Saturday, June 23, 2007

Theology, Liturgy, Human Relations- All in a day's learning

Hello from the campus of St. Mary's University in lovely, and I mean that most sincerely, Winona, Minnesota. While I knew before arriving that these two weeks would be intensive, I had no idea just how intensive. This is literally the only time I have had to sit down and type a quick post. Three topics above are what I do day and night here. Three hours of Theology, three hours of liturgical theology, and two hours of human relations.

Anyway, I'll give a glimpse of my internal workings, this will do nothing but further reveal the abstract nature of my thinking. Nonetheless blogging, like preaching, grounds me and helps to make connections, especially given my conviction that theology is practical; the inherent relation between orthodoxy and orthopraxis. During my Foundations in Theology course, while discussing Christology and the Credo, I started to ponder what implications translating the Greek homoousios into the Latin consubstantial had for a subsequent metaphysics. This Western metaphysics of substance, with its roots in Aristotle was brought under intense philosophical and theological scrutiny in the last century, with the philosophers leading the way. I was especially thinking of Hiedegger's critique of what was lost in translation when Greek terms were translated into Latin. At its most basic, ousios means being, which is something different from substances. The Heidegger put the retrieval of the question of Being (Sein) at the center of his critique. Heidegger was formed in Husserl's phenomenological school, as was Edith Stein, as was Dietrich von Hildebrand, as was Max Scheler. It was Scheler who was a tremendous influence on Karol Wojtyla (a.k.a. John Paul II). Beyond that the logical positivists, who were heavily influenced by the dear Wittgenstein. How these philosophical critiques have been brought to theology by Schillebeeckx, Macquarrie, Rahner, Haight, etc. Now this isn't exactly what the lecture was on, but it is what the lecture made me think about. Anyway, back to the question at hand, I don't know, but I suspect the implications of the translation were huge. The implication was huge because a translation from Greek to Latin also requires transliteration. So, for what it is worth . . .

Beginning with this evening's Vigil Mass, it is the Solemnity of the St. John the Baptist.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A (Pastoral Ministries) Program Note

I am preparing to depart this weekend for the first of three two week periods in Minnesota, at St. Mary's University, the other two being the next two summers, in pursuit of a master's degree in Pastoral Ministries. Anyway, after a lot of hard work and reading I am ready for the challenge. I look forward to learning and forming new friendships.

This is my last post prior to leaving. My next post will be from lovely eastern Minnesota. I plan to blog while away, but nothing close to daily. I am sure my two weeks will give me plenty to ponder and write about when I return. Given the intensity of my blogging activity over these past six months, I am ready for a bit of a break.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Morality and religion

I readily admit that this post is a bit of a reaction, but I just have to write that true religion is not first and foremost about morality and it is never moralistic. I cannot adequately convey how vexing I find it when religion is reduced to mere morality. Is that to write that faith has no moral component? No! I tried to flesh the role of obedience out in my post A perspective. A bizarre form of hyper-Calvinism flows from such an reduction of faith and religion. It takes the form, God blesses you when you are good and punishes you when you are bad. How puerile! I think we should all strive not to be one of Job's friends. If you don't know to what it is I am referring, please read the Book of Job. I also take issue with what many Christians think constitutes "being good". In other words, many are mistaken about what is moral and what is not. Chesterton scoffed at American puritanism, which tends to prevail, sadly, even among Catholics in this country. So, in honor of Gilbert Keith, pour yourself a drink smoke a cigar and contemplate the mystery of the pine tree in your backyard! I don't recommend getting drunk and carrying on an extended conversation with said pine tree, however. In my experience, the pine tree usually gets the better of the exchange (kidding!- I win sometimes).

"America is sometimes offered to us, even by Americans (who ought to know better), as a moral example. There are indeed very real American virtues; but this virtuous attitude is hardly one of them. And if anyone wants to know what a welter of weakness and inconsequence the moral mind of America can sometimes be, he may be advised to look, not so much to the Crime Wave or the Charleston, as to the serious idealistic essays by highbrows and cultural critics, such as one by Miss Avis D. Carlson on "Wanted: A Substitute for Righteousness." By righteousness she means, of course, the narrow New England taboos; but she does not know it. For the inference she draws is that we should recognize frankly that 'the standard abstract right and wrong is moribund.' This statement will seem less insane if we consider, somewhat curiously, what the standard abstract right and wrong seems to mean--at least in her section of the States. It is a glimpse of an incredible world.

"She takes the case of a young man brought up 'in a home where there was an attempt to make dogmatic cleavage of right and wrong.' And what was the dogmatic cleavage? Ah, what indeed! His elders told him that some things were right and some wrong; and for some time he accepted this strange assertion. But when he leaves home he finds that, 'apparently perfectly nice people do the things he has been taught to think evil.' Then follows a revelation. 'The flowerlike girl he envelops in a mist of romantic idealization smokes like an imp from the lower regions and pets like a movie vamp. The chum his heart yearns towards cultivates a hip-flask, etc.' And this is what the writer calls a dogmatic cleavage between right and wrong!

