Thursday, November 27, 2014

Reconceiving Us

I think my life is slowly shifting from the thought about what I would like to get out of life to what I would like to give my children with my life.

The quest to "get something out of life" is not evil. It is slightly egocentric, of course, no matter how religious you are. The things I have wanted to get out of life are stuff like a sense of purpose, I want knowledge - stuff like that. Not terrible stuff.

But you can say 'so what' to these things, can't you? I know lots of people who will never amass the kid of knowledge I have been able to amass, and still intend to amass, and they live perfectly worthy lives, good lives even.

We need to change things up, and not fear where this
might lead us.
What I want for my kids: for them to know they are not alone, first. Second, to do good. When people talk about wanting people to be happy, well, that's not such a bad thing, but happiness and goodness do not go hand in hand, often. I see lots of happy people that I don't want my kids to be like.

But really, in the end, it's not about me at all. It's about their relationship with God. I am just a by-stander when it comes to that. Makes you really think, doesn't it, when you presume to take another person's life in your hands, via education, via correction, via abortion. They aren't even my property, funny how I treat them as though they are.

How many of our decisions about ourselves have been prompted by the idea of getting the most out of life? What did that even look like to us? Probably being successful was a part of it, even if it wasn't the main part.

How many of our decisions about our children are similarly based upon the presumption that we own our kids, and also this false idea about getting the most out of life?

Isn't it interesting how a few basic principles can lead you into some pretty unexpected places. For instance, how attached are you to your country, to its politics, to its 'news,' 'issues,' etc?

Let me ask why?

Frankly I read the news because it's less boring than TV shows. News is at least based on reality.

I do not acknowledge, however, that what I encounter when I watch the news is my community. The medium is the message right? Well, the message is we are all part of this version of reality that confronts us in the news. We all speak the same language, acknowledge the same basic values, strive for the same basic ends. One communicates, typically, with one's family and friends, therefore, this person speaking to me parades as such. I receive him as such, I have to remind myself that he is not, that he is weaving a tale, not giving me the plain truth; he is not out for my good, but for his own, so too the corporation this newscaster represents.

I have a statement to make: to the degree that your moral outlook has been influenced by Hollywood, it is to that degree that you lack moral compass.

More specifically, and I can say this because it was once largely true for me: the degree to which you have been formed by The Pelican Brief, Amistad, Mississippi Burning, Erin Brockovitch, Dead Man Walking, The Rainmaker, A Time to Kill, Avatar, WALL-E, Kingdom of Heaven, that is to say, just about any movie with Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Sean Penn, etc., in it, anything recent by Disney, or Pixar, anything about black people in the US, or homosexuals, it is to this degree that you have been formed by unbalanced sentiment.
Isn't she fun!? She must have
some answer for my life.

I should know, I was once this way.

Do you like these movies? Are they important to you? Do you feel they accurately portray the world, history, the good?

Well, they are simplistic and imbalanced, and if they are important to you that means you see the world in a very simplistic manner: all black people and homosexuals and Muslims are good, all white men are and were always bad. The solution is always to give up your moral scruples, never preserve traditional values, because they are worthless and held on to un-reflectively, like taboos.

They are liked because they make people feel morally good about themselves. If I were in that situation, I would act nobly, they feel as they watch it. But the fact is, they wouldn't act that way: people who are formed by their environment are the very people who given the right situation would do what that environment requires. If you like liberal clap-trap, you are the type of person who would be racist in the Deep South, because you let the environment do your thinking for you. People changed their views on gay marriage very quickly about ten years ago because Hollywood said so. Just like that, they switched. What seemed good before, now seems bad. Just like that.
The passion of compassion. Wow.

There is a simple reason for this. You never thought about things in their rawest forms. People naturally identify their way of life with the good itself. So much is this so that they are actually unable to see their own biases and the fact that other perfectly reasonable people may disagree with them. No, I disagree with a lot of people whom I call friend, you might say. Yes, according to a certain limited threshold of toleration, coupled with the undeniably patronizing presupposition that they will eventually "come around to seeing things the right way."

