Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Some last remarks on marriage and celibacy for the Kingdom

I created a bit of a firestorm over the weekend (13 comments!) when I pointed out the age-old tradition of the Church that although marriage is a very great good, celibacy for God is better, which is also found in the new Catechism. Much has been hashed out in the comments. But I want to address a few misconceptions:

To say that celibacy is better is not to say that marriage is not good. Indeed there were other sects who valued virginity, but for all the wrong reasons. The Manichaeans valued virginity because it was sterile, and they thought bodily life was evil. Moderns value sterility without virginity, but also the single life rather than married, for much the same reason. Christians value virginity not because it is sterile, but because it is fruitful--it allows one to cling ever more closely to the source of life, Christ.

Here's what the commenter Flambeaux wrote: This strikes me as a logical fallacy. If their is an objectively superior good, then we must pursue it. Those who fail to pursue it are worse off for not possessing that good, and it is a sign of spiritual defect to not pursue it. I seem to recall, not by way of accusation, that several heresies found their genesis in the apparent rejection of marriage evident in Scripture.

This presumes that all are capable of reaching it. Jesus makes clear that such a gift must be given by God. You can't rightly complain that you haven't received a gift, since that makes it not a gift, but a right. The celibate life for the kingdom is a gift. It is an objectively superior good that not all can pursue, much like slam-dunking is an objectively superior basketball shot that not all can pursue. Yet by the very fact that it is good, I should see that it is a good thing, even if I can't have it. Cardinal George remarked once that one wants seminarians and priests who would like to be fathers; fatherhood is a Good Thing, and those clergy would have to be weird people not to desire fatherhood. I am arguing the reverse: Fathers ought to want to be monks, since the monastic life is a Good Thing (even, according to Christ, a Better Thing), even if they can't do it.

This is not envy, where you wish others not to have a good that you desire, but a joyful approval of the good that another enjoys. "Yes, that's a good thing. All other things being equal, I would like that good thing as well."

Flambeaux continues in another comment: If X is an objective good, and Y is an objective good, we have two objective goods.
If X is objectively superior to Y, then Y must be objectively inferior to X, though both are still goods.
X and Y are mutually exclusive choices.

If, knowing that X is superior to Y, one chooses Y, rather than X, then one has actively chosen a lesser good at the expense of a superior good.

Is that not the definition of venial sin? Nowhere in the Tradition is marriage equated to venial sin, in so far as I am aware.

How do we measure the goodness of X and Y? We measure by how close they are to the ultimate end of human action. That end or goal is union with God. The celibate contemplative life is objectively closer to that life because it is more like heaven. After all, marriage passes away, as Jesus says to the Sadducees, but the love of God (and neighbor in God) is eternal. Monks get a head-start. They're given a head-start as a witness to us not to get too attached to the temporal goods of this world, which are, after all, temporary.

Also, you are leaving out of your equation the fact that to do X, one must be called to it. There is no sin in not doing what one can't do, or as philosophers put it: "Ought implies can." If you aren't given the grace of celibacy, you can't do it. Therefore you shouldn't.

Of course, if one is given such grace to choose the higher life, and declines, that could in fact be a sin.

One more bit of commentary: Further, this position seems to, unintentionally, cast aspersions on the married clergy of both the Eastern and Western Churches. I'm puzzled by this comment. It is the continual practice in both East and West to choose bishops from the unmarried clergy. In the East, bishops are preferentially chosen from the monks.

I still notice that not one of the people who disagrees with me has attempted to engage the scripture on this. The silence is significant--surely if I am wrong there is a way to read Matthew 19 and the Pauline statements in a way that makes clear that I am wrong?

Finally, look at it practically. If marriage and the celibate contemplative life are Just As Good As Each Other, why should anyone choose the latter, since it is much harder? If being in the Air Force is just as good as being a Marine, why would anyone choose the Marines?