"The standard of abstract right and wrong apparently is this. That a girl by smoking a cigarette makes herself one of the company of the fiends of hell. That such an action is much the same as that of a sexual vampire. That a young man who continues to drink fermented liquor must necessarily be 'evil' and must deny the very existence of any difference between right and wrong. That is the 'standard of abstract right and wrong' that is apparently taught in the American home. And it is perfectly obvious, on the face of it, that it is not a standard of abstract right or wrong at all. That is exactly what it is not. That is the very last thing any clear-headed person would call it. It is not a standard; it is not abstract; it has not the vaguest notion of what is meant by right and wrong. It is a chaos of social and sentimental accidents and associations, some of them snobbish, all of them provincial, but, above all, nearly all of them concrete and connected with a materialistic prejudice against particular materials. To have a horror of tobacco is not to have an abstract standard of right; but exactly the opposite. It is to have no standard of right whatever; and to make certain local likes and dislikes as a substitute. We need not be very surprised if the young man repudiates these meaningless vetoes as soon as he can; but if he thinks he is repudiating morality, he must be almost as muddle-headed as his father. And yet the writer in question calmly proposes that we should abolish all ideas of right and wrong, and abandon the whole human conception of a standard of abstract justice, because a boy in Boston cannot be induced to think that a nice girl is a devil when she smokes a cigarette."
(G.K. Chesterton, On American Morals

Weird Friday thing

This is not a meme:

Grab the book that is closest to you.
Open it to page 161.
Find the fifth full sentence.
Post the text of the sentence.
Don't search around for the coolest or most impressive book you have: use the one that really is closest to you.

"Peasants, and those being transported at the start of the mass deportations from the Baltic States and eastern Poland, had a rougher time of it."

Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum. The bookshelf is right behind my desk; history shelf eye level while sitting.

My Gram Parsons project, Part IV

The real deal.

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Adventures in blogging: An interesting update

In an earlier post, entitled Pope Benedict XVI on Archbishop Oscar Romero, I used an unattributed quote from the PAPA RATZINGER FORUM that proved to be of some interest. I was contacted by Eugene, a journalist currently working in El Salvador, about my source for the quote. After a misfire, trying to appease him by sending him a link to the official Vatican transcript of the news conference that took place on board the airplane taking the Holy Father to Brazil last month, I was forced to find the actual source I used as, after reading the Vatican transcript, he informed me that the part of quote in which he was interested was not contained in this "official" transcript. So, being conscientious when prodded, I probed my memory and my internet history to come up with the original source I used for my post, this led me to the aforementioned PAPA RATZINGER FORUM. Specifically, a post by Teresa Benedetta, dated 9 May 2007. This post is a translation of the transcript produced jointly by the Italian news agencies ANSA and APCOM, in which the Holy Father is quoted as saying of Archbishop Romero's cause for canonization: "I have no doubt he will be beatified".

This is how readers hold me accountable. I am usually quite conscientious in attributing because I don't want to be just another blogger trading in gossip and innuendo. So, a very special thanks to Eugene for bringing this to my attention and forcing me to track down the original source of my quote.

Theology is exciting

I want to devote this 400th post to reminding both my readers that and anybody laboring under the anti-intellectual delusion that theology is boring that, to the contrary, it is exciting! To that end, I offer the following from Dr. Christopher Malloy, who is an assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas, and who has written a book length critique of the Joint Declaration On the Doctrine of Justification, signed in October 1999 by representatives from the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.

The intended result of this document was to show that there really is no difference between Catholics and Protestant understandings of justification. His book, which I have not read, but now intend to, is entitled Engrafted into Christ: A Critique of the Joint Declaration (American University Studies Series VII, Theology and Religion). According to Dr. Malloy, there are significant differences. Hence, there are "are two lines of scrutiny that can be pursued in an effort to verify the merits of the Joint Declaration. On the one hand, its historical implication can be investigated: Did the original positions of each communion not, in fact, substantially conflict with one another? ... On the other hand, the contents proper to the JD can be investigated: Does the JD adequately represent the teachings of both communities?" (p 5)

So, WAKE UP!- we're getting to the exciting part. Dr. Malloy lays out the Catholic understanding in a way that is, well, exciting:

"There is enormous pastoral import to these matters. For Catholicism, justification makes the human person truly just--interiorly and before God--so that the justified has the infused grace and the constant help of God by which to obey all of the law sufficiently. This means that the human person can avoid every single mortal sin. More, the human person can, by infused grace and God's constant help, grow in the very grace by which he is made truly just. He can merit eternal life by his good works wrought in charity. He can even merit an increase in eternal life. This is mind-blowing, truly. God has not only justified but also divinized man! So justified and divinized, man works with God so as to journey to his eternal abode. If he violates the commandments, however, he loses the grace by which he is justified. He sins mortally and merits hell. This is a horrific thought, and yet it is a real possibility. This is why Catholic moral theologians talk so much about the "moral object" of various acts. For Catholics, the "moral object" can be a life-threatening issue. At the end of our lives, as St. John of the Cross warns us, Jesus will ask each of us, 'Did you love me above all?' Paul even speaks of a judgment according to works as part of his Gospel (Rom 2:16)"(underlined and emboldened emphasis mine).

