If you have a moment
Could you say a prayer for a special intention of mine? Thanks much.
N.O., the resident proofreader of St. Blog's, is promising to
reveal clues to his identity. There is no need. I have already figured
out that Nihil Obstat is none other than my beautiful, talented, and
grammatically fastidious wife Melissa.
What is my evidence, you may ask?
1) She liked Amy Welborn's book Prove it: Church, but
wanted to know why Ms. Welborn constantly used a plural
pronoun (they) to refer back to a singular subject
(everybody). "Everybody has to face these questions in their
lives," or something similar, caused her no end of annoyance.
2) She told me that yes, the Navarre Bible Gospel of John had
nice commentary, but surely they could use an editrix. Yes,
she actually used the word "editrix."
3) No matter how much I explain to her that ending sentences
with prepositions is fine, and actually shows the debt that
English owes to German, it is still something up with which
she emphatically refuses to put.
4) She was willing to seek other employment when her boss told
her that she wasn't to use the word "whom" anymore.
5) Most suspiciously, Melissa claimed that her company's
internet policy stopped allowing blogs around the same time
that Nihil Obstat opened up shop. Clearly, she was trying to
put me off the scent.
6) Nihil Obstat never finds errors on my
blog. Obviously Melissa feels that this is pointless, since
she tells me of my errors at home.
So, Nihil, you can quit this charade and reveal your identity. Come
I'm back to work teaching college students, if only as an adjunct. If you don't know, an adjunt professor has all the responsibilities and duties of a full professor, only without tenure and with a salary that barely covers gas money.
I am teaching adult students, and it is quite a bit different. Normal college-age kids are relativists by habit, and in class I generally have to take the position that there are moral absolutes and argue for them. The adults are the opposite: they tend to think that there are such things as right and wrong, and I have to take the opposite position to get them to think critically about why things are right and wrong.
Why do I have to challenge their beliefs? Chances are that real life will challenge their beliefs at some point in time. Far better for them to be challenged in my class, where unexamined ethical assumptions can be examined. The goal is for them to know why one should be good. Otherwise, if we don't know the "why", when temptation comes we will probably give in. After all, why not?
Morals without reasons are like houses without foundations: they may look pretty and work for a little while, but when bad weather comes they may just wash away.
Would he be forced to quit being a priest because of zero-tolerance? Chances are the mother of his son wasn't over 18 when they started fornicating.
The woman who reads at daily mass read the psalm response thus: "Lord, teach me your statues." She never caught her error.
If you haven't noticed, there is a new blog documenting the entrance into the Church of a former atheist. Sean posts a lament at the arrival of a Hooters girl next door. Six months ago he would have seen this as a good thing, but now it is not.
This got me thinking (everything gets me thinking) about the nature of beauty. Aquinas says beauty includes three conditions, "integrity" or "perfection", since those things which are impaired are by the very fact ugly; due "proportion" or "harmony"; and lastly, "brightness" or "clarity," whence things are called beautiful which have a bright color. Think about what these conditions relate to: how do we judge something to have intergrity, proportion, and clarity?
If you go to Hooters, there will be lots of pretty girls bouncing around in short shorts. Hooters makes lots of money by having bad food and bouncy waitresses. The strategy is to play upon the sexual urge of mostly male customers. The customers will become aroused, by more beer, and leave bigger tips. How does one judge the quality of a Hooters girl?
We use the mind to judge whether something is beautiful, and the groin to judge whether someone is a good Hooters girl. Something different is going on in the two cases. For beauty, there is a delight taken in the apprehension of the integrity, proportion, and clarity of the beautiful object or person. This delight iis a response to the action of the intellect. But for the Hooters girl, the reaction is entirely different: the sexual urge awakens and causes a response. There is no apprehension of the integrity, proportion, and clarity of the whole person, but rather a narrow focus on the sexual suitability of the various parts of the girl. We use different organs in each case. Beauty is the province of the mind, sexiness the province of the genitalia.
So although a Hooter's girl may be sexy, chances are she is not beautiful, or at least not as beautiful as she could be. The choice to work in a place where one makes money by toying with the sexual desire of men shows a lack of integrity in the person that mars beauty. Another example: Pamela Anderson or those who work in pornographic films may be extremely sexy, but they are not at all beautifull, since the way they make money is without integrity.
The most beautiful of all women are those who, although possessing much integrity, proportion, and clarity of body, also possess enough integrity, proportion, and clarity of mind not to flaunt it.
I was surfing this morning and came across a website reporting that the Alabama legislature had passed a law changing Pi from 3.1415926etc to exactly 3.0.
My spider-sense started tingling, and I did some further research to attempt to find confirmation of this. It turns out that it is a hoax. The interesting thing is that the site reporting it as fact is an educational site that your kids may be using in school.
See, it is expenseive to keep a fully stocked library of real books in a high school. It is much cheaper and easier to point the students to computer terminals where they can get information merely by typing words into a search engine. In addition, by doing so, the teachers get credit for incorporating technology in their classes, which is the new Holy Grail of education. Unfortunately, the internet is not a reliable source of information. It is not peer-reviewed at all. If you think there are slanted stories in the newspaper, you should check the websites that your children look at for school projects. If it is a report an animal rights, they will be going to the PETA website. If it is a report on economics, they will end up at some anti-globalization neo-marxist page. I taught scripture, and warned my students to use real books or NewAdvent.org, but invariably I got papers written from apocalyptic and "Left Behind"-ish perspectives. Anyone can create a website saying anything. The internet is an intellectual anarchy. Many times the papers were merely exact quotes of the websites; the internet has opened up new frontiers of cheating.
