Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Karen Hall doesn't want to pray for Saddam

See her reasons here. I pray for the evil because we are commanded to love our enemies and do good to those who hurt us. The best thing we can do for people often is to pray for them; this is what Christ did. In that spirit, here is an Orthodox prayer for enemies:

Thou who didst pray for them that crucified thee, O Lord, Lover of the souls of men, and who didst command thy servants to pray for their enemies, forgive those who hate and maltreat us, and turn our lives from all harm and evil to brotherly love and good works: for this we humbly bring our prayer, that with one accord and one heart we may glorify thee who alone lovest mankind.

As thy first martyr Stephen prayed to thee for his murderers, O Lord, so we fall before thee and pray: forgive all who hate and maltreat us and let not one of them perish because of us, but all be saved by thy grace, O God the all-bountiful.


Speaking of pseudonyms

I learned that Athanasius is Greek for "immortal." I also am surprised that no-one corrected my Latin. Of course, the heading should have read "Apologia pro novo nomine," since "pro" takes the ablative case. Mea culpa!

I heard Charles Rice speak the other day

Among the many interesting things he said was this: internet porn makes more money than all four major television networks combined.

I, for one, would welcome a vigorous enforcement of obscenity laws on the internet.

Monday, February 24, 2003

'Tis the Season

for fasting. In the Eastern Church we start our Lenten fasting today. Yesterday was Meatfare Sunday, which means no more meat until Easter, and next week is Cheesefare Sunday, which means no more cheese or dairy until Easter. You perhaps may wish to join us. The requirements for fasting in the Roman Church are just that, the legal minimum of what you have to do. As such, they are very minimal: fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence from meat on all Fridays. This is what you do if you just want to comply with the merest letter of the law.

But, do you think complying with the mere letter corresponds to the proper discipline of soul and body required to be a follower of Christ? You may think "Why should I fast?" You may say, following Emily Dickinson, that your church is the cathedral of the trees, and that therefore your fast is the buffet line at Shakey's. Fasting seems so, well, medieval. But as long as human beings are creatures of both body and soul, fasting will be a preferred way of disciplining the soul. Whatever affects the soul affects the body, and whatever affects the body affects the soul. Fasting is an ancient and time-tested way of disciplining the soul. If you can give up food, surely you can give up sin! By fasting we follow Jesus, who fasted for forty days in the desert prior to starting his work. If it was good enough for the son of God, surely it is good enough for us.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Apologia pro novum nominem

I have decided to remove my real name from my blog, and have adopted the pseudonym "Athanasius." The reason for this is either cowardice or prudence--I haven't decided which. I have recently gotten a job in academia, and think that it is my duty to my wife and child to keep a lower internet profile. Besides, the opportunity to urge undergraduates to a life of virtue in service to the truth is of more importance than having my name appear on a blog, which is, at least largely, a project of vanity.

Of course, anyone who really wants to find out who I am can do so. I just hope to shrink the Google trail.

Teenagers don't necessarily like "Teen Masses"

Go look at De Fidei Oboedientia, where Jeanetta has compiled some quotes from the AOL Teen Religion Forum. It should be required reading for all youth choir directors.

I flew over Utah this week,

and all it needs is a big, active volcano in order to be a spitting image of Mordor.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

I'll be out of town

until Sunday.

Favorite Female Saints

Note, in first place we must put the Mother of God. So I am not going to count her among my five favorites. Note also that this list is provisional, and changes daily. So don't be offended if I don't have your favorite on the list.

5. St. Severa, a Roman martyr. Her bones are in the Basilica at Notre Dame in Indiana. I don't know anything about her except that she was a young girl. I figured that since she's obscure and hidden away in the corner of the church, she might not have many people asking her for intercession, and I used to pray to her just in case she was a bit lonely.

4. St. Clare. I love the story about her turning back an invasion by processing with the Blessed Sacrament. Plus, Poor Clares are very neat.

