Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Fear not the death of popes

Should our papa die, or become incapacitated in some way, the Church will go on. Fears about decaying faculties in a pope betray a lack of understanding of what the Church is. Don't think of the Church as parallel to some secular state. The Vatican has no nukes, no weapons of mass destruction for a crazed or senile pontiff to launch. The deposit of faith is not going to be endangered if the pope dies or becomes incompetent, since it was not he who deposited it, but Christ. Don't even worry about the next conclave. The media will attempt, should this happen, to analyze the situation in the typical "left vs. right" political template, pushing some candidates and rejecting others, all the while never understanding the reality of what the Church is, the mystical body of Christ. There is no left or right: One is either with Christ, or against him.

Remember, the faith doesn't depend on the pope, since he isn't the head of the Church. Jesus is the head of the Church, the pope is just his vicar, a shepherd whose job it is to serve the servants of God. We've been fortunate to have John Paul, but even if we had a lousy, small man as pope, God would still guard his Church.

Popes and bishops aren't political leaders, revolutionaries, or even presidents, but rather are shepherds, preserving what is entrusted to them. The day to day economy of the Church has little to do with them. The sacramental life will go on.

Nevertheless, prayers would be a good thing.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Thank God for cold weather!

I teach philosophy in a college. My students are mostly women, and average around 19-20 years old. Like most women their age, they don't seem to like to wear clothing. If consideration for their poor male teachers won't induce them to put clothes on, perhaps cold weather will.

I'm with King Lear:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Prayer Request

Could you please say a prayer for a special intention? Muchas gracias!

Friday, September 26, 2003

My wife had the same reaction

Greg Popcak writes about telling one of his clients the teaching of the Church on sex and marriage. The man got mad: "Everything you're saying makes perfect sense. Why didn't our pastor tell us any of this when we were in marriage prep? Why did we have to make a mess of everything for fifteen years before we could finally start learning what marriage and sex is supposed to be about? I'm really upset. How come nobody ever told us this before?"

My wife says the same thing. She was raised Catholic in central Wisconsin, went to Mass every Sunday, and attended the CCD classes for years. She went to a Catholic college as well. But it wasn't until she met me that she got the Church's teaching on marriage. Thank God my wife is a wonderful, sensible woman who knows the truth when she hears it, but she should have heard it 10 years before she did.

Is it any wonder so many Catholic couples contracept? They've never heard anything different. When they do hear about the real Catholic teaching, they can reject it, since if it was that important, surely Father would have mentioned it somewhere along the line.

Woe to us if we are ashamed of the Gospel.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

If we keep saying it's a good thing, it will be a good thing.

See this, from the Chicago Tribune.

If married priests are the solution,

you must admit there is a problem. It is the conventional wisdom that all problems, from the sex scandals to the vocation shortage, can be solved if we would simply have married priests. Marriage is the panacea to cure all that is wrong. But there is a conclusion implicit in this affirmation that most who make it wouldn't like: Consider this quote from St. Augustine: Why do you acknowledge that there is a necessary remedy for lust yet contradict me when I say that lust is a disease? If you recognize the remedy, then recognize the disease as well.

Why is marriage a solution, according to the anti-celibates? Because it provides a sexual "release." (I don't like speaking of sex in plumbing metaphors, but that is where we are in a post-Freudian world.) If men aren't married, then, the argument goes, soon they will be chasing the altar boys, since unreleased sexual pressure is apt to burst out in inappropriate ways. So the marriage argument assumes that sex is a Bad Thing that needs to be controlled, an appetite that is not governable by reason.

But, as Augustine notes to Julian of Eclanum, it makes no sense to propose marriage as a solution if you aren't willing to admit that sex is a disordered appetite. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, if sex were just another appetite, then there would be clubs where people went in order to stare food; a strip club, but for food. After all, hunger and sex are just appetites, aren't they? Once you admit it that the sexual appetite is a disordered appetite, you are on the road to the Christian understanding of original sin, a conclusion that might, perhaps, lead you to affirm the necessity of salvation and to hope for the efficacy of the sacraments as a remedy to sin. It might even lead you to think that the bad old Church was right all along in its restrictive sexual morality: after all, if sexual desire is screwed up, it needs tight controls in order to be used correctly, just like an alcoholic needs strong controls to control a disordered desire for drink. Thus we have the teachings on marriage, homosexuality, masturbation, etc. in order to insure that human reason remains the master and the appetites remain the servants.

Onse suspects that the supporters of a married priesthood are not willing to admit that there is anything wrong with fulfilling sexual desires. If that is the case, their position is, as Augustine noted 1600 years ago, incoherent.

