Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saying but not Saying

By now you will have no doubt figured out that I am not the biggest fan of Cardinal Dolan. Though I really don't know all that much about him, his failure on the St. Patrick's Day Parade thing left me quite indignant.

And now here's a talk or homily or something on his site (to which NewAdvent links) which I will point to as perhaps a near-perfect instance of rhetorical fraud, and tends to confirm the things I have been feeling about him for a while.

In sum, he says nothing while seeming to say so much. It is perfect in that it attempts to win over conservatives while not doing anything to alienate liberals. Yes, he mentions that word 'contraception' twice in the first bit and yet never actually says it is objectively against Church teaching. A lie of omission? It looks like a very carefully crafted effort to be adamant about being adamant about nothing.

Can't one be chaste while using contraception? One might infer that from Dolan.

Am I wrong? For your consideration...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Matter of Perspective

Considering the vastness of the universe, the seeming endlessness of time, and the emptiness of space, one might lament that no meaning is possible to human existence. And many have.

And yet, everywhere is beauty, admirable structure, and mathematical coincidence we call proportion. Everywhere in the very same universe.

In one regard, the universe resembles the splash that emerges out of a stone thrown into a pond. And for as simple and as temporary a system as that connotes for physics, it is nevertheless lovely to behold and even mesmerizing to certain eyes.

Scale brings nothing with it. To watch a single drop of water freeze and then thaw again, a whole universe. A computer model of the birth and death of a star, or of a whole galaxy, elapsed over just two minutes, is but the same. A picture may contain as much detail as a camera can pick up, as many bytes of information as a computer may store, but in any case it's not complete. Not even the human mind can completely contain anything that falls to its attention.

The universe is an idea. The name betrays this: across (verse) the one or the whole (uni). Whether it inspires or depresses is a matter of perspective and a matter of choice. Nebulae are the most beautiful things when enhanced by the folks at NASA, but they don't actually look like that. The Sun is too bright for people to look at, but not too bright to enjoy and to miss when hidden by clouds. Rainbows aren't really 'there,' but they speak to us so clearly of many things. Orion isn't really there either, nor was it even quite what it is now back in the days of the Greeks and the Babylonians when it first gained its name. In a million years from now it won't look anything like it does now. By far, most of the universe is utterly hostile to the existence of human life. And yet, it's hard to find a piece of creation that is not intriguing to the human mind and capable of inspiring the human heart - whether this be tornadoes, solar flares, or star-collapsing black holes.

It was all built for contemplation, but I think not for understanding.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Best / Worst Generations

It has become common to refer to the World War II generation as the 'greatest generation.' I was reading the always interesting Anne Coulter where she refers to the Baby Boomers as the 'worst generation.' I love the memes that are out now that feature the silver-haired couple with lines about them living the good life while the next generation get nothing. Yes, it's hard for conservative Christians to feel positive about Baby-Boomers, who gave us the sexual revolution and deconstructed every sacred institution along the way.

One point I will make though: how can a generation be the greatest that failed so miserable at the one thing necessary, that is, raising their children properly? No, it's simplistic to reduce all of this to such generalized terms, but my point remains, how can you be great if you failed at parenting?

It's hard for me to hear anything about World War II without welling-up. It's just how I was raised: my grandfather's generation. These were the heroes of Thermopylae...

But the war did something to them, I think. I saw it first with regard to theology. While studying I noticed that 'liberalism' was the almost universal product of people who experienced that war: people like Rahner and Haring. These people were altogether unable to deal in absolutes. Why? Because absolutes get people killed.

So too that generation's parenting? Yes, absolutes are destructive, they seemed convinced. What's the end result? Chaos and suffering. Traditions are meant to protect people, not enslave them, but that was how they were interpreted by Baby Boomers and their wearied parents.

Since my Protestant mother has been visiting us, we had the occasion to introduce her to the whole Latin Mass versus Norvus Ordo battle in the Church today. She naturally assumed it was a generational thing (which it is), but with the elders being the fans of the Latin Mass. Quite the contrary, we told her. Most of the people who "miss good liturgy," never knew it.

