Thursday, December 15, 2005

But science is objective!

Not like religion, which is just, like, your beliefs, man.

A famous embryonic stem-cell scientist faked his data.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

In This House of Brede

I ordered three Loyola Classics books, edited by Amy Welborn, and have enjoyed them all, but I must tell you that I am finding In This House of Brede to be excellent, first rate, a really good read. It's a page-turner about nuns in an abbey. Yes, you heard me: a page-turner about nuns in an abbey. Rumer Godden has presented a wonderfully accurate and compelling picture of vowed religious life. I spent two years living a sort of religious life, and every character she speaks of is familiar to me. Do go read it.

I think I might buy a copy for a young friend of mine who can't figure out what to do with her life.

Monday, December 12, 2005

King Peter the Magnificent

I just got a chance to see Narnia, and it's a pretty good film. It has all the flaws and joys of the book, and dissecting those is a topic for another time. What I especially like about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is Lewis's treatment of the heroism of youth. Note the age of the young heroes, who, nevertheless are heroic, fighting even in Real Battles. We tend to think children can't do anything, and shouldn't be challenged to do anything, because they can't do anything. The problem is, that if we never challenge them to do anything, they won't ever do anything, because they can't do anything. Let me put it this way: if Aslan had thought to himself "I can't entrust Peter with this mission because he's just a boy, not ready for such things," then Peter would still be a boy, not ready for such things. As Aristotle noted long ago, the only way to acquire virtue is to do virtuous actions. The only way to become great is to be great.

In this age of delayed adulthood, delayed marriage, and general delayed responsibility, examples of the heroism of youth are poignant. And I know Narnia is just fiction, but those who lived when Lewis lived knew much of heroism. We could learn.

To blog or not to blog

To blog, I think.

It's been a difficult year, on a number of levels. Not an awful year. Shed no tears for me--life is, generally, pretty darn good. But a few things have happened which have pushed blogging even further down the chain of possible activities than usual.

I do intend to keep this up, but perhaps not very often. That's why, my Faithful Reader(s), I recommend you sign up for the Atom feed, which I have linked somewhere off to the right. That way, your mail program or newsreader will let you know when I post something, without you having to keep coming back here. It's how I read the seldom-posting-but-always-excellent Old Oligarch, for example.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Getting ready for Christmas?

Have you tried prayer and fasting? It is the ancient custom of the Church. Advent is not a time for shopping, but a time for purification, of making way for the coming of our Lord. In the Byzantine Church, we start "Phillip's Fast" on the evening of November 14, where we customarily avoid meat for the entire time, excepting weekends, and avoid meat and dairy Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Won't you join us? I promise Christmas will be much better.

Here are some resources on the fast:
Reflections on Philip's Fast.
Meal ideas (with links to menus!)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"I wish I liked Catholics more."

"They seem just like other people."
"My dear Charles, that's exactly what they're not--particularly in this country, where they're so few. It's not just that they're a clique--as a matter of fact, they're at least four cliques all blackguarding each other half the time--but they've got an entirely different outlook on life; everything they think important is different from other people. They try and hide it as much as they can, but it comes out all the time. . . ."

---Brideshead Revisited

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Byzantine Liturgy is like an artillery barrage

It just keeps coming at you, over and over, for hours, and something is bound to hit you smack in the head.

That's a thought that came to mind as I took part in four and a half hours of Matins and Divine Liturgy this past Sunday. Where was I, that I had such a treat, you ask? At Holy Resurrection Monastery in Newberry Springs.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The biggest lie in education today:
"Education should be fun." That's not true. Being educated is fun. The work of becoming educated is work, and usually isn't fun.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I'm gonna take my soul and go home!

I attended a Byzantine Divine Liturgy in the cathedral in Peoria last Sunday. You can read all about it here. (I note that at Amy Welborn's blog, a post about a wonderful divine liturgy devolved in the comments into sniping over the latin mass. Never mind the wonderful event that 1100 people attended!) I was standing near the back, and a woman in front of me turned around to ask my wife and me if she could go up at communion with her arms crossed to receive a blessing, since she wasn't Catholic. I told her that she shouldn't go up, since we don't have the custom of giving blessings in our church. In fact, if you cross your arms on your chest, that's our normal way of receiving the Eucharist; the priest would be confused. Better, said I, to remain standing at your place.

"Then I think I'll just go home!" says the woman, as she gathers up her stuff.

"But. . . ." said I, flabbergasted, "there's a blessing at the close of liturgy!" But it was too late. She'd decided that if she couldn't get her Special Personal Blessing, she wasn't going to stay.

This led me to reflect on just how awful the custom is of going up to "get a blessing" rather than communion. It arises from bad eucharistic theology, the theology of the communion of the faithful with each other, rather than with one's Lord. This theology requires everyone to receive. God forbid you remain prayerfully in your spot. People might stare! Everybody goes up to communion these days, sinners and saints alike. Boy, if you stay in your seat, you must be some kind of pervert or murderer!

Look, given the rate of mortal sin going on (judging by the statistical evidence--of course the statistics can't reveal the internal states of people's souls), most people should be refraining from taking communion. Then we wouldn't have to adopt the barbarous custom of giving individual blessings when there are blessings written into the entire liturgy.

Friday, September 09, 2005

A thought on vocations and Brideshead Revisited

As I was driving into work this morning, for some reason my thoughts drifted to Sebastian Flyte and his brother. My dim recollection of the novel is that Bridey wanted to have a religious vocation, but didn't, and Sebastian had one, but ran from it into all sorts of self-destructive behavior.

I wondered, as I drove, if that might not be the case in many of us. God comes knocking, calling us to some great purpose, and we would rather not answer. God must be wrong. He can't mean me. Then, to prove God wrong, we proceed to make ourselves unfit for the vocation, out of self-defense.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I went to four liturgies today!

I went to morning Mass and confession on my to work, and then sang for the noon Mass at my college, followed by singing for adoration and benediction(!) at said college, followed by the vigil for the feast of the birth of the Virgin Mary at my parish in the evening. Top that!

I'm exhausted, but in a good way.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A thought-provoking confluence of events and liturgy

Today is the Byzantine New Year, celebrated on September 1st because it is thought Christ went into the synagogue and read from Isaiah to begin his ministry on this day. At liturgy, we sang the following troparia, which, when juxtaposed with the news from New Orleans, give one pause to think.

O Lord, maker of the universe, who alone has power over times and seasons, bless this year with your bounty, preserve our country in safety, and keep your people in peace, save us through the prayers of the Theotokos

Lord and Savior who as God brought all things into being by a word, establishing laws and governing unerringly to your glory, at the prayers of the Theotokos, keep secure and unharmed all the elements which hold the earth together, and save the universe.

O Creator and Master of time and eternity, God of all, O merciful One, bless the course of this year, and in your boundless mercy, save all those who worship you, our one and only Master, and who cry out to you in fear: O Savior, grant a happy year to all people.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

On Faith and Education

It is consistent with the long development of liberal education since Plato that it should thrive in an atmosphere of enlightened, informed, and inquisitive faith. Poverty-stricken Puritans were quick to start Harvard College whereas their more materialist counterparts in the midwest were slow to found even agricultural and mechanical arts colleges (and then with Federal aid). The liberal arts flourish in a spiritual environment, or wherever the urge to contemplation and disinterested inquiry is strong within us.

From a long-abandoned integrated plan for liberal education of the Christian person, at the school where I currently teach.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

My other project

I've mentioned a few times that I am privileged to be involved in a new Catholic college. It's called Transfiguration College, and it will be a Byzantine Catholic Great Books college. If you look over to the right, there are links both to our college website and to a weblog where I and a few other folks have posted some reflections on why we are doing it.

