Friday, January 31, 2003

Grace, Obedience, and Preaching

I had a discussion about a month ago with a dear friend of mine who has the privilege of being a priest. We talked about the problem of preaching, and how bad it generally is within the Catholic Church. Why is it that a priest can give such lousy, inane, and silly homilies, when he is the inheritor of two thousand years of the writings of the saints, and what's more, the gospels themselves? Thinking like this will perhaps lead one to think that the office of preaching ought to be opened up to non-priests, as is the practice in many disobedient parishes. But I am going to try to give an argument against that, and for a recovery of the grace of preaching, based on the nature of the sacramental grace given to the ordained.

Look in the bible, and pay attention to the job that the apostles do. Yes, they forgive sins (John 20:23), they help the poor (Paul took up collections on his journeys to help the poor in Jerusalem), and share the eucharist (Acts 2:46). But what is the most important thing that they do? They preach! In fact, the office of preaching is so important, more important even than taking care of the poor, that the apostles instituted the office of deacon: (Acts 6:2ff) "And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.'" The apostles needed help so that they could do that which is most characteristic of their office as apostle, preaching the Word of God.

Priests are sharers in the ministry of the apostles just as bishops and deacons are, and therefore share in this mission to preach the word of God. Now, it is the case with any sacrament, that it is an efficacious sign of grace. In other words, the sacrament gives us the necessary help to do the job the sacrament commissions us to do. Thus, marriage gives us the help we need to strengthen the bond between husband and wife: "This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple's love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they 'help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.'" (CCC 1641) As Gabriel Marcel puts it, the promise of fidelity in marriage is like writing a check for a million dollars, payable in ten years; the grace of the sacrament is God's guarantee that there will be sufficient funds.

Ordination gives a similar grace ordered to preaching the word of God. Look at the Catechism, paragraph 1587, where there is quoted the Byzantine prayer of ordination. Pay attention to the gifts we pray will descend on the ordinandi: "Lord, fill with the gift of the Holy Spirit him whom you have deigned to raise to the rank of the priesthood, that he may be worthy to stand without reproach before your altar, to proclaim the Gospel of your kingdom, to fulfill the ministry of your word of truth, to offer you spiritual gifts and sacrifices, to renew your people by thebath of rebirth. . . ." The ministry of the Word is listed before offering the Eucharist! Preaching is central to the grace of ordination. The Church restricts liturgical preaching to the ordained because of her belief in this grace. Yes, I'd like to preach in Mass, but I am not ordained. I don't have that sacramental grace. If I were allowed to preach, we would be ignoring the sacramental character of ordination and the grace of preaching that God confers by means of it.

You may be thinking to yourself, "If ordination confers a grace ordered to preaching, how come the homilies are all so bad?" You should similarly ask the question: "If marriage confers the grace needed to strengthen the marriage bond and raise children, how come so many marriages end in divorce?" The answer to the second will give the answer to the first. The key to sacramental grace is obedience! If a married couple recognizes that they are joined by Christ, and that their union is ordered to be exclusive to each other and fruitful, then the grace of that marriage is going to be active in their lives. If they forget the great mystery of their marriage, if they think in their hearts that it is temporary, if they view marriage as a contract, and if they frustrate God's plan by contracepting, they are quite likely to divorce, since without God's grace, marriage is impossible. (Statistics bear this out, of course.) We must submit ourselves to Christ in order to receive His grace, for the very reason that God will not force Himself upon us.

If a priest humbly submits himself to Christ and His Church, and preaches according to the mind of the Church, his homilies will be grace-filled and effective. If the priest minimizes or ignores the teaching of Christ and the Church, his homilies will be graceless and will only be effective in destroying the Church. Obedience is the key. My friend Fr. Michael assures me that there is a grace of preaching, a sense that sometimes it isn't him speaking, but rather the Holy Spirit. I know in my experience several flawed priests who despite their flaws have done good service to the Word of God. Why? Because they are obedient, and submit themselves to Christ. They know that the homily is not their toy, their opportunity for self-promotion, but is rather a time for them to decrease and for Christ to increase. So, as Fr. Neuhas would say, the key to good preaching is fidelity, fidelity, fidelity!

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Speaking of the New American Bible

Don't buy one. Save your money. If you like commentaries, get either the Navarre bibles or the Ignatius Study Bible books, which have the advantage of being cheap. If you are looking for a well-bound Catholic bible to carry around, Scepter now offers the Revised Standard Version in a decent fake leather binding for $20--from Ignatius, you can get the RSV as well, but $20 only gets you paperback. You can order it from this link, or you can ask your local Catholic bookstore to stock it, and then give them a little profit when you buy it.

The philosophy of science, evolution, and Sacred Scripture

I've been reading up in the philosophy of science recently, and came across the notion of scientific theory (found first in Mill, but later in Hempel) that says that for any scientific theory, its explanatory content is the same as its predictive power. In other words, a scientific theory is a device for taking present facts and predicting future or undiscovered facts. Now, I have some problems with this theory about theories, since I think that theories are ways to get at metaphysical truths. But the caution is well taken: if the things we talk about in theories (force, atom, number) are not things that we sense, we must be careful in how we attribute existence to them. A decent test for the truth of a theory is whether or not it can predict future events.