I will end my Luddite rant with this warning: If you want smart kids, make them read real books. And be sure that you keep a close eye on what they are being taught. There is a lot of garbage out there, and not very many people adept enough at critical thinking to spot the garbage.
Emily Stimpson at HMS Blog has promised to post a list of the ten most beautiful things that led her back to the Church. She is going to start Monday. While you are waiting, let me give a description of one of my favorite treasures of the Church.
Did you know that there is a Benedictine monastery in Chicago, on 31st and Aberdeen? That's within walking distance to Comiskey Park. It used to be a parish church, but rather than knock down the building or sell it, the cardinal invited the monks in. Their liturgies are done with reverence and beauty (they sing a mixture of Gregorian and Byzantine chant), and are open to the public. Look at their prayer schedule on the website. If you work in the city of Chicago or live in the area, you can drop by at 5pm for vespers and stick around for the 6pm Mass. They also run a bed-and-breakfast if your travels take you to Chicago.
I have gone to the monks for a bit of spiritual direction here and there, and they have been wise and strict with me, which is exactly what I need.
She has begun reading my Navarre version of the Gospel of John, and has gotten through the prologue. I asked her how she liked it, and she said, in a perfect Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons imitation, "Best beginning ever!"
Recently I gave a link to the website of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, and I invited you to count the references to Christ on the website, of which I counted one. I don't want you to get the wrong idea; I worked last year at a Catholic girls school, and many of the teachers and administration were Dominican sisters. Only one was an Adrian Dominican. I don't want to impugn these women. They were without fail dedicated to their students, and put in long hours to prepare the girls as well as possible for their futures. They are good people.
But they are good people without a rudder, as one can see by wading through their websites. It is usually a collection of group encounters or exercises in sharing or various other trendy middle-management techniques. They have degenerated into ordinary lay associations, and not particularly Catholic lay associations at that. What happened?
I think the problem is that they have abandoned their strict rules of life. At the beginning of the school year, we listened to an older nun recount tales of the founding of the school forty years previously. She described how in 1962 the nuns wore full habits, lived in the convent (now closed) and met in the chapel five times a day for prayer. The women present nodded and laughed, as if to say, "What silly times those were! We are much more enlightened now!" Having experienced community life and prayer myself in the seminary, I wondered why they were so happy to give it up. A daily discipline of attendance at Mass, plus participation in the Liturgy of the Hours, keeps one closely connected with God. You can't go too far wrong if by 5:00pm you need to be back in chapel for vespers!
Imagine what happened to a poor nun who entered her order in 1960. She enters because of what the order was in 1960, a community of women living in common, sharing a routine of daily prayer, dressed in habits. But after the council, her order abandons the habits, drops the routine of prayer, and moves the sisters out into apartments or houses (the nun who taught next to me had a mortgage!). They have pulled a bait and switch on her. Perhaps the leadership, the well-educated and activist sisters, have good reasons for changing the entire structure of the order, but the average nun was likely just swept along on the tide of history.In any case, now she no longer has the routine of the rule of the order to keep her spiritual ducks in a row. She is responsible for herself, and as Teresa of Avila said, anyone who directs herself in the spiritual life has a fool for a director.
Is it any wonder that rather than teach Christ crucified, the orders teach ecology and feminism? Cut off from the true vine, they needed to find whatever soil would give them growth. We all need causes to direct our life, and if we aren't closely and actively based on Christ, we are going to find something to believe in. So we follow the trends of the age: If not Christ, then perhaps Gaia, or fighting oppression, or pacifism.
It is not the case that religious orders are full of bad people. If they were bad, they would never have joined the order. Rather it is a problem of people cut adrift.
Emily Stimpson, for whose blog Fool's Folly I still pine, has mentioned my Lord of the Rings post there. I hope you all find it worthwhile. While you are here, poke around in the archives, and look at my best-of list on the left side.
P.S. Whenever I read HMS Blog, I always think of Her Majesty's Ship Blog. I picture it as a boat full of wine-bibbing Chesterton-reading Knights of the Faith. I guess I have read too many Hornblower novels.
P.P.S. I know there is a typo in the Tolkien post. I left it there to see if Nihil Obstat, who I think may be my wife the grammar-Nazi in disguise, ever reads my blog.
The UN, of all people, is warning of the problems of underpopulation. Apparently there will be a necessity for extremely high tax burden on the few young people to pay for the social benefits of the many old people.
If you have a large old-fashioned Catholic family, and are accustomed to rude comments and stares from the sterile, contracepting American public, just tell them that you are trying to have enough children to pay for their social security and prescription drugs.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters had a convention recently, and they have put up pictures and commentary here. Go read and enjoy.
Perhaps you can make it into a game. Go read it and count how many times the write-up mentions Christ. I counted once.
I have been watching LOTR almost daily since I got the DVD, and upon reflection have found it to be a good way to illustrate theological truth. Read on for an example. Warning: this blog contains spoilers. If you haven't seen LOTR and want to, don't read on.
Do you want to be a saint? Or is just sneaking into heaven good enough for you? Do you think that you don't need to go to Mass, or go to Confession, since these are just external ritualistic folderol? Then you need to contemplate on a particular scene from LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Our heroes are running toward to bridge of Khazad-Dum trying to escape from the Balrog when they come to a gap in the stone bridge. There is boiling lava beneath them, orcs around them, and a Balrog behind them. Legolas and Gandalf jump over easily, but the hobbits are too small to make the leap. Merry and Pippin are carried along by Boromir. Aragorn throws Sam across the abyss. Then it is Gimli's turn. Aragorn makes to pick him up, but Gimli shouts, "Nobody tosses a dwarf!" and proceeds to jump over under his own power. He almost falls, and is only painfullly pulled to safety by means of his beard. Aragorn and Frodo in a much more perilous situation. They have to wait until the whole pillar begins to crumble, and they are able to overbalance and make it tip towards the gap. They run to safety, just barely.