The Latin Mass is one little example of our desire to have traditions, the traditions which the 'Greatest Generation' and their children took away from us. I don't blame Latin Massies. I have greater sympathy for them now than I ever have.

And I hate to make this comparison, but the radicalization of Islam is another example of a desire to be a part of something greater, something that objectively matters, something that cannot be relativized and deconstructed away, something with meaning. Even the completely inexplicable protests about racism in the US now are a part of this. These people need to be a part of something. So too FEMEN. In a world of almost universal abortion, FEMEN seems to me to have come out of nowhere. All of the above people want to be a part of something so badly that they have thrown moderation away. People need the world to be warming: to hell with actual statistical evidence. They need homosexuals to be a healthy, persecuted group of innocents, so their lives too can mean as much as those of the 1960s civil rights activists.

But can law give meaning? Can causes provide real meaning? Is meaning ever produced in a courtroom or in a legislature?

No, only God can provide meaning. He is the only on from whom we can ever expect an answer: why am I alive, how does my life have meaning? It has been well-observed that in the absence of God ideologies thrive. The mind abhors a vacuum. In the stead of the 'no religion' of John Lenin comes totalitarianism and anti-human ideologies.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pro-Francis Means you Hate the Church

But you might not yet realize it. Someone who likes this pope likely likes that he 'is' so unChristian. Praise like this is no praise at all. Kind of like praise for that Muslim you met one time, who "wasn't as bad as the rest of them." Or, someone who raves about the Superbowl's halftime show.

A usually good journalist at the National Post, Kelly McParland, demonstrates the limits of his knowledge and common sense in an article about Pope Francis today.

Let me just take one quote. He refers to the Church's "medieval treatment of nuns, its wholly unchristian attitude to gays..." and he praises the pope's lambasting of the Vatican's bureaucrats, and wonders whether it will deal with its dirty priest problem.

Let me comment on each in turn.

Poster-girl of repression.
1) Medieval treatment of nuns. I think he is using the word as a pejorative. And I think he is referring to the recent totally botched effort to encourage American nuns to actually do better at representing the Church. We are talking about nuns whose entire careers have amounted to nothing less than promoting defiance of the Church in principle, things like its teaching on abortion. And yet no one - thanks to Pope Francis, no one - has yet called these Church representatives to task. How medieval. Never called to task. How long would someone stay employed with Starbucks who tweeted how awful their coffee is?

2) Unchristian attitude toward gays. He refers later in the article to the Church's prejudice against gays. Does he know what the New Testament teaches about homosexuality and other aspects of sexuality? So, by Christian he must not mean, Christian according to the New Testament, but according to the 21st century liberal know-it-all sense of Christian, I guess. Prejudice means to pre-judge, usually in a negative sense. I guess that makes me prejudiced against a lot of people, like rapists, murderers, etc. But according to McParland even Pope Francis must have an unchristian attitude toward adultery, because he doesn't like it. How unchristian of him.

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

3) Lambasting papal bureaucrats. We have all imagined doing this. There isn't an 80s movie that doesn't have a speech in it about stuffy shirted bureaucrats. But let's just see how far Francis gets with the curia now that he has them all feeling like crap. Even the good ones. Back to McParland - does he think that Canadian bureaucrats are any better than Vatican bureaucrats? Are the grey suits at IBM and General Electric any more virtuous than those at the Vatican? Would he want a CEO of those companies to conduct himself in the manner that Pope Francis has? Would he invest his money in such a company? How about a school superintendent, or the editor-in-chief at the National Post? I bet McParland would be quite resentful were it directed at him.

4) Dirty priest problem. What does McParland think should be done about the dirty teacher problem? Probably nothing - because McParland is a bigot. And dirty doctors? Anything? Dirty politicians? Dirty lawyers? Nothing? The dirty black people problem? There's lots of them too. But that is a horrible thing to say - so should it be, epitomizing the priesthood as exceptionally dirty. Disgusting.

