Friday, May 30, 2003

Apparently Pewlady's post is resonating--Here's a Byzantine perspective

The Eucharist is the sacrament and expression of the unity of the whole Church. As a consequence, the ordinary practice is for there to be only one Eucharist celebrated on one altar per day. Furthermore, only a bishop, priest, or deacon may administer the sacrament. Finally, the liturgy may last anywhere from an hour (rarely) to three or four hours (occasionally, especially if there are baptisms). Meyendorff says "Whatever the practical inconveniences, these rules aim at preserving the Eucharist at least nominally as the gathering `of all together at the same place' (Acts 2:1); all should be together at the same altar, around the same bishop, at the same time, because there is only one Christ, one Church, and one Eucharist." (209)

The multiplication of Masses on Saturdays and Sundays, the addition of the evening Sunday Mass to catch the late-rising teenagers, and the profusion of ordinary extraordinary ministers, contributes to a loss of the visible sign of the unity of the Church. These practices ought to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Our union in Christ at the Eucharist is the most important thing that we will ever do, and is a foretaste of our eternal life--it doesn't have to be convenient. So quit scheduling stuff on Sundays, and enjoy the Liturgy! (Even if it takes (gasp!) two hours!)

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Pewlady on Eucharistic Ministers

Our ancestors waited for thousands and thousands of years for the Messiah. Some of us, evidently, can’t wait more than twenty minutes for Him.

Go read the rest here.

I hate to be a curmudgeon, but

What's the reason for the Archdiocese of Chicago moving the celebration of the Ascension to Sunday? I realize that Cardinal George has the right to move the feast, but I question the wisdom of that choice. The liturgy is the summit of Christian life, the source of grace and the goal of that life of grace, since our liturgy is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. We should, as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom says, "set aside all earthly cares." That includes whether or not it is convenient to get to Mass on Thursday.

The Church doesn't impose fasts or days of obligation in order to burden her members. Rather, these requirements are gifts to help us recall what is most important. Having to find a Mass in a week full of business (latin negotium or not-otium, not-leisure) could be a great grace to many people. As you slip into a church between work and soccer games, you could, perhaps, remember that work and soccer games are like ashes compared to the Kingdom of God.

I say, restore all the days of obligation and triple the fasts!

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

New Socratic Dialogue Discovered!

Socrates debates someone who supports the legalization of abortion, named Bob. Warning: This is rated PG-13.

Bob: The issue of when a fetus becomes uniquely human is unknowable.
Soc: What do you mean by uniquely human?
Bob: Well, morally considerable. Worthy of respect of law.
Soc: Why do we respect humans? Could I just enslave them or harvest them to make Soylent Green?
Bob: Clearly not, most excellent Socrates.
Soc: Why not?
Bob: Because that would be wrong. It would be using a human as a mere tool.
Soc: So a human being isn't a tool? Would you say that a human is more like a work of art?
Bob: Exactly, Socrates. A human has value in and of itself, just like a painting.
Soc: No-one ever asks what a painting is good for, do they?
Bob: No. Humans are just good, not good-for-something.
Soc: Ok. Now, when we value tools, things that are good-for-something, there is always some feature that makes it valuable.
Bob: I see, like the sharpness of a knife or the speed of a computer.
Soc: Right. Now, if the thing lost the feature, what do we do?
Bob: We throw it in the trash!
Soc: Ok. Now, what are some features of humans?
Bob: Oh, intelligence, consciousness, emotion, love.
Soc: If you lost one of those features, would you still be worthy of respect?
Bob: Yes, of course I would. We don't respect humans because of what they can do, but because of what they are.
Soc: So you are worthy of respect, regardless of what you can do?
Bob: Yes.
Soc: Ok. When did you acquire this worth?
Bob: What do you mean?
Soc: At what point in your life did you acquire this dignity, this moral worth?
Bob: The law says when I was born.
Soc: How fortunate we are that the laws are so wise that they can determine such a thing! But, I wonder. Why do the laws say at birth?
Bob: Because the human leaves his mother's body at that time.
Soc: What? How strange! My mother the midwife always used to tell me that there wasn't any difference in the baby before birth or after birth.
Bob: Nevertheless, that's the law.
Soc: So, if a human is in the womb, it is expendable, but if it is outside, it is not?
Bob: Yes.
Soc: At last, we have solved the mystery of ages!
Bob: What do you mean?
Soc: We finally know what it is that makes a human so different, so glorious, so wonderful: it is this: "Passing through a human vagina." One suspects that we have treated any number of cucumbers and cigars quite badly.
Bob: Now you are making fun of me.
Soc: I'm sorry, most excellent Bob. I'm just trying to make a point in my own clumsy way. Do you remember what you said about humans and paintings?
Bob: Yes. A human is valued for what he is, not for what he can do.
Soc: But how could that be if we only begin to value a human who has done the act of passing through the birth-canal? Wouldn't it be the case that we value passing through a vagina more than life itself?
Bob: I hadn't thought of that, although there are many who would agree with that last statement.
Soc: One should think of such things before discoursing on public policy.
Bob: But isn't this a religious question?
Soc: Certainly, the gods care about such things. But the fact that the gods care doesn't require that truth be unknowable. Have we appealed to scripture at any point in this argument?
Bob: No.
Soc: So how is it a religious argument?
Bob: I guess it isn't.