Return to Blogging

Well, since HMS Blog (not related to the HMS Pinafore) has been giving me publicity, I thought I'd blog. Actually, my internet access has been down for a few days.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Miracle caught on camera!

A child recovers her baptismal innocence through the sacrament of confession. What a wonderful thing!

P.S. The past two pictures are from the Byzantine Catholic pilgrimage to Mt. Macrina in PA. I hope to go one of these years.

In my next life

I want to be a Ruthenian bishop. Check out these threads:

Of course, as all Catholics know, there is no "next life" except new life in Christ. But still, the clothes are neat. . . .

Strange things heard in homilies

This morning I stopped to go to Mass on my way to work. (I am blessed to have a parish near my school that has three morning Masses with daily confession.) The elderly priest said this about the battle between God and the forces of darkness (there was light-dark imagery in the gospel): "We need to fight the darkness, which most of us do fairly well."

Well, Father, I don't know about you, but I'm not doing so well. Despite knowing that Christ has risen from the dead, and that death therefore has no power over me, despite knowing my faith pretty well, and despite the great grace of weekly communion and near-weekly confession, I still "sin without number."

Priests, may I recommend you follow St. Edmund Campion's advice and "crye alarme spiritual?" Things aren't so good. But if no-one ever points out that the world is immersed in sin, why would anyone seek Christ? The patient needs to know he is sick before he seeks the Physician.

P.S. Humbling thought: at least 45 million (that's 45,000,000) babies have been killed in this country since 1973. On judgment day, Americans will be looking up to Adolf Hitler as an example of virtue. At least the Nazis killed out of genuine hatred, not for something as trivial as being able to ejaculate without consequences. God help our nation, for we murder the innocent in the womb without qualm.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Philosophy Saturday

Here are some excerpts from The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Etienne Gilson.

"At first sight there seems to be no reason at all why intelligent beings like men, with all the resources of the world at their disposal, should not succeed in satisfying their desires. So little it seems is needed for the purpose. Epicurus remarked, and not without reason, that with a little bread and water the wise man is the equal of Jupiter himself."

"The fact is, perhaps, that with a little bread and water a man ought to be happy but precisely is not; and if he is not, it is not necessarily because he lacks wisdom, but simply because he is a man, and because all that is deepest in him perpetually gainsays the wisdom offered. It seems as though he could pursue no other end than his own proper happiness, but is quite incapable of attaining it beccause, although everything pleases, nothing contents. . . . The experience is too common to be worth the trouble of many words. . . that all human pleasure is desirable but none ever suffices."

"We must understand in the first place that the very insatiability of human desire has a positive significance; it means this: that we are attracted by an infinite good. Disgust with each particular good is but the reverse side of our thirst for the total good; weariness is but a presentiment of the infinite gulf that lies between the thing loved and the thing within love's capacity."

"Human love, in spite of all its ignorance, blindness, and even downright error, is never anything but a finite participation in God's own love for Himself. Man's misery lies in the fact that he can so easily deceive himself as to the true object, and suffer accordingly, without even suspecting that he does so; but even in the midst of the lowest pleasures, the most abandoned voluptuary is still seeking God. . . ."

Friday, September 19, 2003

A simple refutation of the previous post

Student 1 says "Where you go when you die depends on your beliefs."

Student 2 says "I believe that those who believe what you believe go to hell."

Whose belief is normative? If belief can make something real, what if my beliefs are about you?

Relativism is so illogical that the only reason for its prevalence is its convenience. I'll put it in plain English: if truth is relative, I can screw anything I want. Since I want to screw anything I want, truth must be relative. (The argument is clearly fallacious, but that's the other benefit of relativism: you don't need to learn logic.)

Thursday, September 18, 2003

It depends on your beliefs!

I asked a question in my philosophy class: what happens after you die? Answer: "That depends on your beliefs."

Oh really? If I believe in Wotan and Valhalla, then I will be selected by the Valkyries to join the army of the gods so that we can fight the evil giants in a losing battle at the end of time?

Belief doesn't make things true.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Chant to the rescue!

I want to Mass at a nearby Newman Center today, and as we stumbled through "Gather Us In," "Celtic Alleluia," and some other such silliness. Of the congregation of eleven, I and the cantrix were the only ones singing. I thought how much more wonderful and easy it would have been to chant the daily antiphons for the Mass. Surely everyone can follow a simple chant tone? Perhaps we could also have done it with the parts of the Mass? How hard is the Gregorian Sanctus? Certainly such simple music would be much better and more singable than "Gather us in, the rich and the haughty (haughty?)"

