"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Friday, June 30, 2006

Peter, Paul, and the martyrs of Rome

Yesterday, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on the Roman calendar, I heard a song on the radio by Peter, Paul, and Mary. That's what remined me of the feast. Today is the feast of the "first martyrs of Rome," among whom we may count Saints Peter and Paul, the two greatest apostles. While I like 60s folk music, that little juxtaposition between the secular and the sacred reminded of the vast discrepancy between the true faith and the comfortable paganism most of us prefer.

There are many reasons why Europe has become essentially secular, despite its Christian roots, and why American culture is predominantly secular despite the residual religiosity of many Americans. But I'm convinced that the biggest reason is our natural preference for comfort over sacrifice. As a result of scientific and technological advances, most of us in the West enjoy a standard of living inconceivable to our forebears. Fat and sassy, we treat God as just one more lifestyle option, and take for granted a power over life and death once thought to be God's alone. Even old-fashioned paganism is resurgent because it celebrates natural joy within the confines of a given, larger reality that does not require us to die and be reborn. One can experience echoes of such joy in folk music the world over. America's last good folk-genre flowered in the sixties with the likes of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and of course Peter, Paul, and Mary. The worldview implicit in such music is spiritually satisfying to many of my generation on the secular Left. But if Christianity is true, it is all a comfortable illusion.

Contemporary Westerners, at least for the most part, are quite willing to accommodate something called "man's search for God." Such a search makes people seem "deep," expressing dissatisfaction with the finite and broken without calling forth any particular commitment of heart and soul. But by the same token, people are often unwilling to accommodate actually being found by God. The explanation can be found by contemplating any crucifix. Peter and Paul were, by tradition, crucified upside down, and the larger group of "protomartyrs" were either burned alive as lampposts on Rome's streets or devoured by wild beasts in the Colosseum. Giving our lives for God as the Son of God gave his life for us is not what most people who accommodate, or even celebrate, man's search for God have in mind. Nor is that surprising. The flesh resists the message that what we are is broken, needing to be broken anew so that we may attain eternal life and glory.

That is why devout Christians backslide and, even in their best moments, recoil from the problem of undeserved suffering. Life even on God's terms often seems cruel, and cruelly unfair. It is. That's because life is not about comfort and fairness but about becoming what we are recreated to be. May the past sacrifice and the present prayers of the Roman martyrs, whose leaders' bones remain in Rome, strengthen us to recognize and accept that truth in our lives.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Is there a cosmos?

Over at One Cosmos, clinical psychologist Richard Godwin asks: "Where does the idea of a universe, or cosmos come from, anyway?" He closes with a quote from Frithjof Schuon, a mystical philosopher of "esoterism" whom I read a lot of in college; and he approvingly cites a 1999 book by "philosopher of science" Fr. Stanley Jaki, without apparently having noticed an earlier, even more apposite book by the same author: Is There a Universe? (New York: Wethersfield Institute, 1993). While I'm in spiritual sympathy with Godwin's rather idiosyncratic answer, I prefer a different philosophical route.

My 1988 doctoral dissertation at Penn was a metaphysical treatise entitled The Concept of Mystery: A Philosophical Investigation. My chief claim was that there is an ontological category of the positively mysterious, which consists of that which is fully explicable but not uniquely determined by what explains it. One example, which I did not have space to explore, is that of a "reason" for action: reasons fully explain free actions but need not (and on some accounts cannot) causually necessitate them. The example I did focus on in my thesis was that of the existence of "the world," i.e., of what Godwin means by "the cosmos." But Godwin locates the inquiry in the wrong place.

For him, the key question is whether the universe is "the sum" or "the whole" of things. I disagree. The world is the sphere of what happens; that's what's being asked about when one asks "Why does the world exists?" The world thus asked about needn't be limited to our physical universe; there might be other things involved in events that we cannot in principle observe because they are not causally accessible to our universe. Hence, whether or not the physical universe as we know it is a mere sum of constituent parts or a whole greater than that sum and rendering it intelligible, the question remains as it is. At considerable length, I argued that it is more reasonable to believe that the world so defined is positively mysterious than not, and thus that its existence is explicable by the free, rational action of some agent not of it: in other words, a Creator. To deny that is to limit unduly what counts as explanation.

Some might say that Godwin and I reach the same conclusions from a different route. I don't know his mind quite well enough to speak to that. But I do find his writing creative and entertaining, and we clearly do agree on the intellectual and spiritual merit of something called natural theology. In that respect, we stand with many Catholic thinkers against many Protestant and Orthodox ones.

Never thought I'd see the day...

Hurrah! I have now been accused of being a "radical fundamentalist." Of the Catholic variety, mind you: nobody would ever accuse me of being a biblical fundamentalist. No, I'm the sort who wants "to hold that the church has never altered its official teaching on anything." But I'm delighted that a professional Catholic theologian, Fr. Joseph O'Leary, has made that absurd charge at Pertinacious Papist under his standard moniker "Spirit of Vatican II" (no kidding, that's his chosen handle). What pleases me about it is how it points up, in its own little way, the intellectual degeneracy of the theological left (as well as the political left, which Alexandra von Maltzan and Richard Godwin do an bang-up job of diagnosing.)

Anybody who cares about the issue of how Church teaching develops can learn my real position easily by reading my essay "Development and Negation" (click the link in the left sidebar). In that essay I tackle some of the usual issues often cited, by both progressives and traditionalists, as radical reversals of previous teaching. As background, I also suggest my post The Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, which focuses mainly on the question of women's ordination. My position is not that Church teaching hasn't changed—in fact some teachings have, for the better—but that those changes which have occurred do not contradict any teaching that meets the Church's own criteria for infallibility. Development of doctrine does not, and if Catholicism is true cannot, negate any teaching officially proposed as belonging to the deposit of faith. That's why the Church's teachings on, e.g., usury and heliocentrism have changed but her teachings on women's ordination and contraception have not changed—and will not.

O'Leary, needless to say, doesn't bother himself with such subtleties. He is so keen on getting the Church to negate her constant and irreformable teachings about homosex, women's ordination, and contraception that he believes any effort to uphold those teachings as having been infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium is a brand of "radical fundamentalism." Such irresponsibility, which is widespread among progs of every church, only plays into the hands of those who defend the faith once delivered to the saints.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The eye of the storm

The parochial vicar at my parish, Fr. James Ebright, is such a good homilist and confessor that our bishop is packing him off to study law (canon and civil) for five years. Reminds me of the Army's, and my workplace's, golden rule of human resources: find out what somebody is best at, then make sure they do as little of it as possible. But before he departs next week, Fr. James has managed to remind me of the possibility, as well as the necessity, of finding the eye of the storm.

His homily today was on the readings: Job 38:1, 8-11, 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, and Mark 4:35-41. The theme was that God speaks to us in the storms of life with the love that never falters or exhausts itself. Such is the point of stillness, the eye looking right at us, that we access by faith. Of course that does not "make sense" of undeserved suffering, which is perhaps the biggest challenge to faith through the ages. We demand to know "why"—especially "Why me and/or those I love?"—and "how long." Job got an answer; Christ gave the answer. We don't get an answer we can fully understand. And answers, such as they are, do not make sense of the most grotesque instance of suffering: the death by crucifixion of the Son of God. But that very death tells us what our dismay and resentment amid undeserved suffering often prevent us from hearing: God is there, bearing it all with us in love, so that we may become what he created us to be.

