Friday, November 30, 2012

"let the earth-bound soul arise"

Lake Wobegone is not the only place where it has been a quiet week. It has been very quiet here at Καθολικός διάκονος. This does not mean a bad week, but I don't mind conveying that it has been more than a little difficult in many regards.

One benefit of the post-Thankgiving, pre-Advent quiet is that there has been plenty of time for me to read. Two things I have read that are providing me both comfort and encouragement: Surfing With Mel, a Kindle book by Matthew Lickona that you can purchase and read for all of $0.99; Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World by Walker Percy.



Percy's novel is an amazing commentary on many things, not the least of which is Christianity in the U.S.A. Writing in the character of his novel's anti-hero, Dr. Tom More (a distant relative of St. Thomas More), Percy comments on Ellen Oglethorpe, his lovely Presbyterian nurse from the state of Georgia:
Ellen, though she is a strict churchgoer and a moral girl, does not believe in God. Rather does she believe in the Golden Rule and in doing right. On the whole she is embarrassed by the God business. But she does right. She doesn't need God. What does God have to do with being honest, hard-working, chaste, upright, etcetera. I on the other hand believe in God, the Jews, Christ, the whole business. Yet I don't do right. I am a Renaissance pope, an immoral believer. Between the two of us we might have saved Christianity
Prior this, Percy wrote, "The psychologists are all wrong about puberty. Puberty changes nothing. This morning I woke with exactly the same cosmic sexual-religious longing I woke with when I was ten years old."

Since Advent begins at sundown tomorrow with the celebration of First Vespers, which is the first liturgy of the new Year of Grace, our Friday traditio is my favorite Advent hymn, "Hark a Thrilling Voice Is Sounding." This 10th century Latin hymn was translated into English by Edward Caswall in 1849. It sings of Jesus Christ, the Sun who dispels the darkness and "shines upon the morning skies." The tune, by William Henry Monk, has been closely associated with this hymn ever since the two were published together in 1850.



Lo! the Lamb, so long expected,
comes with pardon down from heaven;
let us all, with tears of sorrow,
pray that we may be forgiven;

that when next he comes with glory,
and the world is wrapped in fear,
with his mercy he may shield us,
and with words of love draw near.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Solemnity of Christ the King

Readings: Dan. 7:13-14; Ps. 93:1-2.5; Rev. 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37

Time is a slippery concept, yet it is a deeply embedded constituent of reality. In essence, time is a function of change. This is demonstrated easily by thinking about how we measure one second on a traditional clock: the movement of the second hand from one little hash mark to the next, going right to left. Or, as the Smothers Brothers sang years ago: “Whatever happened to time? It doesn’t come around anymore. The last time that I saw time, it was walking out the door.”

In one very reductive and sobering sense, our mortal lives are made up of nothing but time. We speak of killing time, managing time, spending our time, well or poorly, which just goes to show that this is a matter of no small significance. How you spend your time is the best way to see what your priorities are and what matters to you, even revealing, at least to some extent, your view of the meaning and purpose of your life. As we celebrate today the Solemnity of Christ the King, which is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, our readings draw our attention to the end of time.

Our first reading, taken from the Book of Daniel, explains in crisp, clear, and easy to grasp language that “one like a Son of man” will receive “dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). This is made even clearer by our Psalm response, “The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty” (Ps. 93:1). Who is this “one like a Son of man” who “is king… enrobed in majesty”? It is none other than Jesus Christ.

In this Year of Faith, called by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, to better hear, receive, and appropriate the teachings of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in the life of the Church, this prophecy from Daniel concerning Christ’s kingship draws us to the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum: “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New” (par.16 ). Our reading today from the Book of Daniel is a case of the New Testament being hidden, if only partially, in the Old. This points us directly toward our second reading, from the last book of the New Testament, one we rarely hear proclaimed in our liturgical assembly, Revelation.

The Book of Revelation, also known in the tradition as “Apocalypse” (which means “unveiling” so as to reveal, or show), is several things at once. It “is a book of apocalyptic visions and a work of prophecy, but it is also a third thing: a letter” (Mangina, Revelation 41). In the first instance, it is a letter to the seven churches of Asia Minor and, secondly, to us. Taking a cue from both the sixth and seventh verses of the first chapter of Revelation, which make up two of the four verses of today’s second reading, both which end with the liturgical “Amen,” we are placed “in the atmosphere of early Christian worship,” which was “an eschatological atmosphere permeated by a longing for Christ’s future coming” (41).