In addition, learning a few basic chant tones would allow us to avoid the problem of substituting Marty Haugen for King David in the responsorial psalm: just chant the response on a single tone, and then let the cantor sing the psalm likewise. How hard is that?

Finally, the great thing about chant is that one doesn't need instrumentalists to do it.

If you think this is too hard for a congregation to do, come visit my church. We do that and much more for every liturgy. It just takes perseverance and good music.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Notre Dame Football and the Exaltation of the Cross

On Saturday, I went to a party to watch Notre Dame play Michigan in football. This is a traditional rivalry, and is usually a wonderful game. Unfortunately, my beloved Irish lost in humiliating fashion, 38 to nothing. They had one (1!) passing yard in the first half. Needless to say, I was quite sad after the game, and the world looked black.

But then my wife and I drove off to go to church. We attended the vespers for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. While I was singing the many aposticha and troparia for the feast, I started to feel better. You see, there has been only one important event in all of history, and that is the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. We exalt the cross because it is the instrument of the death of Christ, and it is by the death of Christ that our own death is conquered. We have been redeemed, we have been bought and paid for, Satan has been defeated, and we have nothing to fear if we cling to our Lord. The war was won two thousand years ago, even though battles are still being fought.

From this perspective, a 38-0 loss to Michigan is nothing.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

A good question

Etienne Gilson asks "how it was that so many cultivated men, versed in the systems of antiquity, could suddenly make up their minds to become Christians." (The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy)

It is a historical fact that it happened. If you read the Fathers of the Church you will find them without exception to be the flower of the ancient world, sophisticated, intelligent, and, wonder of wonders, completely soaked in the Christian faith.

Why doesn't it happen now? I think that there has been a fundamental shift: in ancient times, philosophy was still the love of wisdom. One might not, like Socrates, claim to have wisdom, but one's life was devoted to finding it. There was a constant orientation to truth, an orientation that only naturally led to the philosopher joyfully discovering The Truth who is Christ.

Modern philosophy, on the other hand, is not really philosophy. It is certainly not the love of wisdom, since philosophy since Nietzsche teaches that there is no wisdom apart from that created by man himself. Whatever most modern philosophers are doing, it isn't searching for truth.

One who is searching for truth will recognize Truth. One who is deconstructing the genderization of post-millenial sexual politics in the Symposium isn't likely to recognize the Truth.

Monday, September 08, 2003

An Announcement

As John Paul, whom no news story can mention without also mentioning how old, ill, and tired he is--I was in a Pauline bookstore and overheard a call to one of the sisters from the Chicago Tribune, asking questions in preparation for writing the pope's obituary--ages, more and more stories will list names of Cardinals "considered a possible successor to John Paul II."

Well, in this same vein, I would like to announce formally that I am a possible successor to John Paul II. Yes, I am papabile. Sure, there are some difficulties, notably my status as a married man and my Ruthenian-ness. But these could be overcome--after all, Peter was married, and since he was from Palestine, probably was a Melkite Catholic.

So, when you speak of me, I prefer that you call me "Karl--er, Athanasius--who is a possible successor to Pope John Paul II."

Wouldn't it be a bummer

to go to hell because you downloaded copyrighted music without paying for it?

Let's analyse this: look at the people in this story. I think we have all the ingredients for mortal sin: full knowledge that it is wrong ("Thou shalt not steal.") Grave matter: the theft of thousands of dollars of music for many of the downloaders. Full and even obstinate consent in the evil action: You can take away my MP3's when you pry my mouse out of my cold dead hands.

If I were going to be damned, I would want it to be for something a whole lot better than free music.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

All things are yours!

I've written in the past about fear. Today I want to emphasize that as Catholics we should never fear. All fear is born through the anticipation or dread of the loss of some good that we possess or hope to possess. In other words, we fear loss. Will I lose my job? Will I lose my wife's love? If I live my faith, will I have to give up my favorite sin? Will the Church survive the scandals? But a true Christian cannot fear. Such fear shows a lack of faith.

In the Eastern Church, we understand salvation with a slightly different emphasis, an emphasis that helps us to understand why it is that we shouldn't fear. God saves us from our sins, indeed, but since the penalty of sin is death, God primarily saves us from death. In fact, after Easter we repeat the following song over and over: "Christ has risen from the dead, and by his death he has conquered death, and to those in the grave he has granted life." Death no longer has power over us. In baptism we die with Christ and also are born into everlasting life. But what does this get us? St. Paul puts it concisely in 1 Corinthians 3:21ff: For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's.