You can read the rest of this informative interview, that also links you to an article by Cardinal Dulles' critique of the Joint Declaration.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Resistance is futile

As much I have tried to suppress commenting on The Sopranos' final episode, I can resist no longer. Well, actually I can resist, but I have to admit that I anticipated Cathleen Kaveny's response to the final episode of this phenomenal show almost as much as the final episode itself. So, I will let her insightful post Made in America, over on dotCommonweal do the duty, thus allowing me to continue my resistance. She has written in a consistently insightful manner about The Sopranos, most notably, as previously pointed out, in a Commonweal article entitled Salvation & 'The Sopranos': Redemption in New Jersey.

I waited until today to even venture over to dotCommonweal to read her response while I processed . . .

"So," writes Kaveny "'the movie never ends. It goes on and on and on and on.' Don't forget that first half of Season Six began with this the first episode of the last half of Season Six was entitled 'Sopranos Home Movies.' And the first episode of the first half of Season Six was based on William S. Burroughs's 'Seven Souls', which is about 'the film of your life.'"

As Professor Kaveny notes in a follow-up post, never underestimate the "wonder of the power ballad".

Holy Matrimony

On this day after our fourteenth wedding anniversary, part of a homiliy by John Henry Cardinal Newman on marriage:

"I fear, indeed, that most men, though they profess and have a regard for religion, yet have very low and contracted notions of the dignity of their station as Christians. To be a Christian is one of the most wondrous and awful gifts in the world. It is, in one sense, to be higher than Angel or Archangel. If we have any portion of an enlightened faith, we shall understand that our state, as members of Christ's Church, is full of mystery. What so mysterious as to be born, as we are, under God's wrath? What so mysterious as to be redeemed by the death of the Son of God made flesh? What so mysterious as to receive the virtue of that death one by one through Sacraments? What so mysterious as to be able to teach and train each other in good or evil? When a man at all enters into such thoughts, how is his view changed about the birth of children! in what a different light do his duties, as a parent, break upon him! The notion entertained by most men seems to be, that it is a pleasant thing to have a home;—this is what would be called an innocent and praiseworthy reason for marrying;—that a wife and family are comforts. And the highest view a number of persons take is, that it is decent and respectable to be a married man; that it gives a man a station in society, and settles him. All this is true. Doubtless wife and children are blessings from God: and it is praiseworthy and right to be domestic, and to live in orderly and honourable habits.

(A matrimony blessed by the Catholic Church, by Nicolas Poussin, 1642)

"But a man who limits his view to these thoughts, who does not look at marriage and at the birth of children as something of a much higher and more heavenly nature than any thing we see, who does not discern in Holy Matrimony a divine ordinance, shadowing out the union between Christ and the Church, and does not associate the birth of children with the Ordinance of their new birth, such a one, I can only say, has very carnal views. It is well to go on labouring, year after year, for the bread that perisheth; and if we are well off in the world, to take interest and pleasure in our families rather than to seek amusements out of doors; it is very well, but it is not religion; and let us endeavour to make our feelings towards them more and more religious. Let us beware of aiming at nothing higher than their being educated well for this world, their forming respectable connections, succeeding in their callings, and settling well. Let us never think we have absolved ourselves from the responsibility of being their parents, till we have brought them to Christ, as in Baptism, so by religious training. Let us bear in mind ever to pray for their eternal salvation; let us 'watch for their souls as those who must give account.' Let us remember that salvation does not come as a matter of course; that Baptism, though administered to them once and long since, is never past, always lives in them as a blessing or as a burden: and that though we may cherish a joyful confidence that 'He who hath begun a good work in them will perform it,' then only have we a right to cherish it, when we are doing our part towards fulfilling it."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A look at a film and other stories

Julie gets the movie Knocked Up "egg-zactly" right in her post Knocked Up: Knock it off!. Given all the positive buzz surrounding this movie, I think a review from an intelligent moviegoer is all the more necessary, which is also why, from The "Looking Closer" Journal", a few more are needed. Hence, Two Reviews of "Knocked Up" from Looking Closer readers.

Today is our fourteenth wedding anniversary! Frankly, I don't know how she's done it, which makes me all the more grateful.

Getting back to stories, those written, those conveyed through the medium of film, and the stories of our lives, plus, working to maintain the eclectic nature of this post here is Flannery on story and mystery:

"We Catholics are very much given to the Instant Answer. Fiction doesn't have any. It leaves us, like Job, with a renewed sense of mystery. St. Gregory wrote that every time the sacred text describes a fact, it reveals a mystery. This is what the fiction writer, on his lesser level, hopes to do. The danger for the writer who is spurred by a religious view of the world is that he will consider this to be two operations instead of one. He will try to enshrine mystery without the fact, and there will follow further separations inimical to art. Judgment will be separated from vision, nature from grace, and reason from imagination."

Mysteries and Manners pg 184 & 151 respectively.