At the center of Christian worship “is the God who is one, but one by being three – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (41). In verse eight, the final verse of our reading from Revelation, which begins with “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” we hear for the first time in Revelation God’s voice, speaking through the prophet to whom the revelation is being given. It has been observed, “This act of self-naming brings God dangerously close,” indicating that worship is a dangerous act.

In a book of essays and reflections entitled Teaching a Stone How to Talk, author Annie Dillard evokes the danger of worship of the true and living God, “the one who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:8):
Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return
This danger was not lost on early Christians, who daily lived in “the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” It is God’s purpose this very day, the Sunday we most look forward to the end of time, through this liturgy, to draw each of us to a place from whence we can never return, His glorious kingdom, where Jesus Christ, who already reigns, will rule forever and ever.

To acknowledge Christ as King it is necessary for you to desire to live truthfully, in a place where all falsity and illusion, especially those you cling to about yourself are melted away. Pilate’s response in today’s Gospel is instructive: he did not desire the truth because it meant not being able to set his own terms, even as the Truth literally looked him in the face. If we’re honest with ourselves, we suffer from this same problem. We are willing to accept some truth, as long it’s our truth, either one we dictate or at least agree to accept. But this isn’t really truth at all. Our resistance to truth, which is perhaps the most powerful evidence of original sin, goes some distance towards explaining what Revelation goes on to unfold in great and terrifying detail, especially in chapter seventeen, that Christ can only reveal Himself fully at the end, with the termination of riches, status, power, and pleasure all those urges that so dominate our human motivations.

So, at end of yet another year of grace, as we once again move together toward Advent, along with our ancient forbearers in faith (at least those who are now in heaven), we pray that dangerous Aramaic word meaning “O Lord, come!” a word we encounter in the last verse of Revelation, Maran- atha. We do this so that our worship, too, creates an “atmosphere permeated by a longing for Christ’s [glorious] coming” (Mangina 41).

Friday, November 23, 2012

True education requires imagination

Flying on the back of Fledge (formerly known as Strawberry, the used up cab-pulling horse), on assignment from Aslan, over the newly-created land of Narnia, Digory said to Polly, "I wish we had someone to tell us what all those places are." Polly responded, "I don't suppose they're anywhere yet." She continued, "I mean, there's no one there, and nothing happening. This world only began today." To which Digory replied, "No, but people will get there... And then they'll have histories, you know." Speaking in what I can only imagine a bit sharply, Polly said, "Well, it's a jolly good thing they haven't now... Because nobody can be made to learn it. Battles and dates and all that rot."



As with so much of his writing, C.S. Lewis here says a lot by writing very little. In this brief passage from the first of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician's Nephew, Digory and Polly expound two very different ideas of education. One arising from experience and the other from imagination, prompting me to call to mind Mark Twain's timeless quip that he never let his schooling interfere with his education

"We are who we are on our darkest day"

"Carry On" by Fun is our Friday traditio for this day they call Black Friday. I write "they," because it doesn't include me. You'll find me nowhere near a place of commerce today. It's only black if you seek the darkness.

So, our challenge today, as it is each day, is becoming who you are, who you are not only created, but redeemed to be. In Christian vocabulary, this becoming is called sanctification, an on-going process "until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming" (Eph 4:13-14).



But I like to think/I can cheat it all/To make up for the times I've been cheated on/And it's nice to know/When I was left for dead/I was found and now I don't roam these streets

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Civility is not a sign of weakness..."

It should also sober us all to reflect on the fact that forty-nine years ago today, while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, President Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin's bullet. This event happened almost two years before I was born.



Rather than focus on the sadness of that day, let's look back a little further to a more hopeful day, to one of the great and most memorable speeches in our great nation's history, JFK's inaugural address.