Saturday, March 27, 2004

In response to some comments to the previous post

I post the sections from the Catechism on virginity for the sake of the kingdom. I plan to speak more on this issue in the future. The last quote in the Catechism is from St. John Chrysostom, by the way--the footnotes don't work. Go here to get the Vatican text.

for the sake of the Kingdom

Christ is the center of all Christian life. the bond with him takes precedence
over all other bonds, familial or social.113 From the very beginning of
the Church there have been men and women who have renounced the great good of
marriage to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to be intent on the things of the
Lord, to seek to please him, and to go out to meet the Bridegroom who is
coming.114 Christ himself has invited certain persons to follow him in
this way of life, of which he remains the model:

"For there are eunuchs
who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs
by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of
the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive

Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal
grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the
ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a
reality of this present age which is passing away.116

Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of God come from
the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace
which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his
will.117 Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom118 and
the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce
each other:

Whoever denigrates marriage
also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more
admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would
not be truly good. the most excellent good is something even better than what
is admitted to be good.119

Friday, March 26, 2004

Speaking of Abraham

When you read Genesis 22, you are hardly awake, if the hairs on the back of your neck don't stand up. The whole story speaks loudly and clearly of the crucifixion and death of Christ. Note that Isaac is Abraham's only son (Jesus is the only-begotten Son), it is a three day journey (three days in the tomb), that Isaac carries the wood on his back (Christ carries the cross on his back), and that Abraham consoles his son by saying that "God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son," which was fulfilled in the near term for Abraham, but fulfilled most wondrously in Christ, who is God himself. All of this could be a topic for a most interesting post.

But I want to focus on a later passage: Gen 22:12 He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." Abraham is commended because he is willing to offer his son to God. Everything is given up for God, including the son, the only son, whom Abraham loves.

Are you willing to give up your son or daughter to God?

I have a daughter, and I often tell people of my ambitions for her, that I hope she will choose religious life. Usually the reaction to this is dismay: "Oh, you don't want her to lock herself up in a convent!" "Such a pretty little girl--what a shame to be a nun!" "Oh no, don't you want her to get married?" The common thread is "Oh no, not religious life!" Now, obviously little Macrina (not her real name) will do what she likes with her life. But I hope that she chooses what is objectively the best life, the contemplative religious life.

You might say to me: "That's unfair! Isn't marriage just as good as religious life? That's really mean, to say that one sort of life is objectively better than another!" I say back to you: it might be mean, and it might be unfair, but it's what Jesus said. Do you remember the story of Mary and Martha? Martha puttered around being a hostess, and complained that Mary wasn't doing anything, but was just sitting at the feet of the Lord. Luk 10:41 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her." Jesus doesn't do what we expect him to, which is to tell Mary to get busy with her chores. No, he tells the busy one that she's picking the lesser good. It is far better to contemplate Christ.

Do you want more evidence? Consider the passage in Matthew 19 when the disciples complain about the strict teaching against divorce: isn't it better not to marry, they ask, perhaps expecting some weakening of Jesus' position. But he doesn't say what they expect: Mat 19:11 But he said to them, "Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it." It's better to be a "eunuch" for the kingdom of heaven.

Do you need still more evidence? Consider what Paul says: 1Co 7:27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. It's no sin to marry, but it is better not to marry, for the sake of the kingdom of God. One more quote: 1Co 7:38 So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

Getting married is a good thing, intended from the beginning, a symbol of the Trinity, and a joy and consolation for both husband and wife. But it isn't the best life. I want my daughter to lead the best life. Thus I am ambitious for a religious vocation for her. I think it is necessary for us parents, if we truly love God, to follow Abraham's example and be willing to give up our children to God. It's the best possible life, as Jesus says. Don't you want the best for your kids?

More Tolkien-Catholic synergy

In the Eastern Church today we read the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. More on that later. But you should notice where it is that the sacrifice takes place: Moria.

Keeping in mind that the LOTR is not an allegory, isn't it suggestive that Gandalf lays down his life for his friends in the mines of Moria?

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Speaking of Middle-Earth

I just stumbled across this website, the Encyclopedia of Arda. What fun!

Happy Annunciation!

Today is the day when God entered the world in the womb of Mary. Think about that for a minute. When you are done thinking about the magnitude of God emptying himself and taking the form of a man, but today, the form of a fertilized egg, then ask yourself why Christmas gets more press than March 25? Truly, today is the greater event.

It also happens to be the anniversary of the final defeat of Sauron and the fall of Barad-dur. Hooray for Frodo!

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

New Link--what's a Ragemonkey?

It turns out that the new blog Catholic Ragemonkey is run by a friend and former classmate of mine, Fr. Shane Tharp. I'm delighted to hear he is ordained and thriving. Go check him out, although he and Fr. Hamilton (whom I think I know as well) blog so much that I can't keep up.

Does your church have icons and statues of Christ and the saints?