I don't know McParland other than as a generally decent journalist, definitely one well above average. But reading something like this makes me wonder whether this is old-fashioned Protestant anti-Catholicism (it still exists) hiding itself as generalized secularist anti-Catholicism. The only reason I ask is because McParland strikes me as fairly conservative in some ways. Please, set me straight here, readers.

Surely McParland would simply like the Catholic Church to simply disappear. That's really open-minded and tolerant. Is it 'christian' of him? Does he feel the same about Islam, Hinduism, feminism, socialism, environmentalism? Should everyone he doesn't agree with just disappear? He's welcome to his opinion, of course, but it is annoying to read over and over again the tired prejudices against the priesthood. He has no statistics to back up his claims. Do priests actually treat gays poorly? Is there a higher incidence of pedophiles in the priesthood? He assumes so, just like all bigots do. But where is his proof? In lieu of proof, bigotry.

But he likes the pope. What a surprise. Doesn't have much to say for Benedict. What a surprise.

A liberal journalist likes the non-Christian parts of a pope. That's news.

I will ask my readers to think how much of their views are actually formed by Christian ideas.

There was an interesting story about a woman in Florida destroying a Satanic display. The obvious thing here is that this is not very open-minded and egalitarian. We all know that there is a breaking point for the assimilation of classical liberal and Christian values, but the question is, where is it and when will the entente snap? Classical liberalism is a live and let live idea which many soft centrist Christians (me too) are more than happy to support, but the fact is it won't last, it isn't lasting. Liberalism has all but morphed into left wing ideology and no entente with that is possible. Gay marriage was presented as a live and let live thing and now has morphed into a series of demands on one and all.

You always have to wonder about someone who takes it upon himself to comment on something that is none of his business. Yeah, he's a journalist, but I doubt that he was ordered to write about the pope. Maybe he is Catholic - that'd be even more indicting. Have I ever said anything about the Dali Lama? Nope. I haven't the least bit of interest in him. I certainly don't want him to become 'more christian.' I would be happy if he got baptized and began to believe in Christ, but no happier than I would be were any other gentile to do so. (I don't care for 'trophies,' though. I find talk like that in poor taste.) Maybe McParlane is writing the obligatory religious article he has to write every December 20-something? Well, write about 'turkeys for tots' or something. I don't want Muslims to become more Christian. I want them to either be Christian or not. I find it kind of shameful for someone to become like someone else simply to oblige them. I want full-bore conscience-abiders, even if they are horribly wrong like believers in the Koran are. I don't want scheming politicians giving lip-service to the Bible. That's one thing to be said for Obama compared to Bill Clinton: Obama can scarcely conceal his disdain for Christianity. I actually appreciate that. I don't hate those celebrity atheists because they don't believe in God. I hate them because they misrepresent the truth and play games just for money. But don't lie to me about 'real Christianity,' Mr. McParlane. That is the most disgraceful thing of all. And don't live to turn people into homogenous, palatable, nothings, whether it's the pope, the Dali Lama, or Billy Graham. We need to be challenged by people's sharp edges.

McParland, a soft middler too, no doubt, fails to realize what a tool of repression he has become by equating Christianity's strong moral rigor as prejudice.

Not a Sword, Peace: The Heresy of Peace

I am doing a lot of work on the Book of Job right now, as I try to make lots of progress on a book that has been in stasis for far too long, that is, before economics force me to give up theology all together and become a construction worker. Give me money if you would rather I didn't. (I don't have the
luxury to be less direct than this anymore, btw)

Let me state my thesis plainly and then explain it further.

Protestants are primarily interested in attaining peace.

Yes, this is part of the 'Prosperity Gospel,' and all that, but there is an all that too: for lack of a better word, it is our contemporary therapeutic conception of spirituality. Religion is justified because it can bring peace to the heart.

This is plain idolatry. Idolatry of self, of feeling, of the world.

It does amaze me, though, the different 'place' suffering has in Protestant and Catholic (and Orthodox) theology. We looove suffering.

Not exactly, but we think that it has an important positive function. Protestants too often see it as a problem with their claim to 'election,' which was the very thing that Job was trying to argue against! Job was not suffering because his salvation was obviously in jeopardy. His suffering was working to assure his salvation.