If you'd like to be on the email list to get updates about our progress, send me a note at news at transfigurationcollege dot org. Just translate the "at" to "@" and the "dot" to "."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

And you will see your Life hanging before your eyes: on the need for literal translations

St. Athanasius sees in Deuteronomy 28:66 a prophecy of the crucifixion. The text, as the Douay Version has it, is " And thy life shall be as it were hanging before thee. Thou shalt fear night and day, neither shalt thou trust thy life." Athanasius sees the word "life" as referring to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is an interesting interpretation of the passage, which occurs in a curse give by Moses if the Israelites are not faithful. The word "life" which Christ uses to refer to himself is also the word used in both the Hebrew and Septuagint text, and it caused St. Athanasius to make a most fruitful connection.

But would you ever have thought of this interpretation if the bible you read is the official Catholic New American Bible? Let's take a look and see:

You will live in constant suspense and stand in dread both day and night, never sure of your existence.


Let me repeat a constant theme of mine: any serious student of Christianity will be hampered should he or she use the NAB.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Imagine if there were a Muslim University

and at official functions, there was nary a mention of Allah or Mohammed. Imagine if the prayers at these functions were so vanilla that, had you not seen the crescent on the seal, you wouldn't know it was a Muslim school. Imagine if there were abundant imams and other Islamic clergy at the assembly, but the prayers were read by laity. That's what I experienced last weekend.

Oh, it wasn't a Muslim school. I teach at a Catholic university. We had a medallion ceremony for our incoming freshmen in order to welcome them to the university, where Christ was mentioned once (by a crusty nun, a friend of mine), but never in any of the prayers. There were two priests in the audience, but the medallions were blessed by the lay campus minister. (Well, they weren't blessed, but she tried to bless them.) The prayers were written especially for the occasion, but contained nothing of the traditional forms of prayer for the Catholic Church. There was no sign of the cross, no "through Christ our Lord," no mention of the Trinity, no intercessory prayer to the Virgin Mary. In fact, the prayers were hardly prayers at all, directed to those of us present rather than to a transcendent God.

None of this is unusual, of course. It happens at most Catholic colleges in the USA. But if it happened at a hypothetical Muslim school, what would you think? Would you think they were faithful? That they were embarassed by Islam? If you would conclude that for the Muslim school, you must also conclude it for the Catholic schools. They are, in large part, embarassed by the Gospel, and are not at all interested in spreading it.

(All the more reason to found a new college.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

In whom we live, and move, and have our being

In St. Athanasius' De Incarnatione, he uses the concept of nature in an unsettling way. We are used to thinking of "nature" as something permanent. Your cat has cat nature, and will remain a cat, and isn't in imminent danger of becoming a dog. But Athanasius speaks of nature differently. If God created everything out of nothing, then everything really is made out of nothing, and therefore is by nature nothing. Thus, humans naturally tend to nothing, and sin just leaves us back in our true nature.

I am sure that this is perfectly obscure. Let me explain. God is Being, the source of the existence of all things, and is in fact the only thing that has real existence in the most absolute sense. God exists, has existed, and will exist, so much so that his name is "I am." He is the only one who has a permanent nature, since everything else depends on the divine will in order to exist. We all exist at God's pleasure. "God has made man, and willed that he should abide in incorruption," says Athanasius. It is more than that--not only are we to live forever, but we are to partake in God himself: "For God has not only made us out of nothing; but He gave us freely, by the Grace of the Word, a life in correspondence with God." We are partakers in the divine nature, as 2 Peter says. By nature, we are nothing, but by gift, we are Godlike.

What happens when we sin? When we reject the gift? Athanasius repeats the answer that the Christian faith gives: death comes when we reject the gift. But this death is not something imposed by God, as an arbitrary punishment, but is instead the ordinary fate of anything created. Out of nothing, back to nothing. "For transgression of the commandment was turning them back to their natural state, so that just as they have had their being out of nothing, so also, as might be expected, they might look for corruption into nothing in the course of time." Death is only natural!

I wax Thomistic for a moment to note that this seems to conflict with the Christian understanding of human nature, which is that it is perfected in Christ. Jesus is the true human, the true representative of human nature, the cause and end of our existence. But I don't think it conflicts, as long as we are careful to distinguish different meanings of nature. Athanasius uses nature here to mean that which an entity has of itself. Later writers use nature to refer to the destiny willed by God. This second sense is the meaning behind natural law, which is the rational creatures participation in the eternal law of the world, which law includes the transcendent destiny of the human being.

Monday, August 15, 2005

On the need for Marthas

Tonight at the liturgy for the feast of the Dormition, the gospel reading was about Martha and Mary. You know the one, where Martha does all the chores, and Mary sits at the feet of Jesus. This is a very challenging reading, since most of us find it difficult to sit like Mary, and instead are busy running around like Martha. We generally console ourselves by saying something like this: "Well, we can't all be Marys. The world needs Marthas!"

But, if you read the passage closely, you will find that Jesus doesn't seem to agree. Look at it again:

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.
40 But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me."
41 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things;
42 one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."
Does Jesus ever say "The world needs Marthas?" Does he make it easy on those of us who would rather be busy with the world rather than with contemplation of Christ? Or does he just assert that what Mary has chosen is the good?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Scandal: it takes two to tango

There's been yet another high-profile clergy sexual scandal, involving a much-respected monsignor from Manhattan. If you want to read about such things, look to Amy Welborn.

I browsed through a few of the comments, and saw the same sorts of responses one always gets, full of doubts about the faith as a result. I know of people who lost faith because of the Macfarlane divorce, because of the pedophile scandals, because of their parish being closed, because of this, that, and the other thing ad infinitum.

The problem with this is that if some scandal can cause you to lose your faith, it means that you never had faith to begin with. Real faith is not faith in the personal virtue of your priest, bishop, or pope. It is faith in Christ. This means that the personal failings of your priest, bishop, or pope should have no effect at all on your spiritual well-being. ISocrates says in the Apology that good men cannot be harmed by bad men: real harm can only be done to you by yourself, when you choose to do something wrong. All others can do is provide you the opportunity. So, if your priest is caught at a hotel with his secretary, it can only cause you to lose faith if you choose to lose your faith.

For more on this, see an old post of mine.

Read bibles without footnotes

I have a question: how does the "two-source" theory of the synoptic gospels help faith? If you aren't familiar with it, the two-source theory says that Matthew, Mark, and Luke can all be traced to two sources, the gospel of Mark and another source, called Q, which is a currently non-existent collection of the sayings of Jesus. It is commonly presented as fact in introductions to the bible (and certainly in the introductions and footnotes of the New American Bible).

Why? Why is it presented so prominently in books and bibles produced for the public? How does it build up the Church?

My issue is not whether the theory is true or not. I tend to think it isn't, or at least that the evidence for it is largely conjecture, but it could be the case, I suppose. My issue is with presenting the canonical texts of the bible to the faithful with all sorts of apparata of interpretation. Rather than giving someone the gospels as the word of God, one gives the gospels as collections of historical texts. The suppositions of textual criticism may be true (or they may not be--there is no way to test the claims of scripture scholarship), but what purpose is there to present these suppositions first, before one gets to the book itself?