If not, your church may be heretical iconoclasts. Consider this from the second council of Nicea:

To make our confession short, we keep unchanged all the ecclesiastical traditions handed down to us, whether in writing or verbally, one of which is the making of pictorial representations, agreeable to the history of the preaching of the Gospel, a tradition useful in many respects, but especially in this, that so the incarnation of the Word of God is shown forth as real and not merely phantastic, for these have mutual indications and without doubt have also mutual significations.

The fathers of the council declared that we should have pictorial representations of the Gospel to emphasize that what we say happened really happened.

If you think it is a mere matter of taste, and that St. Hoozitz is free to have a church as bare as a barn, look at this canon of the council which has never been abrogated: We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady, the Mother of God, of the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people.

If your church doesn't have pictures, it isn't really a Catholic church.

Thanks to the excellent Karl Thienes for the link to the council documents. Go here to read them.
I've been busy, so haven't much time to blog, so I'll just leave you with this

Thought-provoking quote from Josef Pieper

Now there is very little if anything that a lover should "excuse". . . whereas he can forgive the beloved anything.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

New Evangelization? We need a New Eroticism!

I just read somewhere that the birthrate in Spain is 1.12, the lowest in Europe. This depresses me, not least because Spain would be where I would live if I couldn't be an American. But mostly because it is a sign of a dead culture, one that has lost the inner dynamism that made it great. Europe is dying, because Europeans don't love their heritage enough to transmit it to new Europeans.

What has caused this? Quite clearly, the divorce that has happened within the sexual act itself. The unitive and procreative ends have been sundered. In fact, this estrangement has destroyed both. Contraceptive sex is neither procreative nor unitive, since it is by nature exploitative: I don't love you, all of you, fertility included; no, I just love specific parts of you, and only if those parts don't really function! This destroys the union. The evidence for this is the skyrocketing divorce rate. To paraphrase Fr. Groeschel: if sex were so great, the world would be shining like the sun, since everyone seems to be having lots of sex. Everyone should be happy. But we aren't. We've neutered ourselves. We are a dying people on our way to death.

How can we fix this? I think an essential ingredient would be a recovery of a genuine eroticism. I don't mean the cartoonish type that is common today, full of women with artificially inflated breasts and the hips of ten-year old boys. Such pictures only serve to continue the severance between sex and children. Think of the pictures of women from the past. I suggest you walk through a museum. What do you see? Lots of pictures of beautiful women with children. This is true eroticism, since it presents us with beauty, but beauty that is fruitful. It should be presented in art as such. Just take a look at this knockout--is there anything more attractive than a mother and child?

We needn't be prudes and shy away from talk of sex in art and drama, but we should always be sure to present sex in its essential fullness, which means that we should present lots of mothers, fathers, and babies. We must do everything we can to reconnect sex and life. Our survival depends on it.

Lose a blogger, gain a monk!

St. Blog's own Sean Roberts of Swimming the Tiber has announced his intention to enter Holy Resurrection Monastery (scroll down to see my story about it). May God grant you many years!

Hey, Sean, if they let you pick your own name in religion, may I suggest Barsanuphius?

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I was going to blog about how contraception

makes married sex fundamentally the same thing as homosexual sex, but Amy Welborn and HMS Blog have stolen my thunder. I think they are exactly right on this: Once the sexual act is divorced from its ordination towards new life, it becomes merely a matter of rhythmic friction. It matters very little what provides the friction.

Friday, March 12, 2004

The Vice of Curiosity

It is a surprising thing to find that in Augustine and Aquinas, curiosity is listed as vice, not a virtue. We are accustomed to using the word in a good way, as in "What a curious little boy!" We mean by it that the little boy takes an interest in many things, which is indeed a good thing. But the word we use for the virtue is incorrect. Rather, we mean "studiousness", which refers to the habit of applying study to know truth. So what's curiosity?

Curiosity is the vice of seeking knowledge, which is a good thing, for a bad end, which makes it a vice. Thomas says in II-II 167.2 that seeking knowledge may be sinful in two ways: 1) if it is done to distract oneself from the good one should be seeking, or 2) if it is done to find out new sins to commit. For example "as looking on a woman is directed to lust: even so the busy inquiry into other people's actions is directed to detraction." Thus curiosity is the vice related to the sin of gossip, seeking to know about one's neighbors solely for the reason of tearing them down.

