Wednesday, July 30, 2003

A thought on married priests

There are some in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church who believe that married men should be ordained into the priesthood. I do not think this is wise, but it is something that could happen. In fact, it does happen in the cases of some protestant clergy who convert. But there are also those who think that priests who have been dispensed from their vows in order to marry should be allowed to perform priestly duties again. This, I think, should never happen, and I have a reason. It has been the practice of the Eastern churches to ordain married men. But it has never been the practice of the Church to marry ordained men. In fact, short of the dispensation, if a married deacon or priest loses his wife, he cannot remarry licitly, but must remain celibate for the rest of his life.

If we were to allow married dispensed priests to act as priests, we would be betraying the age-old practice of the Church.

Note: I am dashing this blog off in a hurry, and don't have time to research thoroughly. I think this rule has been in effect at least since the council of Trullo in the 7th century, but if I have any orthodox readers, perhaps they can explain better the reason for this ancient practice.

I watched Archbishop O'Malley's installation Mass today

and was impressed with the homily. His apology for the failures of the Church were heartfelt and uncompromising, and there was none of the passive voice so often found in such public apologies (mistakes were made). He preached Christ, and sprinkled the humor in his speech with profundity. Example: he told the joke about the new receptionist for the bishop who had to call him to say "There is a disturbed man out here who claims to be Jesus. What should I do?" "Look busy!" Archbishop O'Malley said "This story is worth a chuckle, but it hides truth: that poor mentally disturbed man is Christ in a very real way!" There was lots of good stuff like that. I hope he's up to the job in Boston.

Prayer Request

My brother, Basil the Great (not his real name), and his wife Mrs. Basil are on their way to Russia this weekend, where they are beginning the process of adopting four siblings. I think this is really neat, and hope that you will pray that God grant them and their soon-to-be family many happy and blessed years.

I have another brother, Gregory of Nyssa, who along with Mrs. of Nyssa is expecting his fourth child. If Mrs. Athanasius and I don't get busy, all the good baby names will be taken! We'll have to name our future kids Barsunuphius and Panteliemon.

Is it hopeless?

Occasionally I will come up against this sort of reasoning in other fora (plural of forums): The culture war is lost. America likes its abortions and contraception and promiscuity and materialism and easy divorce too much. We might as well give up--the Christian message has failed.

Now, I admit that sometimes I am tempted to agree, especially after hearing news about the Harvey Milk school or the push for embryonic research or any number of other bad news stories. But I think that there is still hope. In fact, it is a requirement of our baptism that we not abandon hope. Besides, we've conquered cultures before! There is no reason to believe we can't do it again. Rome, after all, was actively opposed to the Church, yet in a short 300 years made Catholicism the state religion.

The big question is how did our forefathers in the faith do it? What is different? Why is our message ignored and why was theirs adopted? It can be reduced to two words: faith and martyrdom. From reading the history books it becomes clear that in the early centuries of the Church, Christians really believed in Christ. They knew their faith and clung to it fiercely--one reads wistfully the tales of the people of Constantinople scolding Nestorius for heresy; would anyone even notice today if his bishop preached heresy? If Christianity is to prevail, it needs for its adherents to know what Christianity is, and to adhere to it. In other words, learn your faith. Buy a Catechism and a Bible and read them, cover to cover. Then read them again.

But faith is not enough. We all need to be martyrs. I don't mean that we need to be killed for the Faith, although that may well be coming. Rather, we need to witness, which is what "martyr" means in Greek. The fact is that no other philosophy, worldview, or religion is capable of answering the innermost need of man. We have a will that desires infinite good, but cannot find it here, and in fact is its own worst enemy. But we have a faith that shows us the way to infinite Good, gives us a foretaste in the Eucharist, and provides us with sacramental graces to overcome our own self-destructiveness. The Church is the way to God, and nothing else, no amount of sex or money or material goods can ever compete with that. But the world needs to know how wonderful it is. Let me ask you: have you ever told anyone about your faith in Christ, and what it has done for you? When confronted with the culture of death, have you opposed it? Publicly? Do those you work with know that you are Catholic? If the answers are no, you are not much of a Christian. We are called to make disciples of all nations, which means that we need to show the world how good it is to be a disciple of Christ.