"All are yours!" Think about that. All fear is fear of loss. The goods of this world pass away. No matter what goods or loves or pleasures that you seek in this world, you will ultimately lose them. All life ends in poverty and tragedy, since all of the goods of this life are transitory and cannot be held. If you want to guarantee that you despair, just put all your eggs in the world's basket. But all things exist only because God maintains them in existence. They are entirely, utterly dependent on God. In a way, all things are in God, since He is their creator and maintainer. If you can obtain God, you get all things, because you get Him through whom they are. Everything you fear losing is given back to you in God, with interest. All things are yours, indeed.

So don't worry about losing job, money, health, friends, family, or even your life. Through your baptism, all of things are yours forever, since you gain the Source and Summit of all goodness. Fear not!

A thought from Liturgy today

Do you think the Church is in trouble? Are we in a crisis? Then why not add a day of fasting? We're all supposed to abstain from meat on Fridays to commerate the Passion, or do some equivalent penance. (Quick, name the alternative penance you performed last Friday. I thought so.) Why not add a day? Perhaps you could abstain from meat or limit your food on Wednesday for the renewal of the Church. After all, Jesus says some demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.


I'm glad to see that my Bears are continuing their fine tradition of excellence in football.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Extra, Extra! Petition in Support of Priestly Celibacy!

Please forward this website to all the priests you know.

A note to all the people who want married priests

Why don't you just become Byzantine Catholic? Then your sons could grow up in a church with a long tradition of married priests, and they could be so if they desired.

There is a longstanding practice in the Roman Church of picking and choosing things that they like from Byzantines: for example, "We ought to stand for the Eucharistic prayer. After all, the Eastern Christians do!" "We ought to have married priests. After all, the Eastern Christians do!" This interest in Byzantine practices is wonderful. After you take these two customs, you can also adopt the increased number of holy days, the strict fasting rules, you can put icons back in your horribly bare churches, and you can lengthen your liturgies to two hours. The fact that we do something doesn't mean that Roman rite Catholics should do something. Otherwise, there wouldn't be any need for different rites at all. But, if you like something that we do, then, by all means, explore our tradition. Attend our Liturgies. Perhaps you will find a spiritual home with us. But you need to take the whole thing, not just a piece here and a piece there.

But let's back up a bit. If it is the celibacy requiremend that keeps so many men from considering the priesthood, why is it that vocation problems exist in Eastern churches? Do you think that maybe, just maybe, the vocation crisis has to do with a lack of faith? If a man really loves Christ, he will not balk at what Christ asks him to do: "leave everything, and come follow me!"

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

If you enjoyed Catholic Nerd,

Check out the new blog Alle Psalite.

Monday, September 01, 2003

You think you're going crazy

Today is the feast of St. Simeon Stylites, the first great pillar saint. I read a contemporary biography of him some years ago; young Simeon was driven to ascetical practices, and was thrown out of a monastery because they were so severe. He had tied a rope around his waist under his robe as tightly as he could, and it cut into his flesh. Eventually the stench of gangrene was so pungent that his brothers threw him out.

Not to be deterred, Simeon continued in his attempts to die to this life so he could live in Christ. Eventually he built a pillar and lived on the top, on a space about six feet wide, for thirty six years. His first pillar was only nine feet high, but as the demands of the people on him grew, he built higher and higher, ultimately reaching fifty feet. He still engaged in spiritual direction, but now the directee would have to climb fifty feet up a ladder. He ate no food and remained standing during all of Lent, except for prostrations asking "Lord have mercy!"

You may be saying to yourself, "What a nutball!" There are many saints whose stories provoke similar reactions: why did Augustine think stealing a few pears was so bad? Why did Teresa of Avila think she was such a great sinner? What possessed Francis to strip naked in the Bishop's house, to throw himself into thorn bushes to conquer lust, or to walk on foot into the Sultan's camp? Nuts, all of them. Simeon is just a bit nuttier.

I suggest you think again. Look at this passage from the version of the Sermon on the Mount that Luke presents us: And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.

Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

We think these saints are crazy because, after all, things aren't that bad. Sure, we should go to church and be good people and all, but live on a pillar? Look at what Jesus says to us: "Woe to you!" Woe to us who are content with the world as it is. It is the mark of the saint that he mourns, both for the state of the world and for his own sins. Simeon, Augustine, Teresa of Avila, and Francis all had the right idea.

In a world gone mad and corrupted by sin, it's more sane to be crazy.

P.S. I'm indebted to ideas from Walker Percy, whom you should read right now, especially in The Thanatos Syndrome.