What is the theological message? The situation of the Fellowship mirrors our situation on earth. We are not walking on a straight and level pathway to our ultimate detiny with God, but rather are beset with dangers on all sides. We can't remain stationary or we will surely be lost. We must run towards God or the enemies, who are running toward us, will overtake us. Should we fall, disaster awaits, in fact a disaster far worse than falling into boiling lava or being skewered by orcish arrows.
At times we will come to gaps in the road, areas where because of some spiritual obstruction we can't cross over. Perhaps a bad habit, or a grave sin, or despair, or laziness won't allow us over. Legolas and Gandalf represent those blessed souls who have the strength to leap easily over the void, so as to help us across. They are like holy people. If you have ever met a genuinely holy person, what you should have found is someone who is doing well on his own spiritual journey, but also someone whose goodness you can't keep from rubbing off on you. Holy people are infectious; they help others along the way almost as an instinct. Thus are Legolas and Gandalf.
Boromir leaps across carrying his friends Merry and Pippin. This shows that often a whole circle of friends will be evangelized together. Friendship is a gift from God, and is doubly blessed when it is a holy friendship. It is like the ideal of a religious community or a holy family: a group of mutually supporting friends directing each other towards God.
Gimli, however, is like the casual Catholic, the one who thinks that if he is a nice person and goes to Mass at least on Christmas and Easter he will sneak into heaven. He isn't a saint, and has almost no interest in being one. As long as he can slide into the back door of heaven, or even into the lowest gate of Purgatory, he will be satisfied. Gimli refuses the help of Aragorn ("Nodody tosses a dwarf!) just as the lukewarm Catholic rejects the aid of the sacraments. He doesn't need any help to get into heaven; after all, he's a nice guy and hasn't killed anyone, has he?
This attitude betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the state of human beings: the road to salvation is not a tree-lined boulevard upon which we can stroll at an easy pace, but is a treacherous journey fraught with perils and goblins on every side. It is very easy to be bad, and difficult to be good. But God doesn't leave us alone on this path, thank God. He provides us with supernatural aids to show us the way and to strengthen us for the journey. These gifts are the sacraments, in particular baptism, confirmation, confession, and the eucharist. Faithful use of these means of grace can level out the road, vanquish the goblins, and bridge the gaps over the abyss.
Gimli refused the help of Aragorn. He was silly to do so, and almost was lost as a result. Yes, he did sneak over the abyss, but just barely, and only through lots of pain, as Legolas dragged him up by his beard. Yes, one could sneak into heaven by the mercy of God, but it will be painful, and I imagine that Purgatory is much worse than a pulled beared.
One further point: if you need to jump over an abyss of fire, would you be satisfied to jump just far enough to make it, or would you take a running start and jump as far as you can? The problem with being content to sneak into heaven is that you might not make it. If your goal is to be a saint, a true friend of God, you will have room to spare.
There is a new policy statement from the president of VOTF, available here.. In it, Jim Post makes a number of claims to the effect that the VOTF is neither liberal nor conservative, but is only Catholic. Never mind that liberal and conservative are not proper labels to apply to the Church. The real problem is between faithful and unfaithful. Is VOTF faithful?
I want to point out three statements that are incompatible: We accept the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.
We have taken no position on the many other issues that divide Catholics in 2002.
We do not advocate the end of priestly celibacy, the exclusion of homosexuals from the priesthood, the ordination of women, or any of the other remedies that some have proposed.
They accept the teaching authority of the Church (do they accept the governing authority of the Church? That's part of the teaching authority. See Lumen Gentium). They do not advocate the end of celibacy, the restriction of orders to heterosexual men, or the ordination of women. So far so good. But look at that middle statement: What are the other issues that divide Catholics in 2002? It is just those issues that they say they don't advocate! The only things one could add would be questions of sexual morality. Further, how can one accept the teaching authority of the Church and not take positions on the issues that divide us? If one accepts the teaching authority of the Church, one must accept what she teaches. There is no "not taking a position." Open up a catechism and see what your position is supposed to be.
There is no such thing as a "centrist" Catholic. There are only faithful Catholics, who believe what the Catholic Church teaches, and non-faithful Catholics (also known as non-Catholics) who don't believe what the Church teaches. There is no middle road.
David Alexander makes the same point in much more concise language on his blog.
Somebody ask Cardinal Maida this question. You may have heard of the situation at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish, where the extremely pro-abortion Democratic gubernatorial candidate is a parishioner, lector, and active member. One of the priests wrote a note in the bulletin supporting the pro-choice position, and the candidate was allowed to distribute her campaign literature at the doors of the church.
This is an outrage, an abomination, and a crime that cries out to heaven. Here are some good quotes from one of the brave souls that is picketing the parish: Matt Bowman, a Catholic demonstrator from Ann Arbor, compared the situation to the sexual abuse scandal. "Despite overwhelming complaints, Father Sullivan won't retract the abortion rhetoric voiced August 4 by Father 'Doc,'" he said. "Both priests should withdraw from active ministry where they might have contact with abortion-bound girls until this matter is thoroughly addressed," demanded Bowman. "Cardinal Maida must enforce a 'Zero Tolerance' policy for 'abortophile' priests." The parish is part of Cardinal Adam Maida's Archdiocese of Detroit.
