Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Going to Caleefornia

I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon to join Mrs. Athanasius in La Ciudad de la Reina de Los Angeles. Blogging will resume sometime next week.

Say a prayer for safe travels, if you get a chance. Thanks!

Technology is (occasionally) wonderful

I have a Palm Pilot clone (Sony) that I use mostly for reading books. The high-res screen is easy on the eyes, and I can read in bed without waking the wife, since the screen is backlit. The best thing about it is that the books are free. There are many free electronic texts on the internet (try Project Gutenberg), but it was always too difficult to read the books on a computer screen. Now, with the advance in PDA's, it is practical.

I use a program called Plucker to import text files and websites. It's free, and works well. Let me give you a sample of the library of books I'm taking on my trip to California: Summa Theologica, Walter Farrell's Companion to the Summa, two Wodehouse novels, Persuasion by Jane Austen, De Regno in Latin, the Douay-Rheims bible (complete), Volume one of the Church Fathers series on CCEL, and the complete works of William Shakespeare. I also have a Latin dictionary. And it all fits into my pocket.

Lenten Reading

Down in one of the comments boxes, I was asked for ideas for Lenten reading. Disputations stole my thunder. If you haven't read the whole bible, do it now. Start with the gospels if you haven't read them cover-to-cover. In fact, it is a good spiritual practice to carry a small New Testament around with you, and whenever you get a moment (at a red light, in an elevator, in line at the post office), read the gospels. Keep them in continual rotation for the rest of your life.

Do read the Old Testament as well. You won't understand Christ very well if you don't understand Eden, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph in the well, Rahab, Moses, the Red Sea, manna in the desert, Passover, the sacrifices in the temple, David, Samuel, the Psalms (which all speak of Christ), the prophets, Elijah, and the exile. As St. Jerome said, "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ."

Half of Young Americans Get Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Press, Students Draw Exactly Wrong Conclusion.

What would it take to convince people that human beings are not by nature fit for promiscuity? Maybe if there were fatal diseases spread largely by means of immoral sexual behavior. . . .

Nope. It would never work.

Monday, February 23, 2004

By the waters of Babylon,

there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.

This is Psalm 137, which might be familiar to you. I think it is particularly apropos for Lent, especially this year. But you should really read it all the way to the end (the Liturgy of the Hours and the text for the Mass omit the ending):

On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How shall we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!
Remember, O LORD, against the E'domites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, "Rase it, rase it! Down to its foundations!"
O daughter of Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall he be who requites you with what you have done to us!
Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!

Yes, it says what you think it says. The Bible recommends smashing baby heads against rocks.

How is one to take something like this? How can it be accepted? I think we need to remember a few things. First of all, we cannot simply reject those verses while muttering some Marcionite stuff about "The mean God of the Old Testament." All of scripture is inspired, including the bits about killing babies.

The second thing to remember is that the psalms are the gymnasium of the soul (as Thomas says, although I'm sure he's quoting someone). The attitudes and dispositions of the Psalmist are those that we ought to have. So, at some point, we should be as angry as the writer of Psalm 137 who delights in the potential destruction of Babylon and the traitorous Edomites. It's okay to be that mad.

The third thing to remember is that the last lines of the psalm aren't recommending killing babies as a good act, but is delighting in such a possibility because it would repay evil done to Israel. The message of the Psalm at least seems to be that one ought to want to repay the wrongs done to oneself.

So, if someone tailgates me, should I slam on the breaks or chase him down the highway, flipping him the fickle finger of friendship for forty miles? No. The key here, the thing we need to understand, is that one should repay evil with good.

Matthew 5:39 But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus tells us the right way to repay enemies: with love. You may think that to link this to Psalm 137 is a stretch: how does loving one's enemy destroy him? How is it smashing babies against rocks? One must read this passage with a slight degree of allegory. Consider the following points:

1) How can one utterly destroy one's enemy? By killing him? No, for he will still exist in heaven or hell. By beating him? No.

One utterly destroys an enemy by making him not an enemy. When you hate someone with cause, you must try to destroy that person as an enemy.

2) How can we repay the enemy? What have the enemies of the Faith done? They have taken every trapping of the faith, cheapened it, and sold it back to us. Thus we have Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to make it possible to ignore the birth and resurrection of Christ. Marriage, which was given to us from the beginning as a holy state, is made into a mere contract, an insurance arrangement between two (or more) people of any sex. Man, who was to steward creation, has become its slave, and woman, who was called to be helpmate and mother, has become a mere courtesan. The child is an inconvenience, tolerable in small doses, but not to be sought. The womb has gone from the place of creation to the executioner's block. Chastity is called repression, devotion is called obsession, and faith is no longer the assurance of things unseen, but a mere strong feeling, of no more value than any other feeling.

