Sunday, August 29, 2010

Year C Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Sir. 3:17-18.20.28-29-; Ps 68:4-7.10-11; Heb. 12:18-19.22-24a; Luke 14:1. 7-14

You would have to be pretty inattentive not to discern that the main theme taken up in today’s readings is humility, our need to be humble. Humility is what is called a natural virtue. When we speak of natural virtues, we are talking about those attributes and characteristics that make us better people. So, in speaking of the virtues we are talking about nothing less than striving to be perfect, which means striving to become more like Christ. As with all the natural virtues, humility is acquired through habit, that is, by practicing it. In his parable from today’s Gospel, Jesus gives a great and very concrete example of the kind of practice that leads to acquiring and perfecting the virtue of humility when he instructs the dinner guests that when they are invited to a wedding banquet to "go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, 'My friend, move up to a higher position'" (Luke 14:10).

We can define humility as that virtue "by which a person considering his own defects has a lowly opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God’s sake" (Catholic Encyclopedia, "Humility"). Of course, there is such a thing as false humility. But, because most of us are naturally quite haughty and puffed up, beginning attempts at practicing humility are bound to look and feel a little false. Of course, it is contrary to humility to draw attention to any attempt we make at being humble. In other words, it is in keeping with the essence of humility that nobody notices you are trying to be humble. So, the only truly false humility is what we might call ostentatious humility; attempts at being humble aimed at showing everyone how humble you are.

In age in which everyone grows up wanting to be famous, humility, along with modesty, is becoming rarer all the time. It seems that to get anywhere in life we are forced to become tireless self-promoters. Turning back to our definition of humility, you are humble because, if you are really honest with yourself, you are aware of your defects and understand the need to submit yourself to God. Some defects, like procrastination, seem to be universal, while others may be more peculiar to you. Your defects, by the very fact that you recognize them as such, move you to look for ways to overcome them, which means nothing less than overcoming yourself, getting over a lifetime, or at least many years of bad habits. When it comes to the natural virtues it is the case that practice makes perfect, or, as a football coach of mine used to remind us during the end of the second practice of the day in the heat of August- "Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect."

Even with the natural virtues, while you can make considerable progress through your own efforts, to really be brought to perfection, to practice them perfectly, you need help, that is, you require grace. Just as the Lord gives us very concrete examples of how to practice humility in today’s Gospel, there is a concrete way of understanding how grace perfects nature. Just as any initial attempt to practice the virtue of humility will feel a little forced, it is not uncommon to fail, either at the beginning of your attempt, or later, especially after you feel you have made real progress, only to realize in a single moment that maybe you have made no progress at all. Your natural reaction to failure is to be discouraged and be sorely tempted to give up, seeing yourself as hopeless. To see things in this way, especially to be tempted to despair, is to act as though you can do it all on your own, without help. The fact that you realized you have failed is a grace in and of itself. It is useful insofar as you take it to the Lord, imploring his help. If your failures are serious enough, or frequent enough, or even just bothersome enough, the place to seek succor is in the sacrament of penance, going to confession.

The grace we receive in this sacrament is something too many of us are willing to live without. There are two reasons for this, as far as I can tell. First, you are too proud either to see that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness, or because you see yourself as able to obtain this grace on your own without the benefit of the sacrament, effectively saying you don’t need the church. I remind you that even in the prayer of absolution, Christ gives you pardon and peace and absolves you of your sins only through the ministry of the church, thus reconciling you to God and to your sisters and brothers, with whom you gather around the table of the Eucharist. Besides, I am hard-pressed to think of a better way of practicing humility than by going to confession on a regular basis. The second reason many do not drink from this fountain of grace is that, in a bizarre instance of pride that wears the mask of humility, some think their sins bigger, wider, or deeper than God’s mercy given us in Christ Jesus; or, foolishly worry whether or not God will forgive them. My friends, you do not go to confession in order see whether or not God will forgive you; because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ you are always already forgiven, you to go to confession in order to realize this fact and to see firsthand why it matters to you.

If the humble person realizes anything he realizes that he is a beggar, impoverished, a person in need. As Fr. Julián Carrón observed recently, "We must ask for this grace; we must go like poor men to eat the bread that is called Eucharist… We are well aware that we need, as beggars, to get in line, and go limping to receive the food we can’t get by without… In the same way, we must go to beg for and receive the grace of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, to start all over again every time we fall" (Can A Man Be Born Again, Once He Is Old? pg. 48). God not only makes "a home for the poor," but feeds us with his body and blood.

So, caring for the materially poor- for the person in need- is something the truly humble person, especially the one who knows God’s mercy firsthand, hastens to do. As the last phrase of our reading from Sirach says, "alms atone for sins" (Sir. 3:29). This brings up two other disciplines that are necessary for anyone who follows Christ: fasting and prayer. These three practices(alms-giving, fasting, and prayer), one flowing from the other, are efficacious for acquiring all the virtues. In fact, Jesus’ exhortation to "invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" to any banquet you might hold, instead of friends, relatives, and wealthy neighbors, who will repay you in kind, should put us in mind of what Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, a passage we read each Ash Wednesday, about alms-giving, praying, and fasting, namely that if you do these things in order to draw attention to yourself, you already have your reward(Matt. 6:1-6). Jesus says that by acting charitably towards those who cannot repay, "you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:14).

My dear friends, in Christ, our Mass readings these past several weeks are very challenging. Through these words the Lord, in addition to drawing our attention back to what it means to truly follow him, which amounts to serving others selflessly for his sake, calls each one of us to renew our commitment to following to him, which means letting go of what English church commentator Damien Thompson calls our "happy clappy" notions and begin living life with more seriousness and rectitude, which is a paradox, like losing your life for the Lord’s sake is the only way to save it, and is the path to true joy.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

St. Augustine of Hippo

Today is the feast of greatest western Church Father, St. Augustine (AD 354-430). There is so much one could draw from his vast corpus of writings, the possibilities are seemingly endless. So, this morning I am going to quote from his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim), a passage in which he addresses the relationship between science and Scripture:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion" [1 Timothy 1:7]
It is certainly remarkable that more than 1,600 years later people still hear Christians "talking nonsense on these topics." Now, this is not to say that we must accept every scientific theory at face value, either. The Darwinian dogmatists talk as much nonsense as Christian scriptural literalists who want to insist that the creation narratives found in Genesis tell us how things came to be instead of giving us a deep insight into the why of things.

This is only meant to show the deep intelligence and insight of a great saint, a man who almost single-handedly shaped and formed the Western intellectual tradition, even beyond the confines of Christianity.

St. Augustine, pray for us.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Smile and grin at the change all around me"

The Who singing We Won't Be Fooled Again, will work nicely for this week's Friday traditio. This song captures well my attitude towards politics, to all the faux revolutions, be they of the right or left. I pray that we won't be fooled again, but as long we place our hope in politics, getting fooled is the inevitable outcome. Of course, religion can and frequently does become ideological, too. "Meet the new boss; same as the old boss."