Also, in light of Knocked Up the stories we tell matter, but more important still, building on O'Connor's observation, is how tell our stories.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Another brief philosophical note

Joseph Bottum, over on Observations & Contentions, the First Things blog, writes about the death of philosopher Richard Rorty. In my student days, which I spent, much to the dismay of my Dad, studying Latin, Philosophy, History, and Economics, which qualifies you to do . . . I am still trying to figure that out . . . I was exposed to and read a fair amount of Rorty's work.

Anyway, Rorty, as Bottum observes, did claim to be "the last true heir of of the American pragmatic tradition," which inheritance was bequeathed him by the philosophical establishment after John Dewey. A few other luminaries of this tradition are Charles Sanders Peirce (not a misspelling) and, most famously, William James. I would say that this tradition lives on in Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, who published lectures, given at the Institute for the Human Sciences in Vienna, on William James, entitled Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited, in 2002, on the centenary of the lectures William James gave at the University of Edinburgh in 1902, which were published as The Varieties of Religious Experience. I suppose what makes Taylor a bit outside this philosophical tradition, apart from being Canadian, is that he is also a Catholic.

Bottum's thoughtful remembrance on Observations & Contentions nicely features links to writings in First Things regarding Rorty's philosophy. Damon Linker, who I am still unhappy with for his book-length attack an Fr. Neuhaus, has a good article on the The New Republic on Rorty that is worth reading, entitled Richard Rorty's blasé liberalism: End Point.

A Monday morning reclamation project

Okay, as cliché as it might be, this Monday let's, as Michael Spencer, the internet monk, does in a fine post on marriage, reclaim the oft-maligned and lampooned Serenity Prayer. This reclamation project is undertaken by doing two simple things:
1) Not truncating the prayer after the first stanza
2) Acknowledging that the prayer was composed by Reinhold Niebuhr

So, this will count as my Neibuhr post, which falls far short of the wonderful Niebuhr posts that have appeared in recent days over on Deep Furrows.

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

The end of the prayer puts me in mind of the beginning of the Baltimore Catechism, Part One, question 6:

Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A brief philosophical note

Over on Deep Furrows you could formerly read a post that was a cogent critique of Robert T. Miller's critique of Senator Sam Brownback's explanation of the relationship between faith and reason in a recent Republican presidential debate. I agree wholeheartedly that both Brownback and Miller hold views on faith and reason not consonant at all with Catholic tradition. I also agree with the assessment in the Furrows post as to how both these views diverge from tradition.

I want to briefly expand on the underlying reason for Miller's disconnect. It stems from Miller's use of the term warrant. In using this term he makes clear that he is taking his lead from Reformed Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga's epistemology, which, if I may oversimplify a bit, replaces justified with warrant in the contemporary analytical understanding of knowledge as a justified, true, belief. In contemporary analytical philosophy this schema all comes to rest on what the responsible epistemic agent (you have to love analytical jargon) can count as knowledge what s/he can justify believing. The criteria for justification varies according to the theorist and theory. These criteria are constantly being critiqued and revised. Put in an overly simplified way, one can truly and sincerely believe almost anything. Proving something to be true gets into the realm of metaphysics and the whole issue of truth. So, merely believing something sets the bar too low and seeking to prove it to be true, sets the bar too high. So, that leaves us with what we can justify believing, which, according to the schema, leaves us short of knowledge. Nonetheless, Plantinga essentially holds just this as an epistemic principle, that what counts when it comes to beliefs is warrant, which does not differ all that much, at least for the non-specialist, from justification.
In essence, this schema falls prey to just what Miller succumbs to, namely that, in the end, faith and reason, in true Kierkegaardian fashion, are separate and wind up having little or nothing to do with each other and can never be fully reconciled. Kierkegaard is responsible for conceiving of faith as a leap, which appears in his work Fear and Trembling and, like most philosophical tenets, gets divorced from its context and lives to wreak havoc as a slogan, much like the conception of Hegel's dialectic as thesis/antithesis/synthesis. This is a very abbreviated account as to why I was attracted more to phenomenology, a Continental school of thought, that has at its core the breaking down of false and unnecessary distinctions and which led to some serious critiques of analytic, that is, empirical, and post-Kantian philosophy. Anyway, that Miller winds up where he does, with faith and reason in separate realms, is not surprising because of his reliance on Plantinga, who would be much more comfortable positing such a distinction.

However, such a gap, regardless as to how it is derived, is alien to Catholic thought and tradition, which holds out for the complementarity of faith and reason. This leaves the question, how do we overcome the gap between faith and reason? One would be hard pressed to find a more accessible, succinct, and accurate account of the Catholic understanding than the Holy Father's Regensburg speech of last September. The Deep Furrows post, at least the part to which I initially referred, due to Fred's graciousness, can be found below. I like it because it is a succinct and powerful account, which contains an excerpt from the Regensburg speech and from Don Giussani. Our beloevd Don Gius was a most profound and under appreciated Catholic thinker. He is under appreciated because, having forsaken an academic career, he dedicated himself to helping others turn the Gospel from theory into practice and teaching, not budding scholars, but those seeking to make sense of an encounter.

From Deep Furrows via La Nouvelle Theologie:

"At Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI called for a 'broadening of reason.' He noted in particular that:

«'Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept [by faith] the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.'»