Here's what I think happens: interested person buys bible, and begins reading. He's interested in the faith. Then he reads the introductions, say to the New American Bible, and finds presented as facts various claims about the authorship and development of the texts. Then interested person thinks "Hey, these books aren't anything special. The intro says they weren't eyewitness accounts! Just a bunch of sayings edited together." Now, certainly the innerancy and inspiration of Scripture can coexist with two-source theory and the other theories of authorship--the Holy Spirit can inspire through a Johannine School as much as through the apostle John--but this is a later conclusion reached through reflection on the nature of inspiration. It's not something that the average reader is going to be able to handle.

When I taught scripture in high school, the students had a one-sentence summary of what they learned of the bible: "We learn that nothing that the bible says really happened really happened." That's the impression they got from four years of historical criticism. Perhaps such considerations should be left till later? Perhaps we should presented the inspired word of God as first the inspired word of God?

Sunday, July 31, 2005

A thought about clapping in church

which is an odious custom of modern times. I was reading a story to my daughter the other day, in which a young boy becomes an inspiration in holiness to a monastery on Mt. Athos. One thing struck me: when the monks recognize the greatness of the boy in their midst, they don't clap for him, but sing hymns of praise to God, from whom all gifts come. Note the many times St. Paul encourages his readers to sing psalms, hymns, and canticles. He never says "applaud one another."

There's a reason for this. To clap in church is to clap for each other, to give each other praise. This is the last place in the world where we should be praising each other. Rather, if one among us has done great things, we ought to praise God for the gift. What if, instead of clapping for the various good things we do for each other in our parishes, we sang a hymn of praise? In my church we sing "God grant you many years," and "Axios" at ordinations. Perhaps you Romans out there could learn a Te Deum? Imagine the following scene:

Fr. So-and-so: I'd like to announce that the youth group has sold enough cookies at the bake sale to finance their trip to Washington for the Pro-Life March. Isn't that great?

Congregation: "Te Deum, laudamus. . . "

Fr. So-and-so: The ladies auxilary did a marvelous job cleaning up the church for the parish festival.

Congregation: "Te Dominum confitemur."

Etc. Wouldn't that be marvelous? It would be much better than clapping, since you would be praising the one who really deserves to be praised.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A good man is hard to find

Over at the Painted Stoa, the Old Oligarch uses a passage from Hosea to argue that the problems besetting women come about because of the irresponsibility of men. I read a similar passage this morning from Isaiah:

Isa 22:1-5 The oracle concerning the valley of vision. What do you mean that you have gone up, all of you, to the housetops, (2) you who are full of shoutings, tumultuous city, exultant town? Your slain are not slain with the sword or dead in battle. (3) All your leaders have fled together; without the bow they were captured. All of you who were found were captured, though they had fled far away. (4) Therefore I said: "Look away from me; let me weep bitter tears; do not labor to comfort me concerning the destruction of the daughter of my people." (5) For the Lord GOD of hosts has a day of tumult and trampling and confusion in the valley of vision, a battering down of walls and a shouting to the mountains.

Note that the city in question, the "daughter of my people", can literally be the women of the city, or a figure of the Church, which is always characterized as a bride, as a daughter. The Church/women have been despoiled, conquered, but not "with the sword or dead in battle." Rather they have been captured without a swordstroke falling, since "All your leaders have fled together; without the bow they were captured." It fell through cowardice.

The contemporary situation both in Church and in the status of women grows directly out of the abandonment of both by men. Rather than do what we are supposed to do, giving our lives for our wives and for the Church (Ephesians 5:9ff), we turn tail and run, and the enemy despoils our brides and the Bride of Christ.

Do you think women would sell themselves as cheaply if men were really men? We need to shape up, gentlemen.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

We're all brides, theologically speaking

Marriage is one of the most common images used to describe the relationship between God and his people in scripture. It is also a central theme of John Paul's Theology of the Body. I knew this, and I agreed with it, but then I found a passage in scripture that makes the marriage of God to us absolutely explict. Unfortunately, you won't find it in the New American Bible.

In Romans 7:3-4, Paul talks about marriage. I give the NAB translation:
3 Consequently, while her husband is alive she will be called an adulteress if she consorts with another man. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and she is not an adulteress if she consorts with another man.
In the same way, my brothers, you also were put to death to the law through the body of Christ, so that you might belong to another, to the one who was raised from the dead in order that we might bear fruit for God.

The key passage is in italics. The word used for "belong" is "gignomai," which can in fact mean "belong," but which also can mean "be married to" when used with the dative. In fact, it is the word used in the previous verse for "consorts", which really should read "is married to", since Paul isn't suggesting the woman can simply have relations with another man, but that she can be married to another man if the first husband dies. So, "gignomai" is translated incorrectly and differently in both places it appears. It is a particularly awful translation, which makes the meaning obscure.

Now, look at the same passage correctly translated, from the King James Version:

Rom 7:3-4
[3] So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
[4] Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

Note that here the word "gignomai" is correctly translated in both places where it occurs as "be married to". The meaning is clear. We are all to be married to Christ, the Bridegroom.

I always think of neat things to post here,

but then I don't post them. In my defense, I have two young children, one who doesn't like to let me type on a computer. I think posts here will likely continue to be infrequent. Thus, take a look at the atom feed link on the sidebar. That way, your email reader can let you know when there is a new post here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

New Template and Atom Feed

Dear Reader(s),

I've finally gotten around to updating my template here, and getting rid of Squawkbox comments, which kept disappearing. I have also instituted an XML feed at, which will allow you to have my rare but valuable posts come to your attention without you having to visit this page.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Ecumenism on the ground

Mrs. Athanasius and I and little Macrina and Mary of Egypt (not their real names) went to St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church's Greek Festival tonight. We had meals that were much too large, listened to some music, and then browsed through their collection of icons and books. I struck up a conversation with several of the people working behind the tables. There was no animosity at all in the discovery that I was Catholic, and not even when I told them I was a Byzantine Catholic. One man told was explaining to me that the Orthodox believe "the same things" as Catholics, the same liturgy, the same Eucharist, but (with a shrug) "we're separated." I expressed a wish that I live long enough to see the mutual separation ended, and the book lady agreed. "We'll have to live a long time. Maybe in our children's time."

I don't want to wait that long. Who's with me? I think Pope Benedict is.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

I have a new favorite saint

St. Vladimir Pryjma

Today is his feast in our church. He was a cantor, and while out on a sick call with his pastor, was tortured and killed by the Soviets in 1941 along with St. Nicholas Konrad, his priest.

There are two neat things about St. Vladimir: 1) he's a cantor saint, which is good, since I am also a cantor. 2) Cantors used to go on sick-calls with the pastor! That's very neat. It would be great for the priest in the nursing home to be able to chant "Let us pray to the Lord" and have someone respond in song with "Lord have mercy."

So, Father, I'll come on sick calls if you want me to.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Book Meme, Book Shmeme

Kevin Miller over at HMS Blog tagged me on the book thingy. Here goes.

1. Total number of books I own/have owned. Doing a rough calculation, a typical bookshelf in my basement lair holds 27 books. I have 46 shelves, which makes 1,242 books, give or take a few. I've owned more and sold more in the past, which probably puts me around 2000.

2. Last book I bought. A set of The Great Books of the Western World, a 54 volume set from Homer to Freud for $250. It's the set put together by Hutchins and Adler.

3. Last book I read. The introductory volume of the Great Books set, giving Hutchins' apologia for the project and for liberal education in general. Before that it was David Bentley Hart's "The Beauty of the Infinite", which you'd know if you've been reading this blog.

