Monday, December 31, 2007

Spam comments

I got the following post in my comments. I'm pretty sure this is spam. Why? He doesn't mention at all what the post was about. This is a generic comment that could be about any post on any blog. Note the use of "this subject." What he wants is for us to go to his site. I have no idea what is on it, nor am I interested in finding out.

Eric Novak said...
I just stumbled across your blog. I partly agree with you. I posted about this subject on my blog.

Eric Novak

Update: Love2Learn Mom checked this one out. It is legit. Sorry Eric. The moral is a) you can't be too cautious and b) try not to look generic in com boxes!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Narnia and allegory

I recently had a discussion in which someone asserted that the Narnia Chronicles was an allegory. I conjecture that people say that because we have become convinced by the repeated warnings of so many Christian critics today that it is bad for any piece of literature, especially fantasy, to be explicitly Christian, which Narnia is. So, any time we detect explicit Christianity in a work, we either relegate it to the category of pious fiction or, to save it from being explicitly Christian, call it allegory. You have to have written at least 70 years ago (Brideshead) to get away with explicit Catholicism. Didn't Flannery O'Connor avoid any Catholicism in her arguably Catholic fiction? Further, calling fiction allegory, which devotees of Tolkien will put in the "bad" category, is usually an indication that we think the "Christianity" of the piece is still too explict, and therefore objectionable--too transparent.

I think to call Narnia "allegory" is to misunderstand it.

Allegory is writing in which characters either a) represent abstract concepts or b) represent another reality. The characters in an allegory are often stereotypical and without well developed, complex character. There is no imagined direct connection between the allegorical world and the real world in which we inhabit. Often allegory has to do with the personification of aspects of the interior life. Think of Hind’s Feet on High Places, for instance, which is strict and pure allegory. So, virtues, passions, etc. are personified. Lewis did write allegory—Pilgrim’s Regress. Tolkien didn't like allegory

Why is Narnia not allegory, if Aslan represents Christ? The answer is because Aslan doesn't represent Christ. The entirety of the Narnia series is fictional, including those parts of it that take place in our world—including therefore the relationship Christianity to the concrete events that are imagined to occur in our world. Lewis imagines multiple parallel universes that have connections, including to our universe in which the Christ story occurred and the Pevenses live. The “what if” of Lewis’s story is, “what if there were parallel universes? What if one of them has intelligent, speaking animals? How might the Triune God interact with them?” Since God is One, He would act similarly in the other universe as he did here. Hence, for instance, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity would become an animal. This is not allegory, but rather what Tolkien called “applicability.” None of the characters represent abstract ideas or other realities. They are, in their complexity, persons who interact with each other and the world so imagined. What might a complex human person do in these circumstances? Or a complex beaver person? Or the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity?

If one thinks Narnia is allegory, one would also have to think the Space Trilogy is allegory. Rather, it is simply explicitly Christian, which is also what Narnia is. It is explicitly an imagined world with has direct and explicit connection to our Christian story ("eldilla" as our angels, “Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.”)

One might be able to argue that the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is allegory, I suppose, but I think rather it is more properly described as Platonic. Lewis imagines that the voyage east is the way the relationship between what we would call earth and heaven works. Similarly to our imagining that heaven is in the sky. Are all stories in which heaven is imagined in the sky allegories? The Littlest Angel, for instance?

Monday, December 17, 2007

word length and emphasis

English is a language dominated by monosyllable words. Multisyllable words tend to be inherited from Latin or Greek, and tend to be more abstract. Because of this poets can easily emphasis a concept or image by putting a multisyllable word in the middle of a string of monosyllable words. If one looks at the (undoubtedly unintended) effect our sensitivity to this has on the liturgy, one finds some interesting emphases. For instance, if one isolates the monosyllable words in the words of consecration, one finds:
body, given, everlasting covenant. forgiven. memory

In Latin you would not find the same kind of emphasis because almost all nouns, verbs and adjectives tend to be multisyllabic. For instance, if you isolate only words of three syllables or more in the Latin of the same text, you get:

Accipite, manducate, tradetur, Accipite, bibite, Sanguinis, aeterni
testamenti, effundetur, remissionem peccatorum, facite, commemorationem.

I'm not saying this is a significant theological difference, especially since some of the words appear on both lists. It is interesting that in both cases the emphasis, if measured by the number of syllables in the phrase, is on the consecration of the wine.