3. Teresa of Avila. Cranky old lady has profound mystical experiences, writes wonderful books about prayer, and by the way reforms her order and makes it a garden for saints.

2. Therese of Lisieux. Maudlin young girl who dies of tuberculosis at 24. Has spiritual dryness much of her life, but writes wonderfully about the love of God, in spite of her difficulties. I like Therese quite a bit, and have to put her on this list because she has been a great friend to me. I used to pray to her that she would intercede to convince a girl to marry me. She did (I even got a rose!), and my marriage has been very blessed. So I owe Therese big time.

1. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, otherwise known as Edith Stein. She was a bright Jewish girl in Germany who became an atheist as a teenager, and who studied philosophy with Edmund Husserl. Her search for truth led her first to philosophy, and, after staying up all night to read the autobiography of Teresa of Avila, she said "This is Truth," and she became a Catholic. She was later martyred at Auschwitz. I have a long relationship with her, having written my dissertation on her philosophical work.

Did you notice that 3 of my top 5 are Carmelite nuns named Teresa?

Why haven't we learned all this stuff before?

That's what seminarians ask Robert Gotcher as he reads the documents of Vatican II with them. He thinks all of us should read them too.

Monday, February 17, 2003

There is nothing more attractive than holiness

We had a vocation night at my parish this past Saturday, complete with presentations and panel discussions. One of the questions asked by the kids was "Do you ever get to have any fun?" Fr. Maximos Davies, a monk at this monastery who wrote about celibacy in First Things and whom I blog about here, gave this answer: fun is not something you strive for, it is something that happens on the way to something else. In other words, strive for holiness, and fun will happen. Fr. Maximos is a wise man, and not just because he agrees with me. Many people today think that pleasure is the goal of life. But pleasure is not an end in itself--one can't just seek pleasure. Rather, one gets pleasure as a result of performing some action. Pleasure always comes with something else. For example: consider the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If you offered Warren Sapp a pill that would give him the pleasure he felt at winning the Super Bowl, do you think he would take the pill rather than the victory? We don't seek the pleasure of victory, but victory.

This point was elaborated upon later in the evening by Matthew Kelly, who kept repeating the message "There is nothing more attractive than holiness." Living a life of prayer and fasting is not something gloomy, despite the regrettable tendency in Western religious art to portray saints in fixed attitudes of gloom. It is a joyful life. Consider the joy of the prodigal son when he has returned to his father in repentance, as Fr. Maximos pointed out. What do they do? They throw a party! Further consider the saints throughout history: Benedict, Dominic, Francis, Phillip Neri, Clare, and even Jesus himself. Do people follow around gloomy people? No. But people followed these saints. People followed Jesus so much that he had to go into hiding to get time alone.

There is nothing more attractive than holiness. The great saints are holy, and shine like bonfires, attracting people to their warmth. Matthew Kelly tells his audiences that we must be holy. It is the only answer to the problems of the world, and to scandals in the Church. If we are holy, people will see it, and will want what we have. We would have a line for baptisms every Easter, and would have to build new churches rather than tear down old ones. If we were holy, if we simply lived up to our baptism, the Catholic Church would shine like the sun, and all would come to her joyfully.

P.S.Fr. Maximos is a man of rare wisdom, and I recommend that if you live in California, you should make a pilgrimage to his monastery in the Mojave Desert. Also, if you have a chance to go see Matthew Kelly, I suggest you do so. He is a young man who has spent ten years (since he was 19) traveling the world to preach the Gospel. He is very good. Especially bring your teenage children. Last Saturday, our church was packed with teenagers eagerly listening to a guy talk about the Catholic Church! Nothing is more attractive than holiness.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Hey, my friend made a blog!

Go check out Immaculate Heart, a blog by my friend Paul, with whom I have shared many good times, musical performances, and adult beverages. He is just starting out, and hasn't yet mastered HTML, but it looks quite promising.