"There's nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight."

This song is truly a pièce de résistance. Hope. Change you can believe in. Post-racial America. Post-partisan America. Even the Obami, as Jennifer Rubin dubs the Obama diehards, must be thinking by now, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"O God! We don't know who you are!"

Consider this something of a mid-week check-up, or checking in, whatever the case may be. Like Fridays, Wednesdays are traditionally days of penance, days of fasting. For Eastern Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic, it still is. Building on the theme from Pascal's lovely scrap, which I posted on Sunday, something written by his fellow Frenchman, seventeenth century theologian, François de Fénelon, who served as archbishop of Cambrai, bears noting:

"O God! We don't know who you are! 'The light shines in the darkness' (John 1:5 [ESV]) but we don't see it. Universal light! It is only because of you that we can see anything at all. Sun of the soul! You shine more birghtly than the sun in the sky. You rule over everything. All I see is you. Everything else vanishes like a shadow. The one who has never seen you has seen nothing. That person lives a make-believe life, lives a dream...How many times I was unable to check my emotions, resist my habits, subdue my pride, follow my reason, or stick to my plan! Without you I am 'a reed swayed by the wind' (Matt. 11:7 [ESV])...

You have given me a new heart that wants nothing except what you want. I am in your hands. It is enough for me to do what you want me to do. For this purpose was I created."
I feel inclined to add that for this purpose, too, was I reborn when I was old and for this purpose do you beget me over and again, especially through penance and Eucharist, which are how I can be certain that you waste nothing; the very means you use to make everything work together for my good and to make me see that you, Lord, are my good.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Who Pascal knew

"Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob. Not the God of philosophers and scholars...The world has not known You, but I have known You. Joy! Joy! Joy! Tears of joy!" Found written on a scrap of paper and sewn into lining of Blaise Pascal's coat when he died, over his heart.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A rambling remembrance of Allan Bloom on music

Yesterday afternoon I spent time re-reading portions of Allan Bloom's great book, The Closing of the American Mind, which I read close to the time it first came out. I also remember watching his interview with Willian F. Buckley and sending away for the transcript (there was no on-line in those days), which I still have. I also re-read the short essay Ten Conservative Principles, by Russell Kirk, whom I hadn't even thought of for quite a few years.

I am most fortunate to have literally stumbled on both of these important thinkers at an impressionable age and during the formative years of my education. For most of my readers, it goes without saying that I did not encounter either Bloom or Kirk on a syallabus for a university class. I am still very taken by Kirk's assertion that "conservatism is the negation of ideology." It is certainly an abuse of the word ideology to say that every way of looking at society and the world is an ideology. If, as Giussani asserts, the object determines the method (an assertion also at home in Kirk's view), then ideologies arise when we seek to impose a set of ideas upon reality, thus asserting ourselves against it, not letting the object determine the method.

Allan Bloom

Personally, I locate the beginning of the age of ideology, an age that has not ended and that seems endless, with the rise of German idealism (i.e., Hegel, Fichte, et. al.) and subsequently Kantianism. Of course Marxism, taking its cue from Hegel, has been perhaps the most pervasive and destructive ideology of all. It at least paved the way for all kinds of ideologies, both dangerous and ridiculous. If ideology is the assertion of the self against reality, we see it prevalent in many aspects of life, most especially now in our approach to human sexuality, as the recent and on-going debate about marriage amply demonstrates. As Bloom observed, "Law may prescribe that the male nipples be made equal to the female ones, but they still will not give milk." This brings to mind a conversation between George Weigel and Rowan Williams upon Weigel's presentation of his biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope. As Weigel reports it:
"I gave him a copy of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II; we spoke of John Paul’s theology of the body, and then fell to discussing the difference between 'sacramental' and 'gnostic' understandings of the human condition. The former insists that the stuff of the world – including maleness, femaleness, and their complementarity — has truths built into it; gnostics say it’s all plastic, all malleable, all changeable. The sacramentalists believe that the extraordinary reveals itself through the ordinary: bread, wine, water, salt, marital love and fidelity; the gnostics say it’s a matter of superior wisdom, available to the enlightened (which can mean, the politically correct). Dr. Williams seemed convinced that the gnosticism of a lot of western high culture posed a great danger to historic Christianity and the truths it must proclaim."
Along these same lines Bloom was, rightly, even if he overdid it a bit, critical of rock n' roll in all its variations, a view he famously laid out in his famous chapter on music: "Rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire- not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored." Now, anyone who knows me knows that I love rock in all its variations. Anyone who loves rock like I do knows that this is not really a fair criticism because there a lot of rock music that does not seek to whet our sexual appetite. Just drawing from my own recent experience, one of the reasons I enjoy the music of Rush is precisely because they take up other themes, universal human themes, even in a Shakesperean mode! But, on the whole, Bloom's is a fair enough criticism.

On this view, sexual liberation becomes an ideology, a way of asserting yourself against reality, which is always destructive, both of the self and of culture, a step backwards in human terms. As much as I love rock n' roll, I would never propose using it as sacred music, meaning music that is worship of God, nor would I ever give up listening to Bach, Schubert, Liszt, Mahler, et. al.

Dido and Aeneas, by Guérin, ca. 1815

One of Bloom's major academic achievements was his original translation of Plato's Republic. It was from here, via Nietzsche, that he derived his views on music: "Music is the medium of the human soul in its most ecstatic condition of wonder and terror. Nietzsche, who in large measure agrees with Plato's analysis, says...that a mixture of cruelty and coarse sensuality characterized this state... Music is the soul's primitive and primary speech... without articulate speech or reason. It is not only not reasonable, it is hostile to reason." The result of viewing sexuality from an ideological perspective? "There is nothing wild, Dionysian, searching, in our promiscuity. It has a dull, sterilized, scientific character."

I don't mind saying that the Wikipedia entry on Bloom is very good and has served well as source for this post- it beats thumbing my way through a book I read more than 20 years ago. Cutting to the chase, Bloom's explication of the dynamic in play with regard to popular music in particular, which can be applied to popular culture generally is that
"[p]op music employs sexual images and language to enthrall the young, and persuade them that their petty rebelliousness is authentic politics, when in fact they are being controlled by the money-managers whom successful performers like Jagger quietly serve. In fact, Bloom claims, Jagger is a hero to many university students who envy his fame and wealth, but are really just bored by the lack of options before them. Along with the absence of literature in the lives of the young, and their sexual but often unerotic relationships, the first part of Closing tries to explain the current state of education in a fashion beyond the purview of an economist or psychiatrist—contemporary culture's leading umpires."
Hence, Bloom asserts, "The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside." Indeed, when a young person discovers this "outside," say, by reading Plato's Republic, or stumbles on Giussani's The Religious Sense, is struck by the big questions posed by Camus in L'Étranger or Le Peste, not to mention L'Homme révolté, in which Camus himself definitively moves beyond ideology, let alone engages deeply with Orwell, taking away his concern for truth, for confronting reality as it is, not as I wish it to be, coming to know that in the course of human events it is very often the case that there are no good guys, or reads Dostoevsky's deep explorations into life and meaning, or who seriously engages Homer's great epic poems, or that of Virgil, or considers the milieu of the writing of the creation accounts found in the Hebrew Scriptures, their deep connection with The Epic of Gilgamesh, or the Enuma Elish, it is exhilarating, liberating, and has the feel, especially these days, of an act of subversion. It has this feel because it is an act of resistance against the annhilation of the human being.