4. Books I'm reading now. Mostly rereads and class prep. The Bible--I read the whole thing every few years. I'm up to Ecclesiastes. Lord of the Rings (every few years), Love and Responsibility, a book on the Crusades (I forget the title), Basil's letters, Athanasius' "Life of Anthony", and Cardinal Ratzingers "God and the World." I probably have other bookmarks scattered around.

5. Five books that mean a lot to me:
1. The Bible.
2. Lord of the Rings.
3. The Brothers Karamazov.
4. Summa Theologiae.
5. Nichomachean Ethics.

6. Tag five bloggers to do this. I have no idea who's done this already, and so I tag all of my friends at NDNation.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Is God practical?

Have you ever wondered why God made mosquitoes? Or garden slugs? If you were God, would you have done things differently? Do you ever think that the universe is too big? After all, why do we need all those galaxies and stars?

If you think this way, may I suggest that you don't understand what creation is all about. Think back to the the scriptural accounts of God's creative activity. Is it ever described in terms of praxis? Is God ever creating for some purpose? Humans make things for a purpose, and so we only put things in whatever we make that serve the purpose. Form follows function, after all. But God doesn't create for a purpose. There isn't any function to creation. Think back to Genesis. Does it give any reason for God to create? The only motive is the goodness of creation (and the "very goodness" of humans). Or consider Revelation 4:11: "Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created." The phrase "by thy will" has the sense in Greek of "for thy pleasure", as indeed the King James version translates it. God creates for his own will, his own delight. Or Psalm 104:26: "There go the ships, and Leviathan which thou didst form to sport in it." Creation is play.

If it is in fact divine play, that means that God didn't create for some purpose. This means that there aren't an impractical bits to it. There doesn't need to be a reason for mosquitoes, or garden slugs, or vast expanses of stars, any more than there needs to be a reason for four downs in football. Or compare it to musical composition, which is another species of play. One doesn't say of Mozart that there are "too many notes." The music doesn't have a purpose beyond the delight that it provides, and so there isn't any measure of the right amount of notes. Music gives delight. Creation gives delight.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Is faith unreasonable?

A friend of mine recently was surprised when I suggested that the future is likely to be more religious than the present. "Isn't it true," he said, "that the major religions have been discredited? Haven't we shown them to be irrational?"

This is a recurrent theme, that religion is somehow irrational. But if one takes a close look at the structure of knowledge, one will find that there is an irrational element at its core, at the very least in its dependence on sensation, which is not subject to reason, but is presented to it as a given. In fact, modern and post-modern protestations to the contrary, every act of knowing is an act of reception, of gift. To steal another quote from David Hart, ``It is not until one adequately recognizes the degree of sheer faith that inheres in every employment of reason that one can turn again to recognize what degree of rationality is or is not present in any given act of faith.'' (145) Rationality has an element of faith, and as long as we don't realize that, we are in no position to judge faith's rationality.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Nietzschean affirmation

I've been reading David Hart's book The Beauty of the Infinite, and it has been a treasure house of insights. The latest is his dissection of the problem of postmodernity, which exalts flux over substance, difference over identity, and as a remedy for this Heraclitean flux, proposes affirmation. Consider Nietzsche's doctrine of the eternal return--one knows that one is not suffering from a sickness of life-denial when one is able to say that one would affirm with joy the eternal repetition of everything that has happened and will happen.

The problem, as Hart points out, is that in the affirmation of the likes of Nietzsche and Foucault, there is no way to figure out what one ought to affirm. ``A philosophy whose concept of affirmation is merely the result of a reaction against dialectical negation (thus retaining the narrative of ontological violence that dialectic presumes) cannot ultimately make a morally credible distinction between hospices and death camps. . . .'' (72) The only sort of affirmation that can do the job they want it to do is the affirmation of God: "It is very good," an affirmation both transcendent and creative.

Anyway, it's a good book.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

A bleg

As you may have read a few posts down, I'm involved in the founding of a new college. We've set up a weblog to give our thinking on why such a thing is a good idea. If you would be so kind, could you go take a look and maybe link to it? Go here. See the college website (still somewhat primitive, soon to be updated) here.

Gnosis, particularity, and the Church

Now that I can read what I want, I'm reading a (so far) marvelous theology book by an Orthodox theologian, David B. Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. He says something interesting about the particularity of Christianity (that God became man, not just man, but a man, a Jew in Palestine of all places): “Wherever theology seeks to soothe those who are offended by the particularity of Christ, or struggles to extract a universally valid wisdom from the parochialism of the Gospels, a gnosis begins to take shape at the expense of the Christian kerygma.” (22) An interesting insight. One attempts to universalize the gospel into some symbolic truth about humanity in general, that becomes a way of flight from the messiness of particular human beings. You know, the sort of thinking that wants to make Christ the guy who said "Love one another" but not the guy who said "Don't lust" or "give your cloak to the guy who has none."

He had another interesting thought which I think has application to those of us who are offended by the humanness of the Church, saying that the Church is a society, and parenthtically "society, therefore, as potentially the church". If we say that God founded a Church that is human and divine, this means that our society also has the possibility of becoming divinized, becoming the Church writ large. This is threatening. Much easier, I think, to throw stones at the Church for its humanness than to turn the mirror on the humanness of our own society. The Church is a human society, full of sin. That is certain. But it is also divine, and therefore presents itself to us as a challenge, since if it is divine, so can we be.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I've put a new post up on Go take a look.

Here's a copy if you don't want to click through:

Beauty as Evangelization

I still remember the first times I experienced the Byzantine Liturgy. The first time was in Bethlehem, PA during my short time as a seminarian. I was overcome by the beauty of the music. Here was a parish without organist, without choir, where the liturgy was sung by the entire congregation in harmony. I was able to pick up the melodies pretty quickly, and sang along for two glorious hours hymns of overwhelming depth. I wasn't in tears after the liturgy, but my sentiments were something like those of Augustine:

``I wept at the beauty of your hymns and canticles, and was powerfully moved at the sweet sound of Your Church's singing. Those sounds flowed into my ears, and the truth streamed into my heart: so that my feeling of devotion overflowed, and the tears ran from my eyes, and I was happy in them.''

After seminary, I went to Marquette to get a doctorate in philosophy. Providentially, a Melkite parish (St. George) was just down the street. I walked in one Sunday, and again was profoundly affected. This time, what struck me first of all was the sound of bells coming from behind the iconostasis, sounding like sleigh bells. What could be happening? It was like a child hearing Santa on the roof. Soon, Something Important was going to happen! Then the priest and the altar servers processed out from behind the screen, and we sang the great doxology. Something important did happen: Christ came among us, and I was hooked. I've been worshiping in Byzantium ever since.

I don't bring up my experience because there's anything particularly special about me. I bring it up because I think it is typical of the reactions of the world to the liturgical traditions of the East. Our liturgy is missionary as Pope Benedict pointed out, by means of the very beauty present within it.

What impressed onlookers about the liturgy was precisely its utter lack of an ulterior purpose, the fact that it was celebrated for God and not for spectators, that its sole intent was to be before God and for God "euarestos euprosdektos" (Romans 12:1; 15:16): pleasing and acceptable to God, as the sacrifice of Abel had been pleasing to God.

Beauty draws us up to the transcendent God. Beauty is evangelical. In fact, in the postmodern world of today, where there is no general confidence in any sort of metaphysics, it might be that beauty becomes the way to evangelize. I think that it is possible to do metaphysics, but even so, I recognize that a proof for the existence of God is not a proof for Christianity. Such a thing cannot be offered. But Beauty, the beauty of Eastern Christian practice, can be persuasive. David Bentley Hart puts it thus: "[Christianity] stands before the world principally with the story it tells concerning God and creation, the form of Christ, the loveliness of the practice of Christian charity--and the rhetorical richness of its idiom." In other words, Christianity presents a vision of life that persuades through its beauty. Our music, liturgy, and iconography can be evangelical, as it was for the emissaries of Prince Vladimir, who said "When we came to the country of the Greeks, we were brought to where they celebrate the liturgy for their God... We do not know if we were in heaven or on earth... We experienced that there God dwells among men..."