If our nation were confronted with a million or so Catholics who were faithful, loving, and hopeful, and who bore witness in their lives to the wonders of the love of Christ, it could not long endure faithless. It may take us a couple of hundred years, but we can win!

Monday, July 28, 2003

I don't need to blog,

I just need to report my pastor's homilies.

An interesting point was made yesterday: Jesus didn't heal everyone in Israel, as he surely could have. Rather, he healed those who called upon him, insistently. The surest way to getting divine healing was to be an annoying pain in the neck, shouting "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!" Don't stop, even if the apostles tell you to shut up. "Son of David, hav mercy on me!"

Incidentally, the heart of the prayer of the Eastern Church is this same persistent litany, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner," repeated often throughout the day, preferably on every breath. When you are in a time of temptation, say this prayer, and see if the temptation can withstand the name of Christ. If you wish to pray constantly, as Paul commands us, this is a good prayer to use; the technique is to say "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God" on the intake of breath, thus drawing Christ within yourself with your breathing, and then exhale on "have mercy on me a sinner."

Repeat 10,000 times a day, or as needed.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

My email to Senator Durbin

See the previous post for the reason for my email.

Dear Senator Durbin,

I read with interest your comments in today's Tribune that "There are many Catholics who see [the abortion issue] much differently than Mr. Pryor."

That is not true. If you don't believe abortion is a grave moral evil, you are not Catholic. Here is what the pope has to say, in the strongest possible infallible language:

"Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being." (Evangelium Vitae)

I pray that you will either change your mind on this issue or cease representing yourself as a Catholic.

[Athanasius] Ph.D.

Senator Durbin, you are mistaken!

During the debate in the Judiciary Committee on whether or not to allow William Pryor's hearing to take place in the full Senate, the debate got very contentious, with Republicans claiming that Democrats will not allow Catholics to serve as judges. See, Catholics oppose abortion, and Democrats will filibuster anyone who does not support abortion. Read the story here.

In response to this, my own Senator Dick Durbin responded "As a person raised Catholic and who is a practicing Catholic, I deeply resent this new line of attack from the right wing that anyone who opposes him is anti-Catholic," Durbin said. "Today's committee hearing is a historic low for this fine committee." He further said this amazing line: "As a Catholic, I sit here in resentment of what I am hearing," Durbin said. "There are many Catholics who see [the abortion issue] much differently than Mr. Pryor. This is beneath the dignity of this committee."

Durbin thinks he is a good Catholic. Why don't you let him know that he isn't? Here is his: email address.

I've already called his bisho p and had a nice chat with his secretary--I don't think it is necessary to flood the bishop's phone lines. But Senator Durbin could use some email, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Speaking of good television

If any of you who love me are looking for gifts for me, get me this. It would save me many hours of evil channel flipping.

Television is a spiritual bacon double cheeseburger

Does your mind matter? Or does only your matter matter? Nowadays everyone seems to mind his matter. In other words, we all seem either to be dieting, exercising, or complaining that we ought to diet or exercise, or planning our new diet and exercise regime. Fast food restaurants are being sued for serving fattening meals, and the greatest sin one can commit is to smoke a cigarette in public. We take care, and rightly so, of our physical form.

But do we ever take similar care about our soul? Do we watch what we "eat," spiritually speaking? Consider this description of how temptation occurs, by St. Hesychius from the Philokalia: As an innocent child is delighted when it sees a wonder worker, and follows the doer of marvels out of guilelessness; so too our soul, being simple and good--for it was made so by its good Master--is delighted by the fantastic suggestions of the devil and being deceived it runs to that wily one as though he were good, as the dove runs to one who sets nets for her children; and so it mingles its own thoughts with the fancy of the devil's suggestion. If there should chance the face of a beautiful woman, or something else that is plainly forbidden by the commandments of Christ, it wishes as it were to contrive something to bring into reality the lovely thing which it has seen; and then having identified with the thought, it goes on and brings into effect by means of the body, to its own condemnation, the unlawful thing that it has seen in thought.

This is the art of the evil one, and with these arrows he poisons every victim. And for this reason it is not safe, until the mind has had long experience of the warfare, to allow thoughts to enter into the heart; especially in the beginning, when our soul is still in sympathy with the suggestions of the demons, takes pleasure in them and follows them eagerly; but it is necessary, as soon as we are aware of the thoughts, immediately to cut them off, at the very moment of their impact and our finding them.