On the other hand, there is a psychological tendency among English speakers to have their eyes glaze over when too many syllables are used. We pay more attention to a staccato of monosyllables, then a string of abstract sounding polysyllables.

Once again, I'm not making any great metaphysical points about this. I'm just noticing it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Christmas Break

I probably won't be in the office much during the next few weeks (until Jan 2), so my posting will be sporadic. If I do post, it will be substantive.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent Calendar

My friend Clayton Emmer has an online Advent calendar here. I'm a little late, but I didn't get wind of it until today.

Living Our Faith

Here is the new "Living Our Faith" webpage from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. is dedicated to information and resources associated with this effort. This web site features stories focusing on Inspiring, Teaching and Serving, as well as resources for singles, couples, and families, a Catholic viewpoint on topical issues, how to find a parish and/or school, and a weekly reflection from Archbishop Dolan. Another key feature of is a section dedicated to Sharing Our Resources – these will be online resources that parish staff and leaders can access to learn best practices and serve as a connection for everyone throughout the archdiocese.
This is a companion to the new t.v. show which can be viewed here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Speaking of grammar...

As I noted in this post, I get annoyed by egregious grammatical errors in others' speech. Well, my six year old son takes after me. Last night right before we were going to pray the family Rosary I said something using the subjunctive in a fairly archaic manner. Since he didn't recognize the form, he thought it was a grammatical error. He insisted that I correct my grammar, which I didn't. So, when it was his turn to share his intentions for the Rosary he said, "I wanna pray that dad's grammar improve."

That's the kind of house I live in.

The Date of Easter

According to

In Western Christianity, Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the Paschal Full Moon. I had previously, and somewhat erroneously stated, "Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox." This statement was true in 325 AD, when it was established by the Council of Nicea. However, the course of history has modified the meaning of this instruction.
The Paschal full moon is explained thus:
The full moon used to calculate the date of Easter. This full moon does not correspond to any astronomical event, but is a historical artifact determined from tables.
I didn't know this. I always thought it was "the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox." What messed things up was the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Here is a detailed explanation of the whole thing.

I refuse to argue with these results

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Dedicated Reader
Book Snob
Literate Good Citizen
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz
Especially the last line.

Another Sort of Learning

For a while now I've been praising Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.'s Student Guide to Liberal Learning. It is because of that book that I read Sertillanges' The Intellectual Life, which strikes me as the most sane guide I know of for those of us with an intellectual vocation. As a follow-up to The Student's Guide, I decided to read Another Sort of Learning, also by Schall. This is a great book! It is really an expanded version of the student's guide. Or, should I say the student's guide is a condensation of Another Sort, since the latter came out many years before the former. Needless to say, I highly recommend both of these books for college students and adults who want to take their Catholic intellectual life seriously, whether they have an intellectual vocation or not. And the book lists will keep you busy for the rest of your life.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Beethoven's Ninth

On Friday my wife and I are going to a performance of Beethoven's Ninth by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony Chorale (under the direction of the incomparable Lee Erickson). I have wanted to do this ever since I was a kid and they used to use the second movement during the closing credits of the NBC Nightly News with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

I remember when I was about ten and I found my mom's LP of the 9th and played it. When it got to the second movement I said, "Hey, that's the Huntley/Brinkley theme song!"*

I never thought I'd get this opportunity. But for some reason our son's music school was giving away free tickets! Score, as my kids say!

Nothing like a good, intense dose of freemasonry to begin a relaxing weekend, I always say.

*Another story from my childhood. I was digging through my mom's old 78s and found Desi Arnaz's recording of "Babaloo.' I was so excited I ran with it into the kitchen to show mom. On the way the record slipped out of my hand. As you know, 78s were pretty brittle, so it shattered into pieces on the hallway carpet. I cried and cried. My mom wasn't anywhere near as upset about it.

Then there was the time I somehow broke my sister's 45 of "Never My Love." I tried to hide it somewhere, but she found it. She wasn't quite as forgiving as my mom.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ecclesia Semper reformanda

The renewal of the Church is always an ongoing business, so even though we are over 45 years into the post-Vatican II era, there is certainly still a need to renew the life of the Church, including in America. I think the following steps would be help considerably in the renewal of the Church in America. I'm not saying there is not already a great deal of renewal going on, including, for instance, the home schooling movement and the various new ecclesial movements. I'm only saying that I think these particular steps would help the process--give it a shot in the arm....(more)

