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.