Friday, May 30, 2008

Just a Fool Disagreeing with an Archbishop

Over at First Things last Tuesday, the Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, wrote an article titled, "Thoughts on 'Roman Catholics for Obama '08.' " It was written in response to a group of Catholics that use parts of another one of his articles to justify voting for Senator Obama in spite of his being pro-choice. His Excellency makes it clear that Roman Catholics for Obama (RCO) has not quoted him fully and makes the case for extreme caution before voting for a pro-choice politician. His Excellency is not willing to do so. (I would encourage you to read the article.)

And so, fuel to the fire, there has been much sound and fury in the blogs among fundamentalist and conservative Catholics.

But before I go on, let me provide some brief background information about Catholics and Catholicism. First, there are what I would consider fundamentalists in Catholicism. These are the same kind of fundamentalists that you know in whatever religion or Christian denomination you may move in. I'm not speaking here of Christians who adhere to the fundamentals of their faith - the denotative understanding of the term, as has been formerly understood in Protestant Christianity. These Catholics and Christians are conservative, but that isn't their distinguishing feature. What distinguishes them is that they bandy fear about as a bludgeon. And while it is effective, it is not Christian (that is not to say that they are not Christians). It lacks mercy.

So these fundamentalists pick up Archbishop Chaput's essay and they roll it tightly into a club. They call Obama supporters soft-brained, and some even relegate his supporters to hell. They compare the senator with Moloch. Who, if you remember, was offered babies in sacrifice by throwing them into a fire - thousands of babies.

Now, quickly, I want to say that I am not questioning whether any of these people are Christian or Catholic. I'm not equipped to make that judgment; I don't have the authority to make that determination; it's not my job. And I believe they're good-hearted and well-intentioned. And their vitriol rises up out of their love for children. These are people just like you and me, they too need to be examining their lives to see if they are in the faith, working out their salvation in fear and trembling, uniting themselves to Christ, converting evermore to him each day.

Let me also be clear in saying that Archbishop Chaput, from what I have read of and about him is no fundamentalist. He gives his reasons for voting pro-life. And having a strong opinion on a matter is not the same as judging everyone who disagrees with that opinion. His Excellency believes that there is no moral issue (where there is disagreement in our parties, I imagine worldwide poverty is not under consideration) that outweighs the issue of abortion. And I agree with him. He makes an excellent argument. But I disagree with him here, in that I don't believe it's simply a weighing match. The archbishop says that the Democratic party has not gotten better on the issue of life and therefore he can't vote for such a candidate in good faith. That is all well and good. However, while the Republican party talks a good talk concerning the abortion issue, they have had nearly 30 years of mostly Republican power, and one begins to wonder whether talk is all the Republican party has.

I am sure about one thing as it concerns abortion and politics: My vote for a pro-life Republican president will not diminish the number of abortions in our country in the next four years or the next 40. I believe this to be true based on the past 35 years. I don't believe it anymore than I believe Obama's election would diminish racism or that Hillary's would diminish sexism - perhaps all three nominee's elections could be wonderful symbols, but only in the modern sense of symbols, lacking any substance. These are the kinds of symbols that effect nothing other than making us feel good about ourselves.

Let me say that I am resolutely pro-life. I do not believe abortion is an issue of women's rights but an issue that concerns the dignity and sanctity of life itself. I find the whole mess abominable. And I reject it as firmly as I can along with the Catholic Church and most of Christianity. But that does not mean that I cannot vote for a pro-choice politician because of other moral considerations. Not because they are pro-choice, that would be grave error, but in spite of their being pro-choice. And I can do so in good conscience because, frankly, the Republican party has dropped the ball - if it ever was in play.

I have not, by the way, decided to vote for Senator Obama in November. It may seem so, but that would be a mistaken impression. There is a lot of time between now and then and there needs to be a lot of prayer and consideration. I struggle with this issue constantly. And if you are wondering whether to choose between my wisdom and the archbishop's, I would strongly urge you to follow his Excellency. He is older and has more experience with this issue. And he knows Christ better than I.

We must pray for our parties' nominees - for wisdom, which begins with the fear of God, and for love of all people.

(Let me make a distinction, after all is said and done. It is one thing to vote for a politician in spite of his or her being pro-choice. It is another thing to be a politician and to cast votes against life. These are two very different things, and if you'd like to have that conversation, I would be glad to take it up in the combox.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Terrible Question, on the John or Anywhere Else

My current On-the-John read is C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. These kinds of books are excellent for reading on the commode: They're broken up into fairly equal chapters because they were originally on the air - 10-minute radio broadcasts. Here's something I ran across today.