The devil works through the imagination, by presenting images to us of things that we shouldn't desire. Hesychius advises that when these images (he calls them "thoughts") arise, that we immediately cut them off; it is not safe to entertain them. As he reminds us, even the wise Solomon fell. Now, consider what television does: it provides you with all sorts of images. Some of the images are acceptable, but many are of bad things--just think of any reality show on Fox. Further, even the acceptable images give rise to curiosity, to an appetite for more, always more. This is why people flip channels. They are seeking to fill the appetite for images. You can see, of course, how damaging this is to the spiritual life. In order to have union with God, we must discipline our passions; the television does nothing but feed these passions. It is a spiritual bacon double cheeseburger, and makes our soul lazy and fat.

Ask yourself this question: what goodis your television? Honestly, would your life be better or worse if you got rid of it?

P.S. Those of you who know me personally are probably laughing at me, since you know how much television I watch. Be kind. I am a work in progress. I gave up television for Lent, and haven't gone back to the amount I watched previously. Perhaps in the new house we will only keep the TV for movie nights.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Rain is like grace

One neat thing about a theistic Weltanschauung is that everything is symbolic. Since the universe is created by God according to a plan, everything in that plan is symbolic of God. Even dirty socks and kitchen mold are symbolic of God in some way, although I'm not sure how. What this symbolism means is that every aspect of creation finds its full meaning and fulfillment only in Christ. This is why, as the Catholic Nerd Blog says, confession isn't like a shower; a shower, rather, is like confession!

So, rain showers only find full meaning when they are seen as they truly are, a foretaste or image of divine grace. God gives us life just as the rain gives life to the field. See this passage from Isaiah 45:8 Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may sprout forth, and let it cause righteousness to spring up also; I the LORD have created it. Without God, we are like a desert, a barren land where nothing grows.

Think of that the next time it rains. If, like me, you are in northeast Illinois, you will be thinking it a lot.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Augustine on music in church

I've been re-reading The Confessions for course preperation, and am struck by how he describes the music found in the cathedral of St. Ambrose in Milan. He notes that under Ambrose "the practice was institued of singing hymns and psalms after the manner of the Eastern churches. . . ." (9.7) Ambrosian chant was modeled after Byzantine chant!

Note also the effect that this beauty had on Augustine, a man of deep artistic sensibilities. After he was baptized, he says that "The days were not long enough as I meditated, and found wonderful delight in meditating, upon the depth of Your design for the salvation of the human race. I wept at the beauty of Your hymns and canticles, and was powerfully moved at the sweet sound of Your Church's singing. Those sounds flowed into my ears, and the truth streamed into my heart: so that my feeling of devotion overflowed, and the tears ran from my eyes, and I was happy in them." (Book 9 chapter 6)

What a wonderful testimony to good liturgical music! We should all strive that our singing serves the twofold aim of beauty and truth, so that the listeners are emotionally moved by the music to knowledge of the Truth and Beauty who is Christ.

Friday, July 18, 2003

A Friday Gift: Byzantine Prayer for Children

As I progress on my journey into the Byzantine Church, I am continually amazed at the beauty of the prayers and liturgy. I am convinced that the Western Church was given by God for systematic theology, but the Eastern Church was given by God for beauty's sake. Here, for your perusal, is a prayer for children from the Byzantine Book of Prayer, available here or at my parish. I particularly like the part in boldface. (By the way, if you live in the Chicago area and haven't come out to see our parish, shame on you! Come visit us.)

O Holy Father, Eternal God, from whom all goodness and blessing flow: I humbly pray to You for the children You have graciously given me. You have given them existence, and have renewed them in the waters of rebirth by virtue of which they are able to obey your commandments and attain the kingdom of heaven. Preserve them in your grace to the end of their life, and sanctify them that your Name be hallowed in them. Aid me also by your grace that I may bring them up for the glory of your holy Name and for the benefit of all mankind. Grant me the necessary means to this end, together with patience and fortitude. O Lord, enlighten them by the light of your wisdom that they may love You with all their heart and soul. Instill in their hearts a fear of evil so that their way may be without sin. Adorn their soul with your virtues that they may prosper in holiness and grow in your favor. And, if at any time they should sin against You, do not turn away from them the spirit of contrition. Give them the goodness of the earth and everything necessary for eternal salvation. Protect them from misfortune, anger, privation, and from the snares of the devil all the days of their life. O Lord, grant me joy and happiness in my children. Enable me to appear with them at your awesome judgment, and there, without fear, to say: "Here I am Lord, with the children You have given me." That, together with them, praising your great goodness and eternal love, I may glorify your most holy Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and forever. Amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