It is my hope that Transfiguration College can contribute to the re=evangelization of the world through our emphasis on beauty. It is the reason that our curriculum will have seminars on the liturgy, that we will teach the chant of our churches, and that our students will have practical experience in iconography.

Monday, May 09, 2005

A New College?

I have been fortunate to be involved with the planning of a new Catholic college. It is going to be a Byzantine Catholic Great Books school. For more information, go to our website and our weblog. More information will be posted on the latter very soon. In fact, it will require me to curtail this blog just a bit.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

That's the question posed to Jesus in the Gospel for yesterday in the Byzantine churches. There is a man who has been born blind, and the questioners ask a reasonable question. Why is it that he had to suffer in this way? Is it a result of sin?

We know that some illnesses are indeed the result of sin, and not just sexually transitted diseases. If I am a glutton, I will suffer the penalty in my own flesh. If I am a drunkard, I will destroy my liver. Even on the spiritual level, it is clear that sin can cause disease, as St. Paul says to the Corinthians:

1Co 11:28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
1Co 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
1Co 11:30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

Abuse of the Eucharist can cause bodily illness.

But in this case, Jesus does not say that sin caused the disease. Rather, it was "that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:3) The man was sick so that Christ could show mercy to him. I wish to extend this thought to the sick and aged of the world who are often told that they are a "burden" to society, or who even themselves will prefer death rather than being a burden. If we are Christians, we should realize that it is no burden, but an opportunity. The illnesses and needs of others are opportunities to love, to heal, to care as Christ cared. The proper response to "I don't want to be burden on you" is "It's no burden. It's a privilege to care for you!" It's an imitation of Christ.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Are you having trouble buying Ratzingeriana?

Don't buy from Amazon. Go straight to Ignatius. I ordered books from Amazon about half an hour after "habemus papam", and they were delayed. Amazon eventually sent me a note saying that "Introduction to Christianity" could not be gotten, and they canceled it from my order. Frustrated, I tried, and the books were shipped within a few hours of my order.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Karl's Athanasius' Simple Sex Test

Do you understand sex? Do you know anything about sexual intercourse? Take this simple test and find out:

Question: Does the thought of praying before, during, and after an act of sexual intercourse
a) Kill the mood
b) Seem weird
c) make perfect sense?

If you answer a or b, you don't know beans about sex.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Der Herr wird uns helfen, und Maria, seine allerseligste Mutter, steht uns zur Seite.

Pope Benedict XVI! What a wonderful surprise. I went immediately to Amazon to order eight of his books.

My immediate reaction is that he will be the most hated man in the world. His predecessor was loved and treated as a great man, a great man who had some odd moral quirks (traditional Catholic doctrine). I don't think many will love Pope Benedict, and so he will be identified very closely with the teachings of the Church, which is as it should be. Because many people hate these teachings, they will hate him. He will be a sign of contradiction.

But perhaps this will bring some much-needed clarity.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A very good post

on icons over at Disputations, by sometime SMC commentator Han Ng.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Two simple arguments for why Church doctrine will not change

1) The Spiritual Explanation: The Church was founded by Christ, who is God, and is protected by the Holy Spirit, who is also God. Its magisterial pronouncements through councils united to the pope and (rarely) through the pope are guaranteed by the Spirit to be true. If the Church were to change, it would require God to change his mind. But that's ridiculous. Ergo, the Church isn't going to change its teaching with the new pope.

2) The Political Explanation: The Church is merely a collection of men trying to keep power. These men have whatever claim to power that they do have because they believe that #1 is true, and lots of other people believe #1 is true. If they changed Church teachings, it would show #1 to be false, therefore destroying the power of the Church. We'd become Episcopalians in a hurry. No one wants that. Therefore, the Church isn't going to change its teaching with the new pope.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A Challenge concering the Pope

There will be mixed coverage--in fact, it's already started. In the Tribune today, the editorial page both admired his leadership, courage, heroism, principled opposition to totalitarianism, and then complained about his absolute stands on moral issues. More of this will be coming: "Pope John Paul II was a great man, but. . . such a strict absolutist, such a backwards medieval on morality." This will be said as if it is a contradiction.

Let me propose some facts which I hope you will stipulate:

JPII was smart. Very smart. Smarter than any of you, and even me. (joke--little joke)

JPII was very well-educated, a philosopher, theologian, poet, and playwright, probably more educated than any of us.

JPII was more courageous than any of us, likely. He began his career as a seminarian under the Nazis, where being caught would have led to certain death. He continued his education under the Soviets, where the situation was little different. He persevered in his vocation, and became a bishop in Poland, an officially atheist communist state, and defied the communists with wisdom and fortitude. The communists founded a town called Nowa Huta, where there was to be no church ever built. Karol Wojtyla held open-air masses there, in defiance of the communists. Once he was made pope, he came to Poland, where one third of the population (in a Soviet controlled, atheist state) came to see him in person, and everyone else watched on television. He exhorted them to be free, and shortly afterwards, Walesa and his shipyard workers led Poland to freedom. He's more courageous than we are.

He prayed more than any of us do. He was a man of extreme prayer, who would almost have to be dragged from the chapel.

Now, given all of these indisputable facts, do you think it makes sense to say "Great man, but a silly reactionary on moral matters?" Maybe, just maybe, the same fundamental principles that led him to defy the Nazis and oppose the communists are the same principles that led him to oppose abortion and contraception? Perhaps inalienable human dignity requires that we treat everyone, always, everywhere with the dignity that they deserve as children of God.

The challenge is to re-evaluate your thinking. If you think he's great, he was great through and through. If you disagree with his moral teaching, then he wasn't great, but a fool.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Father Moderator, you've been snookered!

EDIT: Apparently I've made an error: the traditio website isn't a SSPX website. Forgive me. Of course, my SSPX friend routinely quotes from traditio. I made an assumption. Sorry.

The Society of St. Pius X has a website, where an interesting article appeared recently. I give an excerpt from their website (scroll down to find this article):

So that those Novus Ordo "conservatives" won't be so sanguine about the post-conciliar papacy "fixing" anything, here is the programme announced by a leading papal candidate, Oscar Andres Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, of Honduras, for the next papacy. "When the Sacred College of Cardinals names me pope, I'm gonna shake things up," Maradiaga said. "And I'm not just talking about giving the popemobile a new coat of paint. I'm talking about big moves...." And what are these moves? [CFP]

1. Discharging the pope from being Bishop of Rome. So much for the New Order pretending that it is the Roman Catholic Church!
2. Making "great changes" to Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II document that was used to destroy the Roman Catholic Mass. You thought that the Novus Ordo Protestant-Masonic service was bad? Just wait until it becomes Protestant-Masonic-Buddhist too!
3. Moving the papal see from Rome to Barcelona. Last time the pal see was moved from Rome (to Avignon, France), the Church ended up with the Protestant Revolt.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Maradiaga is the fact that he was never ordained as a priest, but only as a presbyter, in 1970 in the Novus Ordo. Therefore, many of the tens of millions of traditional Catholics around the world will not accept him as a priest, let alone as Bishop of Rome (or does he really want to be Bishop of Barcelona?), and therefore not pope. What a sticky wicket that is going to be for the Society of St. Pius X!