How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound's worth of Pride towards their fellow-men. I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that he had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, that we are better than someone else - I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.


If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise [sic] that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

Earlier, in the same chapter (Chapter 8, "The Great Sin"), he says, "As long as you are proud you cannot know God." And as I read the excerpt above, thinking of others who fit the bill before thinking of myself, I see that I am in terrible need of mercy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Change of a Plan

I hate doing what I'm about to do because I feel like I do it so often - especially here. I don't fully think through the implications of my intentions, or either that I'm simply naive. Which is to say that I'm going to end what I just began, blogging through the Compendium. But let me explain why. It's not because I'm bored with it, but rather because the very next section is the center of many disagreements between Catholics and Protestants - between me and my friends and my family. And that was never my intention for this series. I thought I could do it without cheesing off anyone who read, but I'm simply not that confident in my ability to facilitate a discussion over Catholic theology.

I still plan on doing what I'm doing, but it will be a more private affair with a real live journal. The plan for this series was always for my growth in understanding my faith. The problem with posting that process here is twofold: First, it makes me look like I think I know something about something, which is not how I feel at all. (And is actually the opposite of my intention, which is to be a student.) Second, it makes for unnecessary controversy. As much as I would love to sit down, read and discuss the Compendium or the Catechism with friends and family, I don't intend to do so here where discussion can be so very difficult.

This decision doesn't mean questions about my faith won't come up here, of course, just that a series won't be devoted to it. It doesn't mean that I don't want controversy here - that's simply us thinking differently on an issue. It certainly doesn't mean that I won't occasionally get ornery and deliberately push people's buttons, because Hey! that's just fun.


I put in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford a little after 10 p.m. last night without bothering to look at the length of the movie on the disk jacket. It ended around 1 a.m.

And this late night stuff? too much for this old man. Last night even more than usual. With about a half hour of the movie to go, my eldest was awakened by it, got frightened and asked me if she could sleep with Mommy. I let her, which meant I got to sleep in her bed (I didn't want to wake her again).

I learned a few things: (1) Even if you've had a movie for nearly a month from Netflix, keeping it a few more days is still a better option than staying up past midnight watching it. (2) Always, always, always check the length of the movie. (3) My daughter needs a new bed frame, rails or something, which leads me to the next thing I learned: (4) Sleeping on an incline isn't half as fun as it sounds. (5) Never add ice from the bag in your cooler to the ice cube container in your freezer. (I didn't learn this last night, but it's an important bit of information.)

By the by, it was an excellent movie.

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's Hard to Post

It's hard to post over a holiday weekend when you're surrounded by family. So I'll simply say that I hope you're enjoying your weekend - and I hope it's beautiful where you are.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Oil execs say their hands are tied concerning oil and gas prices (merely a reflection of supply and demand) and that (insert oily voice here) perhaps the prices would come down if they were allowed to increase domestic supply by drilling in places like ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) and the Rockies, places they've been restricted from up to this point.

Forgive my cynicism, but aren't these guys making $30-40 billion in profits, making record profits? And it seems a terribly convenient argument, considering these outrageous prices that they've set would finally allow them to drill where they've always wanted to.

Now, I'm not saying that they're greedy little bastards or anything. And I understand that prices aren't completely in their control. Nevertheless, it's a bit much for someone who has to drive a vehicle big enough to haul his legion of children, which gulps at gasoline rather than sips, and do so on a teacher's salary, to listen to men making annual salaries of, Oh, roughly a bazillion dollars, talk about tied hands.

But I suppose it's my own fault. I should have gone after that bachelor's in Oil and Gas Executivityness. Doh!

Compendium, 1, 1, 2: "God Comes to Meet Man" (10)

10. What is the value of private revelations?

(Catechism 67)
While not belonging to the deposit of faith, private revelations may help a person to live the faith as long as they lead us to Christ. The Magisterium of the Church, which has the duty of evaluating such private revelations, cannot accept those which claim to surpass or correct that definitive Revelation which is Christ.

Private revelation is spoken about from time to time in the Catholic Church - some of it works its way into our liturgy, even, as in the case of St Faustina's vision of Christ's Divine Mercy. But, and this is an important understanding, her vision of Christ's Divine Mercy is able to be incorporated into the liturgy because it is an affirmation of the deposit of faith handed down by the apostles - no one questions the great mercy of Christ. That being said, private revelation, even when given the seal of authenticity after an ecclesial inquiry does not change or add to the deposit of faith. The Church does not have the authority to do so. So though many may pilgrimage to Lourdes to visit the grotto there, and though the Church has authenticated that Marian apparition, the vision does not change the teaching of the Church, but is seen as a help for today - is seen as private. (I might add here that if the vision contravened the deposit of the faith it could not be authenticated by the Magisterium of the Church.)