Maximize freedom and sharing, liberals say, completely unaware of what the words they say mean. Many men have gotten very rich by promoting sharing. In the name of freedom many men have treated others with great cruelty. Just as in the name of fighting global warming, many, many trips on planes must be taken. I would literally have to live a hundred lives to equal the kind of wastage Al Gore and David Suzuki effect. I would literally have to live a hundred lives to make the kind of money Bill Clinton makes in the name of sharing.

Are these people insane or stupid? False dichotomy.

They are stupid in that having been formed into a world view where bad guys are flat, they believe that all problems can be solved by doing the opposite of TV's bad people. They are greedy and mean, so be generous and nice. They have rules, so break rules. They are exception-less, so making an exception for everything.

They are insane in the sense that insane means mentally unhealthy (sanum means health, soundness). They are morally unsound. People can't be morally healthy who are morally immature, just as a forty year old cannot be said to be physically healthy who is a wizened as an eighty year old. Only mental exercises can make the mind healthy. Nor do I mean turning the mind into a calculator, as is our dominant notion. Moral exercises aimed at the basic questions of life: what is the good, why was I made, what should I do? Not, what is the best material to stick on a rocket ship or what is the ultimate definition of pi?

I am talking about thinking outside of the box. Not, what is better, the pill or IUDs? Not, what is the ideal tax rate? Not, what kinds of food maximize health? And, what we should do to further the initiatives of the social engineers, everyone from bureaucrats and politicians to NGOs and, yes, even the Cancer Society?

I mean, what is real human life and what do we have to change about ourselves to get it? The kinds of questions Socrates asked. Actually, no more us, only me - what do I have to change about me to encounter truth? People who obsess about us do so to put the onus on society at large, not on me, the only one whose actions I can actually control.

News is a form of thought-control, exercised on lazy minds in search of meaning and entertainment. Who you define as us is all-important, though. TV says the us is all the people we see in the movies: all the generous white people and that one nice black family they know who, yes, all dress like Carlton Banks. And, now, that zany gay uncle who shows up at Thanksgiving, whom the children just love! He is the most compassionate and psychologically healthy person around - how can't you love all gay people, you wicked beast?!

My us does not include most elected representatives and very likely few in Hollywood.

We all know how St. Lawrence defined us:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Women be Strong in a Womanly Way

Sometimes less is more, but having comes across
this picture - I just love it - I see how well
it expresses our need to be beautiful
and to fit in.

Maybe it's the countless number of books on marriage (actually, seven) I've been reading in preparation for the next issue of the Catholic Review Books.
from 1950

Maybe it's the two-second intersection with a girl in Pembroke the other day.

Maybe it's reading Matt Walsh's blog.

It's all three, actually.

What happened with the girl? Nothing, really, I just noticed that she spoke in a deep voice. What's weird about that? I notice girls speak with deeper voices now. Does this mean anything? Is it even true?

Everything I say is true.

from 1953
And here's my theory: girls are not 'allowed' to be feminine anymore. Because of feminism, and because of the fact that all of the old protections have been stripped away, and girls are now vulnerable as they have never been before. Enter CBC broadcaster and black American comedian.

Girls are vulnerable in this world run by men, a world which no longer has any absolute standard to protect them. ('Consent' is not an absolute standard that can actually protect women.)

So now girls mimic men. Makes sense: they laugh with deep guttural laughs. They talk in deep voices. They dress in an flatteringly manner (when they dress at all).

Can you blame them?

from 2003
But you know, these are not strong women, these are weak men.

I know a tonne of strong women. They are the most feminine women I know too. (Hey, blog reading ladies, yes, I am likely thinking about you!)

My wife would be a case in point. She has not sacrificed her femininity (thank God! - she is so beautiful!) and she has and is raising six children. And she stands up to me.

from 2013
My town is full of amazing models of femininity like her. They are comfortable enough as women as not to need to be like men. One friend, for instance, refuses to watch The Walking Dead with her husband, and although it's the best show on TV ever, I like that she refuses to watch it. There is something womanly about that.