Pope John Paul II set a brave example of the effectiveness of such cultural resistance with his subversive activities as a young man during the German occupation of his beloved country, Poland.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Answers to some personal questions about being a deacon

A friend from Brazil, Adriano, made a comment in which he asks some really great questions about the permanent diaconate. He is especially curious about the diaconate and religious orders and the diaconate and the so-called movements, like Communion and Liberation, Focolare, the Neocatechumenal Way, which I recently discovered exists here in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Opus Dei, etc. Because the diaconate is a subject about which many people, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have questions, I thought it would be a good idea to answer with a post instead of keeping it in the combox. Adriano, who is Brazilian writes in English, but apologizes for his use of the language. I want to say publicly, your English is very good! Great job.

I am a deacon of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, incardinated into the diocese by virtue of being ordained here, thus making me what is known as a regular or secular cleric, as opposed to one who belongs to a religious order, or a personal prelature. With regards to my participation in CL, I will stick with how I recently described myself: a CL fellow traveller, as opposed to a full-blown member. In keeping with the spirit of charism, I only participate insofar as it is useful for me personally. Through experience I have learned that in many ways it is not. Other than friendships, which are a necessary to Giussani's method and that mean more to me than I can describe in words, plus the odd contribution to Il Sussidiario, I am not plugged into CL in any formal way. I am also a Knight of Columbus, though I have to admit to pretty much being a member of KofC (if a 3rd degree) in name only, though I am also an insurance member, having purchased a policy when I was first married. I think the Knights do great things in and for the Church.

I know that the restoration and renewal of the permanent diaconate envisioned that there would be deacons in the religious orders. Even now there are a few deacons (very few) who belong to orders. The major orders, like Salesians, Jesuits, Dominicans, and even major Franciscan orders don't seem to have a place for permanent deacons. It is especially bizarre in the case of Franciscans because, in all likelihood, St. Francis himself was a deacon. Being a deacon, which allows one to preach, would also seem to me to fit in well with the Dominican charism. A religious order with which I am very familiar, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, at least St. Anne's Province, which encompasses the United States, is open to having professed members who are deacons. In fact, one brother of the Congregation was in formation with me for a year or so. I would be surprised if there weren't third order Franciscan and Domincan deacons, though, as in the movements, they probably are not distinguished from other third order members.

As far as CL, I don't think anybody in CL knows much about permanent deacons. The movements in general seem to have well-developed ways of thinking about and engaging the laity, but in many ways their ecclesiology, like that of some major religious orders, still seems to lag, especially regarding deacons.

As far as my belonging to CL, the best way to put it is that while I cherish the charism given to Don Giussani, even seeing his method as indispensable for me, I struggle with the Movement a great deal, especially this last year or so. While there are several reasons for my stance, the one that is relevant to our discussion is the cognitive dissonance that arises for me from the incongruity between being in the Movement and being a deacon. To be fair, CL is primarily a lay association. To be fair to me, my identity as a deacon, given to me sacramentally as a grace, has priority and is more fundamental. Much the same can be said about the Knights of Columbus, which only recently began formally recognizing deacons as clerics by treating them as such. For example, prior to this recognition, members of the clergy other than deacons, did not have to pay annual membership dues, not that $25 is killer, but... So, I suppose that marks some small progress.

At the end of the day, a deacon is a servant. Each deacon serves in a unique set of circumstances, most of us in parishes. It is precisely here that one is a deacon and is recognized as such only insofar as he makes clear, in his very person, the necessary connection between the altar and service to others, which makes it truly Christian service, that is, diakonia. Whether the movements, or religious orders, ultimately find a place for the diaconate or not, it is an order of ministry that shows by its dynamism that it is a work of the Holy Spirit, even if one that may best be lived out in local churches.

"An easyspeak message falls into routine"

A good song about the licentiousness of the world. A song of lament that seems appropriate as our traditio for a late summer Friday. Since we begin Morning Prayer each Friday by reciting the Miserere , it seems appropriate to sing "Forgive us our trespasses, father and son." Besides, I am long overdue in putting up something by REM. So, this one goes out Lloyd Blankfein, the Fabulous Fab, and Hammerin' Hank Paulsen, and everyone at The Great American Bubble Machine, otherwise known as Goldman Sachs for their "notions of glory and bull market gain."

On a personal note, it has been a good week reflecting about writing, blogging, posting. We'll see what fruit is borne of it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Whither Καθολικός διάκονος?

Today marks the fifth anniversary of my blog. It started with a spurt and a sputter and, after my initial few postings, lay fallow for about a year. It was not until the following July that I began to write in earnest, something I have done ever since. So, from July 2006 to now blogging has been part of my daily routine, a part that is most valuable to me and, I hope, to at least a few others. Over that time I have undertaken other adventures in blogging, both on my own, as well as a couple of group endeavors.

Beginning this week, I am once again undertaking a joint project with several companions, or, more accurately, renewing a previous effort. The venue for this undertaking is Cahiers Péguy. As far as how this new undertaking will affect my activity here, only time will tell for sure. Up front, I am supposing that most of my political and cultural observations will be contributions to Cahiers, which leaves the traditio, homilies, spiritual and biblical insights for Καθολικός διάκονος.

Charles Péguy

It is my intention that the net result of these changes will be less posting for me all the way around, down to around three times a week. My goal on this blog is to provide content (to use a media word) that is original and hopefully fresh, if a little idiosyncratic. It was the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman who averred that "[t]o live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." Of course, I am not perfect, a work in progress, if you will, a work with a long way to go, meaning I have much changing, that is, converting to do. I was discussing making this jump with a friend who will be a companion in the Cahiers adventure a few weeks ago. I said to him that doing what I strive to do here for five years made me concerned that I would, at some point (if I haven't already), start to repeat myself, mining the same depleted veins, that I feared becoming...and before I could finish, he said "A hack. You don't want to become a hack." Indeed, I do not.

So, to both my readers, do not worry Καθολικός διάκονος is by no means going away, just changing in order to better fulfill my purpose, namely, as my masthead states, fostering "Christian discipleship in the late modern milieu in the diakonia of koinonia and in the recognition that 'the Eucharist is the only place of resistance to annihilation of the human subject'." It is my hope that reduced quantity will lead to improved quality. I urge both of you stay abreast of what is going on at Cahiers Péguy.

"Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3:2- ESV).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Dormition by El Greco

When discussing the dogma of papal infallibility as defined by the First Vatican Council in 1870, I always ask people Since the definition of that dogma, how many infallible declarations have there been? Well, the answer is one: Munificentissimus Deus, promulgated by Pope Pius XII on 1 November 1950, defining the Blessed Virgin's bodily Assumption into heaven, something that certainly meets St. Vincent Lérins' three-fold criteria of being believed always, everywhere, and by all, as the Apostolic Constitution goes to great pains to show:

"Since the universal Church, within which dwells the Spirit of Truth who infallibly directs it toward an ever more perfect knowledge of the revealed truths, has expressed its own belief many times over the course of the centuries, and since the bishops of the entire world are almost unanimously petitioning that the truth of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven should be defined as a dogma of divine and Catholic faith--this truth which is based on the Sacred Writings, which is thoroughly rooted in the minds of the faithful, which has been approved in ecclesiastical worship from the most remote times, which is completely in harmony with the other revealed truths, and which has been expounded and explained magnificently in the work, the science, and the wisdom of the theologians - we believe that the moment appointed in the plan of divine providence for the solemn proclamation of this outstanding privilege of the Virgin Mary has already arrived...Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith" (par. 41 and 45).
Remember, O most blessed Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam.

Almighty God,
you gave a humble virgin
the privilege of being mother of your Son,
and crowned her with the glory of heaven.
May the prayers of the Virgin Mary
bring us to the salvation of Christ
and raise us up to eternal life.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives an reigns with you and Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I am a jar of clay

As we enter the sacred time of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, into heaven, I am struck by these words, which also put me in mind this evening of my own vocation:

"For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:5-11- ESV).

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us
St. Paul, pray for us

Jesu confido tibi, whatever else I might be, I long to be wholly yours.

"Make a little birdhouse in your soul,"

or at least a chapel in your heart, as Brother Lawrence, whose spirituality is the basis for The Practice of the Presence of God, urges us to do. God is always present, "nearer to us than you think," Brother Lawrence, speaking from his experience, tells us. So, it is a matter of living in the awareness of the Presence who is always with us. This requires practice, which, in turn, necessitates a method that is nothing other than a way to cultivate this awareness.

Brother Lawrence, in the sane, practical, and serene manner in which those who are close to the Lord speak, instructs us: "You don't have to be in church all the time in order to be with God. We can make a chapel in our heart where we can withdraw from time to time and converse with him in meekness, humility, and love. Everyone has the capacity for such intimate conversation with God, some more, some less. He knows what we can do. Get started. Maybe he is just waiting for one strong resolution on your part. Have courage." The exhortation to "[h]ave courage" is nothing other than saying "Trust Him." The trouble with thoughts like the one from Bro. Lawrence is that we tend sentimentalize them as nice little thoughts by a nice little monk, thinking, "Ah, isn't that a lovely thought, a nice idea." We think this without giving any consideration to the fact that this is a huge thought by a person speaking very seriously, who is challenging us to verify what he says through our own experience. So, it is truly a question of courage; the question being Do you trust Him enough to try?"

I follow this with something from one of my favorite contemporary spiritual theologians, Eugene Peterson, who puts the same challenge to us, but in a more provocative way: "We all suppose we could pray, or pray better, if we were in the right place. We put off praying until we are where we think we should be, or want to be. We let our fantasies or our circumstances distract us from attending to the word of God that is aimed right where we are, and invites our answers from that spot."

Jesus was a carpenter and you are the temple of His Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). Given these two facts, is it really so impossible to build a chapel in your heart? Have courage- Jesu confido tibi. Coming full circle, if, indeed, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of dove, maybe, as They Might Be Giants sing, you need to "make a little birdhouse in your soul" after all.

"we must depend utterly on God"

"And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not the we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God who made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:4-6).

As Christians we are not a people of the book, as is commonly supposed. We are the people of the resurrected and living Lord, who remains present among us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The letter kills because we cannot live according to the letter (of the Law, that is). "This passage holds out great hope for Christian ministry. 'Who is sufficient for these things?' ([2 Cor.] 2:16) - the one who places trust through Christ in God (v. 4). The minister gives his all in study and service, but ultimately human power is not sufficient for ministry or for salvation: we must depend utterly upon God" (Orthodox Study Bible, pg. 409- footnote to 2 Cor. 3:4-6).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jesus, I trust in You

Jesus Christ is our hope we have no other.

Last night I went to the hospital with a priest of my acquaintance, who needed a ride. A man he had anointed, whose confession he heard, and to whom he gave communion a few days earlier passed away. The man's family arrived from out-of-state just before he passed. We walked into the room, nobody was there, except Father, myself, and the body of the deceased. I knelt as Father prayed. It was very peaceful. I rose from my knees and looked at the deceased. Just as I was thinking it, Father said, "He looks very peaceful because he is at peace." As we turned to leave the room and meet with the son of our departed brother, with such great serenity and as much quiet confidence as I have ever heard another person speak, with great trust and confidence in the Lord, Father said: "He went home."  His son was very visibly relieved to learn that his Dad died after receiving these sacraments. He needed no other comfort, no faltering and inadequate words, just the assurance that Christ came in the person of this priest to take his Dad home.

As we left the hospital I had the distinct sense that I was walking down the hall with the Lord. This is one of the more obvious ways He accompanies us through life to our destiny.

I challenge everyone who reads this to offer their penance and prayers on this Friday for the priest(s) of your parish and for vocations to the priesthood. When it is all said and done, they are Christ's presence among us.

"I've walked life's winding road..."

Tom Jones, who is more than a Καθολικός διάκονος favorite, sings Don't Knock from his recently released Praise and Blame album, thus showing that white Welshmen, in addition to possessing "the requisite Celtic spirit," have soul. It helps to be backed up on vocals by three angelic beings! This marks the end of 1980s Friday traditio. No themes for a awhile, we'll revel in eclecticism.

"I have no need to fear/He is always near/He knows my work is true..."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Without Christ you have not embraced reality according to the totality of factors

As Sts. Clare and Francis clearly knew, precisely from the change that occurred when they encountered Him, we must put all things at service of fulfulling our destiny, nothing held back. To do so requires letting go, which requires trust. Just as we don't have faith in faith, a mistake so many make (faith cannot be its own object anymore than can love and hope- it is the object of these that make them the theological virtues), we must place our trust, that is, our hope, in Someone.

So, when we say, sometimes thoughtlessly, "There is a reason for everything," that reason can be summed in two words, Jesus Christ. He is the One we must learn to trust totally. This trust often falters because we are childish: "He didn't give me what I want," we say (even if what I want seems a good, even selfless thing to me). Therefore, He doesn't exist, or, even worse, He doesn't care about me. As St. Paul tells us in that over-used and very often grossly sentimentalized passage on love in 1 Corinthians, we must put aside our childish ways in order to know as we are "fully known" (13:11-12- ESV). Sometimes, as Fr. Aldo Trento observed in a recent interview with Marina Corradi for Il Sussidiario, which is well worth checking out daily, somtimes there is a void, like St. Paul's thorn, in order "to provoke a more intense question.".