It has cost me a lot to have forgotten that in my life before. Let us each do what we must to remember it, so that our faith and love do not falter when we are put to the test.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The biggest stumbling blocks

St. Paul called Christ crucified "a stumbling block to Jews, foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23). And so he remains—even to baptized Gentiles, who in many cases live no more sacrificial lives than unbelievers, and in some cases less so. But the Cross as stumbling block manifests itself in particular blocks, personal and collective. In my experience, the biggest personal one is the dominical demand to forgive the repentant. Fearful and defensive as we are, being wronged makes us self-protectively mistrustful: "once burned, twice shy." That makes it almost irrelevant to us whether the wrongdoer repents or not. We often take for granted that the wrongdoer is a hopeless case who sooner or later will "do it again," an attitude precluding that forgiveness from the heart which is necessary for true reconciliation. But there are also collective stumbling blocks. In our society, the two biggest are intellectual pride and old-fashioned lust.

Those vices are now highly esteemed and fiercely defended aspects of our culture. To a greater or lesser extent, almost all of us share them. Now intellectual pride does not vary directly with intelligence, any more than lust varies directly with sex drive. A co-worker of mine, a man of modest education and even less native intelligence, is completely convinced that he needs no coaching or study guides to help him understand the Bible. He just "knows" when the Holy Spirit is guiding him to the correct interpretation, just as people at the other Protestant church down the block from his are convinced that they "know" the Holy Spirit is leading them to a different and incompatible interpretation. When I was in academia, I encountered young women who dressed like whores and slept around not because they had sex on their minds all the time (OK, a few did, but they were exceptional), but simply because they were convinced that they would never land a guy if they didn't. And so they actively encouraged their sexual appetites, seeking out the "hunks," in order to keep themselves in the game of what once, long ago, was called courtship and has now degenerated into the alienating culture of "hooking up." I have found such oddities to be common in today's America, so that they are no longer widely perceived as oddities. The underlying attitudes about religious authority and sexuality are now the norms.

I have also found the effects of such norms even among spiritually-minded people who sympathize with traditional Christianity and, in many cases, even believe themselves to subscribe to it. That is only natural: intellectual pride and sexual lust are alluringly self-serving. Thus in my many theological debates over the decades, I have found the two most commonly contested features of Catholicism to be (a) her claim to teach the deposit of faith infallibly, and (b) her teaching about sexual morality. The two are obviously related, inasmuch as the content of the latter is backed by the former. Both are so widely misunderstood, in a negative way of course, that I have gradually become convinced that many people don't want to understand them. If they did, then the full plausibility of those features would be manifest and thus constitute a divine call to give up the two most self-serving of our cultural norms. But that fact, when it is a fact, is easily understood. The truly puzzling thing is how the features in question constitute stumbling blocks even to the plainly well-motivated.

I have only recently discovered as much, thanks to the blogosphere. An elaborate example is a discussion touched off by my recent post at Pontifications about sexual orientation and personhood. The occasion for that piece was a philosophical attempt by The Anglican Scotist to justify the homosexualist claim that a person's homosexuality is essential to their personhood. I sought to rebut that claim. My piece drew the attention of one of the conservative blogosphere's most charming and interesting practitioners, Baroness Alexandra von Maltzan, who cited it approvingly in a provocative post of her own. That post generated a very long thread of comments, the most striking of which came from Kenny Pierce of Redneck Peril. Now Kenny's actual views about sexual morality are strikingly close to Catholic sexual teaching, especially Pope John Paul II's "theology of the body." But he is not convinced that the teaching of the Catholic Church about such matters as the evil of contraception are all true. That, it seems to me, is because he is convinced that the history of Catholic theology shows so much evolution away from earlier attitudes that the Church cannot credibly claim the authority to teach on the subject without error. Now, Kenny is quite a well-motivated man. He belongs to a conservative Anglican church, an offshoot from ECUSA that rightly rejects the direction that denomination has been taking. He very much wants to know and embrace "the faith once delivered to the saints." He just isn't convinced that any visible authority, such as the Catholic Church, can credibly claim for itself the kind of authority that can be counted on to preserve and transmit said faith reliably enough for the assent of faith. Accordingly, in Protestant fashion that he would doubtless dislike being called Protestant, he rejects the authority of the "Roman Church" both on sexual matters and in general. As I have argued in another Pontifications post, anybody who does so thus turns the truth God wants us to know into a mere matter of opinion. And, naturally enough, matters of opinion admit many opinions, not all of which are compatible with each other or even self-consistent. This is why we end up with the doctrinal chaos of Anglicanism, whether one wishes to call Anglicanism Protestant or Catholic.

Kenny's argument can be summed up fairly simply; the details are secondary. The premises are: (a) the Church's teaching about the relative value of celibacy and marriage, and about the indissolubility of marriage, cannot be incontestably derived from Scripture alone and (b) the former teaching has evidently undergone an evolution since the patristic era, when rather extreme ascetical views were common, so that the Church now views marriage and conjugal intercourse more favorably than at most times in the past. The conclusion is that the Church cannot be relied on to teach authoritatively about human sexuality. Now I have no quarrel with the premises, at least in the general form in which I have restated them. Kenny indeed devotes a good deal of scholarly effort to establishing them. I just deny that his conclusion follows.

It would only follow if he could show that the relevant teaching of the Church changed in such a way as to violate her own criteria for infallible teaching. Broadly speaking, those criteria are that a given doctrine D has been infallibly taught if D has either been solemnly defined by the "extraordinary magisterium," such as an ecumenical council or a pope unilaterally, or has been constantly taught from the beginning by the "ordinary and universal magisterium." Kenny does not even attempt to show that Catholic teaching about sex and marriage has so changed that an earlier doctrine meeting either criterion has been negated. That is unsurprising, since there is no reason to believe that he knows that such is the real issue. He thinks it's enough just to establish the premises he's established. But it is not. The mere fact that the consciousness of the Church has, to some extent, evolved for the better on such questions does not show that the authority of the Catholic Church magisterium is untrustworthy. Indeed, I should say that such doctrinal development, on this and other questions, is evidence that said authority can be trusted, so long as such development does not entail negation of any teaching meeting the criteria specified. A body of people who can actually learn something is more credible than one that can't, such as the Bourbons, who neither learned anything nor forgot anything.

But Kenny has an advantage over many people: he actually values truth over personal convenience. He has eight children and is still married to their mother, so it's not as though he's the sort of person who won't be burdened with Church teaching on marriage and contraception. Like many conservative Anglicans, he just has this thing about the Catholic Church. I invite him and like-minded people not only to read this but also to participate actively at Pontifications, whose most important reason for being is to help bring along people like him. A place like that is where the stumbling blocks can be removed for those not invested in keeping them in place.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Time for a new and better feminism

Coming of age in the Big Apple during the 1970s, I admired feminism. Well, most of it anyhow: I did not admire women, young or otherwise, who seemed determined to make themselves unattractive to the men whom they pretended to need "like a fish needs a bicycle." Even then I knew the issues with such women were psychological. But in the main, the feminist movement was about freeing women from prejudices and double standards that kept them from achieving their full potential. Equality before the law was the keystone of that effort, and its achievement could not be taken for granted. In a surprisingly short time, however, it was achieved—even without the "Equal-Rights Amendment," which failed when people realized just how absurdly equally the sexes would have to be treated.