One of the oddest discoveries of my ecumenical education was realizing Protestants have no sympathy for penance. This made no sense to me given the Biblical perspective: Jesus, John the Baptist, etc., all practiced asceticism: prayer and fasting. Sure, in the history of the saints it sometimes seems like asceticism is treated as an end in itself, but that is certainly not the value given to it by the Church's great teachers.

Catholicism is a religion for losers, for lack of a better words. Nietzsche recognized this well. The Romans did too. And it's something you hear with great frequency even today: there are no atheists in foxholes, it's said; I would add that there are few in hospitals, despite the best efforts of 'professionals.' (It's interesting to see the waxing and waning of secular governments' attacks on actually religious military chaplains.) Religion rears its head in jails too.
St. Peter Martyr

Christianity has a great deal to offer to people who don't "have it all together," i.e., everyone who is not living in denial. God builds on honest weakness. We believe human beings are not self-sufficient, the only beings who are incomplete, who cannot attain to their end, their happiness, which is knowledge of self, world, and their origin without God. Man is, so to speak, an existential joke, tragedy, farce without God.

Suffering is a reminder of this. Penance is what we should do to live in self-awareness when we might otherwise lose this.

The tendency to equate Christianity with attaining the pleasure of peace of mind, of course, comes out of deep unhappiness. But yearning for personal peace and directing all ones efforts in a self-centered drive to attain this can be self-defeating, insofar as such an effort might:

1) be based upon a false, individualistic notion of the human person. (Man is only complete when in relationship with God and neighbor.)

2) be directed toward a peace that is not real peace. (Not being challenged and confronted by pain and mortality is not attaining to real peace, but avoiding it.)

Pleasure and the avoidance of hard things does not lead one to spiritual strength, but usually away from it. There is no way to become interiorly strong without directly confronting and dealing with pain, physical and mental. Catholics have always defined holiness as a product of virtue (virtue is from the Latin for strong), and it is the product of 'exercise.'

To go back to the Protestants, they were originally very Augustinian in terms of their understanding of the role of grace in salvation, and yet, I think, that given the dis-junction they tend to set up between God and the world, salvation (and hence their understanding of what peace is) becomes unrelated to life in the world, an escape from it. But, I would argue, grace sets us up to live well the lives we are called to in it.

The first thing Protestants got rid of was monasticism. They talked about them as being leeches on society, but that doesn't really seem a sufficient explanation. Have you visited a Trappist farm? There isn't a more productive place. No, monasticism was offensive to the essential bourgeois character of Reformers; it was a scandal of the life of the cross. The Protestant Reformers also took the corpus off the cross, for the same reason. It was very uncomfortable and demanding to middle class money makers.

Peace of mind is a wonderful blessing, especially for those who have gone through tons of pain - the depressed, the anxiety-stricken, the mourning, etc. But it is not the goal of life. That is how Buddhism defines the goal of life, and it's not really all that worthwhile. Love is the goal of the Christian life. Love is the unifying force that brings us together in God's very own being. Love engages intellect, will and body into action in God: movement in God's own movement.

I love to spend a peaceful hour here and there in the presence of the Lord exposed in the Blessed Sacrament. But I am not there for peace most of all. I am there for love. People who are un-peaceful must pray for that gift, as people without food must pray for food, as people without courage must pray for it. At times when I am worried I pray for peace. But we should not dedicate our lives to attaining it most of all. If that is the goal of life then things like children, responsibilities, difficult ministries make no sense. If there is no value in suffering there can be no value in marriage and having children, friends. There is nothing good that is not hard. Thank God St. Francis, Padre Pio, Mother Teresa, all our mothers and fathers did not pursue peace most of all.

Christmas is the favorite time of the year to talk about peace on earth. But is that really biblical? Christ came to set the world on fire. The only peace He promised was through the blood of his cross.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Demographic Gauges

It's not just that we live in a democracy and in a capitalist economy that causes us to care about what people in general think about things, despite the inner-voice of our Christian consciences that tells us that the world must hate us. (Jn 15:18) No, it is not these things, primarily. It is human instinct. Human instinct has always relied on the tactic of going with the flow for survival. Birds flock, fish school and people mob. This is good for survival, but not necessarily for moral progress.