More on Vocations

A commentor named Thomas in my earlier post about the Catholic notion of vocation says this: I wonder what one does when most of the folks in one's parish, most of the pastors, most everyone in fact, keeps encouraging a vocation to, oh, say, the priesthood, and yet a small, but influential, group says no. At what point doe a person persevere in the face of a NO, when so many sober, honest, thoughtful folk tell him YES? Oh, and when he can find no, absolutely no, rest in anything else? I just wonder, I have no answers.

I am going to assume that "one" is you, Thomas. Correct me if I am wrong. First, why is it that so many are telling you that you may have a vocation? What do they see in you? Second, what is it that those opposed see that makes them opposed? If you can figure out why they are saying what they say, you can assess the merits of each position. One could be opposed to a religious vocation because of moral weaknesses in the person, or because it would preclude grandchildren. The first reason is legitimate, the second is selfish. So try to figure out why the various people are saying what they are saying.

You say that you find no rest in anything else. That's good: we are created for God, and by nature can find no rest in anything but Him. Doing God's will is the only way to happiness. If it is indeed God's will that you serve Him as a priest, you will not truly flourish until you heed that call. But here's the rub: one can serve God in marriage as well. How can we decide?

Here's a bit of advice: Go try it. If you have the inclination, and if your parish seems to think it is a good idea, and if those opposed are opposed not for good reasons, give it a try. The doors on the seminary are not locked--you can leave any time you want. Go, begin the journey, and let the Church tell you if it is your vocation or not. The job of the seminary staff is to determine whether or not the call from God is genuine. In fact, should you proceed to ordination, the bishop asks the rector of the seminary whether you should be ordained. It is his job to report his judgment to the bishop. Why not let him do his job? They won't ordain you or have you take vows tomorrow: there is plenty of time to leave, if you or they decide that you must.

If, as you say, you can find no rest in anything else, you have nothing to lose.

One of the benefits of being the stay-at-home Daddy

Is that I get to watch twelve (12!) hours of British Open coverage.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Prayers for a friend

My brother Basil the Great (not his real name) and I have confirmed some bad news: a friend of ours from high school has passed away, leaving a wife and three young children. He would have been about 32 years old.

O God of all spirits and of all flesh, who have destroyed death, overcome the devil, and have given life to the world: grant O Lord, to the soul of your servant Sean, who has left this life, to rest in a place of light, in a place of happiness, in a place of peace, where there is no pain, no grief, no sighing. And since you are a gracious God and Lover of Mankind, forgive him every sin he has committed by thought or word or deed, for there is not a man who lives and does not sin: You alone are without sin, your righteousness is everlasting, and your word is true. You are the Resurrection and the Life, and the Repose of your departed servant Sean, O Christ our God, and we send up glory to You, together with your eternal Father and your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and always and forever and ever, Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Do we have a Prostestant idea of vocations?

If you've ever had a scriptural debate with a sola scriptura Protestant, you will inevitably come to a point where the clear sense of scripture and the early history of the Church seem to have closed the deal for the Catholic doctrine, say, of the Eucharist. (I always debate John 6, since the Eucharist is the heart of the Church.) When confronted with this, my Protestant interlocutors will inevitably say that it is obvious that Jesus is speaking metaphorically, and when I point out that the early Church universally celebrated the Eucharist as Catholics and Orthodox do today, my opponents will say that reading scripture in the Spirit shows them that the Eucharist is just a symbol.

There is no argument with "in the Spirit": how can I prove to them that God hasn't spoken directly to them?