"Pope Benedict criticizes especially the scientific restriction of reason to the empirical; Miller would broaden reason to include also argument, dialectic, philosophy; but reason is even broader than argument.

"What is faith?
'Faith is acknowledging a presence' (Giussani).

To recognize the presence of Jesus Christ is the foundation of being a Christian.

To recognize the presence of the natural world is the foundation of being a scientist.

What is reason?

'Reason is the capacity to be aware of reality according to the totality of its factors.' (Luigi Giussani, quoted by Msgr. Albacete in The Road of Reason.)"

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Ave Maria

An Italian and an Irishman walked into a stadium and here's what happened . . .

. . . something quite beautiful, actually.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, on this vigil of Corpus Christi, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

St. Ephrem the Syrian: Deacon

St. Ephrem (the Syrian), a deacon who declined to become a priest and is believed to have avoided being consecrated a bishop by pretending to be crazy, is celebrated today on the Roman calendar. He was born in Nisibis in Mesopotamia, was baptized a Christian as a young mn and, like Origen in Alexandria, became a well-known and respected teacher of the faith. When the Roman emperor gave Nisibis to the Persians, Ephrem and many other Christians fled westward. He wound up in Edessa, the modern Turkish city of Sanli-Urfa, where I have been fortunate enough to have been. He taught at the Bible school in the city and made it very well known and respected far and wide. He was born in the early part of the fourth century, around 306CE and died in 373CE.

He was a prolific poet and hymn-writer, here is part of one hymn, indexed as number 4:

My weak speaking has
gone beyond itself and
dirtied the bright gold
of Majesty. I have nothing to give,
but there are those in the world
who receive, merely by being
worthy to receive. It is not
the spring that gives the water that we crave.
The spring is like a steward and distributes
streams of living water to all who thirst.
If the flow of my speech is sweet,
then its sweetness comes from the Truth.
But if it is insipid, feeble, and weak,
that is a consequence of the dust
and rubble over which
the stream has passed.

Glory to the Anointed One,
Who, when He died and rose again,
tore aside the curtain
where all the mysteries lay hidden.

A perspective

"On her part, the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience" (Redemptoris Missio, n.39). The context for this quote is an argument addressing those in the Church who are opposed to missionary activity because they see it as imposing on non-Christian peoples and cultures, not just religion, but Western culture, economic and political hegemony, etc. Nonetheless this is true in all contexts. The darkest periods of the Church's history are constituted by those times and places that the Church sought to impose instead of sticking to proposing in accord with the Great Commission Jesus gave to his followers: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matt 28, 19-20).

Committed Catholics all recognize the importance of discipleship, of practicing the disciplines of the Master that constitute living a Christian life. If my faith doesn't inform and, in turn, form, not just how I live, but who I am, then there is no point in being a Christian. Obedience is never a matter of adhering to a set of rules externally imposed. We are obedient because we love God and our neighbors, who are all people, especially the ones least like me and the ones hungry, oppressed and otherwise in need.

Therefore, the practice of the disciplines, obedience to what God wants of us and for us, are means and not ends in themselves. We frequently fail, our practice is inconsistent, we need God's unmerited help, God's grace, if our feeble attempts are to bear fruit in the world. This rocky, winding road, is our pilgrim path, the end of which is almost always out of sight. and we must walk it together if we are to reach our destination, which is, to quote REM, "still aways away". Is there a connection between faith and works? Of course there is, St. James' letter tells us this (Jas 2,14-18), as does St. John's first letter, where we read: "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another" (1 Jn 4,10-11), as does our Lord himself many times, perhaps most succinctly in St. John's Gospel when he says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (Jn 14,15). Hence, love precedes obedience, in turn, faith precedes, or is at least simultaneous with love. This why obedience is, at best, secondary. Besides, without being the least bit presumptive, I know God loves me and will forgive me when I fail and, bit by bit sanctify me gratuitously. St. Paul writes, "where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more" (Rom 5,20)

Works, when motivated by love of the kind that seeks the good of the other, called agapé, are but evidence of our faith and love, as well as being signs of hope, flickers of light in the darkness. It is love, pure, unfeigned, unconditional love, that we are so infrequently capable of, that is the motivator, the intention, one of three necessary conditions that must be met for an act to be good. Therefore, if you put stock in your works, with the thought, the expectation, maybe even the hope that you will get what you deserve and so will others, then you are living karma, or something else, but not grace. The end of obedience is not loyalty to a set of propositions, or an institution, but is born of a relationship, an encounter. This is expressed well by the Holy Father in 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" (no. 1) We are not to become ethical automatons, but free and loving people of faith, possessed of hope, which is the source of our irrepressible joy. Obedience is never a matter of mere rule keeping, it's end is to love God and our neighbor perfectly, in imitation of Jesus. Loving truly, honestly, unconditionally, is what it means to be holy, to be Christ-like. "Beloved," we read in first John, "let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love" (1 Jn 4,8).

Turning to the apostle, we read: "If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13,1-7) [underlining and emboldened emphasis are mine].