Reductio ad absurdem on abortion rights and human dignity

Often one hears abortion supporters arguing that one cannot prove that a fetus has a soul and hence is worthy of respect. Never mind that such people don't understand what a soul is (anything that is alive has a soul)--this demand for proof that a fetus is a human life and worthy of respect can be turned around. Read on:

Can you prove that you yourself are a human life, and worthy of respect?

If humans ever have dignity, they always have dignity, from conception to death, since dignity doesn't depend on any faculty or power or usefulness that we have. If it did, humans wouldn't have value in themselves, but only as tools, and then no humans would be "human life" in your terms. If you are a bearer of dignity, worthy of respect as a person, at this moment, then you were yesterday, and the day before, and all the way back to the moment your mother's egg met your father's spermatazoa. If there was some feature you gained that gave you dignity (such as intelligence), then you don't really have dignity, since you are only valued for that feature.

It's all or nothing.

I've come a decision

The Matrix is crap. I saw the second movie over the weekend, and took a while to think about it. Other than lots of fight scenes and things blowing up, it is a muddle. Mark my words: at the end of Matrix III, you will find out that there are an infinite number of nested matrices, and that there isn't any reality at all. Nothing is real, or everything is real.

Of course, if nothing is real, there is no story, and hence no reason to watch.

Friday, May 23, 2003

"Love God" is a self-evident truth

(more from the Thomist 66, John Cahalan)

Aquinas says in I-II 100,a3,ad1 that "Thou shalt love God" is a self-evident principle, something that everyone should know as soon as he understands what "God" means and what "love" is. By self-evident, Aquinas means "the predicate is included in the essence of the subject, as 'Man is an animal', for animal is contained in the essence of man.'" Note that this self-evidence is not to be confused with analyticity: it may be that we need to love in order to figure out what is contained in the essence of love. Self-evidence is a property of propositions about things, not about meanings.

So, how is the commandment to love God self-evident? We love things or people because of qualities or characteristics of these things or people. (This can be a selfish desire or a selfless will for the good of the other--either part of the nature of love works for the demonstration. since love is ordered toward being.) God is the infinite being, and therefore possesses all of these desirable qualities, and in infinite degree. Cahalan says: If failing to give the infinitely perfect being the place of our highest value does not violate the rational appetite's goal, one of these truths is not true: the infinitely perfect being is what he is; or, the objects of desire and choice are what things are. We absolutely must love God, if God is to be God and love is to be love.

Self-evident moral truth, brought to you for free!

Well, that's just your opinion

Thanks to Disputations, I have just subscribed to the online Thomist (only 20$), and in the finest Dominican tradition (even though I'm becoming Byzantine), I thought I would contemplate and pass along the fruits to you.