As I read this last night, I thought about the theory of evolution. What sort of predictive power does this theory have? I can test the theory of gravity in a laboratory, and I can even test Einsteinian time dilation, if I have a good enough watch. But can I test evolution? Natural selection occurs over millions of years, so the theory says, and given enough time, amoebas can become elephants, or even more wondrous, human beings. But we don't live long enough to species changes, and therefore the theory of evolution has no predictive value. There are those who argue that species change does occur, but they say this only by making the definition of "species" so fluid that it has no meaning. If you consider dog breeding to be species change, then perhaps the theory works. But dog breeding is a far cry from developing human beings out of apes.

Evolution is an explanation that more or less fits the observed facts. But there are lots of theories that fit the observed facts, from six-day creationism to the Raelian cult's cloning theories. How do we decide among these theories? If none of them have predictive power, then how do we decide? We need to use unscientific criteria. I propose that we use a variation of Sherlock Holmes' dictum. Holmes said to eliminate the impossible, and whatever else is left, no matter how improbable, is the solution. I follow Dirk Gently (the famous detective invented by Douglas Adams), who says "Eliminate the improbable, and whatever is left, no matter how impossible, must be the solution." The reason for the change is that we don't know what's impossible, but we have an intuition about what is improbable. On Holmes' theory, God's providence is seen as impossible, and the improbable view that molecules can bounce into each other and make intelligence is believed. On Gently's view, bouncing molecules becoming intelligence is patently and absurdly improbable, and who knows if God is impossible? So perhaps we are able to affirm the theory of theistic evolution, as a simpler and less improbable theory.

How does this all relate to scripture? There are theories of biblical interpretation that purport to explain exactly how the text came to be. For example, there is redaction criticism, which seeks to determine how the text was edited together by some unknown editor, and source criticism, which looks for unknown sources. You may have heard of Q-source theory for the gospels. The idea is that the similarity in Matthew, Mark, and Luke can be accounted for by some unknown Q text, that no-one has ever found. Problem: is there any way to test this theory? Could we do a laboratory experiment, and subject a divine revelation to controlled variables and changed variables? Clearly not. So the historical-critical theories of biblical origins cannot ever be tested, and they have no predictive power, since revelation is closed with the death of the last apostle. All of these theories are and can only ever be a guess about what happened. No-one has ever found Q, and no-one has ever attempted to test whether this sort of criticism can lead to the truth. In fact, in the case of revelation, no one ever could test the theory, since revelation is a unique fact.

But, if you read the New American Bible (tm), you will find all sorts of footnotes putting forth as facts that which can only be a guess. For example, Matthew 22:1-14: "This parable is from Q. . . ." Not "this parable may be from Q, which no-one has ever found and is only a guess from scripture scholars," but rather "this is from Q." But there is no basis for using the word "is" in this case, since it is only a guess, and can only ever be a guess.

And that's why thinking about philosophy of science, theories, and evolution can cause me to recommend you never read the footnotes in the NAB.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Happy St. Thomas Aquinas Day!

Most philosophers view the best possible life to be that which they themselves pursue, and so generally they say that contemplation is the highest human activity. Aquinas has an interesting twist on that. Contemplation is indeed very, very good, but there is something that is better:

The contemplative life is better than the active life that solely concerns itself with bodily necessities; but the active life that consists in passing on to others through preaching and teaching truths that have been contemplated is more perfect than the solely contemplative life, for it presupposes a plenitude of contemplation. That is why Christ chose a life of this type.

The model for Aquinas is not his own preferred activity, but the activity of Christ.

Monday, January 27, 2003

New blog from a Hollywood Insider (tm)

Check out Disordered Affections. I think she's off to a good start.

P.S. Just a thought, given Karen's disgust with the current state of the Jesuits: wouldn't it be wonderful if someone formed a Society of Jesus of the Ancient Observance? Sort of a Discalced Jesuit? The Jesuit model seems to have been wonderful in the past, and could be so again, if only the society would return to its roots. If current Jesuits will not do so, perhaps someone needs to form counter-Jesuits.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

I can't imagine God would care about that

I'm sure you've all heard this argument, usually in the context of disagreements with the Church about contraception, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, or even such issues as the necessity to confess sins to a priest, obligatory Mass attendance, and fasting in Lent. Lukewarm Catholics will almost invariably claim that their god couldn't possibly care about such trivial issues. Given the state of Catholic education in the last thirty years, it is probably true that their god wouldn't care. But, unfortunately, the god that has been taught is a far cry from the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Let me give a few examples, taken from Scripture, that show that God indeed does care about these things.

Contraception: does Jesus actually speak about contraception? No. But he doesn't speak about lots of things. We cannot infer from the fact that Jesus says nothing about X to the conclusion that X is permitted. Jesus said nothing about embezzling or drug abuse, but we can be sure that he doesn't support either activity. But take a look at what he says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 and following). Jesus takes as his point of departure various parts of the Ten Commandments. He starts by explicitly saying "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." Those who speak as if the Old Testament God was mean and had lots of rules, but that these rules are all gone now that we have Jesus, do not understand. Jesus takes these rules and gives their fulfillment. He takes the prohibition of murder and extends it to be a prohibition of insults. He takes the traditional doctrine of "eye for eye, tooth for tooth," which was a Mosaic improvement of the law of vendetta ("Death for an eye, death for a tooth.") and fulfills it by saying that we must love our enemies and do good to those who hurt us.