The Head of Christ, by Georges Rouault c. 1937

You may well ask "how" does Christ do this, especially when we apply this to ALL things? Green Day provides a better answer than I can: "It's not a question but an answer learned in time," that is, through experience, which is the instrument for our human journey, a journey that has a destination, a fulfillment, which is our completion. In other words, Christ works through reality, not over and above. He does so in a pervasive way.

To see this, to really live this, requires a method and the companionship of others. So, while I am seeking intercession today for a myriad of reasons, I look to Msgr. Giussani for guidance, not just from heaven, but also in The Religious Sense and in the Exercises.

Saint Clare, a day late, but a saint for everyday

While I am on the subject of women who are veiled for religious reasons, I am very distraught that I let yesterday's observance of the Feast of Santa Clara, one Chiara Offreduccio, pass without marking it publicly, but busy-ness prevented me from doing so. I would make the point that, as even the French law recognizes, there is a difference between taking the veil and having it thrust upon you. There is also a difference between taking the veil and living apart from the world and walking down le Boulevard des Capucines fully veiled. For all who asked me for my prayers yesterday, you were entrusted to the very reliable Saint Clare of Assisi, whom I love dearly. The picture below shows her intercession, when a mother prays to St. Clare to deliver her child from wolves. St. Clare, a companion of St. Francis, lived from 1193-1253.

Sixteen days after leaving her parents' house at age 18, joined by one Agnes, Clare began living a life centered on the evangelical counsels, a life of poverty, austerity and complete seclusion from the world. Her group was given a rule by St. Francis. At 21 she became abbess of her community and remained so until her death. She said of Christ her Lord: "Totally love Him, Who gave Himself totally for your love."

Since culture seems to be a pervasive theme these days for me, I encourage you to have a wonderful Francisan cinematic experience by watching closely together Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis, followed by Cavani's very existential take on the life of St. Francis, Francesco, featuring Mickey Rourke as Francis and Helena Bonham Carter as Clare. Cinematically, it works, as the below extended clip from the film shows:

Of course, St. Clare is the patron saint of television. I don't want to diminish her being designated as such by Pope Pius XII in 1958. However, we must be careful not to reduce her to this because by so doing we diminish her witness. This prompts me to think about when Dorothy Day said she didn't want to be a saint because she did not want to be dismissed that easily.

Sancta Clara, ora pro nobis.

Islam and the West: the wearing of the burqa

The current controversy surrounding the French parliament's decision to ban the wearing of the burqa in public is much misunderstood. Often people think that European governments are seeking to ban the wearing of all distinctively Islamic clothing, but such is not the case. For Islamic women there is the niqab and the burqa, which fully covers them (the burqa even obscuring their faces entirely, the niqab leaving open an area around their eyes), then there is the khimar and chador, both of which leave the face exposed from chin to forehead and from cheek-to-cheek. There is also al-amira and the shayla, as well as the hijab, the latter, often worn with otherwise Western clothing, is essentially a headscarf, while the former covers a bit more of the female form.

In France, for example, the only one of these being banned is the burqa. Recently, Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, an internationally recognized expert on Islam who focuses on issues concerning Muslims in the West, wrote an article for AsiaNews entitled French ban on burqa a welcome law! In this article he makes a very detailed and accurate case for the French law. It is most important to state up-front, as Fr. Samir does, that "there is not the slightest reference in the Koran or Islamic tradition (Sunnah) regarding this issue. Therefore it is not an Islamic norm. None of the Koranic scholars dare say so, but there are many who claim that it is a religious norm." Beyond that, we have to be aware that even "in many Muslim countries the burqa has been banned because (as in Tunisia) 'it is not part of our tradition', in Turkey it is forbidden in the name of secularism. In Egypt, in November 2009, the late Rector of the Islamic Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the highest religious authority in Egypt, banned it, saying to students: 'The niqab is only a custom, it has no link with Islam, neither close or distant!' In February 2010, Egyptian Prime Minister Nazif, called it 'a denial of woman!'"

Most importantly, we have to understand what the law does and does not do. According to Fr. Samir, the French law "provides for six months of time [to] allow people [to] become used to the new rules, to allow reflection and evolution. The wording is very cautious: it does not talk about the full veil, rather it refers to the complete covering of the face. It explains exactly how and when it is forbidden, it also outlines exceptions (illness, medical bandages, carnival, etc ...). This law does not want to be anti-Muslim - even if the occasion was born of the full 'Islamic' veil - but a more general rule that applies to everyone, a standard of living together. The penalties are also interesting: a fine of 150 Euros or citizenship education, a kind of educational training for coexistence."

The French law wisely includes a sharp distinction between women who choose to wear the burqa, who will be fined €150 or be required to attend a state-sponsored intergration class, which I suppose to be bit like attending traffic school to eliminate points from your driver's license when cited for a moving violation, and a man who forces a woman to wear it. Men who force the veil on women will be fined €30,000 and be sentenced to a year in prison, two years if the female is a minor. The law "also explains [and] outlines the following types of cases: men or women (not just husbands or fathers) who by threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power, abuse of authority force someone to cover her face."

Peter Hitchens addresses the rise of ideological Islam in a recent article he wrote about his visit to Turkey earlier this month: The disturbing picture of growing repression at the heart of 'Eurabia'. It is no secret, except to Pres. Obama and Prime Minister Cameron, that Turkey is going backwards, moving away from the West and towards such allies as Syria and Iran. As Hitchens observes, "Those who think of Turkey as a relaxed holiday destination, or as a Westernised Nato member more or less 'on our side' need to revise their view." I wholly concur with his assessment that "there is a strong chance that we will soon lose Turkey to the Islamic world," if, indeed, this has not already occurred.

Peter Hitchens in Turkey, August 2010 (picture from Hitchens Daily Mail blog)

Hitchens sees in the willingness and even eagerness on the part of some Turkish women to embrace being covered as symptomatic of what is happening in Turkey, and to some extent among Muslims living in the West. He observes that while Iranian women "mock the headscarf" by pushing it "as far back as possible on the head, revealing as much bleached blonde, teased hair as piety will allow," effectively saying, "The law can make me wear this, but it cannot make me look as if I want to." While their Turkish sisters, by contrast, embrace the at least the hijab and increasingly the chador and even the burqa, making the statement "This is how I want to look, even if the law says I cannot." He makes the salient point that "while Iran is a secular country with a Muslim government, Turkey is a Muslim country with a secular government."

So, this is becoming in West not just a simple matter of religious freedom. I think Fr. Samir quite right in pointing out that in France and across the Western world "the full veil is worn by women who have never worn it before and also by converts. For this we can conclude that the choice to wear the full veil is not born of tradition or religious values, but a ideological spirit that preaches a return to the cultural tradition of seventh century Arabia, often in opposition to the West." This ideological Islamism, which in some parts of Europe is becoming an existential challenge, must be met.