Antonio Rosmini

Until today I've never read anything by or about Fr. Antonio Rosmini, the philosopher whose writings were condemned by the Vatican from 1887 to 2001 and who is now going to be beatified. What I read today here on is very attractive. I am especially impressed by his anti-totalitarianism, his affirmation of the value of private property, his critique of the Enlightenment and his affirmation of the value of free exchange of and debate over ideas. Here is a link to Rosmini's philosophical, theological and spiritual works translated into English. At some point I'd like to explore them.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Time off

I'm taking a long Thanksgiving holiday starting today, so you won't hear from me again until Monday, the 26th at the earliest.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

St. Albert on sacrament and sacrifice

"This sacrament is profitable because it grants remission of sins; it is most useful because it bestows the fullness of grace on us in this life. 'The Father of spirits instructs us in what is useful for our sanctification.' And his sanctification is in Christ's sacrifice, that is, when he offers himself in this sacrament to the Father for our redemption to us for our use." From his commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke.

Psalm choice for Morning Prayer

In reading the rubrics for Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, it mentions that the psalmedy of morning prayer includes 1) a morning psalm, 2) an OT canticle, 3) and a psalm of praise.

This means the following are morning psalms, in the order in which they appear: 63, 5, 24, 36, 57, 51, 119 (145-152), 118, 42, 43, 77, 80, 92, 93, 84, 85, 86, 87, 90, 101, 108, 143 (1-11) , 92. Among the themes of some of these psalms is yearning and pining for God and the courts of His house.

And these are the psalms of praise: 149, 29, 33, 47, 48, 100, 117, 150, 19A, 65, 97, 81, 147 (12-20), 8, 148, 96, 67, 98, 99, 135 (1-12), 144 (1-10), 146, 147 (1-11),

The psalms that are used more than once are 8, 51, 100, 117, 118, 119 (145-152), 147 (12-20) and 150. There is a tendency to repeat on Sundays and Saturdays, plus Ps. 51 on every Friday.

There are no specifications for psalm choice for evening prayer.

I usually pray morning prayer, but rarely get to evening prayer. What I miss the most is the Songs of Ascent (120-134), which are usually only recited in the evening. They are among my favorites, as are some of the others recited in the evening, such as 25, 27, and 62. In fact, I'd say I prefer the evening psalms to the morning, for what its worth.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Concerning the Hymn

Joe, of course, is right about this hymn in particular, but Jeff noticed what I did, which I think is the greater problem among Catholics. So many priests will say something like "We have gathered here to hear God's Word and to receive His Body and Blood" without mentioning that we are primarily gathered "here" to be united in the Spirit to the Sacrifice of Christ to the Father. The offering sacrifice is the summit of the liturgy; the hearing of the Word effects a purification so that we may approach the altar, and communion is the consequence of our unification with the Son by the Holy Spirit--we receive from the pierced side of Christ, the fruits of His sacrifice.

A very good old book on this topic was Clifford Howell, S.J.'s Of Sacrament and Sacrifice (Liturgical Press, 1952). This book was probably considered "liberal" at the time, because it emphasized the laity's participation in the priesthood of believers, but right now it seems quite traditional.

In one section Howell talks about the Sacrifice of the Mass as an exchange of gift, comparing it to a man giving a woman a box of chocolates and she in turn giving him some of the chocolates. Okay, kind of a pedestrian comparison, but you get the point.

Anyway, he outlines the Mass like this:
"First, exchange of words,
Our words go up to God (Kyrie, Gloria, oratio).
God's words come down to us (epistle, gospel, sermon)
Second, exchange of gifts.
Our gifts go up to God (offertory, Consecration).
God's gift comes down to us (Communion).
Thus the whole process is complete."

Note: he is quite aware and indeed emphasizes that the offering to God is primarily Christ's, not ours as such. If you keep in mind that "God" here means God the Father, I think it makes sense.
We need to recover the sense that the Mass is directed to God--an act of adoration, worship and especially sacrifice.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Desdemona. the Valley Girl

My son noticed this line in Othello, Act II, Scene 1. Desdemona responds to Iago's insult to women by saying, "O most lame and impotent conclusion!" I guess this phrase didn't start in the 1990s!

The insidious snares of the Devil

How many of you grew up with the Childcraft series, published by Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, on your parent's bookshelf? It very popular with parents and educators in the 1950s and 1960s. The editorial board and staff was dominated by professors and graduates of Columbia's Teacher's College. John Dewey's fingerprints are all over it.