But for reasons I shudder to adduce, feminism today is a major regression. Equality before the law yielded to the mantra of equality of opportunity—as if women and men would naturally have the same opportunities, were it not for patriarchal oppression. Then, equality of opportunity yielded to the mantra of equality of result—as if something were wrong if women and men did not make the same average incomes and have the same degree of representation in nearly every walk of life. That was bad enough. But now, any pretense of desire for equality is crumbling. We're back to prejudice and double standards again—ostensibly in women's favor, but in reality to their detriment as well as men's.

I shall consider two examples from the legion out there. The first is the case of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia).

As is well known, a few months ago she assaulted a Capitol police officer for grabbing her arm to prevent her from blowing past an ID checkpoint without showing her ID. She admits as much; there were witnesses. No issue whatever about what she did. The case is open-and-shut. But for some reason, a Federal grand jury refuses to indict her for what is defined by Federal law as a felony. Is this is about race? I doubt it; nobody has argued or could seriously argue that a black man could have gotten away with such an act. Is it about McKinney's popularity? No: none of her colleagues, including her fellow Democrats, came to her defense. Is it about Karl Rove's desire to ingratiate the President with her constituents? That can't be it either: the Democrats could run a dead dog in her district and win the seat. There's only one thing it could be: McKinney is female. The double standard is back, only in reverse. Wendy McElroy, one of my favorite journalists of either sex, nails it.

While it would be going too far to say that women are now above the law, it does seem that women now enjoy the favor of the law as typically applied in many areas. E.g., despite ample evidence that women initiate domestic violence as often as men, it is usually men who are arrested on DV calls—even when the man is the one who makes the call! Domestic-violence protection orders, when no evidence of physical violence has been presented, now constitute a common weapon in hostile divorces. That reinforces a legal tendency that everybody knows about: even though women's workforce participation now approaches that of men, in so-called "no-fault" divorce proceedings the presumption is that the mother gets physical custody and the man get visitation and child-support bills. And when the wife/mother initiates the divorce, it is extremely difficult for the husband/father to get joint custody if she wants sole custody.

I could go on about lesser but still-telling matters, such as what Title IX has done to male sports, and how it's much easier to have a women-only than a men-only club. But what really has me riled at the moment is the Duke lacrosse-team rape case.

Before I rant, let me just refer you to what Kathleen Parker, another of my fave journalists, writes:

"We don't know all the facts about the alleged Duke lacrosse rape, but ..."

That's more or less how most commentators have introduced their remarks on the case that has reduced the Durham, N.C., community to prayers, tears and recriminations.

Let me interpret the code for you: Men are bad.

Read it all.

It's true: these guys are presumed guilty until proven innocent. I doubt they're angels, but what has happened to the Constitution? It's getting so that, when the plaintiff is a woman and the defendant is a man, the truth no longer matters. What matters is maintaining the myth of "victim-woman, oppressor-man." That's feminism for ya, at least these days.

The trends are bad for women as well as men. When women can "get away" with more than men, they will try getting away with more and more. That's only human nature. The more they try getting away with, the more disgusted everybody—women as well as men—will become. And women will have squandered the moral capital that allows the vestiges of chivalry to continue protecting them, socially and legally.

Of course, nothing can be done until people once again get a clue what it is to be a woman and what it is to be a man. I've written on this topic before; the cluelessness is only deepening. People who are serious about alternatives can start here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

ECUSA's General Convention: just getting started

As per formal schedule, it's just ended. But in two respects, it's only beginning.

The election of the liberal, ex-Catholic Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada, as the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is, among other things, ECUSA's thumb-of-the nose at Rome. On the eve of the GC, Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, warned that if the Church of England adopted such a resolution the "shared partaking of the one Lord's table, which we long for so earnestly, would disappear into the far and ultimately unreachable distance." As if on cue, the American branch of the Anglican Communion waltzed off into the unreachable distance. The home church seems sure to follow after due hemming and hawing. So much for ecumenism. More traditional Anglicans who still hoped for some sort of institutional unity with Rome will now have to look to Africa. Anybody want to buy a plane ticket?

The other harbinger is rather funny but no less telling. While ECUSA continues its headlong ride off the road of Tradition, clerical worthies devise ways to place a patina of ancient churchliness on the events of ordinary life. Thus the earnest work of a committee that is devising, among other portentous things,
...Liturgies for Rites of Passage for times of transition. We have proposals for rites related to stages in human development -- youth, rising adulthood, midlife, elders. Prayers for things such as the first day of school, going away to camp, earning a driver's license, beginning to date, going off to college, moving from the family home, beginning or ending a job, surviving a tragedy, healing after a divorce, taking on the care of elder parents, becoming a grandparent, remembering a departed soul a week / month / year after death, visiting the site of a death, coming home without a departed loved one, the birthday of a departed loved one, and many others. There are liturgies for celebrating a significant birthday, celebrating an engagement, receiving or claiming a new name, celebrating our elders. I'll be on a sub-committee working on many of these rites of passage texts.
How reassuringly Anglican. As the church's connection with the Great Tradition grows ever more tenuous, the appurtenances of the Great Tradition are spread ever more widely and thinly over the lives of its members. In case anybody was worrying, we now have a soothing balm.

Plus ça change....

Monday, June 19, 2006

The dictatorship of relativism's thought police

Don't take my word for it. I felt oppressed by "political correctness" at Columbia and Penn back in the 1970s and 80s, but then I thought it was just me. I was young, and a student, and weren't the politically correct, well, correct? Not entirely, as it turns out; still less so now. As usual, Joseph Ratzinger, that consummate academic, has it nailed:
Political correctness…seeks to establish the domain of a single way of thinking and speaking. Its relativism creates the illusion that it has reached greater heights than the loftiest philosophical achievements of the past. It prescribes itself as the only way to think and speak - if, that is, one wishes to stay in fashion. Being faithful to traditional values and the knowledge that upholds them is labeled intolerance, and relativism becomes the required norm. I think it is vital that we oppose this imposition of a new pseudo-enlightenment, which threatens freedom of thought as well as freedom of religion. In Sweden, a preacher who had presented the Biblical teachings on the question of homosexuality received a prison sentence. This is just one sign of the gains that have been made by relativism as a kind of new ‘denomination’ that places restrictions on religious convictions and seeks to subordinate all religions to the super-dogma of relativism.
That from Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, and Islam, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Marcello Pera, Michael F. Moore, Benedict, and George Weigel (p. 128). Buy the book and read it. This is not a commercial. I don't get a kickback, and I'd say the same thing even if I had to pay for the privilege.