It's hard being a woman today, I'm sure - I have four daughters, so I know something about girls trying to figure out what it is to be a girl today. I hate that the older two now refuse to wear pink. My third loves it, because she hasn't been told by older girls that this is too girly - yet.

Voices. I don't speak in a low voice. I can sing baritone and I can sing in just about any other register. I can speak in a low voice if I like. But I don't feel like proving my manhood that way, as I have seen many teenage boys trying to over the years. Homosexual men change their voices to fit in with what they are trying to prove. And now we see that girls, especially in their 20s, are lowering theirs. There is no vulnerability today like 20-year-old vulnerability. There is no surprise in any of this. It's just sad.

And / or does the pill do this to their voices?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Are You Really Christian in any Significant Sense?

I am not the first person to make this observation, and I won't be the last:

Does your Christian discipleship make you stand out in any way at all?

If it doesn't I believe that chances are it's because you are not really following Christ very well. 

Now, there are of course better followers and worse followers. I am somewhere in the middle. Nor does the fact that I am this blatantly a Christian mean I am a good one. But the opposite isn't true either, that you can be a real follower of Christ without making any waves at all.

Yes, I am a blatant Christian. But any youngish, well-educated, especially well-educated in theology, articulate, healthy, father with the responsibility to set a good Christina example, especially on who lives in a democracy and has access to the means of communication, must be a blatant Christian.

No, old grannies often can't be, nor can people who are ill, persecuted, etc. Perhaps they can be, but I certainly think there is way more onus on me to be this way.

In other words, it is a sin for someone like me to keep silent.

Not only that: are your opinions distinctly Catholic?

  • I don't mean that the ones you have aren't Catholic in some way, like, yes, love of the poor. 
  • I mean do you have views that people who aren't Catholic wouldn't have?
  • I mean do the views you have make you stand out from the popular culture?
  • I mean do your views cause you to be treated negatively by the world?

If you sit and think about it, Jesus was not someone who blended into the background. If you have any sense that being a Christian is not making waves, you have to explain that one. And, if you have any sense in which being like Jesus is spouting the orthodoxies of the time, you are also quite different from Jesus.

So let's cut to the chase here. It's not good enough to be a pro-poor people, pro-worker, pro-women Christian. Anyone can have these values, and so what did God give you the gift of faith for, for what reason did He call you? - just to parrot what everyone already accepts to be true?

You won't find any Christians who, as Christians, think the poor should be abused and neglected, that women should be abused and neglected or that the environment should be wantonly destroyed. You also won't find any normal pagans like that either.

So what difference do you make? What did God call you to do?

Were the Christians of the first centuries subject to severe treatment by the Roman rulers because of their generosity to the poor?

Were the radical saints of the Middle Ages harangued by the princes and rulers of this world because they liked to nurse lepers?

Were the million martyrs of the 20th Century killed for their intransigence on tax policies?

I think we have a lot to learn from the great Butler's Lives of the Saints, for instance.

Speaking of the Romans, what new things did Christianity bring on the scene, anyway?

A great many. It's been very hard for scholars to identify these things, and this for two reasons. First, they were and are too used to them. Second, they didn't want to see Christianity's beneficence relative to Classical Culture. But let me make a list:

1. condemned abortion

2. condemned inequality in marriage (idea that it's okay for husbands to be unfaithful, but not wives)

3. brought to an end the immanent-ism of Roman values. (All that matters is this world, and hence the political advantages of Rome, and the imperialism that that entails.)

4. taught the equality of all people, contra racism, sexism, slavery

5. brought an end to the cruel idea of fate: that people get what they deserve - the poor should be poor, the blind are actually sinners, etc.