Five Favorite Male Saints

Everyone else has been doing this, so I thought I would join. Here is my quick list of favorite saints, with a word or two about each.

5. St. Simeon Stylites, the original pillar saint. He lived on top of a six-foot wide pillar for most of his life, watching for the Lord. He was kicked out of a monastery for extreme ascetical practices, and so took the moderate step of pillar-living. He reminds me that what God wants is holiness, not necessarily sanity. That's good to know.

4. St. Thomas Aquinas. Need I say more? I like him for lots of reasons, but in particular for his view of philosophy and teaching. Yes, it is very good to contemplate higher truths, he says, but it is better to contemplate the highest things and then to pass the fruits of this contemplation on to others. After all, this is the life Christ chose. I also like his poetry quite a bit, especially in Latin: Tantum ergo sacramentum, veneremur cernui. Et antiquum documentum novo cedat ritui. . . .

3. St. Athanasius. He was the (almost) lone bulwark against the Arian heresy, and was exiled from his see numerous times. Yet, through his intelligence, charity, and perseverance, the true faith was preserved. Think of him whenever you say "God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father." By the way, the title of my blog is an homage to him and to Aquinas: they say of Athanasius that he was so isolated in his orthodoxy that it was almost Athanasius contra mundum, Athanasius against the world.

2. St. Thomas More. He is proof that there is at least one lawyer in heaven. A reluctant martyr, More is a model of integrity in politics. The line that I take from him is "Don't tell the king what he can do, but rather what he should do." Kings can do all sorts of things, but it is better not to let them know that. Tell them what they should do instead.

1. St. Joseph, the (foster) father of Christ. He is the model for Christian fatherhood: note how he gets out of the way and lets Mary and Jesus take center stage. That's the way it should be. Fathers are like offensive linemen, and shouldn't call too much attention to themselves, but ought to direct their energies towards the flourishing of the mother and children. Just like St. Joseph. (P.S. St. Josemaria Escriva points out that Jesus' habits of speech, and indeed all his habits likely come from St. Joseph. So if the Gospels don't tell you enough about this great saint's personality, look at Jesus, minus the divinity.

Note that the order and even the saints listed are subject to change at any time. This is my list today. Come back tomorrow and it might be different.

Happy Death of Cyril, Apostle to the Slavs Day!

Isn't it fun to be Eastern Catholic? (Well, I'm still officially Roman, but just give me time.) Here's another interesting tidbit from the East: this week is the week of the Publican, since we read the gospel about the Pharisee and the publican praying in the temple. The Pharisee makes a point of telling God about all the fasting he does, while the publican merely says "Have mercy on me, a sinner!" In order to make us more like publicans, the Eastern church forbids us to fast during this week. So I'm eating meat today, even though it's Friday.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

New Catholic Student Blog

The Association of Students at Catholic Colleges has a new blog site up. They seem nice and feisty. Go take a look here. Especially read the reflection from Pseudo-Athanasius (I like the name) on the Dean of Gonzaga's comments that "No-one can define our Catholic and Jesuit identity."

My thought: there are three things that can't be defined: God, nothing, and nonsense. Since the Catholic identity of Gonzaga is not God, that identity must either be nothing or nonsense.

Singer ends his book on ethics by telling us why we needn't read his book

You may remember that I have been reading Practical Ethics, a book by the famous philosopher Peter Singer. I've given some criticism of his method and conclusions here. But he ends his book with a chapter where he asks "Why act morally?" His conclusion is quite interesting, because it undercuts his whole project. (Note, the page numbers I give are to the 1979 version.)

He asks, does life has meaning? Absent religion, is there any meaning at all? Singer rejects God and thinks that the universe just happened. “Now that it has resulted in the existence of beings who prefer some states of affairs to others, however, it may be possible for particular lives to be meaningful. In this sense atheists can find meaning in life.” (217) So for an atheist, the highest meaning is the satisfaction of desires. He admits that in a world without God, there can be no meaning aside from the shallow meaning of satisfying one’s interests. He also admits that there is nothing irrational in itself about self-centeredness. His reluctance to admit any common human nature will not allow him to take Plato’s route of asserting that there is greater happiness in being just. So what does he do?