Friday, June 8, 2007

Fr. Raheed Aziz Ganni, Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed: Martyrs

The Commonplace Book of Zadok the Roman, one of the first blogs I read regularly and which is still one of my favorites, draws attention to a letter, the translation of which appeared on Zenit. This letter attests that light always overcomes darkness, except in black holes, of which there are none on this earth, including present-day Iraq. So, with no further commentary, the letter, written by a Muslim friend after the martyr's death by a Muslim, who is a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Letter from a Muslim friend.


Since this is Friday and, before Easter, I usually dealt with one of the spiritual disciplines and/or how the disciplines work together. However, there are some disciplines that really undergird the others, like prudence governs the cardinal virtues. One of the disciplines that is indispensible and is done on its own for its own sake is solitude. Alex, over on Vitus Speaks, quotes Don Giussani on the subject of solitude.

(Photo from Photographyblog)

Bishop Wester in His Own Words

The introduction to the latest installment of Bishop John Wester's podcast His Own Words: "As we approach the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, the period of mystagogia has already come to an end for those who were received into the Church at Easter, and the neophytes are beginning their lives as Catholics. This is what we're going to talk about in this fourth issue of His Own Words."

In the latest installment of his podcast, Bishop Wester, who is our bishop here in Utah, speaks to and of neophytes. This is a term we hear and use frequently about people new to something, or who are inexperienced. Do you know that it comes to us from the early Church, being the term used to describe those newly intiated into the sacramental mysteries, incorporated into Christ's mystical Body, the Church? I suggest that prior to listening to this latest installment that you listen to the one just prior to it on Eucharist.

By listening I can personally attest that you will be taught, encouraged, and uplifted.

My Gram Parsons project, part III

Whiskeytown covering A Song for You
"Some of my friends don't know who they belong to/They can't get a single thing to work inside"

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Truth is symphonic

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe. OP, the former Master General of the Order of Preachers Friars (a.k.a. the Domincans), gave a lecture in April 2006 based on a couple of chapters of a his most recent book, the lecture is entitled Overcoming Discord in the Church.

"I devoted two chapters in my latest book, What is the Point of Being a Christian?, which was published earlier this year, to healing divisions in the church. My core thesis in the book is this: We usually think of this polarization in terms of the dichotomy of left and right, progressive and conservative. But these categories are alien to Catholic thinking. They derive from the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment philosophers believed that the light had dawned because they had cast off the darkness of tradition, and especially of Catholic dogma. They liberated themselves from the past. But this supposes an opposition between tradition and innovation which is alien to Catholicism. It is the tradition that we have received, the Gospels, St. Paul, the great theologians of the past, who always renew us and provoke fresh insights. St. Thomas Aquinas (I have to bring him in, I know it’s my duty as a Dominican) who was one of the most creative theologians ever, would have been absolutely astonished if you had said to him that he was somehow against the tradition. The Second Vatican Council, for example, was a moment of incredible newness, and simultaneously a return to the Gospels and the theology of the early church."

What has occurred, Fr. Radcliffe avers, is that we have allowed ourselves "to become prisoners of other people's ways of thinking." Therefore, he continues, we must "claim our own categories." The categories he proposes, while still a bit overly simplistic by his own admission, are Kingdom Catholics and Communio Catholics. He then proceeds to make the case "that we need both." In other words, there is a dialectical tension between so-called Kingdom Catholics and Communio Catholics. A good way of explaining this dialectical tension is by employing an analogy I heard Archbishop Niederauer use on a few occasions: When asked whether she was a liberal or a conservative, the wise woman said that's like asking whether I want a car with either brakes or a gas petal.

"By Kingdom Catholics, I mean those of us who have a deep sense of the church as the pilgrim people of God, on the way to the kingdom. The theologians who have been central for this tradition have been people like the Jesuit Karl Rahner, and the Dominicans Edward Schillebeeckx and Gustavo Gutiérrez. This tradition stresses openness to the world, finding the presence of the Holy Spirit working outside the church, freedom and the pursuit of justice. They became very much identified with a publication called Concilium.

"By Communio Catholics I mean those who came, after the council, to feel the urgent need to rebuild the inner life of the church. They went with theologians like Hans von Balthasar and the then Joseph Ratzinger. Their theology often stressed Catholic identity, was wary of too hearty an embrace of modernity, and they stressed the cross. They had their publication. It was called Communio.

"Of course, all this is a bit of a caricature. I am able to go into a more nuanced analysis in my book. Most of us will feel some attraction to both of these traditions, but will probably feel a primary identification with one or the other. We will only heal the divisions if we stretch our imaginations open to understand why the others think and feel as they do. Before we can talk, we must sympathize, and feel how it is that their way of understanding the church offers them a home, a place in which to be at peace."