What does he say about adultery? "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." He takes the traditional law that prohibited sex outside of the bond of marriage, and extends and fulfills it to prohibit even fantasy about sex. Now, given the general trajectory of his thought, to take the Mosaic proscriptions and make them tougher, ask yourself this question: would Jesus approve of using chemicals, devices, and little bits of rubber to turn the sexual act within marriage into a mere exercise of lust, a lust which he speaks so strongly against in the Sermon on the Mount? If you think he is lax, or wasn't serious, look at the words that follow: "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna." What is contraceptive sex except lust within marriage? Rather than mutual self-gift, respecting the fertility of both members, sex becomes a mere shadow, a mockery. It might as well be masturbation. Of course, if you want a specific case of God dealing with a contraceptor, look at the story of Onan in Genesis 38. Perhaps God does care about this stuff.

(This prohibition surely also applies to homosexuality as well, which by its very nature is ordered to lust, since the act itself cannot be fruitful. Further, Paul reaffirms Old Testament prohibitions in Romans 2 and throughout his letters.)

Divorce. Jesus is similarly clear on this issue. Look at Matthew 19. Jesus is quite clear; the "except for immorality" exception must be interpreted as having to do with invalidity of the marriage from the start, given the apostles' strong reaction. Look at what they say: "His disciples said to him, "If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." The disciples see his teaching on divorce and remarriage, and think it is so tough, not lax at all, that they don't think anyone should ever get married. Note this very well: Jesus doesn't correct them! Yes, it is better to remain unmarried for the kingdom, but not everyone gets this gift. Now, given what Jesus says clearly here, do you think he would approve of divorce and remarriage? Would he think it was fine, or would he care about it? If you think Jesus doesn't care about divorce, you haven't read what he says about it.

Confession: "why does God care if I go to confession? Can't I just say I'm sorry directly to God? Surely God wouldn't care!" This objection is common. For some reason it is very offensive to people to have to go through the formality of seeking out a priest for absolution. But their discontent is nothing new, and was shared by an Aramean named Naaman many years ago. He suffered from leprosy, and looked for a cure. The text is from 2 Kings 5: Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. The prophet sent him the message: "Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean." But Naaman went away angry, saying, "I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy. Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?" With this, he turned about in anger and left. But his servants came up and reasoned with him. "My father," they said, "if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, 'Wash and be clean,' should you do as he said."

Naaman is proud, and doesn't want to accept the gift of God because he has to go through the indignity of washing in the dirty Jordan river. Being cured of his leprosy will require him to lower himself, to get rid of his pride, and to take the advice of a smelly Hebrew prophet. He is about to refuse, until his sensible servants say, in effect, why are you lookinga gift horse in the mouth? Go wash, stupid!

Now look at the case of confession--it promises the forgiveness of sins. What is the cause of sin, if not pride? Pride is the real disease of the soul that needs to be rooted out. It damages one's pride not at all to mutter a quick "I'm sorry, God," and then to congratulate oneself on being forgiven. Rather, one must do some kind of self-abasement. We must become smaller in order to be forgiven our sins. The very act of driving to the church, standing in line, kneeling, and saying "bless me father. . ." requires that I admit my own failure. The beginning of forgiveness must be "I am the greatest of sinners." Otherwise, the pride remains, and forgiveness can't happen. God may not care so much about the details of the confessional box, but he cares very much, I am certain, that you as a penitent make some act of abasement. Note that Jesus never forces miracles on anyone: they have to ask. Going to the confessional and confessing to the priest is how we ask.

Further, note that by canon law priests are forbidden to absolve their accomplices in sins against chastity; how then, could you absolve yourself of your sins, which is what you do if you try to avoid confession.

I was going to write in more detail about the issues of Mass attendance, and fasting, but given the general trajectory of Jesus' thought on the Mosaic law, do you really think Jesus doesn't care about these things? Yes, there are ritual observances and dietary restrictions from which we are absolved, but never in the Old Testament will you find a moral teaching that isn't reiterated or amplified by Christ. So, if we are commanded to keep the Lord's day holy, it is certain that Jesus would wish you to do so as well. After all, Jesus fulfilled his requirements, worshiping in the temple and synagogue as Jews were required to do. If it was good enough for Jesus (who is God, by the way), then it is good enough for us. (That goes for fasting, as well, obviously.)

Friday, January 24, 2003

If you don't read Kevin Miller every day

you should. He has lots of good stuff there every day, but in particular has interesting comments on the case of Fr. Michael Pfleger in Chicago.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Bishop Weigand does his job! Bravo, Bravo, Bravissimo!

I am sooooo happy that Bishop Weigand has told Gray Davis he can't go to communion anymore. May I suggest that if you are a Sacramento Catholic, in support, you write a big fat check and donate it to the diocese? Even if you aren't a Sacramento Catholic, you may wish to send some money. Then tell Bishop Weigand that you are doing it because you are so excited to see the Church's teaching so publicly proclaimed.

Here is a quote from Gray Davis's spokesman: "There are a lot of Catholics who are pro-choice. Does the bishop want all Catholics to stop receiving Holy Communion?" he asked. "Who's going to be left in church?"

I think that we have a historic opportunity to prove the forces of death wrong. I am going to send off a check tomorrow along with a letter telling Bishop Weigand how thankful I am for his courageous stand, and how I wish to donate to the good work of the diocese in order to stave off any drop in donations from pro-choice Catholics. Here's the address if you want to do the same.