Thanksgiving borne of vexation and humility

Even given the popularity of Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln, not to mention Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it seems that you can't take too much for granted these days, especially when it comes to knowledge of history, which, along with the other humanities seems to be on the wane. So, for those who are unaware, Thanksgiving was declared and became a national holiday in the United States observed on the last Thursday of November in 1863, during one the most difficult times of our bloody Civil War. On 3 October 1863 President Lincoln declared that the the nation "observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

Anyone who has read any credible biography of our sixteenth president knows that Lincoln wrestled mightily with God. Nonetheless, he increasingly saw the Civil War as God's judgment on the nation for the evil of slavery. As a result of this conviction, in addition to giving thanks to God, President Lincoln, in his 1863 proclamation, recommended to his fellow citizens
that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to [God] for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union
What is even less well-known is that Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, along with Lincoln, issued several such or similar proclamations during the War Between the States. You can read all of Lincoln's and Davis' wartime proclamations here.



To my mind all of this only serves to highlight something from Lincoln's still amazing Second Inaugural address, in which he observed,
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes
Humility before God befits our nation and every nation on earth. So, to both of my readers, a happy, humble, and joyful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"a mystery of ultimate eschatological commitment"

Back in January, as a result of re-reading certain sections of Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship, I posted "Discipleship costly for all who follow." To summarize:
"By and large," Bonhoeffer concluded, "the fatal error of monasticism lay not so much in its rigorism... as in the extent to which it departed from genuine Christianity by setting up itself as the individual achievement of the select few... "

Bonhoeffer, who was a Lutheran, saw in Martin Luther's movement from the world to the cloister and back to the world as precisely the movement required for a needed correction
I would be remiss to point out that is true of rather late medieval cenobitic monasticism, especially in Europe, not of early monasticism.

Last evening I came across a passage written by Paul Evdokimov, an exiled Russian who lived in Paris and who was a professor of theology at the L'Institut St. Serge, an Orthodox seminary and graduate school, and what Evidokimov writes, even keeping in mind that they are commenting on different eras. Evidokimov wrote extensively about monasticism and was cited by Pater Tom (Merton) in certain passages of Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (my favorite of his many works):
After the concordat that established the Church in history and offered it its legal status and a peaceful existence, the testimony of the martyrs concerning the last things passed over into it monasticism and was transformed there into a mystery of ultimate eschatological commitment
As anyone can clearly see, there is a tension between what Bonhoeffer, who loved monastic life, as his time as leader of the Confessing Church's school of pastoral ministry at Finkenwalde, which was the basis of his book on Christian communal life, Life Together, amply demonstrates, and what Evdokimov writes, even when accounting for the fact they are commenting on different historical periods. As a relevant side note, Life Together was published in Germany during Bonhoeffer's lifetime. In his biography of Bonhoeffer, Dr. Schlingensiepan noted that at the beginning of his stay with the Benedictines of Ettal, where he worked on his Ethics (a most amazing book, the potential of which even today remains all to unexplored- this is another convergence between Bonhoeffer and Pater Tom, interest in a meaningful ethics), while actively participating in the conspiracy against Hitler, the discovery of which would lead to his martyrdom, Bonhoeffer "was not completely unknown to his hosts, as the abbot and some of the monks had read Life Together and wanted to discuss it with him" (pg. 253).



Reading his latest book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Paul Tripp, while expounding on the necessity of Christian community for an authentically Christian life, mentions in passing, as a settled matter-of-fact, the failure of monasticism. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that we are perhaps turning full-circle, transitioning back to the time before the flight into the desert, when the Church's comfortable and even peaceful existence can no longer be taken for granted. This is starting to be noticeable even in the West, which is the product of Christianity (Europe is not really a geographic entity).

Among the most notable evidences of this are the failed attempt to have the Christian foundation of Europe acknowledged in the disastrous and (hopefully) now dead European Constitution, as well as the exaltation of a phrase from a private letter written by Thomas Jefferson to John Adams late in life, in which he mentions the "wall of separation" between Church and State" (at the time a rather eccentric view), to the status of infallible interpretation of the first liberty set forth in the Bill of Rights, as well as the on-going attempt to chip away at religious liberty, seeking to reduce it merely to the right to worship, limiting the Church to what we do within the walls of the Church.