The vice of curiosity manifests most often in the remote control. There may be a million things one has to do, books to read, or children to love, but. . . what's on channel 234? Click, click, click. It's manifest in the second way by internet clicking, especially for men. There are so many enticements to lust available that one continues to browse for "boobs" and such, looking for an opportunity to sin. This is why, incidentally, I recommend all you men out there get some sort of parental controls on your computer, and give the password to your wife. It will help you control lustful curiosity.

Let me close with a description of curiosity from Josef Pieper's wonderful book "The Four Cardinal Virtues." He points out tha curiosity is driven by a fundamental unease with oneself: Peace and quiet is an enemy, because it leaves us alone with our empty, naked selves. Curiosity reaches the extremes of its destructive and eradicating power when it builds itself a world according to its own image and likeness: when it surrounds itself with the restlessness of a perpetual moving picture of meaningless shows, and with the literally deafening noise of impressions and sensations breathlessly rushing past the windows of the senses. Behind the flimsy pomp of its faceade dwells absolute nothingness; it is a world of, at most, ephemeral creations, which often with less than a quarter hour become stale and discarded, like a newspaper or magazine swiftly scanned or merely perused; a world which, to the piercing eye of the healthy mind untouched by its contagion, appears like the amusement quarter of a big city in the hard brightness of a winter morning: desperately bare, disconsolate, and ghostly.

I tried to blog yesterday, really!

But Blogger ate my post.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

My Passion Review

I liked the movie. No, that isn't quite right: How can one like a portrayal of a man being killed brutally? But I thought it was effective in presenting the truth of the sacrifice on Calvary. Let me present a few thoughts that I had, in no particular order:

1) Cinematically I could see how one could dislike the film. It as lots of Gibsonisms in it, techniques that recall Hamlet, Braveheart, and other films he's made. The techniques work on me (I know that The Patriot is a bad movie, but I still like and am affected by it), but I can see where they could fall flat.

2) Gibson did his homework: almost everything that Jesus says in the film is a quote from the gospels, from the psalms (he prays psalms all the time, something you might not have noticed if you don't pray the psalms yourself), to the book of Revelation (the line to his mother "See how I make all things new!"). This is a movie grounded firmly in scripture. Even the crow plucking out the eye of the mocking thief recalls Proverbs 30 (I don't have the exact verse handy).

3) Judas. I'm glad that Gibson didn't make any attempts to romanticize him, to make him some kind of revolutionary or fallen hero. John, who knew him, says he was a thief, and his betrayal was motivated by money. Sin is not heroic, romantic, or revolutionary; it's cowardly, small-hearted, and selfish. Judas did it for money. I loved how when Judas received his payment, the bag of silver coins flies through the air. Judas tries to catch it, but the bag spills, and all the coins fall to the floor, as Judas clutches frantically at the wages of his sin. Gibson has effectively communicated the nature of the rewards of sin: they cannot endure. All the goods of this world pass away. To choose the goods of this world rather than Good Himself is madness.

4) Peter is just like me: all sorts of brave talk about following Christ no matter what, and even courage to fight and damage my enemies (Malchus' ear), but no courage to do the real work of surrendering himself, even unto death. His betrayal happened faster than I pictured it in my mind, but was done well, I think. Note how the look from Christ causes despair in Judas, but repentance in Peter.

5) I thought John was a bit unemotional, simply watching, watching, and watching again. The biggest reaction from him happened when Christ said "Son, behold your Mother." I'm not sure what to make of that.

6) Mary. The mariological aspects of the film probably affected me most. I've always had a somewhat distant relationship with Mary in my own prayer life--I never really liked the Rosary much, and didn't know why. I still don't know why, but the problem is getting better, since I ask her to watch over my wife and child. But the movie makes it easier. The woman who played her was brilliant, I think. She was portrayed as understanding that this had to happen, but regretting it nonetheless: see the line at the beginning of the movie from the Jewish Seder: "What makes this night different from every other night?" "Once we were slaves, but now we are free." Thus Mary and the other Mary point out at the beginning that this sacrifice is the true Passover.

The mopping up of the blood at the scourging was and is a typical Jewish action, since the blood is the life of the body. The blood is traditionally buried with the body, and even now you will see women (it always seems to be women who do this--they are most involved with the beginnings and endings of life) mopping up blood after bombings in Israel.