6. a radical new understanding of money (read Peter Brown's amazing book, Through the Eye of a Needle)

These five things (it's hard to distinguish them since they are all inter-related) lead to the creation of a very different kind of world, that, eventually, secularism would want to take credit for:

1. the end of slavery

2. hospitals

3. universities (with its attendant fundamental belief about the orderliness of creation, contra conceptions about fate, chaos)

But, giving credit where it is due. Christianity also brought the best out of paganism and handed it on to the modern world:

1. the Stoic idea of natural law

2. the Socratic idea that morality is more important than physics and logic (the three classic divisions of philosophy; okay, that kind of went without saying for Christians)

Anyway, this is a blog post and not a book, so I will have to be very succinct.

My overall point is this: without Christianity the world would be a much worse place. And it is very important for Christians to understand this if they are going to have their priorities in place.

And now modern people want to get rid of certain Christian things from our culture while believing they can maintain all the good things that Christianity brought about because of them (because they can't believe that it was Christianity that brought them).

There are no spiritual values, only material considerations (a la Bacon, d'Holbach, Marx, Freud). What do you think are the consequences of this view in politics and economics? Mao and Stalin lived that out and now Putin, Obama and every other corrupt politician (i.e. practically all of them) does.

Life is arbitrary and has no innate dignity. Reconfigure genes and gender, dispose of useless lives via abortion and euthanasia.

No natural law and we get this mad inconsistency: Right and wrong is a matter of personal opinion, but treat everyone exactly this way (i.e. the way left-wing ideologues tell you to).

Totalitarianism in the state. There is a reason why there were no totalitarian rulers in the Middle Ages: everyone had to obey natural law and the teaching of the Faith. This is why Pope Benedict referred to today's dictatorship of relativism. It's a dictatorship because there are no absolute checks on its power: if there is no God, no natural law, only might is right, which takes us right back to paganism. The state had checks with Christianity: the Church, the Gospel, the principles of natural reason, the family. That's what our fight about the family is really about: protecting human life from totalitarianism.

And a new slavery: Baconism and Marxism leads to a new slavery. If there are no spiritual values and only material ones, watch what happens (is happening) to Sundays and other holy days of rest and how work is taking over our lives. Work is taking over people's lives, not because they do not know how to turn off their work cellphones, but because they have no defensible moral reason to stand behind for so doing and bosses are not negatively judged by society for insisting on this.

So ultimately this is how things are: the world as we know it was blessed immeasurably by Christianity. Even still, it is not a great place. Due to a lack of historical knowledge and the manipulations of ideologues, that these good things came from Christianity remains largely unknown today, But my thesis here is not about this directly, It is that we must do the overtly Christian things to be real Christians. Why? Isn't it the case that whoever is not against us is for us? Yes, and no. Those who are merely just not against us are not doing the greater good that brought the good things of Christianity into the world. People can only love man who love God.

The good things that Christianity brought into the world are treasured by all, but the all will not be able to hold on to them.


Essentially, for no other reason than that when people do things for reasons other than 'for God,' there reasons are contingent upon those other things being the case. For example, if people do things because that's what makes me feel good, when it no longer does, they cease doing it. When people do things in any way because of some material cause, when that situation changes, their actions change. God always is, though, and His will is non-negotiable. Of course, not all Christians are good Christians, but there are no people intransigent as to the good like someone who believes it is God's will. Christians don't build hospitals to look good to others, (as we can assume the Roger's family did who recently gave $100 million to that Toronto hospital.) Christians believe in feeding the poor whether or not there are socialists around or not. Christians will feed the poor no matter the circumstance. Christians feed the poor when they are misinterpreted as socialists and when they are not, as in the case of Archbishop Romero.

Kant said there were two kinds of moral laws, the categorical and the hypothetical. It's just what I said above. Hypotheticals are things we do for sake of something else. Categorical ones have no such condition attached. I would submit that Christians view all things as categorical in the sense that we do what we understand to be good because God says so, ultimately. Pagans cannot. (Nor is it appropriate to call this kind of duty hypothetical, i.e. we do it so that God will reward us. No, we do it because we love what is good, what is, what is is God. Kant agreed: we must do the good because it is good. Theologians have long taught that love only loves because it expects a reward is servile love, not full, good love of God.)