Ezekiel 33:7-9 should be required reading for all bishops: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he (the wicked man) shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked man, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.
"Then we had talked for about an hour about politics and God; for men always talk about the most important things to total strangers. It is because in the total stranger we perceive man himself; the image of God is not disguised by resemblances to an uncle or doubts of the wisdom of a moustache."
---G.K Chesterton, The Club of Queer Trades
I came home from Mass in a marvelous mood, rejoicing at the growth of my church, where we just today dedicated a large icon of the Mother of God, when I started reading the Chicago Tribune. I came to the Perspective page, where there is an article called “A woman’s place is behind the altar,” by Kathleen Whalen FitzGerald, an ex-nun.
Such theological offerings are commonplace in the Tribune, which regularly gives space to those who disagree with Catholic theology. I wonder if they would give me space to write about how wrong Muslim or Jewish theology is? They have published many screeds from the pseudo-scholar Gary Wills, and their paper would be better served if they gave space for rebuttal to Cardinal George. Or even me, for that matter. But FitzGerald’s piece is more of the same. These articles usually show bad theology, illogical thinking, and a lack of understanding of the ancient apostolic teachings of the Church.
It is a depressing task to refute these things line-by-line, not because it is difficult, but because the same old errors are made over and over. However, FitzGerald’s piece is such a fine example of bad thinking that perhaps it can serve as a blueprint for future refutations.
She starts by recalling with approval words of a dead priest, who said “Soon the altars of our church will be filled with women and men, single or married, straight or gay. And that is the way it should be.” The issue is never just the ordination of women: it is always the ordination of women and the change of the celibacy rules and a recognition of homosexuality as normal, and usually also is tied with support for contraception and abortion. I would be much more inclined to look favorably on the calls of the ordain-women folks if they were faithful in other aspects.
She then talks about how she and her fellow nuns did all the work, while the priests got all the credit. “We did all the work and they got all the glory. They were called ‘Father’ and we were ‘Sister.’ We were prisoners and they were free.” Note the focus on power. She wants glory, not holiness. She resents the recognition that others get. This attitude is at the basis of most who call for woman’s ordination: they want power. They want to rule the Church, to make changes, to get to stand up front in church. There is no recognition of the fact that the priesthood is not a right, but a gift, and it is a gift at the service of others. Are there priests who have abused their power? Of course, but just because they have abused power does not mean that women should be ordained so that they can abuse power as well. The priesthood is not about power at all: Christ, though he was God, took the form of a slave and died on the cross. He didn’t seek power, though he had right to it. We who don’t have a right to power shouldn’t seek it either.
FitzGerald claims that the reason the Church doesn’t ordain women is because of Aristotle. She follows on the horrible scholarship of Gary Wills, who claims that because Aristotle thought a woman was biologically speaking a misbegotten man, Augustine followed in his low opinion of women, and then Aquinas took up the same opinion. “Then Augustine, who had spent his youth whoring about, agreed with Aristotle. Then Aquinas, who had chased a naked temptress out of his cell with a flaming timber, agreed with Augustine. Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas were the big three who made the greatest impact on Catholic philosophy, theology, and canon law.”
This is a nice theory, but it is wrong. First of all, no-one who reads Augustine’s writings about St. Monica will think that he hates women. Second, it is not possible for Augustine to have taken over Aristotle’s thoughts on the biology of women for the simple reason that the only Aristotle he ever read was the Categories: the other books on biology weren’t available. Third, Aquinas deals with this very question very clearly in Question 92 of the first part of the Summa: Was it fitting that women be created? Yes, St. Thomas Aquinas does accept Aristotelian biology: the active principle comes from the man, and the woman provides the matter. So perhaps a woman is a accidental male. But this isn’t a defect from the point of view of God: “On the other hand, as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten, but is included in nature's intention as directed to the work of generation. Now the general intention of nature depends on God, Who is the universal Author of nature. Therefore, in producing nature, God formed not only the male but also the female.” God intends both men and woman. We are equal in the order of salvation.
FitzGerald makes another blunder when she claims that it is because of Aristotelian biology that woman can’t be ordained. But it is not because of Aristotle, but because of Jesus Christ. Jesus ordained twelve men. The men he ordained only ordained men. We have an unbroken tradition that holy orders is to be reserved to men. Aristotle has nothing to do with it. The proof of this can be found in all the other apostolic churches that don’t read Aristotle, such as the Byzantine, the Orthodox, the Coptics, the Malabars, the Chaldean Catholics, and even the Nestorians and the Monophysites. All of these churches don’t ordain woman, and none of them made Aristotle the basis of their theology. It is only those churches that broke apostolic succession and separated themselves from the traditions of the early Church that ordain women.
Finally, FitzGerald makes the claim that Mary was a priest, since “She ate bread and drank wine and turned them into the body and blood of Jesus.” Mary was a priest because Jesus lived for nine months within her womb. But this argument is bogus, as can be clearly seen by a reflection on biology: after conception, the woman does nothing to make the food she eats into the child she carries: it is the child itself that digests the food and grows in the womb. Christ took the food given to him in the womb and formed himself. It wasn’t a power within Mary. If FitzGerald’s argument is true, then everyone who ever gave Jesus a bit of food was also a priest, for they are doing as much to form his body and blood as she did.
But as greatly as we esteem Mary, the Mother of God, who is blessed among woman, whom all generations will call blessed, she wasn’t given the gift of priesthood. We presume that Jesus, being God, knew what he was doing when he chose not to ordain her, or Salome, or Mary Magdalen, or any of the other women disciples. We follow Christ, not Aristotle, not Aquinas, and not the trends of the age.