7) The Scourging: It was awful. But it was awful in real life. I've seen pictures of the actual flagella used to whip people, and they were brutal, just like in the movie. It is my understanding Mel got the details on this scene from the Shroud of Turin.

8) The Crown of Thorns was even worse than the scourging. I know in my own meditations on the Passion that the crowning with thorns always struck me as the worst part--imagine thorns being driven into your scalp. Ouch!

9) I loved Simon of Cyrene's character, starting off reluctant, but ending up a willing coworker with Jesus. You have to remember about Simon that he was in town for the Passover, and that touching the bloody cross would make him ritually impure, thus making his journey for nothing. It would be like going to an ND game and then losing one's tickets. But there is irony in this: although by helping Jesus he was unable to go to the Temple to pray on the Passover, by helping Jesus he was present at the fulfillment of the Passover.

Furthermore, the image of the cross across both sets of shoulders and Simon right next to Jesus, almost embracing him, called to mind Christ's saying in Matt 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. That yoke is, of course, the Cross.

10) Pilate and Caiaphas : I saw an interesting commentary on Pilate that we like Pilate and hate Caiaphas because Pilate is more like us. When confronted with a moral dilemma, Caiaphas makes a wrong decision and sticks to it. Pilate hems and haws and takes refuge in pseudo-philosophy: What is truth? Pilate was a coward, but so are we. That's why we think the portrayal of him is sympathetic, even though he condemns a man he knows is innocent. He's actually worse than Caiaphas, since Caiaphas thinks Christ is guilty.

11) Anti-semitism, anti-shmemitism. If Jews identify themselves with the long-gone priestly class, then perhaps the film could be perceived as anti-semetic. But the Sadducees don't exist anymore. Modern Judaism comes from Pharisaic (Synagogal) Judaism, and they aren't even mentioned in the film.

12) One thing that the film shows is how little most Christians know about the Bible in general and the gospels in particular. How could any self-respecting Christian ask "Is that in the bible?" Don't you know what's in the Bible? If not, why not?

I would write more, but I have a cranky baby.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Holy Resurrection Monastery

A couple of weeks ago my lovely wife Mrs. Athanasius and our daughter Macrina (not her real name) went to California, ostensibly for work, but primarily to visit a Ruthenian Catholic monastery in the desert. We drove out into the desert on Saturday, and after touring the Rancho Cucamonga winery (the port was delicious), we went north on I-15 towards Barstow, a town that only still exists because it is a gas stop on the way to Las Vegas. After checking into our hotel, we then journeyed east on I-40 to the monastery.

Newberry Springs is the name of the town where it is located, but try as we might, we could never find the actual town. We saw a post office and a high school and a few churches, but no actual town. It is in the Mojave Desert, and although the land is cheap and there is water under the ground, it gets to 120 degrees in the summer. The monks have picked a good spot for contemplation, I think.

After a wrong turn or two, we finally found the place, turning into a dusty driveway. There is an old house there that used to be a Franciscan friary. There were no other cars or visible signs of life. We walked through a pleasant if dilapidated courtyard into a small rec-room area that had been refinished as a church, with icons covering nearly every inch of the wood paneling and a makeshift iconostasis. Thus far it was not an impressive place to the eyes. But only to the eyes.

We arrived at 5:30 and sat in the church for half an hour waiting for Vespers to start. A black-robed monk came in, gave us a look, and then started puttering around with various liturgical books. A few other people showed up, including an older couple who had parked their trailer outside. They, we were to find out later, were former atheists who moved to the desert to be closer to Holy Resurrection. The monks came in and started Vespers, occasionally looking over at us and smiling as Macrina joined in the singing. A few of the monks came in late--I found out at dinner that they had been out to see The Passion.

Vespers was reverent and prayerful. I love Byzantine liturgies, as you know. I am impatient by nature and have a wandering mind. It suits my spiritual development very well for me to immerse myself in the constant chanting. There are no silences in Byzantine liturgies, which means that I have no time to let my mind wander away from the presence of God. It was very good to stand in the darkness singing ancient prayers, especially after all the hustle and bustle in getting out to California. I could relax and focus on the One Thing that is really important. (I'm very blessed to have a wife who agrees with me in things liturgical--there is no friction, and she gets up early on Sundays so we can attend Matins as well as the Divine Liturgy.)