Christianity not to be argued with

Zenit reports on three Catholic nuns living and working in Kabul (that's Afghanistan, folks) with mentally handicapped children. They are giving their lives to a work of pure love unique in that country, much to the gratitude of the parents.

Res ipsa loquitur. People who don't get it either ignore it or, like Penn Gillette, try to explain it away. I thank God for it. And I thank him also for the coalition troops who prevent such women from being murdered and/or raped by the Taliban for their trouble.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Corpus Christi Roundup

I'm back from slogging my way through snowballing computer problems this past week. It seems I accidentally deleted a key Windows XP "service" running in the background; when I discovered the error, my efforts to correct it so corrupted my registry that I had to reinstall XP clean on my reformatted hard drive. But that, as many of you know, is only the beginning. There's backing up one's data, starting from scratch with the operating system, downloads of patches, hardware drivers, applications, etc, then restoring and reorganizing one's data. Took me two days, working as I could between my duties and acts of friendship. But before I expire from exhaustion this weekend, I feel the need to say something about this belated feast of Corpus Christi, and to comment on a few of the many ecclesial events that occurred during my little interregnum.

The good news was that the U.S. bishops finally agreed on a "new" translation of the Order of Mass that is closer to the Latin of the editio typica of the Roman Missal. Such few specifics as I've heard make it sound very much like the interim ICEL translation used in the U.S. between Vatican II and the promulgation of the new Missal in 1970. I still remember that from my childhood. So this is not as bad as it might have been. Of course it is, painfully obviously, the work of a committee, which is what most bishops seem to prefer to the work of poets and mystics for the purpose at hand. But as committee work goes, it's a cut above the banal, tendentious translation we've suffered with for over thirty-five years. One of these days, perhaps—when most of us are dead—we might actually get the liturgy in English, which the Anglicans had since the days of Cranmer until they decided that contemporary was better. At any rate, I've given up hoping for the liturgy in Latin save in a few subcultural outposts that I can't afford to reach right now.

The bad news was legion, as it usually is. But I have had time for only one item: a non-debate about homosexuality at the ECUSA General Convention. On that, see my post at Pontifications.

What about, you know, Corpus Christi? Two related thoughts.

First, we are what we eat, if we eat it worthily. The phrase 'body of Christ' is a homograph: it has two distinct meanings. But unlike those of most homosgraphs (such as 'bark' or 'sanction'), the meanings are metaphysically related. The Eucharistic elements are, literally, the glorified body of our Savior; when we eat them in a state of grace, we collectively become his Body, the Church. That much should be familiar. To some Catholics and certain other Christians, it actually is familiar.

What's not so familiar is how and why we are the Body of Christ. We are his body because we, the Church, are his Bride whom he has married. We are thus one body with him, the body that is called "The Mystical Body of Christ." That is why human marriage, for the baptized, is a sacrament: a "mystery" expressing the still-deeper mystery of the love between Christ and the Church. The Eucharist is for the Church, spiritually speaking, what conjugal intercourse is for the truly married couple: both the sign and the instrument of their union.

In my experience, not even most faithful Catholics have a clue about that. They instinctively think of the Church as an institution or a hierarchy, whose ministrations we rank-and-file receive—when we want to and are considered eligible. While the Church does have those aspects, they are not primary. The Church is a marriage, a union; the distinction between hierarchy and faithful reflects that. And that's the point whose significance nearly everybody seems to miss these days.

The great Christological debates of the fourth through the seventh centuries were about the nature of the person of Christ. Was he truly divine? Was he truly human? If he's both, how are his divinity and humanity related? What is the nature of the union? Eventually, the Church came up with the formula: one divine person but two natures, one human and one divine (and if one person, then contra Nestorius, only one hypostasis; but that's for you theology geeks.) Once that got more or less settled, the East and West started fighting about other things, which eventually led to the great schism that started in 1054 and has persisted to this day. And it only took half a millennium for the Protestant schism to unfold. And so it would seem that the body of Christ, the Christ who is one, is divided.

Or is it? The most vexing theological questions of our day are ecclesiological, not metaphysical. But in a way, they parallel the older Christological debate. I believe we would do well to focus on the question how the divine and the human are related in the Mystical Body itself.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Gift of Fear

We need more fear of God these days. One way to tell whether somebody holds the "faith once delivered to the saints" is how they react to the idea of the "fear of God." Proverbs says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; but the preferred spin for decades has been to depict such fear as immature religiosity that becomes toxic when not outgrown. How to reverse the spin?

Religion teacher Douglas McManaman has the right idea. Here's a sample of how he develops it:

It didn’t take long for me to learn how to teach Religion to drug dealers, professional thieves, violent bullies and teenage psychopaths; for what they all had in common was precisely a lack of the fear of God. Young criminals don’t respond to the language of love and compassion. It means nothing to them, it does not move them, and those who employ it are seen as potential targets of manipulation. A very different approach is required if one is to have any chance of success with such people, one more akin to the hair-raising sound of an Evangelical preacher (Cf. Mt 3, 7-10; 11, 20-24).

But it was during these years that I began to realize just what a gift the fear of God really is, even the very rudiments of servile fear. For these kids were already involved in some of the worst crimes, and they were committed to a criminal lifestyle, but they had no fear of divine repercussion. The gift of fear is, at least initially, a reverent fear of the divine justice. Traditionally, it has been divided into servile fear and filial fear. Servile fear inclines a person to reject sin out of a fear of punishment, whether temporal or eternal. Filial fear, on the other hand, inclines a person to reject sin more out of a fear of offending the beloved, namely God. Indeed, the latter is higher and nobler, but the latter does not displace the former. Filial fear does not supplant servile fear. Rather, the more a person grows in the love of God — and thus filial fear — , the more refined does servile fear become.

The reason is that as we grow in the knowledge of God’s mercy, we grow, simultaneously in the knowledge of our own frailty and proclivity to sin, for His mercy bears upon our sins. And as we grow in an understanding of God’s pure generosity, we begin to appreciate more the seriousness of sin. Joined to an awareness of our own frailty and dependency upon divine grace, we are led to pray for the gift of perseverance within a spirit of hope, which includes a spirit of fear that recognizes what we truly deserve. Indeed, the saint really fears the damage that his sins will do to himself as well as to others.

Read it all.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The parties of discontinuity and the vital center

There have been interesting discussions over the past week at Scott Carson's An Examined LIfe and Tom Kreitzberg's Disputations about something called "the hermeneutic of discontinuity." For those of you who don't study philosophy or theology formally, that phrase captures an attitude that I'm sure you've encountered: "Within living memory, the Church has changed her teachings on some very important matters. If you accepted the old teachings, that's a bad thing; if you think change was overdue, that's a good thing and allows for more that should come." I want here to explain what's at stake.