Today's gospel reading is from Matthew, and in it, Jesus describes the permanence of the marriage bond. "Have you not heard that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one?' So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder." (Matt 19:4-7) This was joined with a reading from Ezekiel 16 about the covenant between God and his people, described in terms of a marriage. This image is a common theme in scripture. Marriage and the relationship between God and us are used to explain each other, notably in Ephesians 5. So it is clear that marriage can act as a symbol of God's love and care for us.
But I want to make a point about symbolism. In a symbol, one reality is used to illuminate another reality. So my wedding ring symbolizes the bond with my wife. The lesser reality generally serves as a symbol of the greater: no-one would prefer the wedding ring to his wife. The lesser symbol only has meaning by virtue of the greater reality it symbolizes. If there were no marriage, what would be the point of a wedding ring? We understand the symbol by looking at that which it symbolizes.
Marriage is used in the Bible as a symbol of Christ's love for us. So how do you go about understanding marriage? We need to study God to understand marriage, just as we need to study marriage to understand the wedding ring. God creates us, protects us, gives us everything we need, and accepts us back whenever we return with repentant hearts. God so loved us that he sent his only Son to die on the Cross so that we may have life. He shares his very flesh with us. How does this apply to marriage? The husband and wife must strive to be Godlike to each other, "creating" each other by helping each to grow to true sanctity. They must protect each other from the dangers of sin by being patient, kind, and loving. They must give of each other without thought for reward, just as God gives us all of creation with no benefit to himself. Husband and wife need to forgive each other (although the wife probably needs to forgive more than the husband!), and both must be prepared to sacrifice all for the other, without counting the cost.
Marriage is often viewed as a contract. This is the wrong model. Rather, marriage is a microcosm, a small version of the relationship of God to his Church. But you don't just have to take my word for it. Look at these words of Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio.
I asked recently for you to send a not telling me who your favorite LOTR character was, and why. Here are the results:
Donna Marie and my father both like Samwise, for his simplicity, humility, and courage. My dad says that he especially likes Sam because of what he will do in the future, but I don't want to spoil the stories for you. Donna says My favorite line in all of Tolkien is spoken by him...'I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves, and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard !'
Andrew Hughey likes Bilbo, and writes a wonderful reflection on him here. He says Through Bilbo's eyes, I saw the wonder of Middle Earth. This seemingly average stay-at-home hobbit wanted more. He didn't want to just hear stories of the elves, he wanted to meet the elves. He wasn't content to just sit at home and watch the world go by. When luck and providence provided him with opportunity, he didn't turn his back on it but grabbed hold for dear life. And, of course, there's always that sense about Bilbo that something else is helping him out and guiding his actions.
"You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"
My wife likes Legolas, because he is cute.
My favorite character in LOTR is Boromir, the soldier of Gondor, who has spent his life protecting the rest of Middle-Earth from the evil of Mordor. He has done a thankless job: the hobbits who are able to sleep comfortably because of his vigilance don't even know where Gondor and Mordor are. Boromir doesn't seek thanks, but only looks for a means for victory. After years of fighting, he wants peace.
When confronted with the ring, it is Boromir who cannot resist the temptation. He can see no hope for victory without the ring, and no hope for success in destroying it. He tries to take the ring by force, and so destroys the Fellowship. At this point I relate to him very much. The world seems to me to be lost. I see people living without any knowledge of God or of grace, doing tremendous harm to themselves and each other through lives of casual sin. I see a Church that has been brought to its knees by a sex scandal. Is there any hope? There is a great temptation to despair, and to give in to the expedient and easy. I have been Boromir many times.
But what does Boromir do immediately after he falls? He repents. He knows that he has failed, and that he probably has doomed the mission. All hope is lost, and one would expect Boromir to follow in the footsteps of Judas, to despair completely. He gets up and dives into a hopeless battle to protect his friends Pippin and Merry from the orcs, in fact giving his life for them.
We cannot always see any reason to hope. But even if we can see no reason, hope endures. Help may come that we could never foresee. As a friend of mine said to me once, we cannot ever despair of victory, because the war was won 2000 years ago on Easter Sunday. Battles are still being fought, but God has already won. Boromir is my favorite character because he shows the greatest faults and greatest strengths of humans. We can and probably will fail, but we must fight as if victory is possible, no matter what the odds.
Make sure you get to church. In times like these, we can't afford to let any opportunity for grace go by.
The bishops are doing penance today for their sins and to intercede for the Church. A short reflection on the moral state of most Catholics in America should show you that we all need to do penance as well as to amend our lives. Some suggestions: say a rosary for the Church, fast and abstain as if it were Good Friday, or give money to the poor.
And don't forget that tomorrow is the feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation. You can probably find a vigil mass tonight.
At daily mass this morning, as Ezekiel received the scroll from the Lord, I was startled to hear that on the scroll was written "Laminations and wailing and woe."
There is a couple that is planning to clone the wife in order to have a child. You can read the transcript of the interview here, if you want a primer on how to be absolutely selfish. But of interest is the bad theology displayed by the woman:
She can't imagine any possible reason why God wouldn't give her a child, except that God wants them to have a clone. Let me give you some suggestions, honey: God may not give you a child because you and your husband are selfish jerks, who have already killed several children through your attempts at in-vitro fertilization (they make more embryos than they need, and discard the excess), who are quite willing to abort the clone if she doesn't turn out just right, who apparently have never considered the possibility of adoption.