A clear example of this, one that makes me shudder, can be seen in the general introduction in he first volume, written by Angelo Patri ("Angel of the Father"!). Patri is articulating the philosophy behind the arrangement of the volumes. He first asserts that the symbolic approach to reality is childish phase that we must get over:

This collection begins, as it should, with Mother Goose and other rhymes and poems beloved of childhood. I say that is where it should begin, because children are not little men and women ready to live in an adult world scaled down to their size. The live in a world of their own and they are a people with definite tastes and tendencies and abilities. Theirs is a world of imagination peopled by witches and faries and interpreted by symbols....

Fairies, witches and elves live in the child's world because he needs them. Rhythmic language, lovely poetry, tales worn smooth in their passage down the years are his own forms of expression, happily understood and readily assimilated into speach and action.

Patri acknowledges that there is truth and beauty in the stories, but then goes onto say that adults get beyond the need for symbolic expressions of truth as they begin to understand that the real world has no such invisible realities or relationships as imaginitively symbolized in fairy stories.

The vital spark of truth they contain, the sure touch of beauty that is upon them, justify the child in his love for them.

The time comes when the child emerges from his world of imagination and symolism into one nearer actuality. He demands the true story. Is it true? Did it really happen? Really and truly? These questions indicate a readiness for more actual acceptance of life, for facts and experiences that bear the hallmarks of life. The child is now eager for biography, history, and science told in story....

The next sentence makes little sense to me, except that somehow such prosaic literature, when well told, must and will seem to have the same kind of spark and magic as fantasy, as if somehow our delight is transfered to the "reality" of "facts."

The form shifts but the content must still hold the halo and glamor of romance, the poetical quality of a dream, while it offers the sterner stuff of soul structure: duty and honor and truth.

This is pure Cartesian rationalism. It perpetuates the deadly idea that the real is that which can be expressed in clear and distinct ideas present in the human intellect, using denotative language and the idea that the only real relationships are those that can be described mechanically and quantitatively--that the empirically invisible relationships expressed through
symbolism are less real--the opposite, so to speak, of the sacramental principle.

It reminds me of my father's explanation for his aversion to fantasy. "I prefer realism," he would say. That canard was ably refuted in Tolkien's essay "On Faerie Stories," and by Rollin Lasseter in his 2006 talk, "The Lost Tools of Imagination--the Spiritual Senses," at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture conference on Modernity. Lasseter tells the following story about an incident between him and his son that illustrates the pervasiveness of this Cartesian attitude in our culture:

One Autumn night, too many years ago, I was outside, looking at the stars with my little boys, all under eight years old. I told them about the major constellations we could then see, particularly Orion the giant, large and clear to spot in the southern sky. Suddenly a little wind kicked up and tossed the trees and the dust. I said, "Don't be worried the trees are just dancing." My little son looked up into the sky and said, "Look! They are dancing too!" I looked up and saw that the stars did indeed seem to move about, as their light came through the swirling airs. I told them that the stars were still in their places but that the light was refracted, etc. Sad. My child in his tender age saw dancing. I in my willful, educated intellect saw refractions throught the prism of atmosphere. Sad. Many years have passed, and I have learned a thing or two about dancing. And leanred many things about fathers and sons. There is a disconnect that cries out for reconnection. The imagination of us educated men and women is not working right.
Lasseter then offers allegory, properly understood, as the classic and necessary solution to the poverty of the symbolic imagination.

The symbolic is our most direct access to mystery and to the empirically invisible beings, events and relationships that are every bit as real, if not more so, than those realities, events and relationships that can be described mechanically and quantitatively using denotative language. A rejection of the symbolic robs Sacred Scripture and liturgy of their ability to communicate, in the fullest sense of the word, the truths of salvation and future glory.

So, what is missing from this hymn?

We sang a hymn called "As We Gather at Your Table" this morning at Mass set to the beautiful tune Nettleton. The words, though not heretical (although what exactly IS the sacrament of life?), miss something crucial when talking about Mass. If you have an idea about what is missing, leave a comment. Tomorrow I will discuss it at some length, because I've run across this problem many times and I think it is symptomatic of a profound lack of catechesis concerning the Mass. Here are the lyrics:
As we gather at your Table,
As we listen to your Word,
Help us know, O God, your presence:
Let our hearts and minds be stirred.
Nourish us with sacred story
Till we claim it as our own;
Teach us through this holy banquet
How to make Love's victory known.

Turn our worship into witness
In the sacrament of life;
Send us forth to love and serve you,
Bringing peace where there is strife.
Give us, Christ, your great compassion
To forgive as you forgave;
May we still behold your image
In the world you died to save.