In a seminal article that now constitutes, in slightly revised form, a chapter in his new book Catholic Matters, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus observed:
Disputes in the Church are different from disputes in the arena of secular politics, although not so different as one might like to think. I venture the suggestion, however, that, in trying to understand the intra–Catholic disputes of the forty years since the Council, it is more helpful to think in terms of two parties: the party of discontinuity and the party of continuity. The party of discontinuity has both right–wing and left–wing branches, but they are united in their agreement that the Council represented a decisive break in the story of the Catholic Church. The one sees the Council as deviation or even apostasy; the other sees the Council as liberation or even revolution. Both see the Council as a break from what had gone before; both speak of a pre–Vatican II Church and a post–Vatican II Church, as though there are two churches; both are highly critical of the Church’s leadership, and of this pontificate in particular—the one because John Paul II has failed to restore what was, and the other because it thinks he is trying to do just that. Such are the two branches of the party of discontinuity. We might call them the discontinuants.
Read the whole article; better yet, read the book. I would change the above passage only by calling "the party of discontinuity" what it really is: two "parties of discontinuity." Why is that important, and what does it tell us?

The key difference between the "leftist" and "rightist" parties of discontinuity is easy to state: what the former celebrate and want to see more of, the latter mourn and want to roll back. I call the former 'progs', short for 'progressives'; the latter, 'trads', short for those "traditionalists" who believe that Vatican II, whether or not it was formally heretical, was a lousy idea that is best allowed to become a dead letter. Both progs and trads hold that something radical happened at Vatican II so that the Church of today cannot, without straining credulity, be viewed as doctrinally or spiritually continuous with the Church before Vatican II. Such is the product of what Pope Benedict calls "the hermenectic of discontinuity." We thus have not only a de facto and, in a few cases, a de jure schism from the center, but a schism consisting of two parties who want even less to do with each other than with Rome.

For the most part, the Pope has discussed the prog party of discontinuity. Thus, speaking about the hackneyed "spirit of Vatican II," he noted last Christmas:

....there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The Pope has not, to my knowledge, mentioned the fact that a great many trads agree with the progs about the texts and program of Vatican II. They share the hermeneutic of discontinuity, differing only as I have indicated above. The Pope has decided not to hang th discontinuity label on trad necks because he earnestly seeks reconciliation with schismatic trad groups such as the Society of St. Pius X, which is being maintained and grown by bishops whom the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II for ordaining. Benedict is unlikely to achieve such reconciliation anytime soon. Influential elements within such groups want to reserve the right to dissent from this-or-that aspect of Vatican II, chiefly what it said about religious freedom and ecumenism. To the Pope, what such a condition implies for Church unity is unacceptable. As well it should be, I would add.

By contrast, the hermeneutic of "reform" sees the Church of today as doctrinally and spiritually continuous with that of the past. She is the same Church, with the same authority and faith as as before. But it is important to exhibit what that does and does not entail.

Admittedly, certain teachings have changed. The Church no longer teaches, as she did for over a millennium, that it is the duty of the state to impose Catholicism on civil society when that is politically feasible, thus making heresy and schism punishable crimes. The Church no longer teaches, as she had done ever since the 11th-century schism with the Orthodox and the 16th-century schism with Protestantism, that validly baptized Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church should be presumed to be on the road to perdition. Instead, the Church now teaches that religious freedom, the freedom to believe and worship according to one's conscience, is a fundamental human right that she may not abridge any more than the state. She teaches that those who are born and/or raised in other Christian traditions may no longer be presumed culpable for their disunion with the Catholic Church. Both teachings place the pastoral emphasis on working with people where they are, not insisting that they be where they are not. That is as taken-for-granted by progs as it is scorned by trads. So far, good for the progs.

But that "leftist" party of discontinuity also makes a fundamental mistake. They consider such changes, in both content and scope, so significant as to offer logical precedent for the changes they want now: chiefly, in Church teaching sexuality and gender roles. That such changes are not in the offing is not merely the result of Roman stubbornness and will-to-power. In fact, the changes that have occurred are hardly unprecedented and no more radical than the older ones. And they are of such a kind as not to punch the tickets the progs hold in their hands.

Even before Vatican II—or Vatican I, for that matter—Church teaching had already undergone shifts of similar scope on such questions as slavery, usury, and the relationship between faith and science. Regarding all such changes, the key point for my purpose is that they do not negate any doctrine taught by the Church in the past that meet her own specified criteria for infallibility. I have shown as much in some detail with a series of posts condensed, at Pontifications, into a small treatise called Development and Negation. The Church has never claimed to be omniscient; she only claims to have taught infallibly under certain conditions. When her teachings change to reflect a deeper awareness of the truths of faith and morals, or their different applicability in new conditions, that is "development" of the Church's consciousness of truth, not negation of truths she had already taught with her full authority. Accordingly, the changes are reform, not rupture; continuity, not discontinuity, with what has been understood to belong to the "deposit" of faith. The teachings on women's ordination, contraception, and homosex, however, do belong to said deposit. At least, they do if recent popes are to be believed. But whether one believes them or not, the Church does not change what she claims to be irreformable teachings. To do so would, among other things, be to discredit the distinctive claim to authority made by her own "Magisterium."

The importance of that can hardly be overstressed. Neuhaus calls those who recognize and affirm such continuity not just the "party" of continuity but "the vital center" of the Church. The "center" is not a wishy-washy compromise of principle, but the product of a mature gift for distinguishing between what cannot change, what could but needn't change, and what must change. To walk such lines requires an adult faith—the lack of which, implies the Pope, is possibly the Church's biggest problem today.

The center holds.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Pope's preacher on the Trinity

The Christian God is one and triune because he is communion of love. In love, unity and plurality are reconciled; love creates unity in diversity: unity of intentions, of thought, of will; diversity of subjects, of characteristics and, in the human realm, of sex. In this connection, the family is the least imperfect image of the Trinity. It was no accident that when creating the first human couple God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26-27).

According to modern atheists, God is no more than a projection that man makes of himself, as one who confuses with another person his own image reflected in a stream. This might be true in regard to any other idea of God, but not in regard to the Christian God. What need would man have to divide himself in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if God is really no more than the projection that man makes of his own image? The doctrine of the Trinity is, on its own, the best antidote to modern atheism.

Do you find all this too difficult? Have you understood little? I will tell you not to worry. When one is on the shore of a lake or a sea, and wishes to know what is on the other side, what is most important is not to sharpen one's sight and try to scan the horizon, but to get into the boat that takes one to that shore.

With the Trinity, what is most important is not to ruminate on the mystery, but to remain in the faith of the Church, which is the boat that takes one to the Trinity.

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

Wlll you still need me when I'm 64? Um, nope....

When I first heard that song in, oh, the late 60s, it caused me to think that Paul McCartney was just a romantic sop. I had already lost my puppy love (at 13) and couldn't conceive of living into my sixties at all, much less with a female who would promise to "need" and "feed" me at that stage. Well, now I can readily imagine living into my sixties—though at this rate, I suspect that only the Eucharist could keep me alive much past 65. But in one thing I have been vindicated: Sir Paul has indeed proven to be a romantic sop.

Myrna Blyth of NRO (click my title) explains why. Paul has just turned 64, and he and his rather unedifying second wife, Heather Mills, are splitting up. Apparently he offered her fifty million pounds (currently, about $90 million) to melt away quietly, but she will have none of it. She wants ten times that, presumably to avoid the homeless shelter while paying the lawyers for the impending custody battle over their two-year-old daughter. It's entertainment, but it's respectable entertainment. A girl's gotta keep her dignity, after all. Such as it is, or ever was.