Yes, the New Order must be completely abandoned destroyed. Just as Rome destroyed Carthage and sowed its fields with salt so that it could never rise again. This time in the Church is not one for "negotiations," "compromises," and "indults." It is a time for war, a time to fight the good fight like a St. Paul.

The only problem is that Maradiaga doesn't exist! I can't link to the article in The Onion, since that is only allowed to premium Onion subscribers, but here's an excerpt from the website:

Cocky Pope-Hopeful Ready To Make Some Changes Around Vatican
VATICAN CITY—With Pope John Paul II's health in decline, there is speculation as to who will succeed him as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga announced...
4109 | 2 March 2005 | News


Someone should tell Fr. Moderator.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Want to know what Byzantine Church music sounds like?

The Metropolitan Cantor Institute, which trains cantors for the Ruthenian churches in the USA, has published on its website mp3 files of the Resurrection Matins for Easter Sunday. The choir is quite good. It's very similar to what happens at my parish, although our singing has a bit less technical prowess and a bit more gusto.

Go ye forth and listen.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Sadness at the Last Supper

I went to the Holy Thursday liturgy at my church this evening, and there was a strange feeling to it all. Usually we celebrate Liturgy as if it were Pentecost every day, but tonight it was subdued. Afterward, we stood around in the narthex, as if no-one wanted to go home, but no-one wanted to say why. Then one of us mentioned the Schiavo case. What could be said? The culture of death has had the USA in its grip for years. 4000 babies died today in thanatoria around the country. What's one more woman being starved to death? And yet, this one hits very hard.

I think part of the reason for why so many of us are so sad about Terri is that this confirms, without a shadow of a possibility of a doubt, that this country is evil. Through and through, the United States is, in its official governmental organs, committed to the cause of death. What's the difference between this one death and the 4000 abortions a day? This one has a face, a face that responds to loved ones, a face that we could love. The unborn have no faces, and so don't evoke the same reaction. But Terri is just a disabled woman whose life has become inconvenient. And she's being starved to death.

I have no words to describe the horror I feel, as the country I love dictates that this woman be killed, and killed in a horrible way. Since I have no words, I will resort to numbers. The paragon of evil in most people's minds is Nazi Germany. They were pikers. Compare the numbers: we kill 4000 a day, and now we kill the elderly and disabled as well. There have been something like 40 million killed in the last thirty years. Hitler never was this efficient.

We are not the good guys.

Connected with the horror at what my country has become, is near-despair at the work that must be done. We cannot let this stand. All Christians and people of good will must fight the status quo with every ounce of strength. The problem is that there is no human hope of success. The culture of death is too tied up to the culture of self-satisfaction for anyone to have a rational hope of defeating it. What can we do? What can my poor efforts do?

And yet, there is a precedent. Christianity conquered another evil empire, and did it thoroughly. What must Peter or Paul have thought, as they gazed about them at the degenerate culture of Imperial Rome? Perhaps they had the same temptation to despair that we feel today. But they persevered, and conquered.

Of course, the conquest took three hundred years, and Peter and Paul were long dead before they saw the fruits of their labor. I think we might be in for more of the same. But there is glory in the fight. In hoc signo vinces!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A letter I sent to the Chicago Tribune

Re: The story March 23, 2005 entitled "Protestors blast drugstore."

In your story about Planned Parenthood protesting a Chicago drugstore whose pharmacist refused to sell contraception, you say that "Some pharmacists. . . say taking emergency contraceptives and other birth control pills is equivalent to abortion, because the pills can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus." This is true, and is in fact what happens with these drugs. But you say after that "Most doctors, however, say there is no pregnancy--and therefore no abortion--until after implantation."

This is merely a linguistic dodge. It matters not whether a doctor calls it abortion or not. The fact remains that the drugs prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, thereby killing it. That's the moral issue, whether such things ought to be killed or not, and whether the pharmacist ought to have to participate in that killing. Appealing to the verbal practice of "most doctors," who call the killing something other than abortion, changes nothing about the morality of the situation.

My Name, PhD
My School

Some thanatic words for today

I think, given that we are obviously completely mired in a culture of death-as Kevin Miller notes, 4000 babies will be killed today, so what's one more 41 year-old woman?--we need to resurrect some words.

Thanatic: of or belonging to death;..deadly: "We live in a thanatic country."

thanatoid, a. resembling death; apparently dead. As in "The woman is thanatoid, since she can't feed herself."

thanatorium, n. An establishment where people are received in order to be killed. "The hospice in Florida is a thanatorium!"

thanatophilia, n. An undue fascination with death. "'Just let her die!' shouted the thanatophiliac husband."

When I play with my daughter now

as she giggles when I chase her and pick her up, I think to myself, "Someday, a court may decide that I don't have the right to feed her or give her water. Someday they might arrest me if I try."

I know one thing. If getting married means that her husband will have the right in law to kill her, then she's never getting married. Over my dead body.

God bless America.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

"Follow me through the nursing home!"

That was the challenge that Fr. Loya gave us at the homily this Sunday. After giving a good analysis of the lies that have been told about Terri Schiavo, he said something like this (I paraphrase because of faulty memory): "She's better off than a lot of your relatives that I visit in the nursing homes. Do you want to come with me next time? Let's go. You follow me, and we'll kill everyone of your relatives, who have less function than Terri has. If it's okay to kill her, it's okay to kill them."

The final point of the homily was this: how dare the government tell a priest that he can't give the sacraments to a member of his flock. How dare they? If the state can say that she can't receive communion, then we have no freedom of religion.

Pray, fast, repeat.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

We went to Disney World for spring break

I have several reactions to Disney World:

1) Does everyone have a tattoo but me? It seems that way. Why would anyone wish to mark his flesh permanently with ink? I've never got a satisfactory answer to that question.
2) Epcot stinks. It used to be neat, but all of the educational rides are being removed and replaced with thrill-rides. Even The Land, my favorite, is being replaced with some flying ride. Harumph. I blame Michael Eisner.
3) The Magic Kingdom is still fun, although I don't approve of all the changes. Whenever a ride is revamped, it seems that it is inevitably made louder and more crass. I used to love the Tiki Room, but no more. It has been recast as a raucus fight between the birds from The Lion King and Aladdin. The worst part of it was that the show began with a teaser of the old music. I thought that I was going to be able to relive childhood glories, until the interlopers appeared, and the show went to hell.
4) The Animal Kingdom only takes a half day. The raft ride is fun.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Patristics is Fun!

Note this delighful letter from St. Basil the Great, where he gently and humorously scolds a friend for sending him gifts.

Letter 4


To Olympus

What do you mean, my dear Sir, by evicting from our retreat my dear friend and nurse of philosophy, Poverty? Were she but gifted with speech, I take it you would have to appear as defendant in an action for unlawful eviction. She might plead "I chose to live with this man Basil, an admirer of Zeno, who,
when he had lost everything in a shipwreck, cried, with great fortitude, 'well done, Fortune! you are reducing me to the old cloak;' a great admirer of Cleanthes, who by drawing water from the well got enough to live on and pay his tutors' fees as well; an immense admirer of Diogenes, who prided himself on requiring no more than was absolutely necessary, and flung away his bowl after he had learned from some lad to stoop down and drink from the hollow of his hand." In some such terms as these you might be chidden by my dear mate Poverty, whom your presents have driven from house and home. She might too add a threat; "if I catch you here again, I shall shew that what went before was Sicilian or Italian luxury: so I shall exactly requite you out of my own store."