Most Christians would not question the possibility of private revelation, though I know a few who would. The possibility of private revelation is borne out in smaller ways in our own lives - in little epiphanies that we have as we read the Scriptures, or in the stranger in the grocery store who says the very thing we need to hear the moment we need to hear it, or in the audible voice we hear answer the prayer of our heart. These small illuminations meet a moment, they give hope and encouragement. And we move forward.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An Idiot Is an Idiot Is an Idiot

The yellow-haired child had a visit to the dentist yesterday to get a temporary crown placed on one of her teeth. The procedure was hurting her. And when she is scared or hurt she trembles, she shakes. My wife attempted to convince the dentist that it hurt, but the dentist dismissed it as being scared. The dentist then told Avery that if she didn't stop crying that she would send Mommy out of the room and get the crown on regardless.

Silly, silly former dentist.

Mama Bear said, "Oh no you dint." (Probably something more along the lines of, "I'm not going anywhere.")

Which brings up the question: Where in the middle of a procedure do you halt a "professional" to tell them they're full of it and march out the door, scalp in tow? Fortunately (for the dentist), the procedure was completed almost immediately afterward, but we will be going elsewhere for the care of our children's teeth.

Parents, stay with your kids during doctor and dentist visits - regardless of what the doctor or dentist prefers. If they won't allow it, go somewhere that does. An unfortunate truth of the universe is that an education in a respectable field does not make one any less of an idiot. Just a better paid one.

Compendium, 1, 1, 2: "God Comes to Meet Man" (6-9)

Jesus is the full and complete revelation of God. Not the canon of the Scriptures, but Jesus. It is perhaps an understood truth, but a distinction worth pointing out. This is why the Catholic Church, and so many other believers, give special reverence to the Gospels. Not because of any difference in level of inspiration or authority, but because of their subject. It is in the Gospels that we are told of the words and work of Christ, it is here that we are shown the life, death and resurrection that purchased for us eternal salvation. The Epistles and Apocalypse are not the fullness, the climax of God's revelation (as a progressive view of revelation that culminates in the canon of God's word rather than in the person of the Word of God demands) - but the fullness of God's revelation is Christ. And just as all of the Old Testament pointed forward to Christ, so the rest of the New Testament points back to him.

I'm including a few sections today because they all speak of God's revelation to man throughout history, culminating in the person of God's Son. God reveals himself to man; God gives himself to man. The revelation of God and the gift of God is himself.

6. What does God reveal to man?

(Catechism 50-53, 68-69)
God in his goodness and wisdom reveals himself. With deeds and words, he reveals himself and his plan of loving goodness which he decreed from all eternity in Christ. According to this plan, all people by the grace of the Holy Spirit are to share in the divine life as adopted “sons” in the only begotten Son of God.

Note the use of "sons" when speaking of our adoption rather than "sons and daughters." This usage is important: We are made "sons" even though we are male and female. Both sexes alike are adopted as "sons" - dependent upon the natural Sonship of Christ. We share in the Sonship of Christ, having a real share in or union with the life of the Blessed Trinity.

7. What are the first stages of God's Revelation?

(Catechism 54-58, 70-71)
From the very beginning, God manifested himself to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and invited them to intimate communion with himself. After their fall, he did not cease his revelation to them but promised salvation for all their descendants. After the flood, he made a covenant with Noah, a covenant between himself and all living beings.

8. What are the next stages of God's Revelation?

(Catechism 59-64, 72)
God chose Abram, calling him out of his country, making him “the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5), and promising to bless in him “all the nations of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). The people descended from Abraham would be the trustee of the divine promise made to the patriarchs. God formed Israel as his chosen people, freeing them from slavery in Egypt, establishing with them the covenant of Mount Sinai, and, through Moses, giving them his law. The prophets proclaimed a radical redemption of the people and a salvation which would include all nations in a new and everlasting covenant. From the people of Israel and from the house of King David, would be born the Messiah, Jesus.

9. What is the full and definitive stage of God's Revelation?

(Catechism 65-66, 73)
The full and definitive stage of God’s revelation is accomplished in his Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the mediator and fullness of Revelation. He, being the only-begotten Son of God made man, is the perfect and definitive Word of the Father. In the sending of the Son and the gift of the Spirit, Revelation is now fully complete, although the faith of the Church must gradually grasp its full significance over the course of centuries.