McCartney's first wife, Linda Eastman, was wonderful. Not quite a living saint, perhaps; just a moderately talented, emotionally stable, and totally devoted wife and mother. Her death from cancer apparently left Paul lonely and rudderless. His choice of replacement for Linda led me to believe then what the recent porno-pic flap about Mills onfirms: now that he was aristocracy, he allowed himself to fill the void with some socially acceptable sex. I'm surprised he managed to get four years out of the deal.

Sometimes I'm glad I can't even afford to date.

Meditation for Trinity Sunday

“God became human so that men could become divine.” So said St. Athanasius, that incredibly courageous and persistent defender of orthdoxy contra mundum. But what is it to become by adoption what God is by nature? If that’s the point of life, how to even begin expressing it?

That three persons are each fully God yet each the same God as the others is the central mystery of our faith. Indeed, the Trinity is the reality and the article of faith that I most love. It explains both why God is intelligible as love and why he is incomprehensible. If God is triune as the Church teaches, then his triunity is the model for all of creation and hence cannot be adequately understood from within creation; for the imitator and the lower cannot cannot give an adequate account of the imitated and the higher. But the Trinity is all the same the reality into which we are reborn as Christians. It is the reality into which God desires to draw all people, for he “desires that all be saved and come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). It’s a very difficult thing to talk about or even preach on because it seems so abstract. But I think something can be said to make it much more concrete and relevant.

Consider the structure of the ancient baptismal formula known as "The Apostles' Creed." I insert the text here for convenience:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth;

I believe in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord;
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit,
and born of the Virgin Mary,
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day He rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. AMEN.

Jesus comes forth from the Father and comes down to us. He takes flesh, suffers, dies, is buried, and descends even to Hades; he then rises from the dead and ascends into heaven. This is what St. Thomas Aquinas, following the Pseudo-Dionysius, called the exitus and reditus of God. Creation itself had come forth from God in a free choice of love and finds its goal in God, whose Holy Spirit vivifies and orders it. When it fell from that plan through the fall of Lucifer and the human race he seduced, God himself had to recapitulate the necessary movement by descending into the depths of creation so that he could elevate it by his victory and ascension. The exitus-reditus model is that of descent and ascent. The fullness of glory is thus attained by self-emptying for others who do not merit it: a process of pure love. Such is the dynamic model of all reality, both divine and created. In and through us, the reality of the divine love makes that of creation both possible and actual.

Such, then, is the structure of divine revelation itself. How God thus reveals himself also tells us what God in himself is like: a communion of persons who love one another by giving themselves to, and thus emptying themselves into, each other. The eternity and changelessness of God is thus dynamic not static. It is that of love. But it takes no time to be complete in God himself. It only takes time to be expressed and revealed in creation. That's what Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God the Son, was and is about. By doing in time and flesh what he eternally does in the Godhead and in spirit, the Son made it possible for us to participate in the very life of God. To avail ourselves of that staggering opportunity, we must agree to be reborn "by water and the Holy Spirit," becoming part of his Body, the Church, so that he does in us what he did once for all in his Pasch. Thus we are to love as he did, which can happen only because we are loved as he is loved eternally by the Father.

Properly appreciated, therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity tells us what life is for. The doctrines of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ tells us how God made it possible for us to attain the goal. For motivation's sake, it's always best to keep that big picture in view.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The ACLU: there they go again...

Tim Enloe of Societas Christiana has drawn my attention to the ACLU's attempt to prevent the town of Ave Maria, Florida, from coming into existence. That's right. Tim aptly sums up their argument: "...since Ave Maria is a religious town it cannot receive government funding and therefore (supposedly) it cannot have any governmental authority." He remarks: "Typical secularist fallacy..." But I don't think it is a "fallacy" in the sense of a logically faulty argument. It's logically flawless. But it's based on a faulty premise.

The premise is that, if a given body of people come together for a religious purpose, then it cannot be the recipient of any governmental funds. Ave Maria, FL, would clearly be such a body. It could not function without governmental funds because, as an incorporated municipality within the State of Florida, it would be directly involved with all sorts of state-and-Federally funded things—such as roads and Medicaid, to take just two examples. Its residents would be voting and paying taxes, and higher jurisdictions would find it practically as well as politically impossible to keep the town altogether out of the normal funding loop for incorporated municipalities, such as sales-tax sharing. So unless the court of jurisdiction in this ACLU suit rejects the ACLU's basic premise, the plaintiff should win the case. Thus the dream of Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza and bankroller of Ave Maria University, would be quashed. Much to the delight of liberals everywhere, I'm sure.

It's the premise that's gotta go. If it were true, then all government largesse to religious bodies, even when the activity in question is being funded for a purely secular purpose, is unconstitutional. Last I checked, the Supreme Court does not agree. Neither should we.

If only....yeah, right

We've all heard it before: "If only priests were allowed to be married, and if women too could be priests, we wouldn't have all this sex-abuse crap." About that claim, I share the amusement of one Kevin K., blogmaster of Proud to be a Papist.

He offers us the story of married high-school teacher Bonnie Sue Davis, 35, caught in the bedroom of one her male students. Now this sort of thing isn't exactly rare. We've all heard before about teachers having sex with their students; of late, there seems to have been a spate of female teachers doing that. At any rate, I can't go a week without hearing about a new episode. Perhaps all this relatively new, but I doubt it. In high-school I had a male friend who was getting it on with our randy, and not bad-looking, English teacher. At least it only started when he was 16 and she, though twice his age, wasn't married; the school administration didn't know and the guy's father, a widower, shrugged off the whole thing as part of his son's "education." So perhaps it's all as old as the hills and only now are the media paying a lot of attention to it. But isn't that the point? If a clergy that included the married and women would be less likely to harbor sexual abusers, then it should not be old hat by now to hear about married women (and of course married men) luring students under the age of consent into sex. But it is old hat. Ergo...

I used to be tired of the same old arguments. As the evidence against them mounts, I am no longer tired of them. I am entertained by what they say about those who keep on making them.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pentecost Sunday

The following homily was given on May 15, 2005 by Fr. Robert Altier of the Church of St. Agnes, St. Paul, MN. Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1; Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23.

Today we celebrate the great solemnity of Pentecost. It is a feast that in many ways is forgotten, or at least certainly not understood for what it is. On the day of Pentecost—the word means fifty days, so fifty days after the Lord resurrected from the dead—the Holy Spirit descended upon His apostles as they were gathered in the Upper Room. It is interesting to see what takes place within these men as soon as the Holy Spirit descends upon them. These are men who were gathered, as we are told even in the Gospel today, for fear of the Jews because they were afraid of persecution. After the Holy Spirit descended upon them, they became fearless and they went out and began to preach. Their understanding of the truths that Scripture had revealed and the truths that Our Lord had taught them suddenly became clear to them and they were able to present these truths with persuasive arguments.