Left unchallenged, we will inevitably start to see things like the case of the woman in Iran, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was given 99 lashes for having "illicit" relationships with two men after the death of her murdered husband, in whose death she has now been implicated, who recently "confessed" her crime on Iranian state television (it ought to bother us all that iran can point to U.S. to justify the death penalty).  Don't think for one minute that I am panic mongering. It was but a few short years ago that no less a figure than the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, seriously suggested in public that Muslims in Great Britain might be allowed to implement some kind of attenuated form shar'ia, if only among themselves. Yes, what we need is a return to the juridcial system of the Ottoman Empire! Laws, such as France's, have as their purpose the preservation of equality and freedom. This challenge must also and even more importantly be met at the cultural level, which is a far greater challenge, but one made more difficult by the abandonment and outright denial of Europe's Christian heritage.

Literature is a great way to enter into the cultural challenge posed by the rise of ideological Islam. Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer and Nobel laureate, is a great guide, at least to contemporary Turkey. Two of his books are indispensable reading: Snow and his memoir Istanbul: Memories and the City.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

St. Lawrence

The Marturdom of St. Lawrence, by Valentin de Buologne, 1621-22

St Lawrence, a deacon of the Church of Rome, who was born in Spain, died a martyr in Rome in AD 258. St. Lawrence is one of the most venerated saints in the church's glorious history. Pope Sixtus II ordained Lawrence (a.k.a. Lorenzo) a deacon. Lawrence was martyred shortly after Sixtus, his bishop. When the pope was arrested Tradition has it that he told Lawrence to give the Church's treasures, for which he was responsible, away to the poor. When he was noticed by the Roman authorities for doing this, the Roman prefect ordered Lawrence to turn over the Church's treasures to him. So, Lawrence, pointing to the poor and sick around him, said, "Here are the treasures of the Church." As a result, he was condemned to death by being burnt on a gridiron. He endured this torture in good spirits, allegedly saying at one point, "See, I am done enough on one side, now turn me over and cook the other."

St. Lawerence, deacon and martyr, pray for us.

Monday, August 9, 2010

To see with the eyes of Christ is to see the full measure of our humanity

In speaking about freedom in this year's Spiritual Exercises, Fr. Carrón, citing T.S. Eliot to the effect that we must resist the temptation to design "systems so perfect that no one will have to be good." Warning against this kind of utopianism, which always has a scientistic (as opposed to scientific) tinge, is something that unites the truly human voices of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, like Dostoyevsky, Orwell, Camus, Kołakowski, Giussani, even Kerouac, who, just as Camus wasn't just some generic existentialist (a moniker he despised), is not an idiotic Maynard G. Krebs-like beatnik, et. al. The pursuit of such utopias has been far more deadly for humanity than religion, a point frequently overlooked by the so-called New Atheists.

"If somebody wants to look to someone else to spare him his freedom (call him spiritual director, or boss, or friend - it's all the same), he has to clearly understand that he will not reach happiness in this way...if i don't understand this... I will always try to unload the drama of freedom onto someone else. This is the burden that the Grand Inquisitor...wishes to take off our backs, as he reproves Christ for the gift of freedom." The Grand Inquistor's objective "is to relieve man of this unbearable burden [his freedom] replacing freedom with authority. In this way mankind would be reduced to a happy flock of sheep, and happiness would be bought at the cost of freedom." Of course, this would be happiness. Perhaps the twentieth century's literary protagonist who shows us this, both be his resistance and his ultimate being brought to love Big Brother, is Orwell's Winston Smith, who was, as Orwell indicated with the original title of 1984, the last man in Europe.

The kind of scientifically reductive anthropology rejected by those mentioned above and many other astute observers of and contributors to a truly human culture arises from our collective loss of transcendence. Our loss of transcendence, in turn, begins with our tendency to give ontological status to the empirical findings of the social sciences, which is not to argue for one second that the social sciences make no contribution to genuine human knowledge, they certainly do. Applying the results of such research, as also happens when natural scientists, like Richard Dawkins, attempt to arrive at metaphysical conclusions from physical/material finding. Maslow's hierarchy of needs serves as a good example of this tendency because it is often applied in such an absolute way, both to one's person life and even more so to public policy. When applied as if Maslow had discovered some divinely revealed truth, it represents a reduction of our humanity because it actually inverts human need.

In Deus Caritas Est, the Holy Father wrote: "Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave" (par. 18).

Along these lines in his most recent Mail on Sunday column, the always provocative Peter Hitchens demonstrates the not infrequent Orwellian abuse of our absolute faith in scientistic humanism in a section entitled, Nanny knows true cost of having it all:

"Every few months, another successful career woman plunges into the debate about motherhood versus paid work. Now, the author Fay Weldon and the actress Emma Thompson are tussling over ‘having it all’. Neither of them has anything particularly interesting to say, because the truth cannot be spoken openly among such people.

"That truth is that children suffer terribly from the absence of mothers – and fathers – from their lives. Most of the social problems of our broken society stem from my generation’s selfish pretence that we can follow our own pleasures at the expense of our offspring, and nothing bad will happen. The lie is so pervasive that when research proves the hurt is genuine, new research has to be commissioned to contradict it. Hence the ridiculous American survey, much trumpeted by the Left-wing BBC last week, which says the damage done to young children by the absence of their mothers is outweighed by higher family income and better ‘mental health’ among their mothers. In other words, adult riches and pleasure cancel out childish loss and grief"
(underlining emphasis mine). Hitchens is correct when he observes that this is "a repulsive calculation."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Canon law and transcendence, or the lack thereof

My title conjoins two terms not frequently used together, namely canon law and transcendence. My mention of a lack of transcendence does not refer to canon law, but to those who have unfairly reacted to Pope Benedict's recent motu proprio, promulgated on 21 May 2010, amending Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, originally promulated in May 2001 by Pope John Paul II. Among other things, the original motu superseded the much maligned Crimen Sollicitationis, promulgated in 1922 by Pope Pius XI. Besides, canon law is not meant to be transcendent, whereas sacraments are. It is in and through the sacraments that we encounter Jesus Christ. Sacraments are where Christ comes to meet us in space and time. Liturgy is where past, present, and future touch. Hence, good liturgy is both immanent and transcendent.

Sacraments are so central to Christian faith and practice that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to exaggerate their importance. Hence, any abuse of the sacraments is serious, indeed. Nonetheless, there are those abuses so grave that the Holy See issues delicta graviora, which are canonical ways of dealing with those who abuse the sacraments in order to safeguard the sacred mysteries, a promise made by everyone in holy orders at their ordination. Accordingly, at the beginning of Pope Benedict's recent motu proprio we read: "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to art. 52 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, judges delicts against the faith, as well as the more grave delicts committed against morals and in the celebration of the sacraments and, whenever necessary, proceeds to declare or impose canonical sanctions according to the norm of both common and proper law, with due regard for the competence of the Apostolic Penitentiary and in keeping with Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine."