There is a reflection on the emptiness of following our interests: “When everything in our interests has been achieved, do we just sit back and be happy? Could we be happy in this way? . . . People who slaved to establish small businesses, telling themselves they would do it only until they had made enough to live comfortably, keep working long after they have passed their original target. Their material ‘needs’ expand just fast enough to keep ahead of their income. Retirement is a problem for many because they cannot enjoy themselves without a purpose in life.” (218) So we have some need to go beyond the satisfaction of our interests–there is always some interest further along that we must find.

This is where Singer thinks that he can put the ethical viewpoint. “If we are looking for a purpose broader than our own interests, something which will allow us to see our lives as possessing significance beyond the narrow confines of our own conscious states, one obvious solution is to take up the ethical point of view.” (219) Note how weakly this is stated: there is a possible solution. There is no reason why this solution need be better than any other position. There is no particular value in choosing this viewpoint, except that it may serve to distract our interests for a longer period of time than the mere search for money. Note that Singer has proposed that abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia should be allowed, and that animal rights must be respected, and further that violence is acceptable to achieve these ends, if necessary. But he only has this very weak justification of any sort of ethical action at all: “. . . I am now suggesting that rationality, in the broad sense which includes self-awareness and reflection on the nature and point of our own existence, may push us towards concerns broader than the quality of our own existence; but the process is not a necessary one and those who do not take part in it–or, in taking part, do not follow it all the way to the ethical point of view–are not irrational or in error.” (219) At the conclusion of his ethics book, a book that strives to argue for radical change in how we treat humans and animals, he admits that without God, there is no particular reason to implement any of the changes he proposes!

Perhaps Singer could find a better reason to act morally. May I suggest "Our heart is restless, unless it rests in thee."

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

The inestimable Kevin Miller reacts to my post on Fr. Pfleger and Sharpton

I made the case that perhaps the good happening at St. Sabina's may outweigh the bad of the cult of personality around Fr. Pfleger. In other words, Catholic sacraments are still being given, and perhaps souls are being saved. Kevin makes a good point, however: My objection here is that, for all the good things that may be happening at the parish - for all that the sacraments are being administered - the parish seems in some very significant ways to be an obstacle rather than an aid to those sacraments' bearing their proper fruit. The proper fruit of the sacraments is the Catholic communio with the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. One isn't supposed to receive the sacraments apart from an intention to live that communio (and repentance for the times when one has failed to do so). And it's not clear in what sense that communio is being lived or fostered - rather than hindered - by St. Sabina's. One sees it in the very way the parish defines itself. As a correspondent summed it up in a note I blogged last month following my initial post about the parish, "they at St. Sabina are not Catholic, but Pflegerites."

From the outside, it appears as if the good happening at St. Sabina is very small indeed. I concede the point. But perhaps what we would need to do to decide the question of whether Cardinal George should have undertaken some dramatic Ambrosian discipline against St. Sabina's, is to visit the parish and get some inside information. I have not done so. Perhaps Cardinal George has, and in his view the good of the parish outweighs the bad of the pastor. I cannot make this judgment. He could certainly be wrong.

I am going to a conference next week where Cardinal George is speaking, and I promise that if I have a private conversation with him, I will ask him for his rationale. It isn't likely I will get the chance.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Chicago prays by night

I saw a neat thing tonight around ten o'clock. I was driving on Roosevelt Road past St. Ignatius Prep. I looked up at the church building, and saw a light in a window in one of the bell towers. In the window was a young man who appeared to be praying. Somehow that sight makes me feel much better.