Without God it's hard to give any view metaphysical rigor. This is why people think arguments like, "everything's socially relative," are morally relevant. Christianity has absolute goods: God, the soul, human life, human dignity. It does not regard these things are social constructs.

So in conclusion, if you think it's good enough to be a Christian who lives the social Gospel it is not, because you are caught up in too many hypotheticals. If you love a thing, and it is a thing that should be loved, but you love it for the wrong reasons, or not for the best reason, then you are undermining the people who built the Kingdom of God, then you are making things worse, not better. Because the world such as it is is the best that the saints could make it. If you do not live like they lived, you are taking away from their work. Moreover, and this is as insulting as it is important: when you do the right things for the wrong reasons or not for the best reason (God) it is because you have weak faith. Merely social gospel Christians, thus, have little to no faith.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Incarnation of the Gospel

One thing that struck me about Sunday's reading of the Parable of the Talents was how intimately the Gospel has actually gotten stuck into culture, so deeply that we often fail to realize it's even there.

English-speakers have borrowed a lot of phrases from the King James Bible: apple of my eye (Deut. 32:10), fruit of the womb (Ps 127:3), skin and bones (Job 19:19-20), as well as many others. I am sure the same is the case with other languages. I understand that every swear-word in French is Catholic in origin.

I bet many people fail to realize that not only does 'talent' in that Gospel passage mean a unit of money (a rather large one), but that the very concept of talent comes from this parable and is not explicitly what Jesus means by it (although it is certainly a legitimate interpretation, but remember, it is an interpretation). You will not find this modern concept, 'talent,' in Greco-Roman literature: they had virtus arete (meaning strength, skill), which is not exactly what we mean by talent today. Most often we understand 'talent' as something we are born with. That much is in keeping with the parable: something given by God. The Greeks and Romans, rather, focused on the things you could develop, not things you were born with. Why talk about these things? If you wanted to be brave, practice being brave, said the philosophers. Philosophers have little to say about things you are born with. Socrates never said, "Be tall!"

But my point here is not to contrast pagan and Christian notions, but rather to reflect on the manner in which divine revelation penetrates human culture.

Now, in the Gospel, by 'talent' Jesus seems to mean something given by God. Judging from the rest of the Gospels He usually has in mind money or other material possessions, the Word, and grace. He doesn't, again, talk about natural talent. Moses and Jeremiah both said that they weren't good speakers, but there is no sense in these passages, as far as I can tell, that speaking well is something you are born with. Augustine says that the rules of good-speaking are only good for those with some natural ~talent~ I would have to look up what word he actually used here, but his sense was that rhetorical rules won't do some people any good.

Not one of my talents.
The point here is not how far had the pagans gone in coming up with a notion of 'genetic predisposition,' and how much was this a Christian 'gift.' My point is actually two-fold: the Gospel has created cultural norms, some of these are not strict logical transpositions from the Gospel, but rather fortuitous events. That is to say, the Gospel planted in a certain environment will produce something, though not usually in a strictly logically-reductive manner. John Paul II famously said that it was providential that the first culture into which the Gospel fell was the great Greco-Roman one. (Fides et Ratio) He was contradicting those who say that everything is culturally relative and that we should strip away the non-Semitic elements from the Gospels to arrive at their truth. No, he said. They were given when and how they were on purpose. (It is up to the scholars, and to the Church definitively, to discern that purpose.)

So, take a Gospel, add some Anglo-Saxons, and voila, here's your word talent. The world is God's machine.

All of this said, though, it still doesn't excuse preachers from mentioning that 'talent' doesn't mean talent, but money. It can mean talent too, but money first.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Catholic Childhood

Some of you must be thinking that I've fallen off the deep-end. You can end up with a true conclusion but be operating from false premises.

Yes, I joined the Church at 17. I had no Catholic childhood, for better or for worse. For better in that it cannot be said that I was inoculated against the Faith by means of poor example, as so many have. My teachers in the Faith were all of history's greats via books: Augustine, Benedict, Francis. I had no tepid Catholics to scandalize me.