But enough of this. I am very glad that you have already begun a course of medicine, and pray that you may be benefited by it. A condition of body fit for painless activity would well become so pious a soul.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Fr. Shane Tharp's gone big time!

Catholic Ragemonkey's founder was on Relevant Radio today. I knew Fr. Tharp when he was a seminarian. It's very strange when someone you knew when he was just a big doofus becomes a respected man doing good and noble things. Bravo, Fr. Tharp!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Kevin Miller won't like this

but the Schiavo case has made me very reluctant to sign my organ donor card.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The "Truth" Campaign

Tobacco companies have been forced to fund advertisements that, by and large, denounce them as evil empires bent on conquering the world through lung cancer. Since television is far more damaging to the human person than tobacco use, perhaps the networks and cable companies ought to be forced to fund advertisements exposing them for the vacuous, immoral flesh-peddlers that they are.

Maybe there should be a warning label on televisions: "Watching television has been demonstrated to cause attention-deficit disorder, stupidity, moral decay, impure thoughts, and spending money on products you don't need. The Surgeon General has recommended that no-one watch this tripe. Happy Viewing!"

Monday, February 28, 2005

Powers and Principalities

Often we forget that the world we see is not the entirety of things that exist. The events we see are not the only things that happen, but are often (I would say always) indicative of spiritual events that we do not see. Sometimes, the veil lifts and we get to see more clearly. Take the current situation in America with regard to euthanasia, which one should really call "thanasia", since there isn't anything good about it.

Terri Schiavo is likely to be murdered by her husband with the connivance of doctors and judges, simply because she can't function as well as a normal person. She's not sick, she's not dying, but she will be starved to death soon. And yet, look at the confluence of events: recently a woman in a twenty-year coma came out of it. On the other side, the Oscars honored not one, but two pro-thanasia movies last night. Million Dollar Baby isn't a boxing film, but rather a film about killing the disabled, and how good it is. The foreign language winner is also about killing the sick.

The devil knows what the stakes are, and is fighting hard to win this victory. We need to fight back. May I recommend prayer and fasting?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

My pastor will be on Relevant Radio tomorrow

at 7am Central Time, which is 8am on the east coast, and some other time in those faraway western states. Relevant Radio is on 820am in Chicago. It can also be heard from

Give it a listen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The next time you have a water-cooler conversation about Terry Schiavo,

try this. If your coworker says "They should just let that poor woman die," say "Wouldn't it be simpler just to blow her brains out and be done with it?" See what the reaction is.

Monday, February 21, 2005

"God doesn't want us to hurt ourselves!"

So said a nun of my acquaintance, whom I happen to be fond of. Yet, "truth is dearer than friends," as Aristotle says. She said this in a discussion of mortification, and how those benighted medievals used to beat themselves ("And do you know, Opus Dei still does this!"), and how we are much more enlightened because we know God wouldn't want us to hurt ourselves. I think she is wrong. I think it is clear that God does want us to hurt ourselves. But what God doesn't want is for us to harm ourselves. Sometimes, hurting ourselves is the only to prevent harming ourselves.

By "hurt", I mean cause pain, either positive (through kneeling or prostration or even something like the cilice), or negative, through the absence of something we desire. By "harm", I mean to damage, to make less good. Now, given the fallen state in which we find ourselves, it happens quite often that humans can be caused pain by removing things which harm them. The drug addict feels pain when the heroin is taken away, but the hurt of taking the drugs away prevents the harm of using the drugs. In the same way, the hurt or pain caused by the various bodily disciplines of the saints is directed towards the prevention of harm to the whole person. Would God want us to hurt ourselves, in order to prevent harm, especially the harm of separation from Him? Of course!

In fact, that's what Lent is all about. It's what fasting is all about. It's why Christ spent forty days not eating in the desert before he began to preach. It's what the Exodus was: forty years of imposed hurt, to try to keep Israel from the harm of idolatry. Furthermore, we have the witness of the great saints of the Church, who almost all do some form of mortification, from the hairshirt of Thomas Becket to the forty years on a pillar of Simeon Stylites. As St. Josemaria Escriva points out in a passage on lust, Francis threw himself into a thornbush to avoid the sin of lust; what have you done? Or, as Fr. Corapi says: "Have you sweat blood yet?" Or as Tom at Disputations says, over and over: "Have you tried prayer and fasting?" (I recommend that last one be printed out and put on the refrigerator door.)

I am certain that I am so disordered that what is good for me will not always be what is pleasant for me. As long as this is the case, God surely wants me to hurt myself.

(Disclaimer: only undertake severe mortifications with the guidance of a wise spiritual director.)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Pray for Michael Schiavo

That he not pursue the death-by-starvation of his wife, who is not dying, but simply isn't functioning up to the level that he thinks justifies letting her live.

"Tenderness leads to the gas chamber." --Walker Percy

See Fr. Rob's site for more news on this case.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A thought I jotted down during the Liturgy on Sunday

awaiting further development:

Just as Descartes needed to establish the existence of a God who will not deceive before he could break out of his epistemic purgatory of doubt, natural law needs to establish a provident God before it can break out of the ethical purgatory of pleasure.

It needs working out. The point is that for natural law ethics to work, it needs nature as a normative force. This requires a God who both creates the nature, and creates it for our good, so that we can see that acting in accord with our nature (that is, with right reason) is good. Otherwise, it's just another option among various lifestyles one might choose.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

I am the king of all technology!

I now have the entire works of Thomas Aquinas (in Latin) on my palm pilot, linked to a Latin dictionary. I use the Plucker reader. So now, I can read the Angelic Doctor whenever I want.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I went to a conference at Ave Maria last week

and it was quite good, if a bit theological. It was on Aquinas the Augustinian, and many of the papers focused on the trinitarian theology of Augustine and Aquinas. Now, I believe in the Trinity. I believe there are three persons and one essence, but the intricate ins and outs of trinitarian theology are a bit beyond me. But there was other stuff of interest as well. Aidan Nichols OP was there (he sounds like Basil Exposition with a cold), Michael Sherwin OP was there, John Rist was there, Gilles Emory OP (excellent paper on the presence of the concept of spiritual exercise in Aquinas) was there, and a few other big names whose names I've forgotten were there. Rist asked an interesting question: if we solve the Platonic problem of the existence of absolute moral norms (forms) by placing the forms in God, and if the essence of God is unknowable, how do we know the absolute moral norms, or even that there are such things? Answer: through the mediation of Christ.

Oh, also, Chris of Veritas was there. We had lunch. It was fun.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

I saw a pretty girl on the airplane tonight

She was tall, blonde, and thin, attractively shaped in the right areas, the type that wears shirts a size too small and stiletto heals with jeans. She followed me down the walkway to the plane and sat in a seat just ahead of me. Ordinarily a pretty girl is either a delight and a motive to praise God, or an occasion of temptation to be avoided, or both. But in this case, she was an impetus for thought.

As the flight progressed, she began to read magazines. Curious, I looked over her shoulder and saw she was reading some magazine called "Life Style", which appeared mostly to concentrate on the aesthetic appeal of various Hollywood stars' body parts. She read this slim folio for two full hours, gazing in rapt attention at pictures of famous people. Somehow, this complete and utter waste of time offended me, and it took me a while to figure out why.

Pretty girls are a gift from God, but the pleasing exterior ought to be a sign of the pleasing interior. Beauty shouldn't be skin deep. It's bad to be bad, whether one is ugly or beautiful, but for the beautiful to be bad takes on the character of sacrilege. Physical beauty is a sign of the great worth of the human person, its goodness made visible. Now, to be fair, I don't know her inner character, but the fact that she could waste so much time on such garbage seemed wasteful, a betrayal of her noble human heritage. Actually, she didn't spend the whole flight reading the magazine, but spent twenty minutes or so fixing her makeup.