“In giving us his Son, his only and definitive Word, God spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word, and he has no more to say.” (Saint John of the Cross)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Compendium, 1, 1, 1: "Man's Capacity for God" (5)

5. How can we speak about God?

(Catechism 39-43, 48-49)
By taking as our starting point the perfections of man and of the other creatures which are a reflection, albeit a limited one, of the infinite perfection of God, we are able to speak about God with all people. We must, however, continually purify our language insofar as it is image-bound and imperfect, realizing that we can never fully express the infinite mystery of God.

This morning, before my only-off-site-school-attending child left with her mother, she asked me a series of questions about animals and plants and, specifically, the carnivorous variety. She said a boy had told her of a plant called a flytrap that ate flies. She wondered why they were. What can you say to the ontological musings of a 7-year-old? When she reaches past facts and material knowledge to grab at causes and purposes, what do you say? I first explained, as best as I could, the science - what the plant gained by eating flies and how it went about its business; then I tackled the Why with a question of my own: Is the world more or less interesting because of the Venus flytrap? And what does this plant teach us about God? It teaches us more than we can know probably, but certainly it shows that he is creative and expresses joy in creating. Certainly it tells us that he is a lover of dappled things. Just as a work of art, a poem or an aria, reflects its creator, so does creation, the natural order, reflect its Creator. Which brings us back to man's capacity for God: We need oceans and mountains and galaxies that we might understand something about depth and breadth and height. It is difficult to know something other than what is. And what we are able to know builds on what we already know. We would be, to some degree, diminished without flytraps.

Of course, beside our ability to know stands our limitations of knowing. Our understanding can only fail to comprehend the One whom the universe cannot contain, He Who Is (as icons have wrapped around the head of Christ). So while we do our best to compass the revelation of God, we must not err by saying too much. For God is also Other, stretching out into and beyond the incomprehensible.

On the other hand, our finiteness does not mean that we can know nothing, that we can only be uncertain, or that our doctrinal formulations/understandings have gotten it wrong. The Church teaches what the Church knows and cannot teach what she does not know. Therefore while our language is imperfect, the truths or realities it communicates doesn't change, though our understanding of those realities may grow. And while our understanding of the deposit of faith that has been delivered to us by Christ through the apostles may grow or mature, the tree conforms to the seed. The acorn does not produce a raccoon.

Let me finish with one of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and his praise for "Pied Beauty":

Glory be to God for dappled things -
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Morning Demons

It was a busy weekend, though good. I'm tired. And I woke up this morning nursing a grievance from the night before. Not the best way to kick off a new day. I walked, praying the Rosary. I showered, dressed, and sat down with a cup of coffee as the sun rose. I decided to open up the Magnificat for more prayer and readings, since I still felt so desperate for it, only to read about "morning demons" and, well, nursing grievances from the night before.

The light of Christ dawns on us, it breaks fresh upon us each day. The Spirit of God pursues you and me earnestly and with great love. Pray that I might better receive his grace this morning and be filled with peace and hope, rather than hurt and anger.

Compendium, 1, 1, 1: "Man's Capacity for God" (3-4)

3. How is it possible to know God with only the light of human reason?

(Catechism 31-36, 46-47)
Starting from creation, that is from the world and from the human person, through reason alone one can know God with certainty as the origin and end of the universe, as the highest good and as infinite truth and beauty.

4. Is the light of reason alone sufficient to know the mystery of God?

(Catechism 37-38)
In coming to a knowledge of God by the light of reason alone man experiences many difficulties. Indeed, on his own he is unable to enter into the intimacy of the divine mystery. This is why he stands in need of being enlightened by God’s revelation, not only about those things that exceed his understanding, but also about those religious and moral truths which of themselves are not beyond the grasp of human reason, so that even in the present condition of the human race, they can be known by all with ease, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error.

The certainty spoken of here does not mean scientific certainty - there are no proofs of God that can be verified in a laboratory. The certainty spoken of here is a reliance on man's reason, and the assertion that faith is reasonable. This principle has been key in the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI, that faith and reason are not incompatible, but rather are informed by one another. The Catechism says, " 'Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason.' Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God's revelation. Man has this capacity because he is created 'in the image of God' " (34).

Man can know God, as St Augustine puts it, by questioning nature. But that does not mean that the road to faith is without obstacle, or that all men will come to know God through the study of nature. There are many, many obstacles for each of us to come to know God, to share in his life. Thanks be to God, however, that he continually and faithfully draws all men to himself regardless of the difficulties.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sophie's First Communion

As I promised, here are a few pictures. Except for some group photographs with the other first timers, nearly all the pictures we took today are in the slideshow in the sidebar. The yellow-haired child demanded some equal time.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Good Morning

My oldest daughter, Sophie, is receiving her first Holy Communion tomorrow. Her grandmother made her dress; she's going to look beautiful. Her last practice is tonight, and then in the morning she's going further into the life of the Church. We're excited for her, as you can imagine. It's going to be quite a liturgy. Pray for us.