Fr. Pfleger in Chicago, and Al Sharpton

You may have read the stuff recently in Catholic blogland about St. Sabina's parish in Chicago. Fr. Pfleger invited Al Sharpton to give the homily last Sunday. The consensus among some of St. Blog's episcopal watchdogs is that Cardinal George has shown grave cowardice and incompetence in not kicking Fr. Pfleger out of the priesthood. Go read Greg Popcak, who accuses Pfleger of being a heretic for twenty years (evidence?) and Dominic Bettinelli, who compares my support for Cardinal George with Cardinal Law's support for Fr. Shanley. (For a different opinion, look at Disputations here and here.

Both of these opinions are, in my opinion, over-reacting. Yes, it is true that Fr. Pfleger has built a cult of personality around himself. Yes, it is true that he has been repeatedly disobedient to his bishop. But it is also true that he took a dying parish in a poor, dangerous Black (African-American if you prefer) neighborhood and has made it thrive. Lots and lots of good things happen at that parish, and Catholic sacraments are still being given and received.

Now, the critics of Cardinal George (and there are many--I only linked two) would have the Cardinal do some sort of spectacular discipline on Fr. Pfleger, perhaps kicking him out of priestly ministry. It is very easy to thunder down anathemas, but may I remind you what Christ said? And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. The goal, the law of laws in the Church, is the salvation of souls! Many souls are likely being saved at St. Sabina's. If you beat up Fr. Pfleger, admittedly a disobedient and self-promoting priest, you will cause that parish to collapse, and probably to go into schism. If you use subtler means of discipline, or perhaps even use kindness, then maybe St. Sabina's can be saved.

I, for one, am going to give the Cardinal the benefit of the doubt. I suggest you do the same. Save your anathemas for Tom Daschle or Nancy Pelosi or Gray Davis. Pfleger isn't even pro-abortion!

Saturday, February 08, 2003

I got a nice letter from Bishop Weigand

A while back, I wrote a letter to Bishop Weigand commending him on his firm stand with regard to Governor Davis's pro-abortion position. Here's my letter:

I was very heartened to hear that you have told Governor Davis either to change his support for abortion or to refrain from taking communion. Those of us who do our best to defend the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life are often saddened by the silence of our bishops in the face of betrayals by Catholic politicians. Your witness to Christ has been like water in the desert.

I heard that the governor's spokesman said: "There are a lot of Catholics who are pro-choice. Does the bishop want all Catholics to stop receiving Holy Communion? Who's going to be left in church?" The thought occurred to me that you in the diocese of Sacramento may lose donations from people offended by your witness to the Truth. I am enclosing a donation to support your work so as to defray any drop-off.

God bless you, Bishop Weigand; I hope other bishops will follow your lead.

Here is Bishop Weigand's gracious response:

Dear Doctor Schudt:

This is to acknowledge your letter of support and generous contribution. [That's very nice of him. My contribution was small, since I don't make any money.] Know that your gift will be given to support the diocesan respect life program. I am most grateful for your prayers and support and I encourage you to continue to pray that the "Gospel of Life" may be proclaimed loudly and clearly.

Be assured of my heartfelt prayers and best wishes.

Sincerely in Christ, William K. Wiegand, Bishop of Sacramento.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Ok, perhaps Singer isn't evil

But he is very, very wrong, and dangerously so.

Peter Singer is Evil

Peter Singer is a very famous philosopher and ethicist in the utilitarian tradition, currently teaching at Princeton. Now, I am sure that he isn't in his personal life particularly mean, or nasty, or that he kicks puppies or pushes old people down the stairs (unless they have a low quality of life), but nevertheless, he is evil. I have been reading a book of his recently called Practical Ethics. In this book he argues that not only is abortion moral, but also infanticide and euthanasia are moral. Indeed, lots of people may be killed if a utilitarian calculation of future world-courses shows that their lives are not likely to be good. Singer gives a polite and scholarly veneer to evil, but the positions he reaches are evil.

