's riffs, I wonder about those forms of video entertainment, like pornography, that are not virtual, but actual? How can watching the defilement of another person, her degradation, even when what you are watching only features "consenting adults," be entertainment? Is sex a commodity to be bought and sold? Is a human being a commodity? Is promiscuity the way to female empowerment as the so-called post-feminists assert? How are human beings to intimately relate to each other, have children, raise them, and make a more authentically human world, instead of the increasingly inhumane and dehumanizing one?

It occurs to me, somewhat randomly this morning, that married love is an icon of Trinitarian love. God is love, we are called to love, we are called to share in divine love, which constitutes, at the deepest level, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity (1 Jn 4,7b-15). Whatever does not contribute to ushering in a culture of love, which is an authentically human culture, must be eyed with deep suspicion and ultimately rejected. As disciples of the Lord Jesus, we must be, in a word, discerning, which requires not only much prayer and fasting, but the employment, the full use of our ability to reason.

These remarks are just another sign that shows that Pope Benedict XVI understands very well the late modern milieu and the human concerns and issues that arise out of it. Further, as he is a master, he shows how faith in Christ compels us to act rightly, using the divine gift of human reason, which is a sure sign we possess the imago dei, while putting our ultimate trust in God, in addressing the issues we face. Viva il Papa!


"O God,
you have called men and women of every land
to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood,
the Church of your dear Son:
unite us in mutual love
across the barriers of race and culture,
and strengthen us in our common task
of being Christ
and showing Christ
to the world he came to save.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever."


--Benedict XVI
Opening Prayer
Welcome at Barangaroo, Sydney
17 July 2008





(BBC News has brief video clip of the Holy Father giving this address in their report)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

6 things about me that, while unremarkable, you probably don't want to know

In accordance with the rules, which stipulate that I,
1. Link the person(s) who tagged me
2. Mention the rules on my blog
3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks of mine
4. Tag 6 fellow bloggers by linking them
5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged
I have been tagged by Fred, who is Deep Furrows, for the 6 quirks meme. Unlike the others I am disappointed at being limited to merely six.

1) After declarative sentences, I love to say "'nuff said"
2) One of my favorite activities is laying on my bed and reading in a t-shirt and underwear
3) While drinking a little wine, I give '80s catechism on Fridays, using YouTube, to my wife and children, which the kids love; my wife is another story, as a pianist, she loathes punk
4) I get a strange, yet pleasant, sensation from saying the acronym "MFWIC" at work and also saying, "Cool whip," featuring an exaggerated wh sound anytime and randomly
5) While an undergrad, I used to try and carry on conversations with people using only the lyrics from, say, REM songs- I still look for opportunities to use song lyrics for replies to questions and queries, or to pose them. For example, when it is hot in the house at night, I ask, "How can we sleep when our beds are burning?", or when someone says "God save the queen," I feel compelled to reply, "She ain't no human being". See, you get it and, predictably, you want to slap me
6) When home alone, I do not answer the phone or the doorbell- I don't do the latter because I am usually reading in my underwear and I don't do the former because voicemail takes a better message than I do and always remembers when somebody calls

I tag
Rebecca of Faith's Mystery,
Alex of Vitus Speaks,
the Ironic Catholic,
Alice of Diary of a Bad Housewife,
Marie of Naru Hodo, and
Fr. Erik of Orthometer

Hierarchy update

Today it was announced that the Holy Father appointed Fr. John M. LeVoir, a pastor in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota, which became vacant when now-Archbishop John Nienstedt was named co-adjutor to Archbishop Harry Flynn for St. Paul and Minneapolis. Archbishop Flynn retired in May and Archbishop Nienstedt succeeded him. During the interregnum in New Ulm Archbishop Nienstedt served as Apostolic Administrator, just as Archbishop Dolan had been serving for the Diocese of Green Bay, until Wednesday's appointment of Bishop Ricken to that see. There was some speculation that the Diocese of New Ulm, located in southern Minnesota and created from territory formerly belonging to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, would be re-incorporated into the archdiocese. We know now that will not happen.