In the afternoon, I will try to post some pictures of her in her dress.

Funny story: Monday night, at her last practice, the first-time communicants practiced going forward, and they received unconsecrated bread and wine. When Sophie got back to the pew she sat down next to me and shuddered. She looked at me, grimaced and said, "That wine don't taste very good."

Compendium, 1, 1, 1: "Man's Capacity for God," (2)

“You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised [...] You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (Saint Augustine)

2. Why does man have a desire for God?

(cf. Catechism 27-30, 44-45)
God himself, in creating man in his own image, has written upon his heart the desire to see him. Even if this desire is often ignored, God never ceases to draw man to himself because only in God will he find and live the fullness of truth and happiness for which he never stops searching. By nature and by vocation, therefore, man is a religious being, capable of entering into communion with God. This intimate and vital bond with God confers on man his fundamental dignity.

Let me make a disclaimer about my profundity. It ain't. Don't expect it, because I don't. Many of these posts are simply quick reflections, some will let the text stand as it is. Some posts won't let the text alone, but would have been better had they done so. I'm just saying. They're more chats than essays.

In this section, Chapter 1 of the Compendium, we begin with a favorite quote from St Augustine: "You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you." We are religious beings, bent ever God-ward, toward his service and toward worship, like wax impressed with his seal. We are restless creatures who seek happiness and justice and truth in all manner of created things. And though they are there for our good and our pleasure, our hearts remain unsatisfied without God. Sometimes they even remain unsatisfied with God because our union with him is imperfect.

As I said in the last post, God wants to share his life with us. He made us capable of communion with him. He made us like him, to some extent. We are created "in his image." All people bear God's image, and it is this that gives us our basic dignity - even when our sin muddies it. Our enemies bear God's image. Our friends. Our children. Our spouses.

And then this wonderful truth: "God never ceases to draw man to himself." Thanks be to God.

I have a friend who left the faith, seeing it as unnecessary to love and life. He is now an atheist, but remains a reader of this blog. (Only, I'm sure, because I entertain the hell out of him.) We've been having a slow conversation about atheistic morality and I agree with much that he says about it. His morality and mine, however, and we'd disagree at this point, rises from the same source - from this imago Dei impressed upon us both alike. It is what we call "natural law," morality written in the fabric of man's being - the degree of which is arguable. (Some, for instance, have no compunction against eating other people. But not even a cannibal thinks that killing indiscriminately is right - rather, if you will, he engages in nutritiously beneficial jingoism.) It is the Catholic's (Christian's) contention that natural law rises up from that which the Compendium is speaking of in this section. During his recent journey to the U.S., the Holy Father spoke on this very topic in an address to the U.N. You can read his speech here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Compendium, 1, 1: "I believe" - "We believe"

1. What is the plan of God for man?

(cf. Catechism 1-25)
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. In the fullness of time, God the Father sent his Son as the Redeemer and Savior of mankind, fallen into sin, thus calling all into his Church and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, making them adopted children and heirs of his eternal happiness.

The plan of God for man is "to make him share in his own blessed life." This idea of sharing in the divine life is called by the Orthodox, theosis, deification or divinization. (I understand the connotations here, but it is not what the Orthodox mean.) It is most famously stated by St Athanasius (4th cent.), "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." A rather bold statement, I should think, and yet there it is. This is the mystery of the incarnation.

Theosis, though the term is not often mentioned in Catholicism, is salvation. This is what it is about. This is what salvation means, what its purpose is. And this is our end. Theosis is the plan of God for man.

But I tremble for a qualification, so I will add St Athanasius' own: "becoming by grace what God is by nature." We do not "become God" in the sense that we become divine in our very essence (apotheosis is, I believe, still a heresy). We partake of or share in his divine nature. We become holy as God is holy. The doctrine of the Trinity certainly puts limits on the idea.

Here is a series of quotes in the Catechism, on the incarnation, which also speaks on theosis:

460 The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pt 1.4): "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God" (St Irenaeus, Adv. haeres., 3, 19, 1). "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God" (St Athanasius, De inc., 45, 3). "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods" (St Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4).