How does he come to these conclusions? Singer thinks that all ethical judgments originate from a universalization of our own basic concern for furthering our interests. An interest is defined as that which someone desires, and everyone wishes to mazimize his desires. Our behavior becomes ethical, he thinks, when we extend this concern for our interests to others.

How does this become evil? There are situations where there are competing interests: a couple has a child, but the child is deformed. The interests of the child conflict with the interests of the parents. How do we decide between them? "To take the lives of any of these people, without their consent, is to thwart their desires for the future. Killing a snail or a day-old infant does not thwart any desires of this kind, because snails and newborn infants are incapable of having such desires." (PE 78) Some humans can't have interests, because they don't have the intellectual development necessary to have such interests. So, in general, those with more intellectual development trump those with less, and the child has less.

So, given this sort of ethical measuring of interests (never mind that it is impossible to do this sort of measuring, a fact which never seems to bother utilitarians. See my post on this subject.), it follows as night follows day that abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia are all able to be accpeted. After all, Singer agrees with pro-lifers who claim that there is no moral difference to the fetus before birth or after birth. Therefore, if it is ok to kill the fetus, it is ok to kill the baby!

I think that Singer has made a crucial blunder at the very beginning of his thinking. It is not interests that we seek to maximize, but rather our good. The fact is that interests are quite often opposed to our good; this is why moral demands are experienced by humans as a struggle. We know what the good is, and try to change our interests to match this good. Now, if universalization is the first ethical movement, as Singer thinks, then the first thing we realize is that we must not just promote our own good, but the good of everyone.

Now, here is the clincher, the destruction of Singerism: The good of a being doesn't depend on its interest! If I really like drinking vodka for breakfast, it still isn't in accord with my good. Now, if this is true, then the question of whether a baby has interests or not doesn't matter. The baby surely has a good, and acting ethically requires us to recognize this good. Abortion and infanticide are clearly wrong.

Now, Singer would counter that the recognition of human good and our duty to promote it is a philosophical fiction, a relic of Christianity. I acknowledge that as an ethical first principle, it cannot be proven. But I think that Singerism can still be opposed because if we accept his first principles, we cannot rule out any course of action. We can always come up with a justification for any action we want, based on utilitarianism. The difficulty in drawing a meaningful line based on the functional analysis of human beings might be a clue that his fundamental means of analysis for moral situations is wrong. The fact that utilitarianism can make no concrete moral claims about anything (because of its reliance on predicting the future and in measuring various interests), might be a mark against the theory in general, abortion or no abortion.

Peter Singer's theory is consistent and well argued, but it is evil.

Mark Shea has an interesting question for atheists

What would you do if God appeared and proved his existence to you? Go read the interesting responses to his post in the comments.

Thursday, February 06, 2003


I went to Mass yesterday at a local shrine, where the chairs in the chapel didn't have kneelers. This is a common practice in the United States, even though the USCCB has consistently voted to retain the practice of kneeling for the Eucharistic prayer. As is usual in such cases, some of us knelt, while most stood. I encourage you all to kneel in similar situations, barring medical complications, in order to comply with Church law, which mandates kneeling. Don't worry if there isn't a kneeler--you aren't made of glass, and your knees will survive the five minutes it takes for priests to rush through Eucharistic prayer II. Offer up the pain for liturgical renewal.

But that isn't what I want to blog about. After communion, it is the general custom for communicants to kneel in prayer until the close of the Mass. Since there were no kneelers, few of us knelt. But nobody sat either: They snelt! See, sitting normally somehow feels wrong after having received the Body of Christ, but kneeling is impossible since there are no kneelers. People sneel instead: they sit, but only at the edge of their seat, perhaps with hands folded. It isn't quite sitting, and it isn't kneeling.

Have you noticed sneeling? Perhaps its prevalence is a clue that the "reforms" of the liturgy as practiced in many parishes are out of tune with the fundamental human sensiblity of reverence. Perhaps we should buy chairs with kneelers, or perhaps even pews!