I teach ethics courses, and find the most common objection is phrase something like this: "Well, that's just your opinion." This is a sentence meant to end an argument about issues such as abortion, contraception, non-marital sex, lying, stealing (many have a blind spot about Napster), love, friendship, or the shape of the human good in general. Moral issues are matters of taste, and can't be argued. Even though Budweiser tastes like the run-off from a dumpster on a hot day to me, I can't argue and convince you that it tastes bad. Such arguments would be silly, and moral arguments are just as silly.

I think many of the students aren't really relativists, but rather have no faith in the power of reason to get to the truth. There is a great deal of misology in the world today. Arguments in any arena are to be avoided, and especially arguments about God, morality, and politics. Of course, the three most important things about which we need truth are God, morality, and politics. What one needs to do as a teacher of philosophy, as JP II reminds us in Fides et Ratio, is to recover the sapiential dimension of philosophy: it is not a matter of analytic word games or Heideggerian humbuggery, but is about truth. We are not just capax Dei, but capax veritatis, capable of the truth.

One way to do this is to show that values themselves are not mere feelings or matters of taste, but are instead statements about facts in the real world. Take the value "I like to have sex with as many women as possible." What does one mean by this? The word "like" means "to have a disposition towards." If one asked why he liked to have sex, the person holding that value would probably say "Because it is fun." Note that there are now several factual statements hidden in this statement of value: 1) Sex is fun, and 2) Fun things ought to be pursued in place of fidelity. Or, in other words, fun is a goal of proper human action. Now, if this statement is true, it is based on the premise that fun is more important than fidelity, that fun is more properly the end of human action. This is a factual statement, not a statement of taste, and we can use reason to argue about facts! As John Cahalan writes (in the Thomist 66, 106-7), But for a truth about values to be false, things would have not to be what they are; for truths about human ends and means are just a subset of truths about what things are. So for a morally bad choice to be morally good, or vice versa, things would have to not be what they are in certain ways (ways to be described in what follows). If reason-based choices, then, have the goal of conforming to what reason knows about values, what makes a choice morally good is that it consciously relates to things as if they are what they are, as inculpably believed by reason, while a bad choice relates to things as if they are not what they are.

Once we have shown that value statements are not like statements of taste, but are rather factual statements about the world, we can go to work to determine which values are good and which are bad. This will of course require an integrated notion of the human good, but that is a topic for another day.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Catholic fathers and mothers aren't doing their jobs

John (or is it Tom?) over at Disputations points out a poll of newly ordained priests. One of the questions asked "Who initiated a conversation with you about considering the priesthood?" 78% answered that a priest had been the one. 15% said it was Mom, and only 9% said it was Dad.

That last figure, especially, ought to be up towards 100%. If you have children, they are gifts from God. You should at least ask your sons if perhaps they wish to serve God in the priesthood. Ask them all, even the handsome ones, not just the weird religious ones. You never know what a nudge at an early age can do.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

While I'm at it

I've been browsing through the on-line bulletin at St. Julie, and found a recommendation that everyone in the parish read The Confessor, by Daniel Silva, which appears to be a novel about an evil group similar to Opus Dei that wants to cover up anti-semitism in the Church.

Sigh. Couldn't they read Augustine instead?

Blue Stone Toads at St. Julie's Church

(Blue Stone Toad: a liturgical anomaly. It is a phrase coined by the currently non-blogging Miss Emily Stimpson, after she went to a wedding and saw a blue stone toad in the baptismal font.)

The other day I found out that St. Julie had a 6:45am Mass, and decided that I would go. I got to the chapel, and looked in the door, only to see no priest, but a woman in vestments leading what is described in the bulletin as "A word service by a lay presider." I was a little upset, and went off to another parish on my way to work. This of course is not the first time I have seen strange things go on at St. Julie: I once had to convince the priest in confession that yes, indeedy, a particular thing was a sin. (Athanasius' rule for figuring out your priest's bad habits: if he says some sort of behavior isn't a sin, you can be sure that he does it.) Another time I went to a penance service where they had several priests available for individual confessions at the conclusion. The penance service was packed, but I was the only one who went to individual confession.