Our current situation calls for a new synthesis, not unceasing political activism. It seems to me that this synthesis must arise from the tension between Evdokimov and Bonhoeffer. Perhaps this is why Pater Tom remains so relevant. This also helps us grasp Karl Rahner's insistence that unless all Christians became mystics, there will be no Christianity. We have lost sight of the fundamental fact that nothing can be accomplished without contemplation. Or, as Pater Tom stated, "action is the stream, and contemplation is the spring."

In this context I am tempted to continue, particularly writing about the (over)use and abuse of religious language, which is what made Bonhoeffer say, when he was a prisoner seeking to minister to his fellow prisoners, we must speak to people in a non-religious language.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another partial fragment

I have several posts in the works presently. I don't really do much refining. Blogging for me is a partial and fragmentary exercise, hints of what I might seriously engage if I were an academia nut (Yes, I've been dying to use that for awhile now).

I learned today from a friend who also blogs (I hate using "blog" as a verb, yet I do it) that that the USCCB hosted something called Bishops & Bloggers. He was joking about the fact that he wasn't invited. I told him that he could rest easy because I wasn't either, despite the fact that my bishop serves as chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Communications. But what's a blogger to do?



For anyone who is truly a blogger, the answer is simple: write about it, whatever it may be.

It's worth pointing both of my readers in the direction of myfriendwhoalsoblogs' post, which is really a very good reflection on the dialectical tension generated by authentic faith. Besides, where else are you going to find a character from Narnia (the "backsliding" Susan) and The Who narratively linked together?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Hot water bleeding our colors"

A long week on the road. I've been too tired to post anything. I did make a trip to a local bookstore where I've been staying this week. I found a little book by a philosopher I haven't seriously engaged for a number of years, the late Jacques Derrida. The book is Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. It is an interesting book, containing two of Derrida's essays, to begin as I finish Schlingensiepen's biography of Bonhoeffer.

Derrida began his essay "On Forgiveness" by noting something that should be obvious, but is not: "In principle, there is no limit to forgiveness, no measure, no moderation, no 'to what point?'"



As a Christian, this puts me in mind of an episode in the eighteenth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel: "Then Peter approaching asked him, 'Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times'" (Matt. 18:21-22). The number seven appears in the Bible around six hundred time. It is a number that means fullness, completeness,and/or totality. In Hebrew, the word meaning seven is derived from the Hebrew word that means “to be full,” "to be satisfied," and "to have enough." Derrida's beginning also reminded of Brian Zahnd's amazing book Unconditional?: The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness.

Our traditio this week is Cold War Kids' song "Hang Me Out to Dry."



Careless in our summer clothes, splashing around in the muck and the mire

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Forty-seven years ago

Today is my forty-seventh birthday. It's strange how I experience my life. Over the past few years, since turning forty-five, I realize that I am no longer young, but neither am I old. Nonetheless, it still took me awhile to concede to being middle-aged, but that is what I am, I suppose.

Quite providentially I was born on the Feast of St. Martin of Tours (something I note on my blog each and every year). For those unfamiliar with this great saint, whose cultus has been in steep decline for several centuries, he was a holy bishop who lived in the fourth century (316-397). Despite becoming a catechumen at age ten, he did not become a Christian until later, until, while serving as a Roman soldier, he had a profound conversion by means of an encounter with a beggar; living proof of what Don Giussani asserted when speaking to the Pontiff late in life, "the true protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man's heart, and man's heart that begs for Christ." When I think of this marvelous saint, I think of being that beggar covered with his cloak.

Below is a lovely picture of St. Martin's tomb, in the Basilica of St. Martin, which is in Tours, wonderfully provided for me today by a friend. I plan someday to make a pilgrimmage there.



The convergence of St. Martin's Feast, the Armistice that ended World War I, Veteran's Day, and Remembrance day, along with it also being the birthday of Fyodor Dostoevsky, but also of Magda Goebbels, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Alger Hiss. All of this makes it a wonderful day for an ordinary person like me to have my birthday. I've always found it easy to feel connected to and, in a very small and even insignificant way, part of history. Time, indeed, is a river.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Feast of St. John Lateran

Today we also mark the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, which serves as the Pope's cathedral as Bishop of Rome, celebrated by Roman Catholics throughout the world. The reason today's feast is a universal feast and not limited to the Diocese of Rome, as it was initially, is that the Cathedral of St. John Lateran is the mother Church of all Christendom. Hence, today's feast is one of unity, that is, communion with the Holy Father.