They have despoiled us, and then ask us to sing songs of Zion in a dead culture.

What is a fitting response to the desecration of the holy? How can we repay them for smashing our babies against the rocks? The proper response to desecration is to do the opposite. We must fight to sanctify the world.

They've taken our sacred things and trashed them. We should take their unholy things and bless them. That's how their (metaphorical) babies will be smashed on rocks. This is spiritual warfare, and it's what Lent is all about.

One of my favorite bloggers writes mysteries!

Or so it seems. Go check this book out.

My only question for Tom: did Melissa Joan Hart really review the book?

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Promise of posts to come

I have been lax of late, since the time has come to grade papers. But I promise tomorrow (Monday) that I will give a post on the proper way to pray Psalm 136, Psalm 137 if you aren't using the Septuagint. (By the waters of Babylon, we sat and wept. . . .)

Happy Cheesefare Sunday!

Today is the last day for cheese until Easter, if you are doing the traditional Eastern fast. If you aren't, why not try? Easter Brunch never tasted so good!

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Josef Pieper is good

Check out this quote: "It is just as difficult to refute Anselm's line of argument as to suppress the suspicion that there is something fundamentally wrong about it."

I change my mind on Anselm's proof every time I teach it. For the record, today I think it works. Check back tomorrow.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Fast or Die!

We're getting close to Lent, which means that it's time to talk about fasting. In fact, if you are Eastern Catholic or only want to be, the fast has already started. We ease ourselves into it. Today was the last day to eat meat (called Meatfare Sunday--it is our Carnivale). Next Sunday is the last day to eat cheese or dairy products until Easter Sunday. This strict fast is not obligatory, but it is a wonderful practice, recommended by saints throughout the ages. Let's not even talk about the bare minimums in fasting: would you want to love your wife the bare minimum amount required? No! If you love God completely, with heart, mind, soul, and strength, you will want to do more than the minimum.

Fasting is not an optional part of Christian life. It is not a discarded medieval practice, suitable for fervid mendicant friars tramping up and down Europe, but is a spiritual regimen that is commanded by Christ himself. To emphasize my point, I turn to The Homilies of St. Thomas Aquinas, available from Roman Catholic Books. In his homily for the first Sunday of Lent, Brother Thomas says that there are four reasons to fast: 1) God commands it, 2) Christ fasted, 3) failure to fast leads to great harm, and 4) great benefits come to those who fast.

1) God has commanded it. Thomas notes that the first moral command ever given to humans was a fast: "Don't eat of the fruit of the trea of knowledge of good and evil!" The Original Sin was fast-breaking. Let no one ever again mock the gravity of the sin of eating a hamburger on Friday!

2) Christ fasted forty days before he started his public work. If it was necessary for Jesus, who was without sin, to purify himself for proclaiming the Kingdom, how can it be unnecessary for us?

3) Lack of fasting leads to evils: "He who is not willing to fast will have to fast forever from the fruit of eternal life. . . ." Since it is a command from God that we fast, failure to follow this command can lead us to eternal damnation. This is the reason for the title of my post: if you are unwilling to fast, you are risking eternal death, and that's not me talking, but St. Thomas Aquinas, who draws on the ancient traditions of the Church. Does that burger still look good to you?

4) The benefits of fasting are manifold, but consist first in the mortification of vices. Vices are habits towards evil things, just as virtues are habits towards the good. You know how difficult a habit is to break, do you not? Fasting is a way to break such habits. If you can avoid food, you can avoid lust, or avarice, or pride, or whatever other deadly sin keeps you from God.

May God grant you a joyous season of repentance, prayer, and fasting!

Friday, February 13, 2004

Why My Wife Is The Greatest Wife In The World!

Mrs. Athanasius has to go to Los Angeles for work, and she is flying me out on February 26th to join her. We aren't going to see the sights in LA, or go to the beach. No, we are going to drive out to Barstow to visit a Ruthenian monastery and go pray lots and lots. Their website is a bit out of date, but I consider that a good sign. Perhaps they are concentrating their attention properly.

Here's a picture of one of the monastic cells:

I'll tell you all about it and maybe have more pictures when we return.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

It's an honor to be nominated

Somehow, I got nominated for best blog by a man at the St. Blog's Awards. That's amazing. What's even more amazing is that I'm actually getting 5.7% of the vote, which works out to at least 20 votes. Twenty people think I'm better than Mark Shea!