Anyway, back to the "Word Service." What is the purpose of this? If there is only one priest available, and he can only celebrate one Mass a day, why not just cancel the early Mass? Why dress a "lay presider" up in an alb and make up a service? What is the point? Here's a thought: why didn't they just pray the liturgy of the hours instead? Finally, if one must have a service, why not at least have the priest or the two deacons lead it, so that the people can at least receive a blessing?

One wonders if the lay presider is ever a man.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Finally, a decent Buffy episode

Tonight was the season finale. It wasn't great, but it was good. I noticed that Joss Whedon both wrote and directed this episode, and the dialogue approached a little of the snappiness of seasons 1-3. Lately the show has been moribund, with rare moments of excellence, in particular the musical episode. Of course, even a bad Buffy was always better than a good Friends.

All in all, it was time for Buffy to go. At least Angel, which is a much better show, has been renewed for next season.

By the way, I am aware that the show was morally problematic, what with the lesbian witchcraft and the occult plots. But at least it was interesting. For more on why the show was interesting, you can read my article on Faith and Nietzsche in Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale.

Monday, May 19, 2003

The Samaritan Woman, or Why I Love My Church!

This is my church: .
My pastor believes that Christ should show forth in every aspect of a parish's life, from the Liturgy to the donut social, from the icons in the sanctuary to the landscaping. He has spent lots of time making the parish beautiful inside, as well as outside. The pictures are a bit out of date, but we currently have two shrines visible from the road: there is an icon of the Mother of God painted on slate by the church building, and a shrine and icon to Christ by the side of the road.

This Sunday, rather than give a homily, Fr. Tom played a videotape while he reread the gospel (the story of the Samaritan woman at the well): on the video a car drove by on Will-Cook Road. It slowed down, and the driver, a woman, got out. She looked a bit tentatively at the icon of Christ, and then approached, and saying a prayer, she leaned up and kissed the icon. Cars kept driving by while she did this. She walked back to her car, looking over her shoulder at Jesus every few steps. Then, finally, she drove away.

If indeed "all of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ," then his love should shine forth in all that we do. The decoration of church grounds with statues and icons may be seen by some to be a relic of the pre-Vatican II past. But look at what happened: God's love overflowed out of our tabernacle, through the church, outside onto the grounds, and was so powerful that it allowed Jesus Christ to call to this woman as she drove by. How much grace was given and received, simply because my pastor thinks that God's property ought to be beautiful?

If you wish to see more pictures of our church, look here.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Love, Faith, and Liturgy

As you know if you read this blog often, I attend an Eastern Rite Catholic Church, where we use the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Quite often during the liturgy, I will be struck by a particular phrase or sentence, something that sheds a great deal of light on a theological topic. (Eastern Christianity may not have an equal to Thomas Aquinas, but they have a very theologically advanced liturgy--that's where they do their teaching.) One that strikes me regularly is found in the following sequence:

PRIEST: Peace be with all.

PEOPLE: And with your Spirit.

PRIEST: Let us love one another, so that with one mind we may confess:

PEOPLE: The Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in substance and undivided.

After this follows the Nicene Creed. Note something very very important: we cannot say the creed unless we love one another! We can't assent to the truths of the faith unless we live the life of Christ. The scholastics used to talk of fides quae and fides qua to point out the different aspects of the virtue of faith: the first is the faith which we believe, or in other words, those facts about God that we hold to be true. The second aspect of faith is the faith by which we believe--in other words, the virtue that gives the power to believe those wondrous truths about our salvation. The two must go together. But the Byzantine text points out a third aspect: faith cannot exist in isolation, but must be joined to charity. The devils, after all, as James points out, believe and tremble. (James 2:19) But real faith always goes together with love. We can assent to the truths of faith all we want, but we don't really believe it unless our faith is expressed in charity.

So, remember that the next time you get ready to say the creed: it doesn't really mean anything unless you live it out. Let us love one another so that we may profess one faith!

Friday, May 16, 2003

Nota Bene on intercessory prayer

Go take a look at what Sean has to say on how to pray for others, as well as on how to pray with one's spouse. Click here.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

A Prayer I Wrote

When my wife and I pray together, we end with lots of intentions. One that I particularly like is this: "For whoever in the world is experiencing the greatest temptation right now, that You will give him (we aren't inclusive in my house) the strength to overcome it."