Last night I posted that the outrageous situation at a parish in Michigan was in the diocese of Lansing. I was wrong: it is in Detroit. I have fixed the previous blog.
If you haven't heard about the pro-choice, pro-late-term abortion gubernatorial candidate for governor of Michigan who is also a member in good standing at a Catholic church in the diocese of Detroit, you should go look at this blog. The pastors at the parish have been supportive of her, indeed have written letters in the bulletin supporting her pro-choice position, and have been very hard on the pro-life protestors who are protesting at the church.
Yes, you heard me right. Pro-life protestors are protesting a CATHOLIC CHURCH!
Kathryn Lopez over at National Review has a nice article on NFP: there is a Protestant couple who have written a book saying, in essence, the Pope isn't crazy, and that artificial contraception is indeed a bad thing. I'll post on this topic one of these days. Nutshell version: I agree. The only thing artificial contraception has helped are men who wish to behave like teenage boys wish they could behave.
Over at Disputations there is a very funny parody of P. G. Wodehouse. (You might have to scroll around to find the installments.) I eagerly await further chapters. If you haven't discovered Wodehouse yet, you are in for a treat. I find his writing to be hilarious, with a good-natured and gentle humor. Also, Wodehouse wrote the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, "Bill." (He's just my Bill, an ordinary guy. . . .) You can probably find an anthology of the Jeeves and Wooster stories at your bookstore. In a nutshell, Wooster is a dimwitted but unfailingly good hearted upper-class Brit who is saved from repeated deadly encounters with marriage-hungry women and wicked Aunt Agatha by his brilliant butler Jeeves.
As you may or may not know, I did my doctoral dissertation on Edith Stein, and so feel a duty to blog about her today. Most people know something about her life, but I will summarize. She was born and raised a Jew in 1891, and by her teenage years had decided that God did not exist. A brilliant girl, she decided to go to college to study psychology, but she became disgusted with the lack of scientific rigor in that science. (A problem that remains today: As Walker Percy points out, every method of psychotherapy works about as well or as poorly as every other one. And a recent study showed that Prozac works almost as well in curing depression as sugar pills.) Edith read a book called Logical Investigations by Edmund Husserl, and decided that she needed to study philosophy. Husserl was the founder of a major philosophical school of thought known as phenomenology.
The motto of phenomenology is "Back to the things themselves!" Philosophers had been too much cut off from the genuine and primary experiences of reality, according to Husserl. Sciences were developing that had no original founding insights, like psychology, or that were unclear as to what these insights were, like mathematics. Husserl thought that all science could be grounded and clarified by a careful, rigorous inventory and description of the content of human consciousness. For example, a scientist might say that we see by means of light waves bouncing off an object into the eye, where they form an image on the retina that is interpreted by the brain. A phenomenologist will say that we see by means of the immediate presentation of an object. We don't interpret light waves, we see objects. The light wave explanation is certainly true, but it is not what we do, it is only the material condition for what we do. We see things!
Stein studied under Husserl, following him from Gottingen to Freiburg (a beautiful town, by the way) and working as his first graduate assistant (a post later held by a guy named Martin Heidegger). She graduated summa cum laude, and published some very good phenomenological works on empathy (quoted by Scheler) and on the relationship of psychology and the humanities, as well as the phenomenology of the state.
She had a dear friend named Adolf Reinach, a philosopher of note himself, who died in the trenches in World War I. Stein went to visit his widow in order to gather his papers for posthumous publication, and she dreaded the visit. Edith thought that it would be horrible to be around a grieving widow. But amazingly, Frau Reinach was peaceful, almost cheerful. She was a Christian (later Catholic) and had faith in the resurrection. The death of her husband was not the end, and she was peaceful. This gave Edith for thought, and while visiting a friend's house she cae across St. Teresa of Avila's autobiography. She stayed up all night reading, finished the book, and said "This is truth." Shortly after this she became a Catholic.
I have named Edith Stein the patron saint of philosophy Ph.D.'s seeking jobs, because despite having her doctorate with highest honors from Edmund Husserl, she never got an academic position, and taught high school until she entered the Carmelites. Being Jewish and a woman in Germany made it very difficult. But she continued to write. She did a German translation of Newman's letters, translated Aquinas' De Veritate into German (quoted by Karl Rahner), and continued to write and think, especially about the problem of the meaning of being.
Her final major philosophical work was Endliches und ewiges Sein, or Finite and Eternal Being, a large and difficult book that is an attempt to ascend to the meaning of being. It is noteworthy because it is a phenomenological and Thomist ascent. Stein uses all of the tools at her disposal, from Husserl and Hering to Aquinas, Aristotle, and Augustine, in order to get closer and closer to an understanding of what it means to be. She begins with the being of consciousness itself, and shows how this consciousness is contingent and dependent on sources outside itself for both its being and the meaning that fills it. She then gives a detailed analysis of how meanings can be reduced to basic units of meaning. So the first Being is seen as both the source of being and meaning, which finally leads her to conclude that the first Being must be not only the Prime Mover or the Demiurge, but is rather a Person. Since Being itself (God) is a person, we have a basis for understanding God: persons can be asked about themselves. So the second half of the book examines the relationship of the divine person to human persons, which turns out to be an intimate indwelling in the core of each human being.
But, as I said, this is a difficult book. If you want to more you could look up my dissertation, "Faith and Reason in the Philosophy of Edith Stein."