After the liturgy was over, the monks came by and invited us to dinner; it was a simple affair, since it is Lent, and the monks are forbidden to eat meat, dairy, or oil. (In the East, fish counts as meat.) The conversation was lively, and Father Maximos (you might remember his article a while back in First Things) talked about The Passion: "I don't think the movie is going to save people as much as it is going to condemn them." What he meant is that if you watch the movie and don't change your life, you will be more guilty. He also pointed out that the movie, as great as it is, is not a sacrament--it doesn't give grace, but only tells the story. The monks joked with each other and with their guests, and appeared to have good community life.

I should mention that all Byzantine monks are called "Father," whether or not they are priests. It is a mark of the respect shown to monastics in the East.

We went back the next day for Liturgy, which was short (only two hours and fifteen minutes!) and much better attended. The crowd included some marines from the local base, a young couple, and numerous hispanics (Indians?) from the surrounding area, and lots of children. It was the Sunday of Orthodoxy, which is the day we commemorate the triumph over the heresy of Iconoclasm (a heresy that many in the West still suffer from--just look at how many churches seem allergic to icons of Christ, Mary, or the other saints), and we all took our favorite icons from the wall and paraded around the grounds, singing the troparion for the day. I meant to grab Saints Cyril and Methodius, but think I got some other pair of saints. I never did figure out who they were, but I hope they will pray for me anyway. ) At the end, we did the special office for the day, which included praying for every patriarch of every apostolic church, and also included the chanting of anathemas against various heresies, many of which are common today. The chanting of "Anathema, anathema, anathema!" was very satisfying.

After Liturgy, we were again invited to eat, and got to talk some more with the monks. I mentioned in passing to Father Basil what I'd recently read of Jordan of Saxony, the second master of the Dominican order: When he entered a new city, the first thing he would do is order new habits. He was so sure of the success of his vocation search that he knew he would need lots of habits. Well, after lunch (a pot luck that they have every Sunday with whomever attends), we went out to see the new monastic cells that they are building. Go see pictures here. They are very impressive, made of earth and concrete, and will allow the monks to live in the desert without air conditioning. The temperature in the summer won't get higher than 82 degrees in the cells. In addition, they are setting up solar cells to provide their electricity. They don't have much at Holy Resurrection, but they have lots and lots of sun! Father Basil is an older man with six daughters (I presume he is a widower) who entered the monastery late in life, after asking his pastor what he should do. The priest told him "I know some monks that need you." Father Basil, you see, ran his own construction company for years, and is the man behind the extremely clever design of the monastic cells. He showed us around and explained the construction technique, which involved digging up the sand of the desert, sifting it, putting it in plastic bags, stacking them, and spraying the whole thing with concrete. We met a man named Ignacio who was there with his son, volunteering to come help the building project. He hopes to go back to northern Mexico to teach the poor how to make houses the same way, since there is no material cost--one just digs up the dirt and makes a house out of it. Apparently what the monks are doing is revolutionary, and people regularly come out to see how they do it.

Eventually they will build a real Byzantine church, with a dome and cross visible from the highway, so that people going off to Las Vegas can see it.

As we were leaving, Fr. Basil told us that they plan to make twenty cells (there are currently five monks, with a sixth on the way). He mentioned, apropos of Jordan of Saxony, "Did you know Fr. Nicholas (the abbot) was a Dominican when he was younger?" They expect to grow, and I expect they are right.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

The Passion

was very good. Not perfect, but very, very good. Let me point out a few things I particularly liked:

1) The lines from the Seder meal at the beginning of the movie, when one Mary says to the other "What makes this night different from every other night?" "Because once we were slaves, but now we are free." The movie points out the fulfillment of the Passover in the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ.

2) Judas makes the deal with the chief priests and receives his payment. The sack of silver coins flies through the air, and Judas attempts to catch it, but can't. The coins fall out of his hands and scatter on the floor. All sin is a choice for some lesser good rather than the greater good of the love of God. We choose sex or money or the cheap vengeance of a harsh word rather than loving as Christ loved us. But all of these lesser goods are fleeting, and cannot endure. They are like the silver coins which spill out of Judas' hands.

3) The line where Jesus tells Mary "Behold, I make all things new" is inspired.

Of course, one of the most disturbing things about the movie is that Jim Caviezel bears a striking resemblance to my pastor. Come visit some time and see for yourself!

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Monastery was Very Cool

If I weren't married, I'd give them a long think.

More later, when I'm done with grading hell.