Of course, the most persuasive argument of all is the one that came only at the end of their lives, as one after the next they were willing to follow their Divine Master even to the point of death. There is nothing that is more eloquent than anything the apostles did than to lay down their lives for Christ. Clearly, anyone would be able to recognize that what they were doing was not about themselves, because if it were, self-preservation would have been their concern. But their concern was Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit had been given to them to lead them into all truth, as Our Lord had told them. Jesus Himself is that truth. And so they were led then into the fullness of Who Jesus Christ is. They began to understand all the things that He had taught, and suddenly the pieces in their minds were being put together to be able to understand not only Who He is in the fullness of His Person but therefore who each of us is as members of His Mystical Body.

That is what Saint Paul talks about in the second reading today, that unity which is ours in the Mystical Body. So we look at that unity that we have, all of us making up one person in Christ, and we look also at what happened as the apostles went out and began to preach. All of these people from different areas of the world were able to hear them in their own language. Even though they spoke but one language themselves, everyone was able to hear the truth communicated to them and to understand it clearly. And so the Fathers of the Church tell us that Pentecost not only is the birth of the Church, but Pentecost also reverses what happened at Babel. At the time of Babel, they all spoke one language throughout the world and they used that unity to determine that they would topple God. They were going to build a huge tower that would go up into the heavens, and from there they would no longer need God because they would have exalted themselves. So God confused their speech. And when they could no longer communicate with one another, they all dispersed and went their separate ways.

But now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what we see is unity. We see that there is one truth, that there is one voice and one language. Not that on the human level the whole world speaks one language; but on the Christian level, if we are truly living our faith, we all speak one language. It is a language of truth and a language of love. It matters not what human tongue we speak in because love transcends all of the words. If we practice the faith that we profess, one does not need words to be able to touch the hearts of anyone with whom one would come in touch. We recognize then that this truth which is given to us by the Holy Spirit is the truth that will actually set us free, which, again, is exactly what Our Lord taught. It sets us free from sin and all of its effects. Look back to Babel and there what you see is confusion, chaos, and disunity. You look now at what we see with the Holy Spirit and what we find is order, clarity, and unity.

So when Our Lord gives the apostles the Holy Spirit and tells them whose sins they forgive are forgiven and whose sins they retain are retained, the forgiveness of sin brings about that peace of soul the Lord was speaking of. And that peace of soul is what brings about the clarity and the order and the unity. If we look around at the world in which we live today, the effects of sin are painfully evident: chaos, confusion, disunity. Everyone is living in their own world. Go anyplace where you have a gathering of young people; each one of them has their own little set of headphones with their own stuff pumping into their ears. And it is not just the young people anymore. You go into the average family home and there are numerous television sets, each blaring out some other variety of filth with various members of the family parked in front of each one. There is no unity, but what you have is non-stop noise, chaos coming from every direction, confusion because people do not even know which way to turn. But in the midst of all of that, if we have the Holy Spirit, we will be able to go inside of ourselves and we will there find peace, silence, clarity, and order.

The choice is entirely ours whether we choose to give in to sin and its effects, with the devil, of course, right there to tell us how fulfilling this is and how exciting it is: "It's fun to be able to listen and watch and do your own thing." To what end? The only end is going to be hell because it is all about the self and that is what hell is all about. Everybody in hell is purely selfish. They are all doing their own thing and it is total chaos, noise, complete confusion, no truth. Everything is relative: "My truth is my own and your truth is your own and we'll all do our own thing." Doesn't that sound like America? "There is no truth, it's all opinion." Clearly it is the work of Satan because that is what defines hell.

We are not called to that. We are called to order, to peace, to truth, to love. We are called to unity in the Mystical Body. If we are going to be able to have that unity in the Mystical Body, it requires that we first understand who we are. And in order to understand who we are, we first must understand Who Jesus Christ is. And the only way we are going to understand Who Jesus Christ is, is to turn to those by whom Our Lord has come to us, and that is His mother and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descended upon Our Lady, not on the feast of Pentecost but on the feast of the Annunciation, and filled her with the Holy Spirit. At that moment, possessed by the Holy Spirit, her Divine Spouse, she conceived the Person of Jesus Christ. At that moment, of course, Our Lord was conceived in a very tiny form. But He began to grow and to develop and to take form in the womb of Our Blessed Lady.

So too, the Holy Spirit now descends upon His apostles on the feast of Pentecost. He did not descend upon Our Lady at Pentecost because she was already filled with the Holy Spirit from the Annunciation. This is the reason why the apostles instinctively gathered around Our Lady after Our Lord had ascended into heaven. She taught them. She prepared their souls for the promise that Our Lord had made to them, that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and fill their hearts with His truth and His love. That same Holy Spirit is given to each of us, and what the apostles knew instinctively is the same thing that we need to do, that is, to come to Our Blessed Lady and ask her to teach us and to form us, because Our Lady and the Holy Spirit have formed only one person – and that is the Person of Jesus Christ. If we are going to ask Our Lady to form us and ask the Holy Spirit through the Immaculate Heart of Mary to form us, they will form us according to the only person that they have ever formed together, that is, the Person of Our Lord. They will form us into the Person of Christ.

It is already there within us because each one of us has been given the Holy Spirit at our baptism, and the fullness of the Spirit is given to us in the sacrament of Confirmation. So there is nothing lacking from God's part; the only thing lacking is on our part, and that is that most of us want to be formed according to our American culture rather than to be formed according to the Person of Jesus Christ. We need to make a choice to be formed according to Christ. If you truly want that, then come and ask the Holy Spirit through the immaculate Heart of Mary to form you. Just as it was with Jesus in the womb of Mary, it starts out in just a tiny form and then begins to develop within us, and we begin to be formed more and more into the likeness of Christ.

As that formation takes place, we will become more like what happened to the apostles. The fear goes away and love replaces it. The chaos goes away and order replaces it. The noise goes away and peace replaces it. We are able to live a truly ordered life, a truly peaceful life. We are able to live according to the truth, and with one voice we speak the truth of love. It is preparation then for heaven, where in heaven everything will be peace, everything will be love, everything will be perfectly ordered, and everything will be one. No one in heaven is selfish. No one in heaven is seeking his own interest. No one in heaven is caught up in anything other than God Himself. It is all about service, the love of God and the love of neighbor.

So we see the two distinctions for eternal life. We can plunge ourselves into what our society is offering and we can prepare ourselves for one branch of eternity. Or we can plunge ourselves into the Holy Spirit in the Immaculate Heart of Mary and we can prepare ourselves for eternity with God. That choice is made in this world, not in the next. It is made before we die, not after. The gift of God is offered to each and every one of us, the gift of God which is the Holy Spirit, Who is willing fully to take possession of us if we are willing to allow ourselves to be possessed by this Holy Spirit. It is not anything that will do violence to us. It is not anything that is going to violate our dignity. Rather, the Spirit of God will perfect our dignity and will help us to live according to that dignity so that the truth and the peace and the order and the unity which the Holy Spirit brings will be ours. In the midst of this world, we will be able to live the life of Christ.