Pope Benedict on the cathedra in St. John Lateran

The second reading for this morning's Office of Readings is from a sermon by Saint Caesarius of Arles, which begins: "My fellow Christians, today is the birthday of this church, an occasion for celebration and rejoicing. We, however, ought to be the true and living temple of God...God does not dwell only structures fashioned by human hands, in homes of wood and stone, but rather he dwells principally in the soul according to his own image and fashioned by his own hand. Therefore, the apostle Paul, says: The temple of God is holy, and you are that temple."

In his homily for the Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, delivered on 7 May 2005, the Holy Father said, "Presiding in doctrine and presiding in love must in the end be one and the same: the whole of the Church's teaching leads ultimately to love. And the Eucharist, as the love of Jesus Christ present, is the criterion for all teaching. On love the whole law is based, and the prophets as well, the Lord says (cf. Mt 22: 40). Love is the fulfillment of the law, St Paul wrote to the Romans (cf. 13: 10)."

"Tune my heart to sing Thy grace"

So, my dear sisters and brothers, it is Friday yet again. As I do from time-to-time, I want to remind everyone that traditionally Christians have observed Fridays as days of penance. We don't do penance to make ourselves more pleasing to God, or remind ourselves how "bad" we've been, but out of gratitude for what God has done for us in and through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, we recognize those times when we have refused to love God, or to love our neighbor and implore God to change our hearts.



Unlike a growing number of Catholics, I love hymns and congregational singing. While I can't presume to speak for God in this regard, I can only surmise that a congregation singing a hymn is most pleasing to our loving Father. As St. Augustine wrote, the person who sings prays twice. From my own experience, some of the most powerful experiences of the Holy Spirit I have had occurred while singing hymns in the assembly of the faithful.

So, our Friday traditio is Jars of Clay singing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing":



Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above. Praise His name I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Moments of the ultimate"

We're nearing the end of yet another year of grace. The end of each liturgical year is one way of reminding ourselves that the end will come. This end-of-time will happen for each one of us when we die and occur in a definitive way when Christ the King returns in glory.

The season of Advent is perhaps the strangest of all the liturgical seasons, a time we penitentially prepare to commemorate the Incarnation of the Son of God as a babe in Bethlehem, who, "for us men and for our salvation... came down from heaven," to welcome Him anew into our hearts, and to be reminded of the fact that He will return in glory.



In a certain section of his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ferdinand Schlingensiepen writes about the time Bonhoeffer spent among the Benedictines of Ettal, just outside on Munich, the time during which he wrote his book Ethics, which was assembled and published only posthumously. Schlingensiepen writes with great clarity aboout the chapter of Ethics concerning the "ultimate" and the "penultimate":
Can faith - and that doesn't mean 'the memory of past faith, or of repeating articles of faith,' but rather true faith - be 'realised daily and hourly'? No, during this life there are only 'moments of the ultimate'. God lets human beings live in the penultimate. But they must always be on the lookout, throughout the length and breadth, for the ultimate. The 'penultimate' is life as human beings live it in a 'time of God's permission, waiting and preparation.' Even the person of faith lives in this 'penultimate', and for Bonhoeffer it... meant that, even when one had to live in such a terrible time as the Second World War, it was perfectly all right to enjoy one's life and happy times spent with friends, but knowing that there is an ultimate time that judges and breaks off the penultimate
Typically, in preaching and in catechesis, we refer to this as living the tension between the already and not yet.

"You say you want a revolution, well..."

In light of yesterday's election I have been thinking all day about how to engage politics in a conscientious way. In the midst of all this wondering, I came across the New Statesman's on-line re-publication of V.S. Pritchett's 1960 obituary for my dear Camus, which they posted to mark today's 99th anniversary of the occasion of his birth.

Pritchett, who passed away in 1997, wrote of Camus that he "was (he said) a pessimist about human destiny, but an optimist in regard to man himself. Sisyphus would never succeed in rolling the boulder to the summit, but the continually renewed effort to do so was the secret of his nobility. At heart, Camus was a lonely man."



