Monday, May 31, 2004

A Catholic Blogger's Motto

From St. Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:

But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,
and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.
Rejoice always,
pray constantly,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do not quench the Spirit,
do not despise prophesying,
but test everything; hold fast what is good,
abstain from every form of evil.

I think some people shouldn't blog

I've been following with some sadness the career of a young blogger (I won't tell you who it is) who, in the course of his blogging, has entered the Church, defended her teaching on moral issues, been scandalized by the breakup of a famous Catholic couple's marriage, been further scandalized by the fact that the Democratic party (which he loves) is clearly at odds with the Church, has fallen in a particular moral area, has repudiated his defense of the Church on these issues, and has come back to the Church (sort of) by means of Call to Action and Dignity.

I don't think people should blog about matters of faith until that faith has matured a bit. Frank Sheed and the Catholic Evidence Guild wouldn't let you go out and preach on street corners until you were well-formed, since a flawed defense of the Church will do more harm than no defense at all. Further, engaging in this sort of debate when your own faith is still inchoate is very likely to kill it.

As someone connected to this whole mess has said, thank God I didn't have a blog when I was 20. One can only hope, as Thomas More said to John Roper, that when this certain blogger's head stops spinning around, it is facing in the right direction again.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Speaking of Roman churches

I went to a local Latin parish this morning, a place that I usually hate going to because I don't like the church or the liturgies. I go sometimes because they have confessions after the Saturday morning Mass.

So, I was standing there listening to the priest mangle the Eucharistic prayer, very much in line with Screwtape's line about loving humanity but hating my fellow man, when it hit me: how strange a thing it is that people say "I like Fr. Tom's Masses" or "I like Fr. Smith's Masses." We play favorites.

Don't you think it is strange? How could you not like the way a priest prays the Mass? It's the same Mass throughout the Roman rite, is it not? I could see someone saying "I like Fr. Tom's homilies" or "Fr. Smith has a nice singing voice," but to prefer one Mass to another seems inappropriate, somehow.

To like one Mass more than another seems like liking one dollar bill more than another. Shouldn't they be the same? They are all the same thing, ultimately, an unbloody representation of the one sacrifice of Christ. Shouldn't there be some similarity?

But there isn't. Fr. X will adlib the prayers one way, Fr. Y will adlib them another, and Fr. Z will do something else. Immediately, given this variety, the people start to compare Fr. X to Fr. Y, and Fr. Y to Fr. Z. This is unhealthy. As Paul said, "Is Christ divided?" But this division is a fruit of liturgical experimentation. There are so many different flavors that everyone can find something perfectly to his taste.

Finding something to your taste is fine, except when it comes about at the expense of the unity of the Church. Rather than one people sharing in one sacrifice, we become a bunch of armed camps, divided along the lines of who has the polka Mass, or who lets the kids come up front, or who doesn't use "him" to refer to God, or who always uses Eucharistic Prayer II so we can get out of there faster.

It is to avoid just such situations that there are rules. There is one Mass, and one way to say it (with licit variations), within any particular rite of the Church. Certainly different music can be used, and different buildings can be used, and all sorts of other cultural differences can play a part in the externals of the Mass, but the Mass itself should be the same--the same prayers, the same actions, and the same symbolism.

Priests should remember that whenever they improvise, they are causing some to hate them and some to love them, and consequently some to hate each other. That shouldn't happen. Stick to the text!

Sunday, May 23, 2004

A handy rule of thumb

If communion at your church is over before the first verse of the communion hymn, then you don't need extraordinary ministers!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Joke time

What's brown and sticky?

A stick!

Monday, May 17, 2004

Depressing Posts

It's come to my attention that my last few posts have been rather sombre (or is it somber?). World events have me down.

I'm starting to agree with Tolkien when he said he didn't expect progress in history; he expected a long slow defeat. A long, slow defeat punctuated with moments of glorious victory, but a defeat nonetheless.

Thank God for God!

Cultural Dislocation at Sam's Club

I went to Sam's today (to get tires rebalanced). Sam's Club is generally good (as is Walmart) as a snapshot of mainstream, non-Hollywood American Culture. So, as I was walking around with little Macrina (not her real name) I noticed an interesting disjunction:

Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code right next to a whole stack of Purpose-Driven Life(tm) bibles.

Do you think anyone who walks through that store realizes that the one attempts to destroy the other?

Friday, May 14, 2004

Our wonderful country

I visited Germany in 1991. Walking around Frankfurt and Berlin, I wondered how many of the people I saw had been participants in the Nazi regime. Surely many of those over a certain age must have played some part? After all, Hitler was elected. It was unsettling to move amongst a people who had killed so many, either directly or through passive acceptance.