Most Reverend William K. Weigand
Diocese of Sacramento
2110 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818-2541

P.S. If you think this is a good idea, feel free to link to it or copy it for your blog.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

JB the Kairos Guy has a prayer list

and I think I'm on it. (See the list here.) As you may know, I've got a few job interviews coming up this week and next, and could use all the prayers I could get.

(I love the communion of saints.)

My dissertation on Edith Stein

is finally available at UMI. Go to their search page and when you get to the dissertation search, type "Schudt" in the author field. My dissertation will come up. If you want, you can buy a copy, and I think I get royalties. It would be neat to get a check for $0.11!

P.S. Mine is entitled "Faith and Reason in the Philosophy of Edith Stein." The other two Schudt dissertations are by my brother and aunt. You could buy those to if you wish.

Super Bowl for Life

Check out Life-Athletes. I was hoping to be able to figure out a rooting interest for the Super Bowl by counting up the pro-life athletes on each team. Unfortunately, both Tampa Bay and Oakland have exactly one member of Life Athletes, Roman Oben and Rich Gannon.

EWTN has live coverage of the March for Life in D.C.

I got to go to the march twice in the 90's. Watching the coverage makes me want to go again. Maybe next year.

The next time you think fondly of your country,

Think about this: Hitler killed 6 million Jews. We've killed or allowed to be killed 40 million children in the womb.

My country, tis of thee sweet land of liberty. . . .

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Circular Reasoning

I've been engaging in some debates in other forums with various people who have left or are thinking of leaving the Church. (Some have left already, and just don't know it.) In any case quite often they will say something like this:

1. How can the Pope be infallible in faith and morals? He's just human, and humans are by nature fallible. Humans cannot have certainty in moral matters.

But then they also say something like this:

2. I am certain that the Church is wrong about contraception, or abortion, or gay rights, or fasting.

Do you see the contradiction? There can be no certainty in moral matters, but yet I am certain! That doesn't make any sense. Either certainty is possible, in which case the Church might be right, or certainty is impossible, in which case you can never say for sure that the Church is wrong.

Miracles in Bucktown

Amidst the nonstop bad news in the world, it is sometimes good to think about good things. Here is a good thing: St. Mary of the Angels Parish in Chicago. It is in Bucktown. Take the Armitage exit off the Kennedy, and turn south on Hermitage. Look for the really big church. I sometimes teach in the evenings in Chicago, and I like to go sit at the church before class. Neat things about the parish: it is beautiful, an old-fashioned Polish church that was in danger of being torn down a few years back until Opus Dei came to town and was given the place. They have confessions every day for long periods of time, and Mass is always reverent and obedient, with good homilies.

Here's another neat thing: if you sit there for a few hours in the afternoon like I do, you can hide yourself in a corner of the huge main church and watch what happens. People drop in all day! Not just old people, either. Young people come in, stop for a few minutes, pray, get in line for confession, and light candles. Sometimes whole familes come in, complete with mother, father, and four or five little one. I love to watch the people come in and imagine what their stories are. Kierkegaard says we can never know if our neighbor might be a knight of faith, but I choose to believe that all of these people are knights. Maybe this is what happens:

Perhaps some of them are lapsed Catholics, and haven't been to confession in years. Maybe they have some free time at lunch on a Thursday, and decide, for no particular reason, to stop in and see the beautiful Church. Lo and behold, Christ is being adored that day! "Well, maybe I'll just stop for a few minutes and say a prayer or two." Then look, off to the side: there are people in line. "My goodness, I haven't been to confession since I was confirmed. Should I get in line? Oh, if I think about it too long I'll never do it. Better just go in." "I can't believe I did it! And I feel great! Why did I stay away so long?"

Did you ever watch people come out of the confessional? If so, you have just witnessed a miracle. It is very important to realize just what happens. We often complain that the age of miracles is over; wouldn't it have been great to see the Red Sea part, or the sick be healed, or the dead arise? Well, if you hang around St. Mary of the Angels, you witness miracles every day. St. Josemaria Escriva writes the following: If we had a strong and living faith, if we were bold in making Christ known to others, we would see with our own eyes miracles such as those that took place in the times of the Apostles.

Today too blind men, who had lost the ability to look up to heaven and contemplate the wondeful works of God, recover their sight. Lame and crippled men, who were bound by their passions and whose hearts had forgotten love, recover their freedom. Deaf men, who did not want to know God, are given back their hearing. Dumb men, whose tongues were bound because they did not want to acknowledge their defeats, begin tot alk. And dead men, in whom sin had destroyed life, come to life again.

St. Mary of the Angels is one place where miracles happen every day. Just go there and you'll see them.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Prayer requests, assorted

If you have a moment, could you pray for a few things?

1: That an apologetics debate in which I am engaged in another forum may bear fruit. I always pray that my poor writing may be the occasion for the Holy SPirit to give the gift of faith to someone. I hope you can spare a prayer for that as well.

2: For the health and holiness of the new child on the way.

3: For success in some job interviews I have in the next few weeks.

Thanks. As they say in Latin, oremus pro invicem! (Let's pray for each other!)

Sunday, January 19, 2003

So, are Greg Popcak's child-rearing books any good?

Drop me a line if they are, or if they aren't, for that matter.

I've hit the big time!

The Old Oligarch has added me to his bloglist. I'm flattered. If you haven't taken the time to read his work, go do so now. Especially look at his archives and best-ofs. Lots of tasty thoughts, all wrapped up in a well-written package.