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A question on causality for you quantum physicists out there

In another forum I have been arguing about proofs for the existence of God, ala Aquinas. These proofs all turn on causality. Now, the objecton is often made that quantum mechanics shows that causality isn't true, or at least not in the way we think it is. I do have a science background, but am not versed in the latest stuff in this field. So, I ask you: does this make any sense?

It's my thought that the problem is that we just don't understand the causality of subatomic particles. If there truly were no cause and effect at that level, science would have to stop, since we have knowledge (science) when we know the cause.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

My Blogtone!

Victor Lams was kind enough to write me my very own musical blog trademark. If you want to know what this blog sounds like when translated into music, click here.

Note: the link requires the Real Media player, which you probably have already.

Memories of St. George in Milwaukee

Robert over at HMS Blog reminisces about getting spat upon (in a good way) at a Melkite baptism at our old parish in Milwaukee. I remember stopping in one Saturday for Vespers (Mrs. Athanasius and I happened to be in town) when one of the adopted sons of a parishioner was accepted into the Church and confirmed. He was a kid of about 7 years, and had the most awful hair I have ever seen, complete with a rat tail about a foot long, to which he was quite attached.

Apparently, in the Melkite church, one is tonsured upon conversion to the faith. Father Phil asked the kid what part he wanted cut, and the little guy said "Cut the tail off!"

I had tears in my eyes, seeing the great display of faith. See, the child was giving up his most prized possession for Christ.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Free Ruthenian Chant on the Internet!

Finds like these make me think that this internet thingy might be worth it. Go to this page, and download freely. The Choir of St. Romanos the Melodist is a bit better than the parish choir--just listen to this chant of the Beatitudes. I don't know if I am in heaven or on earth.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

All you who have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia!

Today my baby, Sarah Theresa, was baptized, chrismated, and given first communion. All in all, a good day in the Athanasius household.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

While I am on the subject of discouraged priests

There is a very real possibility that my wonderful parish could lose its pastor at any time. There are lots parishes in the eparchy without priests, and ours could be next. Why? Because not enough young men have answered the call of God. Here is what we must do:

1. If you are a single man, you must ask God (go ahead, do it right now): Do you want me to be a priest? You owe this to God who made you and who preserves you in being. And if it is what God is calling you from all eternity to do, your service to God in the priesthood will be the surest path to your own happiness.

2. If you are married with sons, you must ask your sons (go ahead, do it right now): have you ever considered the priesthood? You owe this to God who entrusted these sons to you to raise up in sanctity. Do a thought experiment: imagine you had several children, and all of them went into vowed religious life. Are you upset at the loss of grandchildren? If you are, then you don't love God enough. You should love God enough to offer him everything, even your children. After all, God did the same for us.

3. If you are holding out for married priests or women priests to help solve the crisis, get over it! Married priests are not likely to become the norm, and the ordination of women is never going to happen. You owe it to God to believe the Church Christ founded, and whom Jesus promised to be with until the end of time. If God wanted us to have women priests, we would have had women apostles. Don't say to yourself: "I won't encourage my sons to be priests until my daughters can be priests." Does God put conditions on his gifts to us, or does it rain on the just and the unjust alike? Be similarly generous with your children, and don't put God to the test.

Finally, pray.

A prayer request

Could you all do me a favor? There is a wonderful priest I know who is quite discouraged. Please say a prayer for him, that God will hit him over the head with a great big divine rubber mallet of grace, so that he realizes what good work he has been doing.

This is an occupational hazard for priests who preach the word: they do their jobs right, teaching the Truth, and only ever hear from those whom they offend. So the good priests then think that they aren't doing any good. So, after you get done praying for the discouraged priest I know, make it a point to thank your priest every time he preaches what the Church teaches and offers the Mass with reverence. You might be the only good word he hears all week. But in doing so you could be the voice of the Holy Spirit to that priest.