A Plan

I plan to attempt something here that is most likely too big, too high, for me, but will allow me to post more often and at the same time grow in my Catholic faith. I do so with some trepidation, as I've often come across triumphalistic in my faith to people dear to me who do not share my Catholic faith; my intention, however, is to be strictly affirmative without being comparative. In other words, I plan to write a positive presentation of Catholicism through the dialogical literary genre (question and answer format) found within the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church without belittling the faith(s) of others (No rubbish like, "When I was a Protestant I thought that, but now I think this"). I have failed in this before, so I will be relying on my reader(s) to keep me gracious and to keep me orthodox and to keep me writing. I am also notoriously bad at not finishing what I begin, and this project may span an entire year or more. It will be a view of the Catholic faith in four parts, following the Catechism: (1) lex credendi (The Profession of Faith), (2) lex celebrandi (The Celebration of the Christian Mystery), (3) lex vivendi (Life in Christ) and (4) lex orandi (Christian Prayer).

If I discover that it is not working out as intended, I will drop it.

I do not intend to quit writing about the quirkiness of my life or quit sharing the wisdom of my children in this place, but am attempting this project as a spiritual discipline and rule for myself. I don't think it will be too boring. But I could be wrong. And I will keep it concise, covering two or three questions each day. I am also interested in using this time and this resource to create a simple q-and-a type of catechism for my children to begin memorizing. So while I will include the text of the Compendium, I will also be attempting to simplify both question and answer (and, in all likelihood, leaving some things out and combining others) for my children while remaining faithful to the text.

Above all, pray for me. And read. Push back or disagree freely - I appreciate your opinions and views, and simply your participation. And if there are resources you know, existing children's catechisms or such, then please let me know what you know.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Critiquing Emergent/ing. Again.

There's a new article "On the Square" at the First Things Web site - the article is also in my "Sharing" widget if you're looking there. Kristen Scharold tackles the Emergent/ing Conversation and a book, Why We're Not Emergent, that critiques it. I agree with much that she says about the movement: There are fundamental problems here. But I'd also like to add several thoughts. It is easy in such short spaces to brush too broadly - as I am sure I am also about to do.

First, the movement is large and varied. There are many who are bent liberally and many who are bent conservatively. There are those who question all the dogmas of the Church and those who embrace as fundamental the great creeds of the Church. This movement consists mostly of young men and women who love Jesus and want to love people better. It also consists of some who have left the Church and, therefore, Christ though they are still largely unaware of it. Therefore, given its variety, it is difficult to cast a blanket over the entire movement.

Second, I was reading this morning of how the Holy Father has called bishops to see and reflect upon "the ecclesial movements and new communities [within the Church] as a gift of the Holy Spirit." The pope also exhorted the bishops, "I ask you to go out and meet the movements with much love." Now, these quotes are in reference to movements that rise up within Catholicism, that rise up to meet the Day. But there are similarities and differences with Emergent/ing. The similarities are that the Holy Spirit moves in his people and takes on different expressions, but it is the same Spirit. And in Emergent/ing there is much that the Spirit of God has done and is doing. I don't want anyone to miss this truth. The differences, however, are more and can be more serious: (1) There is a dearth of teaching embraced in Emergent/ing, no tradition that many in Emergent/ing are loyal to. Much of it is towering arrogance dressed up in humility. Sometimes there seems to be no loyalty at all but to the current wind. This "scarcity" of belief is why so many Evangelicals reject the movement - it is not, however, that those involved don't have beliefs or ascribe to doctrines, it's that they believe being a Christian is bigger than what one believes - the focus is elsewhere. And I would agree that following Jesus is more than a checklist of beliefs. But it certainly entails one's beliefs, and doctrine is certainly necessary - if you lose the doctrine, you've lost Christ. (As an analogy, there can be no friendship with me if you believe that I am a homosexual woman who is a Buddhist. Your beliefs do not keep me from still loving you, but it makes you unable to truly love me because you do not know me.) (2) They have rarely been embraced by the traditional communities they spring out of. I believe that if there were a greater reception of these men and women by their communities, a more open ear, rather than grim dismissals, the Emergent/ing movement could move as it was meant to. And while I suspect this acceptance has happened in places, some find Emergent/ing impossible to accept because some of those involved in the movement have also rejected the doctrine of their various traditions in favor of differing doctrine and, in some cases, none. I do not believe that the Emergent/ing movement is the direction the Holy Spirit wants Protestant Christians to move in, but I believe he is very active within it as he has done good work through many involved - just as he is present and working in traditional Evangelical communities. There are things in the Emergent/ing movement that the traditional Evangelical community can and should learn from. And there are things within traditional Evangelicalism that Emergent/ing must learn from.