This view of the action of the Spirit is totally mistaken and non-incarnational. God doesn't, as a rule, speak directly to individual believers, but speaks to human beings through the natural ability of their minds, through their arguments with others, and most of all through the Church. To read scripture spiritually doesn't mean to turn the lights down and burn incense; it means to read it in the living tradition of the Catholic Church, as found in the liturgy, writings, music, and art of that Church. As St. Josemaria Escriva says somewhere (although I can't find the quote): what are you waiting for a divine inspiration for? Why do you think you have a mind? Your intelligence is a spark of the divine, and is how the Holy Spirit talks to you.

What does this have to do with vocations? We have an idea these days that a religious vocation will be manifest to you in much the same way as the correct interpretation of John 6 was manifest to my Baptist friend: one simply gets a really strong feeling about the way something is. Such inspirations are by nature personal and incommunicable: either you have the strong feeling or you don't. It is something private. But private inspiration is not a Catholic idea, and I say that private Vocation is not Catholic either. If you have a vocation or call to the priesthood or religious life or both, it isn't a private call in your heart, but a public call by God manifest in the public face of the Church inspired by God. The Church calls you, and it can be obvious and public.

Consider the example of how vocations occurred in the early Church. Here is a story about Augustine from the Catholic Encyclopedia: Augustine did not think of entering the priesthood, and, through fear of the episcopacy, he even fled from cities in which an election was necessary. One day, having been summoned to Hippo by a friend whose soul's salvation was at stake, he was praying in a church when the people suddenly gathered about him, cheered him, and begged Valerius, the bishop, to raise him to the priesthood. In spite of his tears Augustine was obliged to yield to their entreaties, and was ordained in 391.

St. John Chrysostom even brags a bit about using trickery to get a friend ordained, and in the Eastern rite of ordination, the ordinandus is still shepherded up to the altar by force, in case he should panic and run away. Vocations come from the Church, and one's own strong feelings are not necessarily the best guide. In fact, given the depraved state of modern society, one's own feelings might be treacherous. The little old lady who says to you "You should be a priest" might be the voice of God.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Will the contraceptive culture kill the short Mass?

Everyone knows that people of European extraction ("white") don't have many babies anymore. Most European nations are shrinking, and the U.S.A. would be as well if not for immigration, primarily from Hispanic countries. Fr. Peter Phan makes a good point here: “Pastors think about Mass as 9:30 to 10:15. With Hispanics? Who are you kidding?” he said. “If the majority of your Catholics are not white, how do you deal with them?”

He's right. Spanish Masses are generally pretty long. If you want to keep your 35-minute Mass, you better have babies! (link courtesy of The Curt Jester.)

Sunday, July 13, 2003

I'm addicted to LamToons (tm)!

Now that I have a broad-band connection, I've been watching Mister Victor Lams's cartoons. Go here and check them out. I particularly like the St. Michael Prayer (now on my desktop) and "Emotional Baggins."

I didn't mean to be snippy

in my comments about our bishops meeting in a Hilton. I know the job of bishop is a terrible, awful job, and wouldn't wish it on anyone. I pray for them daily. But, there are many religious institutions lying empty all around the country that would be wonderful places for a bishops' council to meet, where they would have cells instead of hotel rooms and a chapel instead of a conference room. It would be a great witness to the world that they were shepherds and not CEO's.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Czech bishops are having a synod

and look where they are having it: Bishops, priests, religious and laity gathered Sunday in the Velehrad Shrine of Moravia .

Imagine that, bishops meeting at a shrine. Ours meet in a Hilton.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

My choir director is going to a music conference,

and no matter what I do has refused to punch Marty Haugen and Rory Cooney in the nose for me. He has promised verbal abuse, however.
Another small prayer request

Mrs. Athanasius and I are at a bit of a crossroads, with some uncertainty regarding how we will manage to pay our bills and take care of our little Sarah Theresa. Prayers are much appreciated. It's only fair, since we pray for you!

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Tolerance leads to violence

I'm sure you've all heard the incessant modern mantra of "tolerance, tolerance." Perhaps you've heard its other formulation: "In diversity is our strength." This is taught to our children, is preached on the radio, and forms the plot of at least 90% of the shows on television: old-fashioned Archie Bunker type starts the show intolerant of pierced tongues, meets decent guy/girl with pierced tongue, and finally at the end of the show either pierces his tongue, or has best friends who do. He grows up and learns more tolerance.