So turn to Our Lady and ask her to intercede for you so that the Holy Spirit will be given to form you in the fullness of the Person of Christ. You will be formed by Our Lady and by the Holy Spirit, and you will become in that way the person God created you to be: a person of love, a person of truth, of peace, of order, of clarity, and all the other things. You will begin living the life of heaven here on earth and prepare yourself perfectly for the unity of the Mystical Body which awaits us, which is the fulfillment of the work of the Holy Spirit, as we prepare ourselves for eternity with Jesus in the Immaculate Heart of His mother, formed into the fullness of the Person of Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit poured out upon each of us as He was on the apostles on the glorious feast of Pentecost.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Bless me, Father, for I have kneeled

The Curt Jester has put up a great post of that title rounding up the latest news and commentary about the incredible Huntington Beach affair. Read it and laugh through your tears.

I want YOU for Christ's officer corps!

The Pope's speech to Polish clergy nine days ago was brilliant. Here's the passage that hit me between the eyes:

The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life....In the face of the temptations of relativism or the permissive society, there is absolutely no need for the priest to know all the latest, changing currents of thought; what the faithful expect from him is that he be a witness to the eternal wisdom contained in the revealed word. Solicitude for the quality of personal prayer and for good theological formation bear fruit in life. Living under the influence of totalitarianism may have given rise to an unconscious tendency to hide under an external mask, and in consequence to become somewhat hypocritical. Clearly this does not promote authentic fraternal relations and may lead to an exaggerated concentration on oneself. In reality, we grow in affective maturity when our hearts adhere to God. Christ needs priests who are mature, virile, capable of cultivating an authentic spiritual paternity. For this to happen, priests need to be honest with themselves, open with their spiritual director and trusting in divine mercy.
If such advice were taken, there would be no "vocations shortage" and no sex-abuse crisis. Are there men out there ready to respond?

Friday, June 02, 2006

A celibate expert on marriage

No kidding. Check this guy out. He knows more about what makes, and unmakes, a marriage than a lot of marrieds. And I say that as somebody who's been married twice. He was, after all, once head of the Roman Rota, which is the main tribunal where the Vatican deals directly with marriage-nullity cases.

Here's a juicy sample of Msgr. Burke's writing:

Why is the act of intercourse called the conjugal act? Why is it regarded as the most distinctive expression of marital love and self-giving? Why is this act - which is but a passing and fleeting thing - particularly regarded as an act of union? After all, people in love express their love and desire to be united in many ways: sending letters, exchanging looks or presents, holding hands... What makes the sexual act unique? Why does this act unite the spouses in a way that no other act does? What is it that makes it not just a physical experience but a love experience?

Is it the special pleasure attaching to it? Is the unitive meaning of the conjugal act contained just in the sensation, however intense, that it can produce? If intercourse unites two people simply because it gives special pleasure, then it would seem that one or other of the spouses could at times find a more meaningful union outside marriage than within it. It would follow too that sex without pleasure becomes meaningless, and that sex with pleasure, even homosexual sex, becomes meaningful.

No. The conjugal act may or may not be accompanied by pleasure; but the meaning of the act does not consist in its pleasure. The pleasure provided by marital intercourse may be intense, but it is transient. The significance of marital intercourse is also intense, and it is not transient; it lasts.

Why should the marital act be more significant than any other expression of affection between the spouses? Why should it be a more intense expression of love and union? Surely because of what happens in that marital encounter, which is not just a touch, not a mere sensation, however intense, but a communication, an offer and acceptance, an exchange of something that uniquely represents the gift of oneself and the union of two selves.

Here, of course, it should not be forgotten that while two persons in love want to give themselves to one another, to be united to one another, this desire of theirs remains humanly speaking on a purely volitional level. They can bind themselves to one another, but they cannot actually give themselves. The greatest expression of a person's desire to give himself is to give the seed of himself [1]. Giving one's seed is much more significant, and in particular is much more real, than giving one's heart. "I am yours, I give you my heart; here, take it", remains mere poetry, to which no physical gesture can give true body. But, "I am yours; I give you my seed; here, take it", is not poetry, it is love. It is conjugal love embodied in a unique and privileged physical action whereby intimacy is expressed - "I give you what I give no one" - and union is achieved: "Take what I have to give. This will be a new me. United to you, to what you have to give - to your seed - this will be a new "you-and-me", fruit of our mutual knowledge and love". In human terms, this is the closest one can come to giving one's self conjugally and to accepting the conjugal self-gift of another, and so achieving spousal union.

Therefore, what makes marital intercourse express a unique relationship and union is not the sharing of a sensation but the sharing of a power: of an extraordinary life-related, creative physical sexual power. In a true conjugal relationship, each spouse says to the other: "I accept you as somebody like no one else in my life. You will be unique to me and I to you. You and you alone will be my husband; you alone will be my wife. And the proof of your uniqueness to me is the fact that with you - and with you alone - am I prepared to share this God-given life-oriented power".

In this consists the singular quality of intercourse. Other physical expressions of affection do not go beyond the level of a mere gesture; they remain a symbol of the union desired. But the conjugal act is not a mere symbol. In true marital intercourse, something real has been exchanged, with a full gift and acceptance of conjugal masculinity and femininity. And there remains, as witness to their conjugal relationship and the intimacy of their conjugal union, the husband's seed in the wife's body.

Now if one deliberately nullifies the life-orientation of the conjugal act, one destroys its essential power to signify union. Contraception in fact turns the marital act into self-deception or into a lie: "I love you so much that with you, and with you alone, I am ready to share this most unique power..." But - what unique power? In contraceptive sex, no unique power is being shared, except a power to produce pleasure. But then the uniqueness of the marital act is reduced to pleasure. Its significance is gone.

Contraceptive intercourse is an exercise in meaninglessness.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Gay marriage: the new threat to religious liberty

I know, it sounds alarmist. But as at Lexington and Concord, somebody has to raise the alarm while most everybody sleeps.

Late in March, I took note of the Massachusetts gay-adoption ruckus. My concern then was that the Archdiocese had apparently been asleep at the switch when, despite its 2003 ruling forbidding Catholic Charities of Boston to place children for adoption with gay couples, just that had been going on under CCB auspices. Peeved, Cardinal O'Malley reiterated the ruling, thus causing several board members to resign. But it appears that the real problem is only beginning.

It looks like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, rather than permit a "religious exemption" that would allow traditionally Christian adoption agencies to avoid such placements, is prepared to drive them out of the business altogether. Maggie Gallagher puts the issue well:

The question in Boston is not whether gays are going to be allowed legally to adopt. It is whether religious people who morally object to gay adoption will be allowed to help children find homes. This is not about gay adoption—it is about our fundamental commitment to religious liberty in this country.

It is a crime to run an adoption agency in Massachusetts without a license from the state. To get a license you have to agree to place children with same-sex couples. For the first time in America, Christians are being told by their government that they are not good citizens, not worthy enough to be permitted to help abandoned babies find good homes.

...And it is not just adoption licenses. What we are witnessing is the unfolding of the logic that gay “marriage” is a civil right. People who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife must (if courts rule this way) be treated like racists by their own government. The potential punishment the state could impose on faith groups is enormous: yanking radio broadcasting licenses, professional licenses (marriage counselors, social workers, psychologists), and the state accreditation of Christian (or other religious) schools and universities. And yes, the tax-exempt status of organizations of faithful Christians and other people of good will are at risk.
Before the logic has had time to unfold that much, and all across this country, we had better wake up.