Gracious Spirit, help us summon
Other guests to share that feast
Where triumphant Love will welcome
Those who had been last and least.
There no more will envy blind us
Nor will pride our peace destroy,
As we join with saints and angels
To repeat the sounding joy.

Ex ore infantium et lactantium....

At table the other night, we were talking about the section from the Sermon on the Mount about the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Our six year old son piped up "I know who the salt who has lost its flavor is......(more)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

St. Thomas's advice to a student

Somewhere recently there was a discussion about St. Thomas Aquinas' letter of advice to a student. I can't figure out where the discussion was. Maybe it was Jeff Vehige's now defunct St.Thomas blog. At any rate, I just discovered the Latin text of the letter at Intratext here.
Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium: ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua. Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem; conscientiae puritatem amplectere. Orationi vacare non desinas; cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci. Omnibus te amabilem exhibe; nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum; nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat; de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas; discursus super omnia fugias; sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas; non respicias a quo audias, sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda; ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas; de dubiis te certifica; et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere; altiora te ne quaesieris. Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea Domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas.

Here is my translation:

Since you asked me, John, my dear brother in Christ, how you should strive to acquire the treasure of knowledge, I pass on to you the following counsel: that you might choose to enter through rivulets, and not immediately into the ocean [of knowledge], because one ought to approach the more difficult by passing through the less difficult. This is therefore my admonition and your instruction.

  • I enjoin you to be slow to speak and slow to stir into flame anything having to do with speaking.
  • Cherish purity of conscience.
  • Do not cease to cherish prayer; value your cell frequently if you wish to be led to the wine cellar [of knowledge].
  • Present yourself as amiable to all; do not inquire excessively about the deeds of others; do not present yourself with great familiarity to anyone, because excessive familiarity begets contempt and furnishes material for the dimishment of diligence.
  • Do not admit into your life any of the words and deeds of the world; above all, stay far away from dissipation; do not omit the imitation of the holy and the good; do not consider from whom you hear something, whatever good is said, commit it to memory; that which you read and hear, make sure you understand; mark what is unclear to you; and strive to put into the treasury of the mind whatever you can, hence seeking to fill up the vessel; may you seek nothing higher for yourself [I'm not sure about the translation of this clause because I'm not sure how quaesi[v]eris, which appears to be in the perfect subjuctive fits into the purpose clause. Tim?].
Following these steps as long as you have life, you will bring forth and produce useful leaves and fruits in the vinyard of the Lord Sabaoth. If you have followed these things, you will be able to attain that to which you aspire.
I think it significant that this method produces leaves as well as fruit. Not all our actions bear intellectual fruit directly useful for the expansion of the kingdom. Some of the results of our actions, like leaves, nourish the vine so that it can bear fruit: e.g., the relationship between philology and scripture study. Just because a scholar is not using his linguistic knowledge to interpret Scripture, does not mean he is not contributing to the kingdom. In fact, his proper work is making the useful interpretation of the sacred text possible. One would be a fool to say that the only useful thing Tolkien ever did was translate the Book of Jonah for the Jerusalem Bible.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Just after I posted the previous I began to read Servais Pinckaers' Morality: the Catholic View. This is an excellent, very accessible introduction to Catholic moral theology recommended to me by Dr. Mark Ginter of St. Meinrad's Seminary. I intend to use it in a class I'm teaching.
Here is Pinckaer's commentary on the passage from Romans I just cited and surrounding texts:

1. The Christian life is true worship. It is a liturgy where we offer to God as a living sacrifice our bodies and our persons, discerning what is good and pleasing to him. The term 'body' (soma) employed here evokes the body of Christ, offered in the Eucharist and the body that forms the Church (12:1-2). One can, therefore, refer to the liturgical dimension of Christian morality.

2. Shaped by faith, moral teaching takes place within the context of the faithful's participation in the body of Christ. They are members of this body and have received a multitude of gifts and ministries that they exercise for the good of all (vv. 3-8). this is the ecclesial dimension of the apostolic moral teaching, which returns to the fore in I Corinthians (ch. 12).

3. This ecclesial unity and generosity are the work of charity. Paul describes charity througha collection of characteristics that form a prototypical passage composed of brief, well-chosen notes that in Greek have an assonance and rhythm that facillitate memorization. With these successive brushstrokes, St. Paul paints for us the face of the Christian (vv. 9-12)....