Friday, January 17, 2003

What you can do about vocations

Recently on Amy Welborn's blog there was a story about a parish in Baltimore that has had a married woman assigned to adminstrate it. This caused a bit of a stir in her comments section over the propriety and necessity of such a step. Given the lack of vocations to the priesthood, having lay administrators may become more common than it already is.

Rod Dreher of National Review made a good point in the comments: BUT: folks, where do you think priests come from? They come from our families. The Church doesn't mint them at a factory. We have *got* to start having more kids, raising kids to think of themselves as possibly having a vocation to religious life, and so forth. Otherwise, we will all be going to mass celebrated by circuit-riding pastors. Would you rather go to a parish that's administered by a lay person, with a priest coming in to celebrate mass and hear confession ... or have no parish at all? Because that's where we're headed in just a few years. All this bitching and moaning is not going to do us any good in the absence of vocations, which -- alas for us! -- cannot be whined into existence.

Amen, Rod. Everyone has a responsibility to encourage vocations. Here is how you can do it:

1. Have some kids. God said be fruitful and multiply. One kid isn't multiplying, it's dividing. Recognize that children are a gift from God, treasures destined for eternal life. Don't you want heaven to be crowded?

2. Encourage your children to consider religious life. Do this often. Pray for it. Tell your kids that although being a doctor or lawyer may be a good life, following Christ is better, and that it is a great privilege to be able to follow him in religious life.

3. Encourage your sons in particular to love the Church and to consider whether they can see themselves marrying her as priests. No girl you could ever marry will be as beautiful as Christ's Church.

4. If you are holding out hope for women priests, get over it. This will never happen, since Jesus' intention to restrict holy orders to men has been defined infallibly. This may be an intellectual cross for you to bear, but the act of submitting your mind to the mind of Christ is a spiritual discipline that will bear much fruit. Jesus is smarter than you are!

5. Realise that other Catholic families are failing in their job to sow the seeds of vocations. This means that we don't only have a responsibility to our own children, but to those of these other families. When you talk to children, make sure to point out to them that God could be calling them to serve him as a priest, a deacon, a monk or nun, or as a brother or sister. Point out also what a wonderful life it is to be able to give all to Christ. We've got to take care of each other in this, since so many are failing.

6. Pray for vocations, with your children. If you don't pray in common as a family every night, start, and then include a vocation prayer. If the kid sits there for ten years or so listening to "God grant us that many will follow your call into the priesthood and religious life," chances are at some point he will say "Maybe God is calling me!"

St. Antony, The Devil, and Television

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints. Born in 251, died in 356 (!), at age twenty he left his inheritance, saw that his sister was taken care of, and went off to live in the desert, emerging only a few times in his life, once in 305 to form those who had gathered near him into a monastery (the first), once in 311 to console and encourage the Church in Alexandria during persecution, and again in 355 at age 104 to help Athanasius refute the heresy of Arianism. He died full of years in 356.

The interesting part of the story of St. Antony is his struggle with the devil. He underwent terrible temptations and even bodily assaults from the devil, so much so that it would disturb those in the neighborhood, who would hear the sounds of the battle. You can read about them in St. Athansius' Life of Antony. These stories always got me thinking: here is a very holy man, out in the desert, and yet beset by such terrible temptations from the devil. What's going on?

Today I had a thought: the temptations of Antony are our own, except that there is a difference. Antony went off into the desert, and after he achieved self-discipline the devil could only fight him with visions and demons. We live in the world, and invite the devil into our homes. Television, radio, and the internet are all wonderful means of temptation, roads for the devil to drive straight into our hearts. There is no need for him to go to such extremes with us as he had to do with Antony. We should be very careful of our use of these things, since little good and much evil comes of them.

Here are some good words from St. Antony, recorded by St. Athanasius: "It is good to consider the word of the Apostle, `I die daily.' For if we too live as though dying daily, we shall not sin. And the meaning of that saying is, that as we rise day by day we should think that we shall not abide till evening; and again, when about to lie down to sleep, we should think that we shall not rise up. . . But thus ordering our daily life, we shall neither fall into sin, nor have a lust for anything, nor cherish wrath against any, nor shall we heap up treasure upon earth. But, as though under the daily expectation of death, we shall be without wealth, and shall forgive all things to all men, nor shall we retain at all the desire of women or of any other foul pleasure. But we shall turn from it as past and gone, ever striving and looking forward to the day of Judgment. For the greater dread and danger of torment ever destroys the ease of pleasure, and sets up the soul if it is like to fall." Good advice, don't you think?

Father Antony, you equaled Elias in his zeal and followed John the Baptist in his holy way of life: you peopled the wilderness and established the world on the firm foundations of your prayers. Intercede with Christ God that he may save our souls.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

This Sunday is Sanctity of Human Life Day

Thanks, Mr. President. See the story here.

An encouraging thought, don't you think?

I was poking through the second book of Kings the other day, and came across this, from 2 Kings 6: 15-17:

Early the next morning, when the attendant of the man of God arose and went out, he saw the force with its horses and chariots surrounding the city. "Alas!" he said to Elisha. "What shall we do, my lord?"
"Do not be afraid," Elisha answered. "Our side outnumbers theirs."
Then he prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes, that he may see." And the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, so that he saw the mountainside filled with horses and fiery chariots around Elisha.