By not transferring another ordinary to New Ulm, the number of sede vacante dioceses in the United States now numbers seven: Cheyenne, Wyoming; St. Louis, Missouri; Gallup, New Mexico; Biloxi, Mississippi; Juneau, Alaska; Charleston, South Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee. If things follow the normal flow, the next vacancy to be filled will be Knoxville.

God, that is, Love, is limitless- infinite (unbounded)

It seems that the The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey is starting to be digested. The current issue of America magazine has a feature article on what the results mean for the Catholic Church in the U.S. It seems things are not as bad as many pundits thought. Beyond the numbers game, which is no indicator of success for the kingdom of God, is that 79% of Catholics believe "that many religions lead to eternal life"(America, 21-28 June 2008, p. 4) Is this just rank relativism? Many Christians, including most Evangelicals think it is. It is interesting that I ran into this note in America's Current Comment section just days after having this discussion with some Evangelical brothers.

This is where the ground-breaking work of theologians, like the late Jacques DuPuis, SJ, is so very vital. I cannot recommend highly enough two of this prolific theologian's last books, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, a work that fell under the suspicion of the Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith, thus earning Fr. DuPuis an undeserved notification from the Congregation, about which he was somewhat indignant. Of course, it helps tremendously when Fr. Gerald O' Collins, SJ, stands as your canonical advocate before the Congregation. The notification was mild, merely pointing out the obvious, that in a work of speculative theology there are some ambiguities. In an effort to both clarify and make his thoughts on religious pluralism accessible to a wider audience, he wrote Christianity and the Religions: From Confrontation to Dialogue. So, it is heartening, as the America brief notes that "this more positive attitude to other traditions" might "be an indication that Catholics are in tune with the Second Vatican Council".

We read in Lumen Gentium, the Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, that “those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation" (LG, 16) The Council teaches, therefore the church believes, that, in the words of America's editors "even atheists can be saved," because, turning to the Council again, this time Gaudium et Spes, "the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery"(GS, 22).

Put simply it is ridiculous to try to limit God, who has redeemed the world through Christ. Indeed, all who are saved are saved through Christ, even through the mediation of the church, especially the eucharist. There are many who respond to the Holy Spirit's offer to be partners, "in a way known [only] to God, in [and through] the paschal mystery", the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, the Holy Spirit blows where He will (Jn 3,8). God works always and everywhere in the world to accomplish the divine work of redeeming and sanctifying the whole of humanity and the world itself. So, let us always and everywhere proclaim the mystery of faith, which is nothing less than the mystery of our redemption: "Christ has died. Christ is risen, Christ will come again."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Deus caritas est

I was disturbed this week to learn that many Evangelical Christians, who I see very much as sisters and brothers in Christ, read Romans chapter five in such a way that they take Paul to be writing about universal condemnation due to the sin of Adam. I have a couple of problems with such a reading. The first problem has to do with the mischaracterization of the doctrine of original sin. To wit: there are two major ways that the doctrine of original sin is misunderstood. "The first misunderstanding is confusing original sin with actual, or personal, sin. Put simply, this view sees each one of us as guilty, personally culpable, for the state into which we are born. There is no personal culpability with regard to original sin. . . The second possible misunderstanding does not see us as guilty of original sin, but holds that we are being punished for it nonetheless. This means believing that we are being punished for somebody else’s sin" (Original Sin: The Need for Justification). Reading Romans five as universal condemnation is indicative of the second misunderstanding.