4. The picture is completed by a passage full of energy that calls to mind the Sermon on the Mount: the invitation to bless one's persecutors, to seek out what is humble, and to conquer evil with good. This is the summit of Gospel agape (vv. 14-21).

Pinckaers is very big on the idea that the moral life is not simply an obedience to rules, but a result of the activity of the Holy Spirit in one's life.

It always amazes me when I run across a very important author that I haven't read in my 23 years of formal theological training!

An examination of conscience for members of the Body of Christ

by St. Paul, (Rom. 12:5-16ab), from yesterday's first reading. :

Brothers and sisters:
We, though many, are one Body in Christ and individually parts of one another.

[Use of gifts]

  • Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them:
  • if prophecy, in proportion to the faith;
  • if ministry, in ministering;
  • if one is a teacher, in teaching;
  • if one exhorts, in exhortation;
  • if one contributes, in generosity;
  • if one is over others, with diligence;
  • if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

[love of God and neighbor]

  • Let love be sincere;
  • hate what is evil, hold on to what is good;
  • love one another with mutual affection;
  • anticipate one another in showing honor.
  • Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
  • Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.
  • Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.
  • Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
  • Have the same regard for one another;
  • do not be haughty but associate with the lowly.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Important Papal Encyclicals

I received the following e-mail request:
I'd like to read all the major encyclicals by every pope from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI. It's pretty easy for me to figure out which encyclicals from John XXIII on are important -- but I need some help with those from Pius XII back to Leo XIII. A reading list would be most appreciated, but so would any sort of help.
My response:
Here is my list, for what its worth, of the best of the best. These are ones that had significant impact on theology or the life of the Church. Others might have been as intrinsically valuable. Also, not all the most important writings were encyclicals!

Aeterni Patris (1879), on the renewal of Thomistic Studies
Rerum Novarum (1891), on social teachings
Providentissimus Deus (1893), on the study of Sacred Scripture
Divinum Illud Munus (1897), on the Holy Spirit

Pius X:
Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907), on Modernism

Pius XI:
Casti Cannubi (1930), on marriage and sexual relations.
Quadragesimo Anno (1931), on social teachings
Mit Brennender Sorge (1937), on totalitarianism in Germany

Piux XII:
Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), on biblical studies
Mystici Corporis Christi (1943), on the Church
Mediator Dei (1947), on the liturgy
Humani Generis (1950), on the origins of mankind
[note the way and extent to which these four anticipate Vatican II]
Haurietis Aquas (1956), on the Sacred Heart

Mater et Magister (1961), on social doctrine
Pacem in Terris (1963), on war and peace

Paul VI:
Ecclesiam Suam (1964), on the Church
Mysterium Fidei (1965), on the Holy Eucharist
Populorum Progressio (1967), social teachings
Humanae Vitae (1968), I'm sure you know what this one is about

John Paul II:
[Where to begin?]
Redemptor Hominis (1979), Christ
Dives in Misericordia (1980), God the Father
Laborem Exercens (1981), work
Dominum et Vivificantem (1986), God the Holy Spirit
Redemptoris Mater (1987), Mary
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), social teachings
Redemptoris Missio (1990), missionary activity
Centesimus Annus (1991), social teachings
Veritatis Splendor (1993), moral theology
Evangelium Vitae (1995), life issues
Ut Unum Sint (1995), unity with the Eastern Churches
Fides et Ratio (1998), faith and reason
Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), the Eucharist

Note: all are available on the Vatican web page.

Two wonderful websites

Developed and run by one of the seminarians here at Sacred Heart. This one is called "Catholic Highlights." This one is a vocations page. The vocations page includes a very helpful link to resources for the laity, including a (somewhat underdeveloped, but quite positive) page on home schooling. I suggest those of you who home school e-mail Don with suggestion on how to beef up this page.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A synopsis of some of my thoughts about classic liberal education

Back in a post about Latin-Based Curriculum, someone named J.C. commented that the Andrew Campbell book, The Latin-Centered Curriculum, tended to be anti-Catholic, or at least anti-scholastic. I commented on that post, but I'd like to bring that comment to the top to get come conversation going. So, without further ado:

I haven't read Campbell's book so can't evaluate his approach per se. I like this list, though because I tend toward the rhetorical, rather than the philosophical, to use Bruce Kimball's (and Christopher Dawson's) distinction.

I took the idea that the components of the trivium were disciplines in their own right not as a contrast with theology as their raison d'ĂȘtre, but with Dorothy Sayers' idea that all disciplines have their own form of the trivium.