Anyway, to recap, I wish the movement had a better anchor and I wish they were better loved. I pray that it will and that it will be. There are precious people who love our Lord deeply who consider themselves Emergent/ing. But I also hope and pray that they will be led back to the Church, the ecclesiology, (and, that is to say, Christ) that they so desperately need.

One needs a boat anchored to push out from or he loses the boat.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Scandal of Motherhood

Motherhood sounds so domestic. And domestic is dull at best. Yesterday I heard of a woman complaining about the misogyny of motherhood - as if it chains them to the earth or clips their wings or steals their dignity. Not my wife, though she struggles with the criticism that comes in unkind comments and open repudiation from strangers and family alike.

Though rarely so extreme as seeing misogyny in motherhood, the subtlety of such attitudes infect our culture. We want the blessing of children, but we only want it so far. And yet as a favorite Scripture says, Women will be saved through childbirth. We aren't simply turning our backs on "blessings" from God when we say No, we are turning our backs on our salvation. Children, domesticity, saves us. Greased by God's grace, oiled by his very Spirit, we are ground into the life of God - becoming nothing in order to gain everything. We are conformed by fits and tantrums, by sicknesses and hurts, by loneliness and ingratitude. We stumble and rise, stumble and rise, stumble and rise. And it is in the rising that we are saved, washed, sanctified. Motherhood saves us by its sheer force. Or it crushes us.

The world mocks. Plenty in the Church do as well. We are modern men and mothers and believe that a woman can be more meaningful in this life as a professional, as if a career could change the world as a person does.

Mothers are never given their due. Every day ought to be given to you as Mother's Day is, laid out before you in love, with flowers.

Mothers are worthy of great praise.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Arinze on Catholic Politicians and Abortion


The following icon and quotation is from our wall calendar. It is May, and in the Catholic Church May is Mary's month. For she is the Most Holy Theotokos, the Mother of God. While I love the Latin-rite, or Roman, Catholic Church, my heart is also Eastern and I would be a very happy Eastern-rite Catholic. Every parish needs to be filled with iconography such as this.

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" (Lk 1.42).

The tabernacle in Eastern Catholic churches sits upon the main Altar of Sacrifice. Hovering above that tabernacle on the back wall or ceiling of the sanctuary is the icon of the Mother of God known in Greek as the "Platytera," which means "more spacious than the Heavens." The liturgical text proclaims: "He whom not even the universe could contain was contained within the womb of a virgin, making her more spacious than the Heavens." Mary, the Mother of God becomes, therefore, a mystical or human "tabernacle." Like the tabernacle that rests upon the Altar, Mary's body contained the body of Jesus Christ. The Platytera icon is designed as though we were looking into the very womb of the mystical tabernacle. Mary presents Christ to us from the very heart of her own being. She is adorned in a regal red, symbolizing her dignity as the queen of heaven. Red is also the color of clay or earth, and it is from Mary that the Second Person of the Trinity receives His human nature.

The stars on Mary's forehead and on each of her shoulders refer to her virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ. On either side of her are the ancient Greek abbreviations for "Theotokos," meaning literally, "God-bearer." In this way, the icon makes a statement about both Christ's divinity and Mary's nature: The human child she carried in her womb was at the same time God, thus making her the "God-bearer."

Gazing upon this icon, the viewer can see the very meaning of womanhood. Because the very body of every woman is configured to the body of the "human tabernacle," so too does every woman carry within her a "sacred space," making the body of every woman, in a certain sense, intrinsically holy, a "tabernacle."

The Aftermath

Shortly after lunch I arrived bravely at my polling place with kids in tow. Unaffiliated with a party, I chose to vote in the Democratic primary. I was given a once-over on how to operate the touch screen booths (which are decidedly un-booth-like and uncomfortably public). I was told to "mash" this or that part of the screen. To "mash" this on-screen button to correct a mistake, and to "mash" the top, actual button when I was ready to cast my vote. It was a lot of work to restrain the giggle that threatened publicity. Regionalisms are rich additions to the English language, but even after 15 years living in North Carolina, they catch me off-guard.

The alcohol referendum had so many ways to vote for or against it that I figured everyone in town could vote a different way and we would still not have a decision. I tried to vote in a way that would not disagree with my other votes, but wasn't sure I succeeded. Vote for or against sales "on-premises" and "off-premises," vote for or against sales only in restaurants, vote for or against sales of "only fortified wine," vote for or against the operation of ABC stores, vote for or against whether you want your neighborhood to spiral down into crime after sordid crime due to the sale of alcohol - that sort of thing. Long story short: 300 of us were against ye olde fyre water and 200 were for it. Liquor runs and beer dashes will remain part of rural North Carolina life.