When I say wasteful, I don't mean that the problem was that she was wasting time. Rather, the problem was that she was wasting time in a poor, desiccated way. The best things that God has given us are wastes of time, non-productive activities, such as the impractical acts of contemplation or liturgy. She could have spent her time sleeping, or doodling, or even ordering hard liquor from the flight attendant, and it wouldn't have bothered me, since sleeping, doodling, or drinking are all ways of enjoying the riches of the earth. Poring over a mass-media fluffzine was a betrayal of her humanity. It isn't right for a human being, especially one who is such a fine representative of the beauty of the female form, to engage in such vapid activity.

Perhaps I am being unfair. I never spoke with her, and maybe she is a wonderful girl. Actually, I am sure she is a wonderful girl, which is why her choice of entertainment seemed so unbecoming. It was like seeing the Queen of England spit on the sidewalk, or hearing Mozart play Louie-Louie. She should seek higher things, even when she is just killing time. As we all should.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I'm going to Naples, FL

for a philosophy conference at Ave Maria. Are any of you going? Fr. Bryce? If so, I hope to see you.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

It's Byzantine Mardis Gras

Otherwise known as Meatfare Sunday, which is the last day that we can eat meat, if we follow the traditional fast. (Fasting is optional. Like heaven.) I invite you to join us in this practice. Next Sunday will be the last day to eat dairy products. There isn't so much a restriction on how much you can eat, but if all you can eat is non-meat, non-dairy, you won't want to eat that much anyway. Eventually, you dream of cheeseburgers. The feasting on Easter Sunday really feels like feasting! I usually can feast simply on a buttered roll, by that point.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Happy Feast Day, Thomas!

I love this picture. I just came across it today, from Gerard Serafin's (RIP) site. Did Chesterton draw it? Anyway, go read the article that Gerard linked to it.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Why can't I just confess to God in my mind?

Did you only sin with your mind? Or did you use your body as well? Then take your body to confession!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Solidarity versus Diversity

Two recent events conspire for today's entry: JP Morgan Chase said that, despite the revelations that Chase banks in Louisiana took slaves as collateral in 1843, they are a company "committed to diversity," and I watched the stunt crew from Return of the King do a Maori native dance for Viggo (Aragorn) Mortensen at the close of shooting to honor him.

I wonder what a commitment to diversity really means. Does it mean that we commit that we will be diverse? That we will be different from each other? That we will tolerate differences? I think the best meaning is the last, in which case it isn't a bad thing. Modern nations are composed of people from many different backgrounds, and tolerance is a necessary thing in that situation.

But then I saw the stunt crew serenading Viggo, Maori-like, and I thought, perhaps what they are doing is better. The stunt crew had some Maori men in it, but most were caucasian. Yet, all of them joined in the dance. I wondered if an organization that had a commitment to diversity would have done such a thing, or would the Maori men have done the dance, leaving the caucasians to honor Viggo with a fruitcake, and those of another race to do something else. Consider that the Maori people lost their land and their freedom when the English came to New Zealand--it isn't a happy history. But, at least in this case, rather than cherishing old resentments and differences, they share their culture with the descendants of their conquerors. It was a case of solidarity, the virtue of working toward unity in human relationships, even between historic enemies. It was beautiful.

Commitment to diversity? Fie. I say Commitment to Solidarity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Romanus, the choir director at my wonderful parish (not his real name), took a job at a Roman parish last year to make ends meet. This forced him to miss Sunday and Saturday liturgies and Vesperses, which was vey difficult for him. It also forced me to fill in for him as director pro tem. I was glad to help, but didn't like directing. It isn't because I can't direct, but rather is because I like directing that I don't like directing. I like it so much that I become tempted to make the Liturgy all about me and my musical skill, and less about God. I have enough temptations to egotism; I don't need the choir as well.

But, fortunately for me, Romanus has quit his job at the other parish, gotten a job at a Catholic grade school, and is going to sell cars or bartend or sell advertising or something for a while until then. This means that soon he will be back in front of the choir where he belongs, and I will be back where I belong, just another tenor who sometimes sings alto with the ladies.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The great thing about being a member of a Church that encourages fasting

is that, occasionally, the Church forbids fasting. Yesterday in the Byzantine church was the Sunday of the Publican. It recalls the story in Luke where the Pharisee stood in the front of the synagogue, thanking God that he was not like most people. "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get." Meanwhile, the tax collector (an unsavory occupation even then) stands in the back of the synagogue, merely saying "God, be merciful to me a sinner." This Sunday always occurs the week before the Lenten fast starts, which for us begins next week, with Meatfare Sunday, where we say farewell to meat until Easter. So, very soon we will be fasting lots. But this week, the Church mandates that we do not fast, to remind us not to be like the Pharisee, taking pride in our fasting. Rather, we should feast, but we should also direct our ambition to be more like the lowly tax collector, who does not fast, but who begs for mercy.

It's a good reminder before the Great Fast. Have you ever gotten into a "my fast is bigger than your fast" conversation? You know, where you ask your friends, "What are you giving up for Lent? Oh, that's easy!" To do such a thing is to fall right into the trap of the Pharisee, who is doing the right thing by tithing and fasting, but is doing it not out of humility, but in order to exalt himself.

T.S. Eliot says somewhere that the greatest crime, the greatest treason, is to do the right thing for the wrong reason. (It rhymes, but he was a poet.) Think about that as you fast this Lent.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

So how much do you pay for cable? For internet access?

How much do you put in the collection plate on Sunday? Do you pay as much for the privilege of having a church where you can eat the body of Christ as you do for the privilege of HBO or satellite radio?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Speaking of prayer,

Every night I experience a great thing: the voice of my daughter (1.7 years old) echoing through the house calling "Daddy! Daddy!" At bedtime, my wife gets her ready for sleep, and then reads two or three books with her. When they finish the books, Mrs. Athanasius says "Time to pray." Macrina (not her real name) begins calling out for me to come up and join them.

Life is good. I hope she does this when she's sixteen.

How to pray while breathing

Jan 6 was the feast of Theophany; yesterday was the leavetaking for the feast, which is in fact a much bigger feast than Christmas. Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John, but rather, Christ baptizes the waters, making all of creation holy, because God has touched them.

Our pastor makes the point of telling us that the holy water distributed on the feast is the same water that Christ was baptized in. So, when one drinks it, one is communing with Christ--in a lesser sense than in the Eucharist, but still in a real sense.

Well, it seems to me that this thought can be extended. Not only is the water the same water in which Christ was baptized, but the stone we walk on is the same stone Christ was buried in, and the air we breathe is the same air Christ breathed. So, as you go through your day, treat every breath as a communion. Then you can "pray without ceasing."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

This drives me nuts

The Roman churches around me celebrated the feast of Epiphany this past Sunday. Unfortunately, it's supposed to be January 6, 12 days after Christmas, corresponding with the Eastern celebration of Theophany.

The Roman bishops, who certainly have the right to do what they have done, nevertheless are very wrong to do it. They reduce holy days of obligation and move those that remain to Sunday, so as not to inconvenience any of laity with the necessity to go to church on some other day. So, Jan 1st wasn't obligatory, and Christ now ascends on a Sunday, not a Thursday. Epiphany is Jan 2nd instead of Jan 6.

God forbid we make any demands on ourselves.