As much as I admire Camus, I suppose this gets at my fundamental disagreement with his thought as expressed in his writing. I have great hope for human destiny, which I believe lies beyond time. I also believe that the manner of our being in the world plays a crucial role as to whether or not we realize our destiny, which cannot be a given. This view, I think, Camus saw as something of a dangerous distraction. I agree that it certainly can become just that, as various Marxist analyses have sought to demonstrate, beginning with Karl's assertion that religion is the opiate of the masses, simply a means of social control, as history sometimes validates. My belief also makes me hopeful about humanity. I think it is important to distinguish hope from optimism, a distinction that is necessary for me to face reality honestly.

Hearkening back to Camus, being a Christian amounts, in part, to my own metaphysical rebellion against the absurd, the void, the temptation to see existence as meaningless, which results in a betrayal of my own desire. Such a rebellion, I am convinced, is necessary in order to realize my full humanity, something set forth stunningly in Camus' L'Homme révolté.

Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to the youth of Lebanon this past September, spoke of revolution when he said, "In Christ you will find the strength and courage to advance along the paths of life, and to overcome difficulties and suffering. In him you will find the source of joy. Christ says to you: سَلامي أُعطيكُم – My peace I give to you! (Jn 14:27)." The Holy Father went on to say, "The universal brotherhood which [Christ] inaugurated on the cross lights up in a resplendent and challenging way the revolution of love. 'Love one another as I have loved you' (Jn 13:35). This is the legacy of Jesus and the sign of the Christian. This is the true revolution of love!"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Getting beyond [the] disruption

It never ceases to astound me how frequently convergences happen. I appended a personal note at the end of my post yesterday, stating that after 2008 it was no longer to possible to trust businesses. At least in my mind, I was comparing that with a time when people who ran businesses had more character and operated, to some extent, with the common good in mind. One feature of those times was that senior executive compensation was not astronomically out-of-whack with what the company's "floor-level" employees made.

Then, last night before tucking in, I began reading N.T. Wright's book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. In the third chapter of the book Bishop Wright offers some insight and commentary concerning events of late 2008, which he described as "a volcano which had been rumbling away in the background [and] suddenly erupted with horrific force." While acknowledging the causes as complex and multi-faceted, he singles out de-regulation as a major factor, that is, the stripping away of laws and legal regulations that sought to restrict the behavior of financial institutions, seeking to make them operate with more than just quarterly profits in mind.

He cites a conversation he had in 2009 with a friend, who is a senior bank executive, who told him,
they can introduce as many new regulations as they like. Yes, we do some guidelines put back in place; we went too far, giving people freedom to gamble with huge sums of money and do crazy deals. But any banker or mortgage broker can easily hire a smart accountant and lawyer to help them tick all the boxes on the government tells them to, and then go around the back of the system and do what they want
A good, recent chronicle of this, apart from articles about start-ups like Uber who see themselves as so high-tech and innovative that the established rules and regulations don't apply to them, is Greg Smith's recent book Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story. This is not to say that laws and regulations don't need to be changed as the result of new technologies, but it is to say that businesses, which should play a role in proposing changes, cannot be allowed to write them and foist them on everyone.



So, what's the remedy? Well, according to Bishop Wright's banker friend, it's character:
Keeping rules is all right as far as it goes, but the real problem in the last generation is that we've lost the sense that character matters; that integrity matters. The system is only really healthy when the people who are running it are people you can trust to do the right thing, not because there are rules, but because that's the sort of people they are
Indeed, following Christ is not, as Pope Benedict indicated towards the beginning of his first encyclical letter, a matter of keeping rules: Deus caritas est, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (par. 1).

I am also currently reading Dr. Ferdinand Schlingensiepen's biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As I was reading yesterday, I re-read this quote from Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship, "Only the believers obey, and only the obedient believe." Bonhoeffer went on to write, "It is really unfaithfulness to the Bible to have the first without the second." It is true that to be a Christian, according to Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, "is to be entrusted with the Word of God." Nonetheless, to receive the Bible, which contains God's word, does mean assenting to the proposition that it is literally accurate in every respect. Such an understanding, as Radcliffe notes, "is a very modern and misleading idea."