I don't even have twenty family members. Who in the heck is voting for me?

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Prayer Request! Please Help!

I teach at a smallish midwestern Catholic college. Our college does lots of things well, but one thing it doesn't do particularly well is teach the Catholic faith. I aim to fix that problem. Today in class, I asked if there were any students interested in the Catholic intellectual and doctrinal heritage. "If there are, could you please stop and chat with me after class? I have some ideas." About three students hung around to see what I was up to. I want to start some sort of student group to help the Magisterium of the Church filter down to my students, facilitated of course by beverages and pizza. How can we get Evangelium Vitae or Veritatis Splendor down to the student level when the faculty and administration greet such documents with a yawn? We're going to try an end-run around them.

I don't know what shape this organization will take, if it even takes any shape. I envision something like Lumen Christi, but at the undergraduate level. Could you please help me with your prayers? We need this badly at my school.

Monday, February 09, 2004

I got to hear Cardinal Dulles speak at a Lumen Christi event

and among the many good things he said, one phrase sticks in my mind: "To have a higher source of knowledge is a privilege, not a burden!"

He was talking about faith, which, as any good Catholic should know, is not a mere virtue of believing whatever one likes really strongly, but is the supernatural virtue of believing true things about God. It is a source of knowledge. Catholics should thank God that we have such a source of information. What darkness would humans be in if we had never received the revelation of Christ?

In the Byzantine church the custom at Matins is to come forward to venerate the Gospel book with a kiss. This ritual is pregnant with meaning for me, in particular, as one who is familiar with the often futile struggles of human reason to get to truth. I am so grateful to have the gift of the Gospels, since there are so many things I wouldn't know without them.

It's a privilege, not a burden!

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Warning from Gamaliel to those who oppose Gibson's Passion

Acts 5:38-39 "So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"

Let the movie be shown, and see what the effect of it is. Here's a real good test for the goodness of any spiritual practice, reading, or movie: does it increase the virtues of faith, hope, and charity in those who engage in it? If so, then it is of God. If not, then it is not. Let's see what happens before we issue dire warnings of anti-semitism.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Amy Welborn hits a home run

Here's what she has to say about what the new cultural role for women is, in the wonderful, enlightened 21st century:

Be, essentially, a courtesan. That's where your life and priorities should be - in preening and flaunting your sexuality, and centering your life on when you get laid, by whom and how often.

My States Visited

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide

If you want to email me,

You'll need to do surgery on the "mailto" address. I added some extraneous words to confuse the spambots.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Postscriptum on evil

As has been pointed out to me by commentators, although it may be correct that pews are evil, it might not be the best move to call them evil. At least, it shouldn't be the first thing out of one's mouth.

I should have been more clear. I was making mostly a theological terminological point more than I was talking about the pew problem.

What if you had a very dear friend

whom you loved, and whom you spent much time with. This friend then died. You were heartbroken, but discovered that he had left you a series of letters.

Would you read them?

If you are a Christian, you believe that you have such a friend. Have you read the letters He left you? My version of the New American Bible has 1500 pages, and many of those are commentary that you are better off not reading. So maybe it is a total of 1400 pages. How many novels have you read in your life? Newspapers? Magazines? I bet that it is more than 1400 pages.

So why haven't you read the whole bible?

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Open Letter to Vox Clara

VC, if you don't know, is the new group overseeing the translations of the Roman Missal. I have heard good things about their work, but have one suggestion to make: Change the words of institution back to "for you and for many."

I have two reasons:
1) The New Testament text says "for many", not "for all." It may be that the sense of the passage is "for all," but the words of the passage clearly say "for many."

2) When this terrible schism between Catholic and Orthodox is over, we will all need to have the same words of institution. We might as well do it now. They say "for many." In fact, I think most other languages other than English translate it correctly as "for many." So, in the interest of ecumenism, join the crowd.

Now, I have heard (and I can't remember where I heard it) that the bishops in charge of Vox Clara had decided against changing the words of institution, because they didn't want too many changes in the Eucharistic Prayers. But let me assure you: there will be much screaming over any changes. So, since changes are undoubtedly necessary (because the bishops slept on the job when ICEL butchered the translations in the first place), we might as well make all the painful changes needed all at once.

Do you pull a bandaid off bit by bit, or just rip? I suggest ripping.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

I think that I'm just about finished

with the NFL.