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Oh, how I miss Babylon 5!

Enterprise is particularly tiresome tonight, with the transparent attack on natural law ethics. See, there are Vulcans who practice the "intimacy" of mind-melds. In so partaking, they put themselves at risk for transmitting a fatal disease. The Vulcan doctors don't treat the disease because the sharing of emotions via mind-meld is somehow shameful. T'Pol, the supermodel Vulcan, says "there are no normative definitions of intimacy" or something similar, and makes the case that the discrimination against this minority should end.

The allegory is clear: AIDS should not be a stigma, and homosexual sex is just fine and dandy, since there are no acceptable definitions of intimacy. The first part of the message is true--disease is just disease. But the second is ludicrous. As long as human beings are embodied creatures, the manner in which we use these bodies will have moral implications. There are bodily actions that conduce to real intimacy (the sexual relationship between man and woman) and those that don't. The first are in accord with the good of the person, and so we are able to make moral disctinctions. Never forget that God created you with a body. What you do with that body matters!

P.S. There was a subplot where the alien doctor's wife hits on the chief engineer, who resists because, after all, she is a married alien. The two happy, enlightened Denobulons chuckle as the end credits role--those silly humans, with their rigid moral codes!

Portents and mysteries

I've been reading the books of Kings and Chronicles recently, and I noticed a particularly interesting detail: King David reigned in Jerusalem for thirty three years.

How convenient it is for us believers that Jesus, the true fulfillment of the messianic promise made to David, lived on earth for thirty three years?

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

The Vagina Monologues at Catholic Colleges?

You may have seen on other blogs reference to the list of 46 Catholic colleges that are taking part in a tour of the Vagina Monologues. I want to take the opportunity to present to you a satirical news story written last year by a Notre Dame alum (code named Bacchus). Warning: this satire, although brilliant, is R-rated. Read at your own risk. Let me repeat: bad words ahead! Warning! Warning!

P.S. I've removed the actual text of the satire, just in case any of you don't find it poignant or funny. But you can get it at the following

The Regina Monologues

Now that Amy's gone, where will you go?

As you probably know, Amy Welborn (who inspired my own entry into blogging, and who gave me my first link) has quit her blog. Certainly she knows best, and has good reasons. I want to give some suggestions for those of you who, like me, used her as your point of entry into St. Blog's.

First, you could always start here. I have a fairly extensive collection of links, and I am also too narcissistic and lazy to quit blogging. The narcissism keeps me blogging, and the laziness keeps me from blogging so much that I need to quit. But I don't link to many news stories, and only blog about four or five times a week.

You could start with Mark Shea, who is always good, but since he is on the left coast, doesn't start blogging until late in the morning.

Kevin Miller has been quite prolific, linking to many news stories and giving his own good commentary. He is so prolific that when he warns us that he is too busy to blog, he only treats us to ten entries. The difficulty with his site is that his own comments blend in with the news. Perhaps he could change colors?

Victor Lams is very, very strange. Start with him, and you will either get a review of new freeware, braggadocio about his latest Robot song, cutting commentary on television, a brilliant comment or two about the state of the world, or a cryptic reference to Plogging. In any case, you will get a very good laugh.

HMS Blog has no links, but many news stories, and the incomparable Miss Emily Stimpson. Oh, and Greg Popcak posts there too (along with lots of other decent folks).

These are some of my favorite ways to start my blogging day. There are many wonderful blogs, and I have linked to most of my favorites on the left-hand side of the page. I hope sincerely that this community will continue, even without Amy. Perhaps she will still read every now and then. God bless!

Monday, February 03, 2003

Amy Welborn is leaving us

The grand ubermistress of catholic blogging says that she is going to shut down her blog because of the demands it makes on her time. I can certainly understand her point, since she is remarkably prolific, but we will miss her.

A bit of marital strife

I am ready to go see The Two Towers for the third time, but my wife doesn't think she is ready to see it again.

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.)