In fact, early on, at the very birth of moral philosophy as a coherent field, with Socrates, it was realized that morality is that one thing that really distinguishes people, that makes certain individuals really stand out from the pack.

To be an animal is one thing, to be fully human is something quite different.

Yes, we are animals, but we are not only. We need to be cognizant of our animal dimension, if we are to keep from surprising ourselves and undermining our better plans for ourselves. But we are not to be led by it.

In his great exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, on priestly formation, St. John Paul spoke about three kinds of formation. (MY GOODNESS PEOPLE, READ THIS, ESPECIALLY YOU PEOPLE WHO ARE OH-SO SPIRITUAL!) These three levels are: human, spiritual and intellectual (there is a fourth called pastoral, but that is specific to priests, so I am not going to talk about that here.)

So many times I have seen one, two, and even three of these ignored. Often, with a serious Catholic, one might be ignored for sake of the other two. Grad students, for instance, might ignore 1 and 2, for sake of 3. People interested in Carmelite spirituality might ignore 1 and 3. (I am picking on Carmelite on purpose, but this for a future post, perhaps.) Pope Francis is often worried about people who dwell on 2 and forget 1 (what about 3, Your Holiness?) In my years teaching I was so often frustrated by my students' lack of 3. If you have ever had the good blessing of listening to OLSWA chaplain, Fr. Paul Burchat's homilies, it was neglect of number 1 that vexed him! Some Catholics - yes, you know I am talking to you - put too much emphasis on 1, with their obsession with food, and do not see how this detracts from 2.

Holiness comes from wholeness. Saint, sanitary, sanity: soundness, health. A truism that we need to keep reminding ourselves of. This was the genius of great St. Benedict. Ora et labora. Work and prayer. But his prayer was two-pronged: prayer and worship as we know it, but also sacra pagina or lectio divina (study, specifically study of Scripture).

Holiness, in other words, is not something easily attained.

So, if holiness is not a common thing, why do we care about common values and opinions?

"Test everything; hold fast to what is good."
(1 Thess 5:21)

In the previous post talked about how readily many of us have assumed the idea that there are good emotions and bad ones. That's something from the world, not from the Catholic tradition.

Holiness is a rare thing. It is based on the perfection of those three things: our humanity, our spirit, and our intellect. I need to weed out a few doubt of doubters here. Some of you might be saying that intellectual perfection is only for the few and it is not nearly as important as number 2, and besides 1 is only important insofar as it permits number 2 to happen.


Intellectual perfection:

Test everything; hold fast to what is good (1 Thess 5:21)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ who... (Ph 2:5)

For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:16)

Sure, St. Therese was no St. Theresa, but certainly her mind was completely conformed to Christ's.

In other words, a stupid person cannot be holy. Stupid is opposed to wisdom, not knowledge of facts, but knowledge of important things.

So, anyway, spiritual growth is attained through devotion to prayer and to overcoming inertia to evil.

It cannot happen without intellectual configuration to Christ. How many of us have actually devoted our minds to God? Please pay attention to this last sentence: devotion of the mind to God. Intellectual devotion to God is about presenting all our ideas to God in light of His Holy Gospel, it is about questioning ideas we have picked up from society at large, it is about overcoming mental laziness, it is about leaving behind pursuits fueled by our ego and embracing the pursuit of knowledge joyfully.

There are very few people whose opinions you should regard. All Cretans are liars. (Titus 1:12)

But what does any of this look like in the concrete?

Take politics for instance. Do you worry about political events? How do your political views reflect the Gospel?

How deeply do you understand the Gospel? How much time do you devote to reading/studying it? How would you rank your expertise in theology relative to what you have attained in other fields of knowledge?

What are your spiritual goals? Do you even have any? How do you define holiness? What words do you use to do so?

Is there a decisive break between your Sunday mind and your Monday morning mind?

What gives you pleasure?