I think the classical trivium studied as disciplines, good catechesis and mystagogia, and good literature are the proper preamble for what Andrew Seeley has called the sapiential disciplines--philosophy, theology, etc..

I also think a purely great books approach is inadequate, for the reasons Fr. Schall mentions in A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, which I'm mentioned on this page. Wyoming Catholic college seems to recognize this by teaching the Trivium through the four years of undergraduate studies.

I agree with Newman that philosophy which opens up to theology is the coordinating discipline of undergraduate education and believe that scientific theology is an advanced study for upper classmen.

I also should mention that I didn't just recently discover Derrick's book, but rather read it a few years ago and have loved it and had a high regard for TAC ever since.

There. I've expressed all my main thoughts about these things.

Waugh's Helena

A nice review of a reprint by Loyola Press with an introduction by George Weigel. Find out what God wants you to do and do it!

Friday, November 02, 2007

To God the Father

Here is one of Henry Constable's Spiritual Sonnets:
Great God: within whose simple essence, we
Nothing but that which is thyself can find:
When on thyself thou did'st reflect thy mind
Thy thought was God, which took the form of thee:
And when this God thus born, thou lov'st, & he
Loved thee again, with passion of like kind,
(As lovers' sighs, which meet, become one wind)
Both breathed one spright of equal deity. [spirit]
Eternal father, whence these two do come
And wil'st the title of my father have,
As heavenly knowledge in my mind engrave,
That it thy son's true Image may become:
And sence my heart with sighs of holy Love, [incense]
That it the temple of the Spright may prove. [Spirit]

Henry Constable (1562-1613) was a contemporary of Shakespeare. He wrote a whole series of Spiritual Sonnets, which are available online here. This one, "To God the Father," was followed by "To God the Son" and "To God the Holy Ghost."

I discovered this poem in a book called Poetry and Life: An Anthology of English Catholic Poetry, compiled by F.J. Sheed and published by guess who in 1942. The volume included not only a great selection of poems, but a comprehensive study guide as well. Note, the text of Constable's poem was slightly altered in this volume because of archaic spelling. The version above is the original.

It was part of a series called "Catholic Masterpiece Tutorial Series: A Masterpiece of Month to Form a Catholic Mind." Other volumes in the series include:
  • Whom Do You Say? by J.P. Arendzen,
  • Callista, by John Henry Cardinal Newman,
  • Survivals and new Arrivals, by Hilaire Belloc.
  • Christ in the Church, by Robert Hugh Benson,
  • The Desert Fathers, compiled by Helen Waddell,
  • The Confessions of St. Augustine, and
  • What is Wrong with the World, by G.K. Chesterton.
Membership in the club cost $6.50 for 8 books bound in cloth and $5.00 for 8 books bound in paper.

We need something like this now. We also need this kind of writing now!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sonnet 23

As a proud father, I'd like to refer my readers to my son's video debut reading Shakespeare's Sonnet 23 before the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture lecture by Ms. Clare Asquith called "Shakespeare's Dark Matter." To see Tim and the whole lecture go to this page, click on the "View" link at Ms. Asquith's entry. He begins reading at minute 4:30. The text of the sonnet is:

As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart.
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's rite,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'ercharged with burden of mine own love's might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more express'd.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit.

The rest of the lecture series, including lectures by Joseph Pierce, John Finnis and Peter Holland, is also available on this website.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought

Another interesting resource Sobrino posted was an index to the new Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought published by Scarecrow Press. I have three articles in it: "Vatican Council, Second," "Gaudium et Spes," and "Henri de Lubac."

Fishers of Men

Here is a great and inspiring vocation video that I learned about from Oswald Sobrino. Even if you are not called to priesthood, this video helps you understand those who are. Very well produced. There is a great section about the necessity for silence in vocation discernment. This applies to all of us, not just those called to priesthood.

The body and the clear mind

Kevin Miller points to this study about the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on the emotional life. It seems that lack of sleep shuts down an important emotion processing center in the prefrontal lob of the brain.

My sleep-deprived wife's reaction when I read this to her was "duh!"

Anyway, our Cartesian culture lives as if this is not true. One can especially see this on college campuses. Kids really think they are thinking well even though they don't get enough sleep, exercise, fresh air, and good food. If I were a young adult who was in recovery from this lifestyle I would carefully sift through all the judgments about important matters I was so certain about while I was in college, especially negative or pessimistic ones. Avery Dulles talks about his own experience of this in his college years at Harvard in his autobiography, A Testimony to Grace.