Edith Stein and her sister Rosa (who had converted as well) fled Germany to a Carmel in Echt in Holland to avoid the Nazis. In an episode that should give pause to the many modern critics of Pope Pius XII, the bishops of Holland issued a pastoral letter condemning the deportation of Jews. In retaliation, the Nazis rounded up all of the religious in Holland of Jewish origin and sent them to Auschwitz. Stein and her sister were arrested and taken from their convent, and were murdered on or around August 9, 1942. From the little we know of the last days of her life, it is apparent that Edith showed heroic compassion in comforting and caring for her fellow passengers, much as did another saint of Auschwitz, Maximilian Kolbe.
Pope John Paul II canonized her in 1998, and she is now St. Teresia Benedicta a Cruce (her religious name). Pray for us!
(Unfortunately, few of her philosophical works have been translated, but her spiritual writings and her work on the nature of women are well worth reading, and are available here. In fact, I made use of her thought in my blog on the ordination of women.
A recent study says that fathers with religious convictions spend more time with their children. This is surprising to no-one except to W. Bradford Wilcox, the researcher, who says "Evangelical Protestant fathers, including Southern Baptists, are very involved with their children, which I found surprising, given their tendency to embrace traditional gender attitudes." See, by traditional gender attitudes, what the researcher really means is that religious men are more likely to say to the wife "Wyleen, take care of Billy Bob, Bobby Sue, Cletus, and little Boo, while I abandon you to go drink beer, hunt, and listen to George Jones with my buddies."
In order to explain the paradox that such men actually spend more time with their children, Wilcox attributes it to scheduled church functions. Perhaps. But it is much more than that. What they need to understand is that if there is no God, children are no longer a blessing to be treasured, but an annoyance to be avoided. Religious men see their children as a sacred trust, given by God to be raised up as saints. Non-religious men see children as a threat to their free time and money.
Look at the headline for this story about the woman who recently won the right to abort her child over the objections of the father. Abortion Case Winner Loses Her Baby.
When she wanted to abort the baby, it was a "fetus." When she lost it in a miscarriage, it became a baby.
I apologize. This is a hazard of blogging: some days one just doesn't have anything to say. I will blog more tomorrow, I promise! Meanwhile, if you'd like to send me your favorite Lord of the Rings characters and why, I would like to read them.
If you have the New American Bible, take a look at the footnote to Mark 9:1. In the verse, Jesus says "Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come in power." The footnote says that this is "more likely, as understood by others, a reference to the imminent parousia." Parousia means the second coming of Christ at the end of the world.
There is a constant thread in scripture scholarship that says that the writers of the New Testament got it wrong: they expected Jesus to return almost immediately, but then had to regroup when he didn't come back. This verse Mark 9:1 is used to support this position: none of the apostles are alive anymore, and Jesus hasn't returned. Therefore the gospel writers must have been wrong.
But look at what comes immediately after: the Transfiguration! Peter, James, and John indeed do see that the kingdom of God has come in power. Mark 9:1 seems clearly to refer to the Transfiguration. The gospel writers were right, as usual.
Tolkien, as you may or may not know, was a devout Catholic and daily communicant whose faith shines through every page of his work. He didn't work by allegory, as his friend C.S. Lewis did in Narnia (Aslan=Christ in Narnia, but nobody=Christ in Lord of the Rings), but through the recognition that the only real drama in the world is the drama of sin, grace, and redemption. If a story is to be written that truly captures hearts, it will be a story of the eternal drama of salvation, even if it is about hobbits, elves, and orcs.
I have a request from you, my loyal readers: If you haven't seen the movie or read the books, do so. If you have, drop me a line and let me know who is your favorite character (one whom you identify with) and why. I will post a few of these later, and tell you who my favorite is. Or you could try to guess.
I follow the Welborn protocol here, and will feel free to post your email with name included unless you tell me not to.
I had the pleasure of going to my home parish for daily Mass (we call it Divine Liturgy) today, and got to hear some of the lovely hymns about the transfiguration from the Byzantine tradition. Byzantine hymns are invariably doctrinal, so that even if the priest doesn't give a homily, you get one, just from the music. Let me give you a few samples:
[At vespers] O Lord, when You were transfigured before being crucified, Mount Tabor was made to resemble heaven, for a cloud was extended as a canopy and the Father bore witness to You. Peter, James, and John were present there, the same three apostles who were to be with You at the time of Judas' betrayal, so that having seen You in glory, they would not be dismayed at the time of your suffering. Likewise, O Lord, makes us worthy to recognize You as our God in these same sufferings You endured in your great mercy, and to adore you.
This hymn answers the question: Why transfigure? Jesus showed some of his divine glory to the apostles in order to prepare them for the horrible suffering that would befall his human nature. One could very easily have doubted Christ seeing him suffer, unless one had seen a foretaste of his risen glory on Mt. Tabor.
[At Divine Liturgy] You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God, and your disciples beheld as much as they could of your glory, so that when they would see You crucified, they would understand that You suffered willingly. They would preach to the world that You are truly the reflection of the Father.
This hymn tells us more: we know that Christ suffered willingly, for surely one who becamed transfigured as Christ did, talked to the dead heroes of Israel (Moses and Elijah), and had God the Father say "This is my beloved Son," could have come down from the cross or given the Jews the slip when they tried to crucify him. Jesus suffered on purpose, for our sake, and the Transfiguration is evidence of that.
With the recent discussion on the catholig blogs (Mark Shea and Amy Welborn)about priests who say the multiplication of loaves and fishes is the "miracle of sharing," I wonder if anyone is bold enough to say that the transfiguration never happened, and the reason that Jesus' clothes became dazzlingly white is because he did his laundry. Washing clothes is a rare occurence in the water-poor Middle East, and so his disciples were startled by the cleanliness of his clothes and recorded it as a miracle.