But, as I meander about this basement amongst a bunch of things, including boxes of my children's books, which I eye thoughtfully, thinking of the best ones to present in the Catholic Review of Books, a certain warmness comes into my heart when I think of all the great literature that we have been able to expose our kids to over the years. So much of it is from Seton, you know, those sweeter-than-sweet books they have for kids associated with their home-schooling program? If you don't know them, you probably should. Do so here.

Why should I? you ask.

No, it is not great literature, most of it, anyway. But it is good literature, and for as much as I am the number one snobinator in the Church in North America when it comes to Catholic literature, when it comes to young children I whole-heartedly endorse Seton's saccharine sweetness. We have to have such innocence in our childhood! Even my secular upbringing had this kind of thing in it - no, not exactly as my wife and I had wished it upon our children - but I think the fact that I can love the good at all, means that it must have been presented to me in some blatant manner then.

So, my basement is full of boxes of my Catholic childhood memories. And, again with reference to Seton, my head is full of sweet music too. You may laugh at me, but there is something ever so charming about blatantly Catholic music. No, not for adults, but for kids.

To a large extent you have to put childish things away at a certain point. I positively despise Disney, especially how it grabs adults. I am a little snobbish when it comes to music too. Frozen's 'Let it Go' is bad, just as bad Catholic literature and songs are bad - bad for adults. Some people want to live in perpetual childhood. But nostalgia doesn't have to be that, though.
Greatest. CD. Ever.

It seems that kids are the only ones we permit to love the good-in-itself. They are the only ones to whom we say "Do not lie," for instance, or use bad language, steal, etc. We hold children to a higher standard than we would ever think to hold adults, for some reason. Augustine used to complain that Romans held women to a higher moral standard than men. He took it as an insult on behalf of all men. I take it as an insult that people permit my lies, my language, my thefts. Am I not worthy to be as good as a child?

Someday I would like to be Seton Books good. But as an adult.

And, neither Augustine and I got to receive the grace of infant baptism. We could complain that it's not fair, but that's not really productive. God gives the grace of a Christian childhood to people in different ways. I began to experience mine soon after Isaiah was born.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Extended Families

The 'spiritual theme' of my Facebook feed this morning was family. One person linked to an article on sisters, another an article about a surprise pregnancy announcement to the kids, and Longenecker posted about the 'ancient, radical' Christian idea of marriage.

The other day Anne-Marie and I were talking about extended families living together, and how the nuclear family is a sign of our impoverished humanity. The reason why it's so hard to have a widowed mother or a 'deadbeat' uncle living with you is because we are very selfish and have come to define our good as individualistic.

The funny thing is most of us cannot even make the nuclear family work! What I just said there is the whole problem, isn't it? As modern people even we Christians have the idea that the best kind of life is the more self-sufficient kind. Sure, we need to love and be loved, and 'have to' have kids, so the ideal of our time is a man and a woman, with two kids, who go to Disneyland once a year and skiing and all that. Both mom and dad have jobs, of course. That's an easy life, financially speaking, anyway - easier than mine, mine that involves a lot of anxiety about whether I can pay the bills each month. But, if it's so easy, why does this view of family life have such a poor success rate?

Here's a few reasons why:

1) my good is not really my good; it's our good. We are far more relational than is commonly supposed these days

2) in effect, nuclear means "get the hell out of my house, grandma, sister, etc." It is a negative concept. Even within the nuclear family territories are carefully staked out: my room, my bathroom, my TV time, my computer, my cereal, my sporting event...

3) the nuclear family is an achievement: you now have enough money to justify having your own house, family, etc.

4) some of those things upon which the feasibility of the nuclear family are based are not spiritually satisfying, but which we put in the place of people: I mean insurance, I mean government subsidies, I mean dental and medical plans. All of these things have the subconscious effect of making us believe that we do not need our neighbour. So fine, we don't actually need our neighbour (family) when we have a toothache because we have a dentist and a dental plan. Oh, really? Think about that one for a moment. No one has ever been saved from loneliness and meaninglessness by a dental plan.