After dealing with heresy, apostasy, and schism, the motu proprio goes on to list grave delicts about the abuse of the sacraments sacrament-by-sacrament, beginning with four things related to the celebration of the Eucharist, then moving on to grave abuses in the Sacrament of Penance, including "1° the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, mentioned in can. 1378 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law, and in can. 1457 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches" and "4° the solicitation to a sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession, as mentioned in can. 1387 of the Code of Canon Law, and in can. 1458 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, if it is directed to sinning with the confessor himself." It is the latter of these two that was the subject of Crimen. I am not certain, but I presume that the term "accomplice" in 1° does not presume nor imply that consent on the part of this person was given. Not being a canon lawyer, I am certainly open to clarification and correction on this matter.

Staying in order, the next grave abuse is against the conferral of the Sacrament of Holy Orders via ordination. Canon 1024 stipulates that "[a] baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly." This subjects any cleric who attempts to act contrary to this canon, along with the person who attempts to be ordained, to the penalties of this motu proprio, which, by virtue of canon 1378 §1, is latae sententiae, or automatic, excommunication, which means no formal decree of excommunication need be promulgated.

The motu proprio then goes on to deal explicitly with the sexual abuse of minors by one in holy orders, to include the transmission of child pornography (i.e., pornographic images depicting anyone under age 14)"by whatever means or using whatever technology." It further says that the canonical statute of limitations does not expire until twenty years after the eighteenth birthday of the person who was sexually abused by cleric as a minor.

The main objection to this motu proprio is that, somehow, the Holy See, even if unintentionally, is morally equating the attempted ordination of women to the sexual abuse of minors and attempts to cover up such actions by abusing the Sacrament of Penance, or even making it a more serious crime because excommunication for a cleric attempting to confer holy orders and a woman attempting to receive orders is latae sententiae. Here is where the confusion enters in.

It is a fair enough question to ask why a cleric who abuses the Sacrament of Penance, or who sexually abuses a minor, is not also subject to latae sententiae excommunication, but, instead is "punished according to the gravity of the crime, not excluding, if he be a cleric, dismissal or deposition." A couple of delicate things need to be touched on here: It should go without saying that what constitutes the sexual abuse of a minor runs the gamut from ages of the persons abused to the seriousness of the action committed, the most gross abuses being rape or forcible sodomy. Of course, a formal decree of excommunication, especially if there is no contrition for the acts he committed, is not removed as an option. Certainly in the case of a contested accusation, the accused enjoys the presumption of innocence and has other canonical rights that have to be safeguarded.

The norms adopted by the USCCB and approved by the Holy See have also been largely applied to the universal church. So, when mention is made of being punished accordingly, we have to look to the binding norms that lay out the procedures and punishments, to which the motu proprio in question only alludes. These can be found on the Holy See's website and were made public to great fanfare: Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations. The failure, or even refusal, to connect these dots in favor of breaking out one's jump-to-conclusion mat and assigning the worst possible intention to the Holy Father's action, even on the part of the secular media, let alone by those who comment publicly from within the Church, constitutes, at least to my mind, a serious disinterest in the truth and a distinct lack charity.

Rushing in where angels fear to tread, it stands to reason that even a terribly maladjusted cleric who is sinfully disposed to abusing minors may well be a man of faith, who, despite failing miserably by the commission of horrifying sins and crimes for which he needs to face justice, both civil and ecclesial, may not dissent from the Church, or desire to be out of communion with the Church, especially if he is contrite. On the other hand, those who attempt to ordain, or to be ordained in defiance of canon 1024, are open and deliberate in their defiance, an intent that is usually expressed publicly by the celebration of a simulated liturgy that is then widely publicized. It is precisely here where the lack of transcendence comes into play. It is like the difference between a man who commits adultery habitually and a priest who consecrates doughnuts and Kool Aid at Mass. Morally, committing adultery is far more serious, but ecclesially, a priest who deliberately uses improper matter in the celebration of the Eucharist is acting in a openly defiant manner, not to mention denying the faithful the benefit of a valid communion, which is essential for living a life of faith.

Without going into any depth, the CDF's procedures, which have the force of law, right from the outset clearly stipulate that "[c]ivil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed."

In moral theology there is vincible and invincible ignorance, the latter either mitigates or completely relieves the acting subject of cuplability, the former, which can be overcome and constitutes a person's due diligence, especially when pronouncing publicly, does not. This same thing plays out in the debate about marriage, when the position of those who favor safeguarding marriage is reduced to a ham-fisted attempt to impose one's religious beliefs on others, when not only is that not one of the arguments being made, but an argument that would be rejected by many who see that the state has an interest in protecting marriage, an institution that pre-exists the state.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"In the name of Christ, in the name of God"?

Since I arrived at a fairly decisive judgment with regards to Anne Rice's very public departure from the Church, it is only fair that I draw attention to a lengthy telephone interview she did with the Los Angeles Times recently about this very subject.

Not only does this interview not alter my previous take, it strengthens it. My point is not to be berate Rice, or even to denigrate what is for her a serious a matter about which is has rendered her own very scathing and decisive judgment, but to deal, even if only a little, with her position precisely because this kind of thinking is quite pervasive, even within the Church. It is here that then-Cardinal Ratzinger spoke so eloquently, especially in his book-length interviews, beginning with the Ratzinger Report and culminating with God and the World. I am grateful that as Pontiff he has continued to address this mentality in such an engaging and even at times provocative way, as he did in Regensburg and the address he was unable to give in person at Rome's La Sapienza University.

Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg

In reading this interview, something I wrote previously becomes crystal clear, namely that "it is quite a non-Catholic attitude to make a hard and fast distinction between Christ and His bride, His Body, the Church. Separating yourself from it is to separate yourself from Him." Her explanations shows that her understanding of revelation is not a Catholic understanding, which insists that Jesus Christ is the fullness of divine revelation and that revelation has two distinct, yet not wholly separate, modes of transmission: tradition and Scripture. In the Catholic view, Scripture itself is the product of tradition.

Therefore, it strikes me as utterly incoherent to lambaste the Catholic Church for being, well, Catholic in such a Catholic way. Let's face it, there is nothing new under the sun. Anne Rice has done nothing more than adamantly declare herself a Protestant, even one of the Lutheran variety, which is more "Catholic" than the reformed Protestant position, either Calvinistic or Zwinglian. It's interesting, nonetheless, that she balks at affiliating with the United Church of Christ, an ecclesial group that meets all of her demands and that has publicly invited her to join them. Who knows, perhaps she thinks she can hold the truth hostage and issue demands that will be met? This takes us back to the question of conversion.

A deep diaconal bow to our intrepid Catholic newsman, Deacon Greg Kandra, for bringing Rice's interview to my attention.