I was browsing the job listings for philosophers at the Chronicle for Higher Education, and I saw an ad for a Director of Ethics Policy at the American Medical Association. I quote:
Ethics: Director, Ethics Policy. American Medical Association is seeking qualified applicants for the position of Director, Ethics Policy in Chicago. Qualified applicants must possess a JD degree, or its equivalent, and at least 5 years' work experience in a position requiring the practical application of medical ethics.
Notice that they don't look for someone with a philosophy degree in ethics, but rather for someone with a law degree. This is a big clue that what they mean by ethics isn't what most people mean by ethics, that is, what humans ought to do. The AMA, like many in the business world, view ethics as what one can get away with. Why else would you need a lawyer to direct your ethics policy?
This weekend I was reading some history of the early Church (I really am a church nerd), and came across a description of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp. He was the bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist, and was burned at the stake as an old man. I had heard the story before, but something struck me this time:
St. Polycarp asked that they not fasten him to the stake! He just stood there, unrestrained, as the fire burned. Imagine this. He could have been safe if he would just sacrifice to the Roman gods, but rather than do that, he willingly stood in place as they burned him.
Consider your own faith. Would it stand up to this? True faith always involves a death, a death to sin. This is why old baptismal fonts look like graves. We must be willing to give up everything for Christ. Meditation on the deeds of the martyrs is can allow us to realize that clinging to life rather than embracing the Lord of Life is silly. Anything that we may need to give up for Christ will be given back to us.
They have taken to silencing anyone who questions the direction of the organization. Lately, discussions of Deborah Haffner, the speaker who is a past president of SIECUS, have been deleted. For detail on this, go to Peter Vere's blogspot.
If any of you gave any money to Voice of the Faithful, your penance is to listen to "Won't Get Fooled Again" by the Who ten times at full volume.
The group invited a woman named Deborah Haffner to speak at their recent conference, on how to make parishes a sexually safe place. Haffner is a past president of SIECUS, an organization that promotes sex education. You should take a look at their website to see what sort of organization it is. It is certainly not Catholic, and in fact opposes the teaching of the Catholic Church on such issues as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and masturbation.
As you may know, Catholic blogistan is growing so quickly that it is very difficult to have a complete list. Fortunately, Gerard Serafin has been keeping track here.
If you are new here, welcome. I hope that you find my stuff interesting and enjoyable. Be sure to check out the archives, as well as my list of favorite articles on the left. Also check out the links to other bloggers. Feedback is always welcome.
The first thing to realize is that if you make an appointment with a priest, you likely won’t be able to go anonymously. The priest is going to see your face and watch you as you confess. I realize that this is a deterrent, but it is necessary. If you wish to retain some degree of anonymity, you will have to travel to a parish that is not your own.
Next, do a little research. There may be some parishes or religious organizations that offer confessions throughout the week. I live in Chicago and can give you some examples. St. George in Tinley Park offers confessions on Thursday nights at 7:00pm, although there is usually quite a line. St. Mary of the Angels in Bucktown hears confessions twenty minutes before each Mass. In fact, I have stopped at St. Mary of the Angels many times, and have never found a time when there wasn’t a priest in the confessional. Holy Name Cathedral offers them before the 5:30 Mass on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, as well as on Saturday from 3-5pm, from 6-7pm, and after the 7:30pm Mass. St. Peter’s in the Loop has confessions during the day from 7:30am to 6:00pm, and on Saturday from noon to 4:30. So if you are willing to travel, you may be able to find a place to go. When I lived in Albany, the Franciscans had a chapel in a shopping mall. One could go to Mass there and could also go into the confessional, ring a bell, and wait for a priest. It was very nice.
In addition, monasteries generally will provide someone for you. They exist to serve the spiritual needs of their communities, and as long as you give some warning and don’t show up during lunch or liturgy, they should be able to find a priest. There are two monasteries that I know of in the Chicago area: St. Procopius in Lisle, and a Benedictine monastery near Comiskey Park (www.chicagomonk.org). You may have similar resources near you. (If you do, you should go hear Vespers sometime.)
If you don’t have these options, you will have to find a parish priest. The first thing to try is to go to morning Mass. Get there early, perhaps half an hour. When you see the priest, say “Father, I wonder if you might have time to hear my confession?” If you give him plenty of time, he likely will not refuse you. He may ask if you can wait until after Mass, since he does have to prepare himself.
If this isn’t possible, then call the rectory. Say “I was wondering if there is anyone who can hear my confession sometime in the next day or two?” Be polite, and be understanding if the priest’s schedule is too busy. They have many responsibilities these days. What you want to do is to be flexible, and give the priest options when he can see you. Fr. O’Neal points out in a letter to me that you just can’t expect a priest to hear your confession instantly. The only time that you can’t possibly wait a few hours to go to confession is if you are dying. If you are dying, then by all means insist that you need to see a priest as soon as possible. Otherwise, be willing to wait a little bit.
Confession is one of the greatest sacraments, and is certainly the least appreciated. Think what you can get: your soul can be wiped clean of every stain of sin, as pure and as innocent as a newly baptized child. If you sin, and we all sin, you’ve just got to go. Don’t let the restriction to a half hour on Saturdays keep you away.
You may be interested to know that I will be slightly famous on Friday. The Chicago Tribune is running an article on Catholic bloggers and the scandal. I am told the story will be in the Metro section, on the religion page. They took pictures of me, so you might get to see what I look like. The byline should be Darlene Stevenson.