But perhaps my discomfort was misplaced. After all, I live in America, a nation that kills one and a half million people year. Polls show that most people think this is fine. Many of the rest aren't too upset about it. Did I have any cause to be upset with the elderly Germans?

Thought experiment: the next time you walk down the street or see a crowd in a store, think to yourself that more than half of these people think that, at some time or other, it is appropriate to kill the child in the womb.

We are a nation of killers. God help us.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

I'm still here

All done with grading. On to yardwork.

Blogging will resume presently.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Memento Mori

A cousin of Mrs. Athanasius died suddenly a while back, at the age of 37. She died in the shower, with no cause of death discovered. The body was found by the husband. There are three girls, aged three to nine.

I bring this up because there is a very insidious problem in modern Christianity, something that was apparent at the funeral, and in conversations since the funeral. People will ask "Why did she have to die so young?" "Why would God take her?" "Why would God leave her kids without her?" Some have expressed that it is difficult to keep faith in God when such good people die, for no apparent reason.

Now, these sentiments are understandable. I don't blame anyone who has them. But I think such attitudes are fundamentally incompatible with Christian faith.

See, there is an idea hidden behind these statements: "God won't let bad things happen to her/me/the kids." If I pray and do good things (which is another insidious idea, that there really are good people), shouldn't I be rewarded? Shouln't I be able to die peacefully, full of years, surrounded by children and grandchildren? Shouldn't I just slip into heaven as easily as a hand in a glove, with no intervening discomfort? That's the way things should be, God,and if it doesn't work out that way, I'll be mad at you!


I'm going to make a series of statements, all of which are true. Contemplate them. Think about them. Ponder on death (memento mori).
1) All of your friends will suffer.
2) Your children will suffer.
3) You will suffer.

1) All of you friends will die.
2) Your children will die.
3) You will die.
4) #2 and #1 may happen before #3.

1) Some of your friends may have horrible things done to them.
2) Some of your children may have horrible things done to them.
3) You may have horrible things done to you.

1) All of your friends will sin.
2) All of your children will sin.
3) You will sin.

Look around you: all that you hold dear in this world is passing away. You will suffer and die. We all will, Christian and non-Christian alike. Baptism and faith in God changes none of this.

What it does change is that it gives hope. We know that despite all the pain and suffering and death of this life, that there is a place of light, in a place of happiness, in a place of peace, where there is no pain, no grief, no sighing. We know that death is not the end, that bad things are merely temporary, but that the real good Thing (union with God and with loved ones in God) is eternal.

I wrote something a few years ago called "How Many Scandals", where I opined that if there's some level of priest sexual abuse that would cause you to lose faith (50%? 70%? 100%?), then you don't really have faith. It's the same thing with this. If there is some level of suffering X beyond which you aren't prepared to go, then you don't have faith.

It's finals week

But be patient. I've got interesting blogs planned.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Moses's arms and the Cross

Yesterday at Vespers we read the passage from Exodus 17 where Moses stands up on the hilll with his arms extended. When he holds his arms out, the Amalekites are losing. When he drops his arms, the Israelites are losing. Finally, Aaron and Hur stand on each side of Moses to help him hold his arms extended. One might think it is just another strange story from the Old Testament, but look at this interpretation from the early Church (via St. Justin Martyr in Dialogue with Trypho:

Moses is standing up there with his arms in the shape of the Cross, while Joshua saves the people from the Amalekites, to foretell for us that Jesus (Joshua) will save us from sin on the Cross.

Here's what Justin said: "When the people," replied I, "waged war with Amalek, and the son of Nave (Nun) by name Jesus (Joshua), led the fight, Moses himself prayed to God, stretching out both hands, and Hur with Aaron supported them during the whole day, so that they might not hang down when he got wearied. For if he gave up any part of this sign, which was an imitation of the cross, the people were beaten, as is recorded in the writings of Moses; but if he remained in this form, Amalek was proportionally defeated, and he who prevailed prevailed by the cross. For it was not because Moses so prayed that the people were stronger, but because, while one who bore the name of Jesus (Joshua) was in the forefront of the battle, he himself made the sign of the cross. For who of you knows not that the prayer of one who accompanies it with lamentation and tears, with the body prostrate, or with bended knees, propitiates God most of all? But in such a manner neither he nor any other one, while sitting on a stone, prayed. Nor even the stone symbolized Christ, as I have shown.

A note to practicioners of the historical-critical method: isn't it more fun to read the bible Christologically?