We must also recognize that we are, even now, just being Catholics. Once we accept this reality, we also come to see that there is no objectively pure way for us to just be Catholics, either in theory or in practice. God's people has always been a group of pilgrims. Hebrew means foreigner, or wanderer. Abraham going from Ur to Canaan, the children of Israel going into and coming out of Egypt, the captivities, exiles, and returns, the occupations and dispersions, etc. So, while, as Pope Pius XI observed, as Christians, we are spiritual Semites, it seems as pilgrims, we are, building on our spiritually Semitic identity, also Hebrews. Besides, as Exodus 12,38 tells us, it was a "crowd of mixed ancestry" that was liberated from Egypt.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

"do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Mk 8,35)

If anybody thinks that the age of martyrs is over, s/he must in the first instance ignore the entire twentieth century, which produced perhaps more martyrs than the early centuries of the Church, when Christians were persecuted by the empire, and the beginning of this century. In other words, s/he would be someone who pays no attention to what goes on in the world. A very few of the martyrs of the last century were mentioned in a post from last Saturday, which called attention to Franz Jägerstätter being recognized as a blessed in light of his martyrdom.

Again, in the twenty-first century there are martyrs, thus showing that the cost of discipleship remains the same as when our Lord himself said: "those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it (Mk 8,35). We know of Hrant Dink and Fr. Andrea Santoro. As Sandro Magister, writing in Rome, relates, there is now the thirty-five year-old Father Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean Catholic priest and martyr who was killed in Mosul, "together with three of his subdeacons. In a tormented Iraq, he was a man and a Christian of limpid and courageous faith." What follows Magister's brief introduction is an article, a word portrait, "written by someone who knew him well." The names of the subdeacons must also be written and known: Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed.

"Christ", Fr. Ragheed would say, according to the author of the portrait, "challenges evil with his infinite love, he keeps us united and through the Eucharist he gifts us life, which the terrorists are trying to take away."

He lived out these words, giving his life as witness to the One he serves, testifying to the Truth and to the truth about the Truth- "that love hurts," but also witnessing to the hope that love ultimately prevails and conquers all. This faithful servant of Jesus Christ was "massacred by blind violence" on his way home from Church, "where his people, despite their decreasing numbers, bowed by fear and desperation, continued to come." Let us pray to Fr. Ragheed on behalf of his beloved flock in Mosul. May they continue to be a light shining in the darkness, in the chaos, in the violence of Iraq. Because Fr. Ragheed, by the grace of God, did not fear "those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Mk 10,28),he lives to intercede for those he left behind.

Fr. Ragheed Ganni, too, joins the white-robed multitude, which no one can count, "from every nation, race, people, and tongue, worshipping God" as they stand "before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands." According one of the elders of this multitude, "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev 7,9.14). Let us all pray for an end to the time of great distress in Iraq, for those of our sisters and brothers who, despite unimaginable distress, continue to make Christ present in a place where the reign of the Prince of Peace needs so badly to be established.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The God who gives life and who invites us to call him Father

This is based on an excerpt from something I wrote recently after reading a portion of Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, OP's book The God of Life:

Because we are called into covenant as a people, as God’s people, and because God, while "tenderly loving" and always faithful, is also a demanding and even jealous covenant partner, the question, in what does this life-giving faith, this response to God, which response necessarily takes place in a community, consist, forces itself upon us. As is pointed out in the The Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, issued by the fathers of Vatican Council II, "the renewal in the eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way." "One expression of the jealousy of this God," this covenant partner, whose faithfulness and not ours is the guarantor of the covenant, writes Gutiérrez, "is the necessary connection between worship and the practice of justice, between sacrifice and fellowship among human beings, between religious offering and the work of liberation." Gutierrez observes that there are "two fundamental dimensions of Christian life: contemplation and commitment." An integrated life consists in connecting these two dimensions. One concrete way of connecting worship and justice is forgiveness, which is gratuitous and brings about reconciliation. The gift of life is only fully realized when, once forgiven, we, in turn, practice justice. Our worship is only authentic if we practice justice, which, among its many implications, means standing ready to forgive, and to be members of reconciling community, which is the only kind of authentically Eucharistic community. Being a truly Eucharistic community means standing in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, who are, as Fr. Gutiérrez poignantly demonstrates, formed as people by their "hunger for God" and "hunger for bread." Therefore, solidarity "with the poor and the oppressed should be a source of joy, not a strain."

I posted another excerpt from this piece on our parish blog, The People of St. Mary Magdalene, for Trinity Sunday.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Communion of Saints (and Blesseds)

As a follow-up to Saturday's post on Franz Jägerstätter, is the list of promulgations authorized by the Holy Father during an audience with Cardinal Jose Saravia Martins, C.M.F. on Friday, 1 June 2007:


- Blessed Alfonsa of the Immaculate Conception (nee: Anna Muttathupandathu), Indian professed sister of the Congregation of Poor Clares of the Third Order of St. Francis (1910-1946).

- Blessed Narcisa de Jesus Martillo Moran, Ecuadorian lay woman (1833-1869).

- Servant of God Antonio Rosmini, Italian priest and founder of the Institute of Charity and of the Sisters of Providence (1791-1855).

- Servant of God Mary Merkert, Polish religious, co-foundress and first superior general of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth (1817- 1872).

- Servant of God Josepha (nee Hendrina Stenmanns), German religious and co- foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (1852-1903).