Mars Hill Review on Phillip Pullman

Pullman is the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy of children's books, which have won lots and lots of awards. For a review by the wonderful Amy Welborn, read this. He is also an atheist, who uses his fiction to promote atheism. (Of course, there is nothing wrong with using fiction to promote various ideas, as long as the ideas are true.) Pullman is also a critic of C.S. Lewis' Narnia series, which he has called racist, sexist, cruel, and "propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology," thus showing himself to be a philosophical child of Nietzsche. You can read his own words in this interview.

Michael Ward has an article in the current Mars Hill Review that examines Pullman's accusations of Lewis and concludes that they are without merit. Ward closes with this: The tangle of confusion and contradiction in Pullman's remarks is disturing to see. It reveals, I think, that his whole attitude to the Narnia Chronicles is irrationally driven. He doesn't want to critique the books; he only wants to damage them. He will grab at anyweapon that comes to hand, regardless of its suitability for the task.

You may wish to be careful of allowing your kids to read Pullman's books. Let them read Lewis, Tolkien, or even Rowling, but not Pullman.

Monday, May 05, 2003

How did I get on that mailing list?

I recently got a catalog of watches in the mail. It had some very nice watches, with a minimum price of $2,800.

As Bugs Bunny would say, "They don't know me very well, do they?" I wonder what it was in my past spending habits that made someone think that I was a good person to put on the expensive-watch mailing list: all I ever buy are books and food.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Happy St. Athanasius Day!

St. Athanasius is famous for saying "God became man so that man may become God." This quote is often misattributed, generally to St. Augustine. It may be found in On the Incarnation, paragraph 54.

(54) As, then, he who desires to see God Who by nature is invisible and
not to be beheld, may yet perceive and know Him through His works, so too let
him who does not see Christ with his understanding at least consider Him in
His bodily works and test whether they be of man or God. If they be of man,
then let him scoff, but if they be of God, let him not mock at things which
are not subject for scorn, but rather let him recognize the fact and marvel
that things divine have been revealed to us by such humble means, that through
death deathlessness has been made known to us, and through the Incarnation of
the Word the Mind whence all things proceed has been declared, and its Agent
and Ordainer, the Word of God Himself. He, indeed, assumed humanity that
we might become God. He manifested Himself by means of a body in order
that we might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father. He endured shame from
men that we might inherit immortality.
He Himself was unhurt by this, for
He is impassable and incorruptible; but by His own impassability He kept and
healed the suffering men on whose account He thus endured. In short, such and
so many are the Savior's achievements that follow from His Incarnation, that
to try to number them is like gazing at the open sea and trying to count the
waves. One cannot see all the waves with one's eyes, for when one tries to do
so those that are following on baffle one's senses. Even so, when one wants to
take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, one cannot do so, even by
reckoning them up, for the things that transcend one's thought are always more
than those one thinks that one has grasped.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Lu-lu-lu-lu-lu, ah----ah.

That's what I will be singing for the next couple of weeks as I try to get my voice in shape. I finally have the time to join my church choir. I've wanted to do this for a while, but especially now that we have a genuine professional musician to direct. I had seen one of his choirs do a concert of chant and sacred music a few weeks before he started coming to my parish--he's good.

I myself am a competent amateur musician, but have only ever had lessons on trumpet. I look forward to working with Tim (our director) on my vocal technique, so that I can improve my endurance. The voice sounds good, but I get tired very easily, especially on Ruthenian chants, which require the tenors to sing D's, E's, and F's for 75 minutes. So, I will be "lululululu-ah-ahhhing" for a while.

If you are ever in the Chicago area, come see our parish and listen to the music. If you send me a note before you come, I will let you know if the choir is singing, since we sing every other week. But the music is good sans choir, as well.

Virtual Rosary

My brother Basil the Great (not his real name) pointed out to me recently this nifty program, which helps one to pray the rosary. It asks you the day, and tells you what mysteries you should pray. It also contains meditations, scripture readings, and, best of all, the text of the Apostle's Creed, which I always mess up--I generally pray the Niceo-Apostolic creed, since I can't keep them straight.

P.S. It includes the new Luminous Mysteries. And it's free.