To obey does not mean to be thoughtlessly compliant, it means to listen, to give heed. It also requires asking questions. On Christian terms, developing character and integrity simply cannot happen without spending time each day listening. Having integrity requires the integration of your life, which resists the compartmentalization that we are often urged to cultivate. Keeping your faith strictly a private matter is perhaps that height of such compartmentalization, making it the anti-thesis of discipleship. The New Evangelization, which Catholics, judging by the majority of the interventions at the recently concluded Synod, seem to think is something institutional, is a dead letter without this recognition.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

More (on) "Disruption"

A week ago I put up a post about the company Uber based on an article by Paul Carr ("Travis Shrugged"), which sought to expound the philosophy not only underlying Uber, but, at least to some extent, the business model known as "Disruption." As I stated in an update I made to my post, prompted by the feedback of a friend and brother deacon who works as an entrepreneur in the high-tech industry, I am not an expert in business theory and certainly can claim no in-depth knowledge of "Disruption," or any other business theory for that matter, though I do have more than a passing grasp of much of Peter Drucker's oeuvre. I am always looking to be better informed, especially on matters about which I write. I certainly invite my readers to assist me in this regard and to correct me when I am in error. So, I was very glad to have brought to my attention (I know, I know, the use of passive voice) an article from the website Tech Crunch concerning Uber and local limo regulations in Chicago: "As Regulators Seek To Revise Limo Rules, Uber’s On-Demand Car Service Faces Shutdown In Chicago."

The situation certainly brings up matters that are worth discussing between the city of Chicago, Uber, and limo companies in that city. I will even go one step further, judging by what the article says, the way limo services currently calculate fares seems in need of a better solution. On the other hand, it appears to me that what Uber really favors is avoiding regulation altogether. I arrive at this judgment based on the fact reported by Tech Crunch that "Uber is urging its riders to email their comments to the BACP, telling the agency to 'Remove the No Measured Rates Provision (PPV Sec. 1.10)' from its proposed regulations."

Ferrari 360 Modena Stretch Limo

The basic problem, it seems to me, is how to objectively determine distance and thus fare, assuming the rate is set, even if by negotiation, or if the limo service is free to set its own rates. What if there is a consistent problem of a variance between what the driver says s/he is owed and what the passenger says s/he owes? This strikes me as a matter that needs to be regulated. Consider if an app were invented that featured an algorithm that its purveyors claimed more accurately measured the amount of gasoline you pumped into your personal vehicle. Then let's say, for the sake of argument, that the app often came up with a different amount than the pump? I have no problem with utilizing new technologies that more accurately calculate distance, but urging people to petition to simply remove applicable regulations strikes me as a very unsatisfactory way to resolve the matter, as well as more than a bit of a verification of Carr's assertions.

On a purely personal note, while I am a supporter of free enterprise, I certainly don't trust businesses or business groups, even high-tech ones that consider themselves enlightened, to regulate themselves, or to operate with a view of the common good. Probably well before, but at least from 2008, those days ended and are over. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Souls

Today we remember our beloved dead. Thus, it is appropriate to post as our Friday traditio the Dies Irae from the Requiem Mass, in particular that Dies Irae composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Centerpiece of Hans Memling's triptych The Last Judgment, painted between 1467-1471



Therefore when the Judge shall sit,
whatever lay hidden will appear;
nothing unavenged will remain....
Remember, faithful Jesus,
because I am the cause of your journey:
do not lose me on that day.



You can see the full Latin text, both from Graduale Romano Seraphico, the 1975 Latin Breviary, as well as the English translation here.

All Saints

Today is the great Solemnity of All Saints. It's best not to think of today as a holy day of obligation, making going to Mass just one more thing we must do in our often over-burdened schedules, but a holy day of opportunity when we are allowed to once again participate in the great communion of saints to which we belong by virtue of our baptism.



While All Saints is certainly a celebration of all of the saints, it is particularly a way of commemorating and celebrating those holy women and men whose names are lost to us, those people who followed Jesus Christ, thus making Him present among us, fulfilling their baptismal vocation to be a sacrament, that is, a visible and tangible sign of Christ's presence in and for the world. Along with those we know, like St. Francis, St. Thérèse, St. Gianna Molla, etc., they intercede for us before the throne of God and are numbered among those written about in Revelation:

"After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.

They cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb'" (Rev. 7:9-10).