This is done with the best of intentions, I am sure. After all, the century just past was the most horrible, violent, and deadly age the world has ever known, far worse than any of the bad old dark ages. Tolerance, it is presumed, will keep us from killing each other. The theory is that war and violence arise out of dislike of those that are not like us, and there is something to that. If we are taught to like those who are different, perhaps we won't kill them, and they won't kill us. In diversity is our strength!

But think about this for a minute. Why should I tolerate those who are different from me? The insanity of the modern age is that it teaches tolerance for no good reason. In fact, hand-in-hand with tolerance, it teaches atheism, or at least functional atheism. We are to tolerate others, especially other religions, because one religion is just as good as another. There is no truth, really, so we shouldn't fight over different versions of the truth (which doesn't really exist).

Problem: if there is no God, or if God doesn't matter, why shouldn't I do anything? What if I really don't like Jews? Why don't I just kill them? It won't matter in the end since there is no God, but I would be a lot happier in the meantime. Consider these two arguments to an intelligent bully called Bob:

Argument 1
"Hey Bob, you shouldn't beat up little Timmy."
"Why not?"
"Because you should tolerate those who are different from you!"
"Because in the end, there is no truth, and nothing worth fighting for. Timmy could be as right as you are."
"But, teacher, if there is no truth, then how can it be true that it is wrong for me to beat up little Timmy?"
"Ummm. You are using logic, which is a patriarchal system to perpetuate power, and has no ability to reach truth. Just don't hit Timmy, ok?"
"Ok," says Bob, lying cheerfully (since there is no truth) while he resumes pounding the snot out of Timmy.

Argument 2
"Hey Bob, you shouldn't beat up little Timmy."
"Why not?"
"Because you should tolerate those who are different from you!"
"Because he is a child of God, and is worthy of salvation every bit as much as you. In fact, your own status, eschatologically speaking, is bound up with his."
"What's 'es-cha-tol--whatever' mean?"
"It means that if you treat Timmy like crap, you will be treated like crap in eternal life."
"Oh," says Bob, thoughtfully--he doesn't want to go to Hell, and even though Timmy is a little turd, he's not worth damnation.

See, the only possible ground for the Doctrine of Tolerance is the teaching of Christianity, that all men (and women) are created in the image and likeness of God, and are destined for eternal life with Him. It must be founded on Truth, or it will crumble.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Small Prayer Request

Could you spare a prayer for me and Mrs. Athanasius as we try to sort out some job/child-care issues? Thanks!

The "Steel Magnolias" Church

I went to daily Mass on Saturday at a local parish, and, as often happens at Latin Rite Masses, my mind started wandering. Oh, there was no defect in the liturgy; there is a defect in me. I tend to lollygag unless I'm constantly occupied. As my mind wandered, I decided to count the people in the congregation, by sex. There were 26 women and 6 men, not counting the priest. This ratio is typical of most daily Masses. Where are the men?

The crowd at daily Mass is usually quite old, which would explain the disparity somewhat. Women live about eight years longer. So, part of the answer to the question "Where are the men?" might be "They're dead." But I don't think that would account for the 26-6 ratio. There must be some other reason.

I suggest that it is the "Steel Magnolias" effect. Steel Magnolias is a movie starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, and assorted other Important Actresses. It is a movie universally loved by women, but universally reviled by men. In fact, my friend Paul and I use it as a benchmark to rate uncomfortable situations, as in "I would rather be strapped to a chair and forced to watch Steel Magnolias six times than go browse for window treatments." See, nothing happens in the movie. People talk, and talk, and talk, and one of them dies, but nothing happens. No explosions, no car chases, no good guys or bad guys. This movie is what is known as a Chick Flick. Yuck!

Perhaps part of the reason that Mass in general is so sparsely populated by men is that in many parishes it has become like Steel Magnolias: we talk, and talk, and talk, and share, and hold hands, the priest talks in a modulated sing-song voice, and we sing easy-listening adult contemporary hymns, and nothing ever happens. There are no explosions or car chases, but even more, there is no drama, no struggle, no challenge to do great things. (I am snoring just thinking about it.)