The second issue I have with reading Romans five as universal condemnation is that this is not what Paul is trying to communicate. This much seems clear from even a cursory reading of verses 12-14. Yes, physical death entered the world because of our disobedience, as verse 12 indicates, but verse 13 clears the matter up considerably: "sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law". If we look at this through the lens of moral theology, it becomes even clearer. People do that which is wrong, which is contrary to the will of God, that which neither shows a love for God or for neighbor. Nonetheless, because actual sin requires a knowledge that what one is doing is wrong, along with freedom in choosing to do it, Paul here is writing that, while alienated from God through wrongful actions, such is not sin because there is no culpability, no guilt imputed by God, due to ignorance of the law. Now, God's chosen people, who Paul addresses in this letter, are a different story because they have the law. This is made clear earlier in the letter where we read in , that "through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3,20). To read it otherwise is to posit a God who is not just, but who is capricious and even vindictive. Now, we could get into all kinds of difficulties regarding natural law. Let's look at a pagan religious practice and a contemporary practice that will shed some light on the matter.
Objectively, we believe that any sexual activity with a person other than one's spouse or outside of marriage is objectively wrong, that is, to use the loaded phrase from moral theology, intrinsically evil. In other words, it is always and everywhere wrong regardless of the intentions of the persons engaging in such activity as well as of the circumstances. Nonetheless, in order for it to be a sin, the persons engaging in such activity have to know that it is wrong and freely choose to do it anyway. To wit: a person compelled or coerced into engaging in such activity bears no culpability, is guilty of no sin. The person who does not know it is wrong is not guilty. Let's put aside false claims of ignorance and even discussions about vincible ignorance for now. The two cases are sacred prostitution in the ancient world and pre-marital sex in our western culture. Can a pagan who is raised believing in the goodness and obligatory nature of temple prostitution be condemned for practicing it, either as prostitute or patron? Can a person raised outside the Christian faith, outside the church, with the mores of the world, likewise, be condemned for engaging in pre-marital sex? Again, there is no question about both practices being intrinsically evil, that is, objectively wrong.

This is where, not knowledge of the law, but the truth and unboundedness of God's love is necessary. Trying only to bring people to a knowledge of the law (i.e., "What you're doing is wrong and here's why") is pointless. I think Fr. Timothy Radcliffe gets it right, I think Craig Gross, who is head pastor of XXX Church, gets it right by understanding that "[t]he Church has nothing to say about morality until our listeners have glimpsed God's delight in their existence. People often come to us carrying heavy burdens, with lives not in accord with the Church's teaching, the fruit of complex histories. We have nothing to say at all until people know that God rejoices in their very existence, which is why they exist at all" (What is the Point of Being a Christian, p. 59). The good news, which we Christians spread, not because we have to, but precisely because it is good news, which we can never keep to ourselves, is the FACT that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8,1-2).

Again, as regards universal condemnation (words that make me shudder when imputed to God who is Love) in Romans Paul writes: "For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 2,12-16). A footnote in the New American Bible tells us about this passage "Jews cannot reasonably demand from Gentiles the standard of conduct inculcated in the Old Testament since God did not address its revelation to them. Rather, God made it possible for Gentiles to know instinctively the difference between right and wrong. But, as Paul explained in Romans 1:18-32, humanity misread the evidence of God's existence, power, and divinity, and 'while claiming to be wise, they became fools.'" So, we can conclude that all people will be judged by God, who is both merciful and just. Insofar as those who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ conform their lives to the law "written on their hearts", they will not be condemned.

This leads us to the question can other religions, besides Christianity, be vehicles to salvation for their adherents? I do not ask this question in some relativistic way. I ask it from the perspective of the church, which proclaims that salvation comes only through Christ Jesus, who alone is God and man, divinity Incarnate. So, I write particularly about those who have never had Christ preached to them at all (Rom. 10,14-15) as well as those who have not been taught Jesus in a manner consistent with an authentic proclamation of the Gospel. In other words, those who have only been told by Christians that God condemns them, not that God loves them, personally, individually, and knows the number of hairs on their heads, that they are an irrepeatable act of God, bearers of the imago dei.