Wouldn't this make you proud if this
were your son?
5) service is defined contractually and not affect-ively. Service is defined as a quid pro quo, not as the essence of decent human living. Where does this leave grandma who is old and infirm and the deadbeat uncle who has psychological problems? Out in the cold, that's where. And who is the worse for it - the young and the strong, that's who.

People cannot be good who do not have people depending on them. Service is the only path to virtue, and I don't mean the kind we can freely elect to take on and freely elect to ignore on any giving day. Contraception is a great example of this: it is the pretense of love without ensuing responsibility. Not possible. Love is supposed to have strings attached.

Nor can we say that any of this is easy - having grandma move in or uncles or more babies. But if you want to be alive, you have to expand your heart. I don't believe many of us are ready for this.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Is a Spiritual Work of Mercy a Missionary Work?

Many of you likely do not know that I have been working on the official constitutions of a religious order. Yes, I am right up there with Basil, Benedict and Augustine. No doubt.

It is hard, complicated, curious and fascinating work. I tried to write a religious rule when I was nineteen. Suffice it to say, this one is a little bit more involved.

The process in a nutshell is this: translating the holy work and enthusiasm of a group of Christians into legalese. It's kind of like asking artists to write computer code. I usually find myself on the 'artist' side, but here I am being asked to perform the other function. It's very easy to get into the position of sucking the air out of the room. Poetry is poetry and will never run a computer. If you turn it into code, it is no longer poetry, it is something else; it may yet be beautiful, but it is not what it was. It reminds me of Flannery O'Connor's words about the 'meaning' or 'theme' of a novel. A good novel is an experience and cannot be reduced to a 'theme.'

Now that I think about it, isn't this what OLSWA has undergone in the last five years? It began as a crude apostolic initiative by sincere and enthusiastic Christians - but governments don't accredit that kind of thing. It needed to be put into institutional form. But institutionalizing isn't all bad. I can't argue how effective any specific case of institutionalization has been, not even OLSWA's - something is always lost, and something is always gained - but, whether it's more good or more bad, it is usually necessary for maturation. After all, the Church is an institution. But it is not only an institution.

Socrates teaching some people on a street corner can never be improved upon. But you cannot replicate it. Plato's Academy is not Socrates on a street corner. The Franciscans are not St. Francis, and not even the Trappists are St. Benedict. But some of the good of Socrates, Francis and Benedict can be bottled-up and passed out.


The 'religious order' that I am assisting (yes, I know, it is not a religious order, Your Grace!), the religious order Society of Apostolic Life (happy?) I am assisting provides one thing: a witness to the importance of the Blessed Sacrament in the world. Now, according to canon law that neither qualifies it as a Society of Consecrated Life (which has living the Evangelical Counsels as its principal focus) nor as a Society of Apostolic Life (which has a certain ministry as its primary focus). Those are your two options, the only two canon law recognizes. Yes, teaching is a ministry that would qualify as a legitimate ministry for a Society of Apostolic Life (SAL), but is 'promoting devotion to the Holy Eucharist' teaching? One might argue it is. I would. Missionary work or evangelization also qualify as legitimate ministries, but this is not the evangelization of pagans or even the fallen-away. It is about strengthening the faith of the already committed and does so in one particular way only. What's even more problematic canonically, the members of the Society don't even perform the main parts of the evangelization: God does, by means of His presence in the Holy Eucharist. In other words, the members of the Society encourage a person to make himself teachable to God Himself, that is the primary function of this SAL.

But, I argue, is any spiritual education done any differently? Consider the passages: They will be taught by God” (Jn 6:45, Is 54:13) and “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10). These are not about the life in heaven, but about the reality of our new life in Christ in the here-and-now. Augustine was famous for stating that it is God alone who teaches.

How can you institutionalize the Spirit? The Church has been doing that for two thousand years. We'll find a way. God will show us the way. Please keep this holy initiative in your prayers!