I am going to tell you two great secrets. Here is the first: men and women are different. Not just different in the way we are socialized, but down to the core of our being. The second secret: Men like fighting. We like contests of strength, stories of good guys and bad guys, and we are competive. We like to win! This characteristic can be turned to good or to bad, obviously, but it is put into us by God. So, if you wish to get men back into the church, I suggest that what one needs to do is to appeal to men, to what we like.

Does this mean that one needs explosions and car chases in Mass? No, although the USCCB should create a committee to work on it. But seriously. There is no lack of drama and struggle in the Catholic Faith. There are good guys (God, the saints, the angels, us), bad guys (the devil, his demons, us), and a cosmic struggle for each one of us. The fight is not a small fight, but the greatest battle there could ever be: will you spend eternity with God, or cast off into the outer darkness? It's up to you, even though there are interested parties (God, the devil) working to help you or hurt you. Furthermore, you take part in the fight, braving great dangers in order to get others such as your family, friends, or even total strangers to safety as well. And it isn't just a movie, but is real life. We all can be heroes!

Look, millions of men go to see the Lord of the Rings movies--Salvation history makes a much better movie. Perhaps if the faith were presented this way rather than like Steel Magnolias, the men will come back.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

I've been discovered!

One of my co-parishioners has discovered my weblog. Hello Joe, and welcome! See you in church.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Been there, done that

See if this vision of history sounds familiar: civilization arises out of tribal life, where man was universally superstitious and suspicious of what was different. Over time, he overcomes his tribalism, and lives in cities. As time goes on, man grows in sophistication; practices that were forbidden by the tribe are seen as permissible. Thus, ancient prohibitions against casual sex, abortion, contraception, homosexual activity (it is a misnomer to call it "sex") are "outgrown." Progress universally means to accept what was once forbidden. Tolerance is the mark of a civilized society. We discover that In Diversity Is Our Strength!

Is this familiar? Have you heard this view in the news? I hear it all the time. History is viewed as a curve that starts in darkness and barbarism, but that eventually and slowly trends upward to the enlightened, tolerant state of today, as evidenced by recent Supreme Court decisions. Any progressive society will necessarily allow promiscuity, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, and other such consensual activities. We've grown beyond prohibiting them, you see.

But this view of history is absolutely incorrect. None of these activities are new, and in fact, all of them were allowed and promoted in ancient times. In Greece there was a thriving homosexual culture--in fact, having sex with boys was the thing to do. The shocking thing about Socrates wasn't that he had a homosexual crush on Alcibiades, it is that he never acted on it. Promiscuity was the rule, not the exception in Rome--just read Ovid or the lives of the Caesars. Divorce was similarly common, and prostitution was organized, not by the government, but by religion: there were temple prostitutes. Abortion was practiced quite often, as was infanticide, and contraceptive drugs were also widespread. In fact, it is likely that when the New Testament condemns pharmakia (translated "sorcery"), it was condemning contraceptive or abortive potions.

The arc of history is not from restrictive to permissive, but from permissive to restrictive. In other words, the Greeks and Romans had a society where all these things were common, and it wasn't until Christ came along that they changed. We aren't progressing to a brave new future, but are instead regressing to a dead and well-abandoned past.

Did you ever wonder why Christianity spread so quickly? It wasn't because liberal Greeks and Romans were well-adjusted and happy. It was because they lived at "the end of the age." They could see that no wisdom lies at the end of the path of excess. Unfettered liberty is an express lane to suicide, and they could see that. Christianity spread because it offered hope in the face of this abyss of despair.

Why would we want to climb back down into that abyss? We've been there, and done that. Some of us even have T-shirts.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Speaking of art, Hans Holbien (the younger) was a genius

Holbien, who seems to have painted every famous person from the 16th century, had a talent for portraying the inner essence of the man in his portraits. Take a look at the following three:

A Good Man

A Weak Man

An Evil Man

Note how Holbien captures the character in the eyes. More looks forward, clear-eyed, with a trace of foreboding, as if he knew the price he would pay for his faith. King Henry looks to the side, eyebrow arched, perhaps in disdain at a suggestion he restrain his appetites. Cromwell has the furrowed brow and squint of one looking for a way to betray his friends for money. Truly Holbien has gotten to the inner man.

Note: Apparently, the Art Renewal Center isn't allowing these linked photos to show up. If you want to know what I'm talking about, go to this link and search for Holbien (it's Holbien, not Holbein).