Open Source software is neat

In particular, check out this very cool full featured flight simulator, Flight Gear. I've been flying my Cessna around the mountains of Arizona. Very fun!

Well, yes, the Two Towers isn't pefect

Robert Gotcher points out that there are some problems with the character Faramir. I would have to agree. There are changes that I wouldn't have made, but then again, I am not a director, and have little understanding of the movie maker's art.

However, it is still a really really good movie, much better than any of the other stuff out there. Gollum is very cool, and if he were a real actor would be a shoe-in (shoo-in?) for an Oscar. And even though Faramir has been changed a bit, at least he isn't Jar-Jaromir!

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

The Two Towers, in a few words

Here is my thumbnail sketch of a review: Yes, it was very good. Yes, the books were better. Yes, there are changes in the plot, both elisions and additions. No, this doesn't bother me.

As I surf the net (much too often), I notice many Tolkien fans complaining about the way that Peter Jackson has changed things from the book. The scenes with the Ents are abbreviated, the details of the battle at Helm's Deep are changed, and the scenes with Arwen are invented. All of these accusations are true. But what these criticisms fail to see is that movies that slavishly attempt to follow every scene in the book upon which they are based are almost inevitably boring: consider the two abysmal Harry Potter movies. Further, the changes do nothing to effect the general theme and direction of the work.

If you miss the Entmoot, there is a simple solution: re-read the books!

Sunday, January 12, 2003

That's the way it is supposed to happen

In my parish over the past few months I have noticed a beautiful young woman attending with a young man. The woman (I don't know her name; my wife and I call her "The Russian Spy," since that is what she looks like--pale, blonde. and delicate) goes up to communion, and the young man remains at his seat. He has been reading along in the liturgy book, and tries very hard to cross himself and bow at the appropriate times; it is a Ruthenian Catholic church, and liturgies are a bit complicated to those who are new. I suspected that he and she were engaged, and that he was thinking of joining the Catholic Church.

Today during Liturgy, the pastor stopped before the final blessing and invited the young man up to the front of the church. He announced that Derek (that's his name) was to be married in the church this December, and that he was taking instruction because he had chosen to become Catholic, so as to be one with his future wife. Further, Derek was being called up on active duty this week. There was a beautiful blessing (all Byzantine prayers are beautiful) given to ask God to protect him and grant him long life and many happy years.

This is a perfect example of how male-female relationships are supposed to work. You see, men are pigs, or as the Pope puts it in Love and Responsibility, the man is much more susceptible to sexual desire than the woman. If the Russian Spy had not been chaste and faithful, if she had moved in with young Derek, if she had "given him the milk for free," chances are that Derek would never have made the journey to the fullness of the Faith. We men are very happy to substitute physical satisfaction for spiritual fulfillment. If the women hold themselves as the treasures that they are, men will be more likely to stretch and to achieve great things. The old fairy tales have it right: men will go slay dragons for the sake of the fair maiden. If women are good, men will become better.

If you have a moment, could you say a prayer for the young couple, and for all those who may be going off to war?

Saturday, January 11, 2003

My governor commuted all the death penalties in Illinois

which, I suppose, is a good thing. I think he is probably doing it for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way; I suspect, given how corrupt his administration has been, that he is angling for the Nobel Peace Prize. Also, if he was going to grant blanket clemency, why did he have to drag all the victims' families through hearings? It seems cruel.

One line from Ryan's speech: "Government sanctioned killing has cheapened life." Of course. Now let's remove the Planned Parenthood subsidies, and work to make abortion illegal. Remember, abortion kills the innocent, and is always morally abominable, whereas capital punishment often kills the guilty, and is sometimes morally permissible. If you get worked up over death sentences, fine. But you should be more angry over the rampant killing of children in abortion, in in vitro fertilization, and through abortifactient cotnraceptives.

Friday, January 10, 2003

I'm Famous!

I contributed an article to a new book, Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale, which is a book about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and philosophy. I use Faith, the rogue vampire slayer, to examine whether one should follow Nietzschean morality. (Note that Faith is not an uebermensch, but rather works for one: the mayor, who sacrifices countless lives to become a great big snake demon, is the uebermensch, or at least uebersnake.)

If this book is half as good as "The Simpsons and Philosophy," it will be well worth buying.

Have you ever noticed

that Chinese cooking has no cheese? Somehow, that makes me sad.

P.S. My wife points out to me that there is a thing called Crab Rangoon, which is stuffed with cheese. I suspect that Crab Rangoon is in fact a Westernization of the cuisine, kind of like "Italian" pizza. (Pizza was invented in the USA in the 1950's.)

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

The light shall not be overcome

Check out Sean's neat post.

How to fight the Culture of Death

I was flipping through channels on the TV the other day, and happened to catch a few minutes of MTV's "The [Un]Real World." One of the girls has gotten herself pregnant, and they showed one of the other young ladies who said "I got pregnant once, but I didn't have the baby. I wasn't ready to be a mother." This got me thinking of how we could fight this battle, and I think I have part of the solution: teach about the Gospel of Life to freshmen in high school or to seventh and eighth graders, especially to the girls.