Per a local news clip, the Baptist Church up the road cheered when they heard the referendum results at 9:30. They said they could go to beds with happy hearts. And while I had voted for them to go to bad saddened and heavy-hearted, I'm glad that someone could. The rest of us had to drive 20 minutes up the road in order to do the same.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Little Catholic Annoyances

Yesterday at Mass we had a guest priest - he was actually the former priest of the parish, semi-retired, but I have never seen him. I went forward to receive Holy Communion, bowed my head and said "Amen" to the proclamation, "The Body of Christ." I opened my mouth to receive the Host on my tongue.

For a bit of background, you may be interested to know that receiving Holy Communion on my tongue is not a special devotion for me. I've gotten in the habit of it, however, since I'm usually carrying a child with me. (Though I was not carrying a child yesterday.) And I've come to like it better. Receiving the Eucharist on the tongue is the ordinary way in which Catholics, the world over, participate in the Mass. In the United States, we have a special dispensation to also receive Christ in our hands.

Anyway, as I opened my mouth to receive Holy Communion, the priest, with some vigorous head shaking, murmuring, and gesturing, made it clear that he would only give me Communion in my hand. I was taken aback. I began the interior struggle with my reaction. But I calmly received with my hand, tried to refocus on Christ, and then went to receive the Cup.

Now, I'm not a big critic of how Mass is done, or keep track of where priests falter. It would only make me miserable in the very place where I need to be worshipping. And proud. But telling someone they may not receive the Bread of Life one way, when it is the communicant and not the minister who decides this (per the bishop), is generally disruptive for the communicant. I wanted to sidle up to the native Dubliner and in my finest Irish brogue (which is crap) whisper, "Na sure if you're aware, father, but I'm tryin' to receive Holy Communion in the proper spirit. You're na helpin' matters."

And then this morning St Silouan, an Orthodox monk who lived at the turn of the last century, instructed me:

"Isn't it the Lord himself who has said: 'The kingdom of God is among you' (Lk 17,21)? Eternal life begins even now... Oh my brothers, I beg you to put it to the test! If someone should offend you, detract you, take away what belongs to you, even if he should be a persecutor of Holy Church, pray to God and say: 'Lord, we are all your creatures. Have pity on your servants and draw their hearts to repentance.' Then you will feel grace in your soul. It is true that, to begin with, you have to force yourself to love your enemies. But when the Lord sees your good will, he will help you in it all, and experience itself will show you the way. On the other hand, those who plan evil against their enemies cannot have love and, therefore, cannot know God.

Never be aggressive with your brother; never judge him; overcome in gentleness and love. Pride and harshness take peace away. So love him who does not love you and pray for him. In this way your peace will be undisturbed.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Devil May Care

This morning at 7:00, I heard pounding outside the window (the windows have been open for some time in North Carolina). I looked outside and found Grandma X., across the road, in her robe with a hammer and a sign. She's driving a stake into the heart of the devil, and it reads "Vote NO Alcohol May 6."

We go to the polls here in North Carolina on Tuesday. But as you can see there are bigger fish to fry than a silly little presidential primary. This happens to be a dry county. And whether we, as a community, jump off the wagon is up for vote.

Now I'm a big fan of temperance, certainly its spiritual necessity, but to show all my cards I'm also a fan of seconds. (No cult of the body practiced here.) I'm quite at odds, however, with the temperance movement and fail to understand sympathies for it today. I suppose many people have seen their share of pulpit beatings on the subject. I suspect many people know someone who succumbed to ye olde fyre water.

For me, however, there were two sins committed in those strange times when teetotalers gained the power of prohibition: Wasting so much good alcohol and injuring the word temperance for over a century. And the sin against our language is the worse because it still shades meaning today. At least the short epochs of Prohibition in our country produced some fine domestic brews.

If we vote No on Tuesday, I will be okay. No home brewing for me, of course, but that doesn't change anything. So pound the stake in deep, Grandma X. If you wouldn't mind, though, could you wait till 8:00 a.m. next time?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Eight Ball, Side Pocket

Why did God make three-year-old boys yay high? Good grief! How I've taken a whacking in the past month. Tonight's came courtesy of a foam sword with plastic rebar. Crumpled me good.

In a Fix

I didn't expect to get the movie so soon. And I expected to read the book much earlier. But what do you do when Netflix sends you the movie and the book is on the end table next to your bed, and you're only two chapters in?

Should I just send the movie back? I know the answer. I just don't like it.