As another case-in-point of this mentality, I am working on something I hope to post tomorrow about the all-too-predictable, but no less wrong-headed, overreactions to the recent announcement of the Holy Father's motu dealing delicta graviora, or grave, abuses of the sacraments, even by some quite faithful commentators, who viewed it as a P.R. error.

"The innocence slips away..."

I went to see Rush on their Time Machine tour last night. I can honestly report that Geddy, Neil, and Alex have still got it. I took my 16 year-old son, who is getting to be more than merely a decent guitarist himself. Tim was excited, but not overly so, prior to the concert. When we pulled into the parking lot of Usana Amphitheater and he saw all the cars and people, he was a little amazed. After the show, he was convinced. All I can say is that if the Time Machine tour comes to your city, or one near you, GO!

Our Friday traditio, in keeping with the '80s is Time Stands Still, from Rush's 1987 album, Hold Your Fire:
"Summer's going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up -- old friends growing colder
Experience slips away..."

As I have mentioned before, the very first rock concert I ever attended was Rush on their signals tour some 27 years ago. I remember what an amazing experience that was for me at seventeen. I have seen Rush live a couple of times between then and last night, but last night was wholly different. Perhaps it was being there with my son. For those who know me and who read my blog, you know I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but what I appreciate about these guys from Canada, aside from their musicianship, is that their lyrics mean something; they don't sing about sex and drugs, but about time, freedom, growing up, belief, the struggle to remain human in an increasingly digital world without denying reality, etc.

As we were driving home, I was thinking about the connection between my love for Rush's music and my affinity for Orwell, Camus, Giussani, et. al., due to what they all have in common, which is a lot. During Freewill, when Geddy sang "sailing into destiny," I imagined them flashing on the large video screen behind and above the stage (Rush are great innovators and were probably the first band to do this way back in 1983 and probably before that. I will always remember the Red Barchetta video from that show, clips of which they have incorporated into their new video for this song) the picture of Don Giussani below. It dawned on me that not only can I be born once I am old, but how necessary it is to be reborn. Last night's concert way (I don't want to exaggerate, but neither do I want to denigrate), was a kind of rebirth, not to innocence exactly, but hearing this music that is part of the soundtrack of my life in a new way and accompanying Tim as he experienced this, thus make last night a true traditio, namely the handing on of something valuable.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Deacon Greg Kandra over at The Bench (Da Bench among Chicago's numerous deacons)tagged me to reveal my favorite devotions. I will order according to the frequency I use them:

Divine Mercy Chaplet
Jesus Prayer
Novenas to: St. Peter Julian Eymard, St. Stephen, the Little Flower
Prayers for intercession to St. Gianna Molla

I tag The Ironic Catholic; From the Pews; The Orthometer; Faith, Fiction, and Flannery

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Truth has nothing to do with the number of people it convinces"- Paul Claudel

Since learning of Anne Rice's decision to leave the Church (again), I have given it enough thought to write a few cursory words. I am no stranger to Rice, having read Interview with a Vampire, Memnoch the Devil, The Vampire Lestat, and one other book that seemed to me like re-reading Interview and Lestat again. Also, during Lent 2009 I read Rice's autobiography, along with Joe Eszterhas' Crossbearer and Justin Catanoso's My Cousin the Saint. Rice's book was easily the most forgettable of the three. Proof of this is that I wrote nothing at all about having read it at the time. It was literally unremarkable. When writing about her Catholic childhood in New Orleans the book was good and quite interesting, but there reached a point in the book (after her Mom died and they moved from New Orleans) that was like listening to someone recite the story of their life to in a monotone voice, speaking vaguely, yet still trying to give their story some coherent form and a little meaning. Then again, like the Twilight phenomenon, her books are not great literature and always have a kind of turned-in and disembodied feel.

Of her books that I have read Memnoch the Devil is easily the best and most interesting. Nonetheless, the point of her autobiography was I never left. I just drifted away. She also makes a big point about disagreeing with her secular humanist friends. We know now that she had no such disagreements, except that she is not an atheist. To believe in Christ and arrive at all the same conclusions as people who don't would certainly cause more than a little cognitive dissonance in any person's mind.

Her litany of disenchantment is a familiar one, which is easily guessed. Apparently, it has been her mission for the past ten years to change the Church. But, alas, she is throwing in the towel. Having read her autobiography and now her announcement that she is leaving, it seems to me that she was out to convert, not be converted. I will always be dumbfounded by people who leave because they come to the realization that Christians are fallen, sinful people. I dislike bumper stickers generally, but I always pronounce a silent Amen when I see the one that says, "A Christian isn't perfect, just forgiven." It seems to me that leaving for this reason is simply a refusal to accept reality because such a realization only proves the Christian thesis (that we are sinners in the hands of a loving God who sent His Son "as expiation for our sins" [1 John 4:10]).

I would like to draw attention to a post by my dear friend, Fred, on la nouvelle théologie: Selected Questions from Anne Rice's Facebook page, to which he provides answers to questions posed by Rice during the month of July. To give you an example, back on 11 July 2010, Rice asked: "Regardless of your own personal beliefs, what would you say is the most important message of Christianity?" Before proceeding to Fred's answer, I am compelled to point out that this is an incoherent question, which is a key to unlocking the incoherency of this whole episode. I mean, how could you hold something to be "the most important message of Christianity" that was at odds with your personal beliefs? The result of this kind of incoherence is quite predictable, as is always the case when faith is divorced from reason. Anyway, being more gracious than I am, Fred responds: "God became man." I would make explicit what Fred leaves implicit- "for us and for our salvation." He then links to a 1978 Assembly with Don Giussani, What Is Christianity? How we are born in that question.

It bears pointing out that truth needs no apology. What Christians sometimes fail at is conveying the truth in a compelling and loving manner. How we say something is at least as important as what we say. Undoubtedly, there are many voices today, especially in this era of so-called new media, who speak the truth with little or no love, thereby reducing faith to morality. On the other hand, there is certainly no small contradiction in Rice's self-righteous condemnation of millions of believing, practicing, faithful Catholics, who endeavor to conform their lives to Christ by bearing their crosses daily, walking with joy towards their destiny, who do not insist that He conform to them, for being too judgmental. As with any such declaration, Rice's makes me sad for her and for her son, to whom she really believes herself to be so loyal. After all, to truly love another means to love his destiny.

Also, it is quite a non-Catholic attitude to make a hard and fast distinction between Christ and His bride, His Body, the Church. Separating yourself from it is to separate yourself from Him. When any member leaves it inflicts a wound on the Body. So, I certainly pray for her return. My my prayers will be the all the more fervent because of the very public and defiant way she left, which means that returning (again) will require her to eat a large helping of crow with a slice of humble pie à la mode for dessert and quite likely would mean the complete loss of her credibility. What is my credibility compared when to Christ?

I think it appropriate to end this post the same way it began (referring to the title), with a quote from a great and truly Catholic writer, a woman who fully embraced the truth, Flannery O'Connor: "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." This is the same sage writer who also observed that by encountering Christ, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd."

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...