- Servant of God Celestina of the Mother of God (nee Maria Anna Donati), Italian foundress of the Congregation of the Poor Sisters of St. Joseph Calasanzio (1848-1925).


- Servants of God Peter Kibe Kasui, Japanese priest of the Company of Jesus and 187 companions (priests, religious and laity), killed in Japan between 1603 and 1639.

- Servants of God Avelino Rodriguez Alonso, Spanish priest of the Order of St. Augustine, 97 companions of the same order and six companions of the diocesan clergy, killed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

- Servants of God Manuela of the Heart of Jesus (nee Manuela Arriola Uranga) and 22 companions of the Institute of Handmaidens Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament and of Charity, killed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

- Servant of God Frank Jagerstatter, Austrian layman, born 1907 and killed in Berlin, Germany in 1943.


- Servant of God Giovanni Battista Arista, Italian bishop of Acireale and member of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri (1863-1920).

- Servant of God Jean-Joseph (ne Alcide Lataste), French priest of the Order of Friars Preachers and founder of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Dominic of Betania (1832-1869).

- Servant of God Francesco Maria Perez, Italian professed religious of the Congregation of the Poor Servants of Divine Providence (1861-1937).

- Servant of God Maria Caterina of the Child Jesus (nee Luisa Lavizzari), prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and of Perpetual Reparation in the convent of Ronco di Ghiffa (1867-1931).

- Servant of God Maria Fedele (nee Eleonora Margarita Weiss), German professed religious of the Third Order of St. Francis in the convent of Reutberg (1882- 1923).

- Servant of God Armida Barelli, Italian of the Third Secular Order of St. Francis and co-foundress of the Institute of Missionary Sisters of the Regality of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1882-1952).

- Servant of God Cleonilde Guerra, Italian lay woman (1922-1949).

Sunday, June 3, 2007

"Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . ."

From Sister Edith, OSB's Flickr snaps via Vitus Speaks. This picture just said "Sunday morning" to me.

Have a blessed Trinity Sunday:

Glory to you, O Trinity, one God in three equal Persons, as in the beginning, so now, and for ever

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Cost of Discipleship: Blessed Franz Jägerstätter

Franz Jägerstätter

In this era during which much ink has been and continues to be spilled for the purpose of implicating the Church, writ large, in the atrocities of the National Socialist regime, which, under Adolf Hitler, ruled Germany and Austria from the early 1930s to its demise in 1945, Rocco over at Whispers relays the story of Franz Jägerstätter, a Christian martyr who, rather than serve in the army of the Third Reich, suffered arrest, imprisonment, and death, saying: "I believe it is better to sacrifice one’s life right away than to place oneself in the grave danger of committing sin and then dying." Now, don't misconstrue these words. While fear of hell, which is eternity without God, was certainly Jägerstätter's concern, it was so out of love, not some misplaced selfish ambition. After all, would you do something, commit some act against the person you love most, your wife, your husband, a child, a parent, a dear friend, that would result in you never seeing or being with your beloved ever again? So, it was for love of God and of his fellow human beings that Jägerstätter refused to serve a cause that was repugnantly evil, which resulted in his beheading on 9 August 1943. In the words of Robert Royal, Franz Jägerstätter "accepted execution, even though he knew it would make no earthly difference to the Nazi death machine."

Yesterday morning Franz Jägerstätter was declared among the blessed, the step before canonization, by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who himself was rounded up and forced to serve this evil cause at the tender age of fourteen. Being declared among the blessed means that one can be venerated by the faithful. His cause for canonization, like that of Archbishop Oscar Romero, is proceeding as that of a martyr, which requires no acknowledged miracle for sainthood. Therefore, let us not hesitate to invoke the intercession of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter and pray that he may soon be raised to the altar as a martyr, which is a witness, for giving his life in imitation of the Lord, Jesus Christ. In this way, while not being able to stop the Nazi death machine, mysteriously participating in the redemption of God's beloved and good, yet broken creation, which redemptive activity continues until the end of time through Christ's Body, the Church. God's redemption of the world, through his Son, continues through men like Bl. Franz Jägerstätter and Archbishop Oscar Romero as well as through women like St. Gianna Molla and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, known more popularly as Edith Stein, who, like Franz Jägerstätter, was murdered by the Nazis, not for being a Christian, which she was, but for being Jewish, which she also was, thus making her a daughter of Israel by birth. In these bright shining stars, who reflect, like their Lord himself, the glory of the Father in the darkness of this world, we see that holiness is for women and men, for laypeople, for religious, as well as for clergy. For such holiness and virtue, let us invoke the communion of the holy ones, of those who, having survived the time of great distress, not with their lives, but with their faith intact, are even now are numbered among the white-robed multitude:

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us
St. Gianna Molla, pray for us
Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, pray for us.
Oscar Romero, pray for us
All holy women and men, pray for us

Friday, June 1, 2007

My Gram Parsons project, part II

Version 2 with Emmylou as beautiful as ever! A very young Emmylou is also singing with Gram in version one.

In case you didn't catch it, the song is about home and coming home.

Year B Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps 4:2.4.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:25-48 “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his incredulous...