See, at that age, the girls are just starting to pay attention to sexual matters, but they are still young enough to have the healthy human affection for babies. Furthermore, they have not yet been hardened by years of sexual immorality. The girl on the MTV show is a women of "loose morals," which, added to her physical attractiveness, is the whole reason she is on that voyeuristic show. She has developed a crust of denial--abortion must be OK because otherwise her whole pattern of sexual behavior must be wrong. To deny the good of abortion she would have to deny her whole pattern of moral behavior, which is quite difficult to do, and requires much grace. But the girls around 12 to 14 years old are hopefully not to this stage yet. This is an ideal window.

What we need to do, I think, is to present real "sex ed" to them. Not the nuts-and-bolts "safe sex" and how-to versions of sex education, but an authentic sexual education. Perhaps it would be better to call it "Love education," in the Greek sense of "Agape" or total self-giving love. Teach them about what real love is, and the nature of a true union of souls that comes about in a good marriage. Then show them just how modern sexual practices are destructive of even the possibility for true married love. Say things like "Do you want to grow up to get divorced?" "Ummm, nope." "Then follow the Church's teachings on contraception. If you are faithful to God, you are almost certain of having a lasting marriage." Teach them at this age about NFP, and how it is done. The world is telling them all about condoms and the Pill (their doctors are probably prescribing birth-control to them already, to relieve cramps); we need to tell them the only morally acceptable option.

Talk to them about the amazing, miraculous fact that men and women can cooperate with God in bringing a new immortal soul into the world. Then say how these precious images of God are not safe in the womb, and can be killed any time before birth--most high school students think that abortion is only legal in the first trimester. Finally, give details of the killing methods. Girls at this age are still in the "babies are so cute" phase and not yet in the "but my sexual freedom requires fetuses to be killed" stage. By talking frankly about abortion, we can perhaps keep them from ever getting to that second stage.

The enemies of life are clever enough to know that they must get to them young. We need to be more clever than the enemy, as clever as serpents but as simple as doves, as Jesus says.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Thoughts on liturgical music

Note: Greg says that I have mischaracterized his position, which is certainly possible. So, ignore my paraphrase and follow the links to see what he actually says.

Greg Popcak and Victor Lams have been arguing over what constitutes good music in church. If both of those estimable gentleman will forgive me, I will caricature their positions for the sake of brevity: Greg says something like this:“We are a catholic Church. This means we are universal, which means we are going to have lots of schmaltzy or bad music. Sing it as well as you can, or write better stuff!” Victor says (paraphrased) “Balderdash. We are the Church of God, and therefore our music, which is intended to give glory to God, must be as beautiful as possible.” Victor throws in some good stuff on music and the theology of the body, which I recommend you go read—in short, we are body-soul
creatures, and music impacts us in the body, and so must be good.

Now, I agree with both of them to an extent. Yes, as Greg says, we need to sing the music in church. Sing it loudly and with vigor. If you are sitting in Church while there is congregational music going on and your mouth is shut, you are not participating properly in mass. I would go so far as to say not singing can be sinful. The priest has his parts, and you have your parts, and you better do your part. But I also agree with Victor that the music has to better. It is for the glory of God, after all. Abel's sacrifice was accepted because he brought his best first fruits; our music should be no less.

Greg ends his last post on the topic with a challenge: “Instead of bitching about it, sing all of it the best you can. (Or at least all of it that is not heretical, is singable, and at least is intended to be worshipful). Put your heart and mind in the right place. Then go home and write something better (or take up an instrument and lead the congregation instead of whining about the person doing it).” In the spirit of the challenge, I want to provide my suggestions for a renewal of church music.

Karl's Helpful Guide to Fixing Music in the Roman Rite

First, some quotes from Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium:

“Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy, the more closely connected it is with the liturgical action, whether
making prayer more pleasing, promoting unity of minds, or conferring greater solemnity upon the sacred rites.” (112)

“The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care.” (114)

“The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. (116)

“Nevertheless care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the
Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” (54)

“Composers [that's you, Victor! Robot Love, indeed! Hmmf.], animated by the Christian spirit, should accept that it pertains to
their vocation to cultivate sacred music and increase its store of treasures. . . .The texts intended to be sung must always be in
conformity with Catholic doctrine. Indeed, they should be drawn chiefly from the sacred scripture and from liturgical sources.”

Now, these are the guidelines given by an Ecumenical Council of the Church, and so should be followed. Note that the first quote gives the purpose of music: it is to promote the liturgical action, bringing unity and solemnity. All music is at the service of the Mass, which is why, incidentally, applauding the musicians is a case of bad manners. The musicians are not the center of attention, Jesus is. Any beauty they bring to the celebration of the liturgy is at the service of Christ, and to applaud them shows that our focus is not where it should be. Compliment musicians after
Mass; we like that.

The second, third, and fourth quotes tell us that chant is the music of the Roman rite, and should be retained. Further, the council fathers want us all to be able to sing in Latin. If we neglect our Latin heritage, we are being disobedient. You may say “But that's a silly rule! I live in America, not ancient Rome. Why should I sing in a dead language?” You should sing in Latin if you are Roman Catholic for the simple reason that you are Roman Catholic. There is a tendency for Latin-rite Catholics to call themselves simply “Catholic”,
when strictly speaking, it isn't true. The Catholic Church consists of about twenty-one particular churches and six or seven rites, each with their own languages and musical heritages. The Roman Catholic Church is one of twenty-one churches, and each church has its own liturgical genius. If you are Roman, you worship in a church that grew out of the liturgy as practiced in Rome, in the church founded by St. Peter and St. Paul. Your liturgy has developed through 2,000 years of reflection on the traditions handed down by Peter and Paul. This includes the music, specifically Gregorian chant in Latin, which was codified and perhaps even written by Pope Gregory the Great, bishop of Rome. Live your heritage!

I have worshipped in the last seven years in Byzantine Catholic churches, first with Melkites (from Lebanon) and then with Ruthenians (from Ruthenia, wherever that is. Actually from the Carpathian mountains). Those congregations were always proud of their heritage, and sang in Arabic or Russian, in the same chant tones used by their ancestors. By this they give glory to God and also remember that they are part of a Church that includes those triumphant souls who have gone before. There is a continuity of liturgy and song. I can tell you that even for me, a Chicagoan of German ancestry, it is quite breathtaking to sing in Arabic, Greek, and Russian, knowing that I am singing the same words in the same melodies that the great saints and fathers of these churches sang. What a thrill! Roman Catholics should do the same.

Furthermore, as the council says, we are all to be able to sing the Mass parts in Latin. Why? So that all Roman Catholics have a common store of hymns that we can sing. Let me give you an example of why this is good: my wife and I traveled to Fatima this summer, and attended Mass in the plaza. The Mass was in Portuguese, and even though I have an ear for languages, I was having difficulty following where we were. But then I heard the old familiar chant of “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth,” and I not only knew where we were, but was also able to sing along.There I was, participating in a Mass in Portuguese! The common treasury of Latin chants of the parts of the Mass can ensure that wherever we go in the world, we can still take part. A priest friend of mine tells me that foreigners have come up to him after Mass and thanked him for doing parts in Latin, because it made them feel at home—they knew what was going on, even though their English was poor.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think all the music should be in Latin. I think all of us should be able to do the Agnus Dei, Pater Noster, and Sanctus in Latin. The council agrees with me. But what about other music? What should we write? I find much music today horrible not just because the melodies are bad, but because the texts are terrible. The final quote from Sacrosanctum Concilium tells us what we should be doing: the songs should take their texts from Scripture or the liturgy itself. There is no need to write such pap as “Sing a new church into being” or “Gather us in” when we have 150 psalms, four gospels, and the letters of the New Testament to sing. Composers should set the texts of the Lectionary to music and we should sing them. Wouldn't it be great to walk out of Mass humming something like “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son” or “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you?”

I have much more to write, but this post is already excessivly long. Check
back and I may write something on what Roman Catholics could learn from Byzantine music.

Monday, January 06, 2003

Mind-bending movie fact

Do you remember the mustachioed, leather-clad character D-Day from Animal House? Watch Bagger Vance: the same actor plays Walter Hagen.

(I promise more serious blogging tomorrow.)

Friday, January 03, 2003

Happy eleventy-first birthday!

In case you don't know, eleventy-one years ago, J.R.R. Tolkien was born. If you've gotten enjoyment from his work, you may wish to raise a glass, or better yet, say a prayer for him and his family on this day. If you are one of those of Orcish temperament who think his books are boring, fooey on youey.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Various thoughts occasioned by an ultrasound

I went with my wife today to the doctor for her ultrasound. As I was sitting there watching my baby swim around (did I tell you? We're pregnant! At least, she is pregnant.) I had a number of thoughts running through my mind. Since I have a blog, I decided to share them with you.

First, I fell in love with my child immediately. Even at this early stage, the face is recognizably my wife's face. What a joy it is to be able to help God create a new life!

Second, I became very angry. There are people who are willing to take babies just like our wonderful new child, suck them out of the womb, and chop them into little bits. Children that are the same age or older than the child I saw today in the doctor's office are fair game for abortionists to murder. This is an unspeakable crime against God and man. I've always believed that abortion was wrong, but now I feel it, viscerally.

Third, I thought about the war on terror. Yes, it is likely that this is a fight we must fight. There are barbaric nations and people who do not believe in the dignity of human life, and are willing to kill innocents for the sake of a few acres of desert. They must be stopped, for justice's sake. But as I thought about my little baby being ripped out of its mother and chopped up, I wondered whether or not we Americans were not the most barbaric nation of all. We are willing to kill innocents for the sake of mere convenience.

Yes, we must fight the war on terror abroad. But we also must fight the war on children here. Please, pray for an end to abortion. Read Evangelium vitae and Humanae vitae, and do your best to convince your friends, your family, and your coworkers about the glorious value of human life. If you contracept, recognize you are part of the problem, and stop. Vote pro-life. Compliment your priest if he preaches the teachings of the Church, and chide him gently if he does not. We must repent, or we will lose this war.

Bill Gates is evil

I run a double-boot system at home, with both linux and Windows on it. I was trying to update the Windows portion via the automatic update feature included with Windows. I finished the download of several "Critical Updates", rebooted the machine, and found that it no longer boots. I get a fatal error in memory, but no guidance in how to fix it. So, tomorrow I need to try upgrading to XP--perhaps it will work then.

I wish I didn't need Windows at all.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Spirituality sneaks into pop music

You may remember that I enjoy girl pop singers, at least until they slide into sluttery. Avril Lavigne is a brand-new singer, and has a song out now that has an unexpected and probably unintended message. The song is "I'm with you." Here are some of the lyrics:

Isn't anyone trying to find me?
Won't somebody come take me home
It's a damn cold night
Trying to figure out this life
Wont you take me by the hand
take me somewhere new
I don't know who you are
But I... I'm with you
I'm with you

Avril, I know who He is.