A.G. Sertillanges, O.P. (are you tired of me quoting him yet?) says:
In men of otherwise equal gifts, it is certain that sickness is a serious handicap. It lessens the output; it interferes with the freedom of the soul at the moment of its delicate operations; it sidetracks attention; it may warp the judgment by effects on the imagination and the nervous reaction that suffering brings about. A disease of the stomach changes a man's character, his character changes his thoughts. If Leopardi [a 19th century Italian agnostic poet--very influential on Msgr. Giussani] had not been delicate and deformed, would he have been among the pessimists? (Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life, p. 36)

Interestingly, Henri de Lubac suffered most of his adult life from severe headaches cause by a war injury. What might he have done had he been well?

Friday, October 26, 2007

The imagination and the intellect

No one thinks, even if he is only utilizing an acquired idea, without calling up a whole complex of images, emotions, sensations, which are the culture medium of the idea.

When we want to awaken a thought in anyone, what are the means at our disposal? One only, to produce in him by word and sign states of sensibility and of imagination, emotion and memory in which he will discover our idea and make it his own. (Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life, p. 34.)

In arguing for a position we need to appeal to the whole person. That is why rhetoric and poetics and necessary preliminary studies in the intellectual formation in preparation for philsoophy and theology. It is why it is so important to properly form the imagination and to cultivate emotional health as a part of one's intellectual formation—and why the university should be concerned about such cultivation. It is also part of the reason why God made the Bible as much story as a collection of essays and treatises. And why one needs literary as well as philosophical training in order to interpret scripture properly.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Our propensity for sophistry

Here's a truth that I have a lot of first hand experience of!
The best of us are prone to sophistry when an obvious truth contradicts a strong desire. --John Senior, The Decline of Christian Culture.

Sertillanges quote of the day

Another feature that I would love to inaugurate, but don't have the self-discipline.

Anyway, here is the quote:

Study carried to such a point that we give up prayer and recollection, that we cease to read Holy Scripture, and the words of the saints and the great souls—study carried to the point of forgetting ourselves entirely, and of concentrating on the objects of study so that we neglect the Divine Dweller within us, is an abuse and a fool’s game. To suppose that it will further our progress and enrich our production is to say that the stream will flow better if its spring is dried up. (A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life, p. 29).

Charles Williams makes the a related point in Place of the Lion about the woman who was the Plato scholar but did not let the Platonic philosophy in any way inform her personal life.

Universities really need to realize this. Especially Catholic ones.

Latin Word of the Week

I would love to introduce this feature, but I don't have the kind of self-discipline to be consistent.

Anyway, I was reading the brief bio for Ss. John de Brefeuf, Isaac Jogues, etc. and ran across the phrase, "America Septentrionali." I believe this is in the locative case. At any rate, the phrase is apparently the normal way to say "North America." So "septentrionalis" means "northern." Its basic meaning, however, is either the Big Bear or the Little Bear--what we would call the Big Dipper and Little Dipper. The phrase literally means something like America under the seven [stars] of the oxen (trionalis). It is also used in some animal names, such as the Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis).


Does the "Dumbledore is gay" back story revelation discredit Rowling's Christian credentials? Not per se. It does, however, reinforce my judgment that this series is definitely adult fare. It should not have been written for children, nor should it have been marketed to children.

I had the same feeling about the Lemony Snicket books. The difference is that Daniel Handler definitely doesn't have a Christian world view, whereas Rowling appears to have something approaching it.

I think she sometimes isn't very learned or precise theologically or philosophically. And, yes, I think when you are dealing with the issues she deals with you need to be.

Monday, October 22, 2007

John Senior

I'm beginning to read John Senior's classics The Death of Christian Culture and The Restoration of Christian Culture. They are both going to be rereleased soon by IHM Press. I am sure I have a lot of sympathy for many of his positions. For instance:
Civilization is not the creation of its outlaws but of men who have worked hard in the sweat of their brows, building on the past – against the outlaws, the immoralists, the advocates of violence and death. In obedience to natural law and by the grace of God, a few good men have stemmed the blooddimmed tide in every generation, though now it seems as if, at last, we were going under.

I also agree with him strongly about the necessity of a well formed imagination. We've been using his list of 1000 good books as a partial reading guide for our home school (although I think there are way too many cowboy books on it!).

I am also sure that I disagree with some of his particular ecclesiastical, liturgical and aesthetic judgments. For instance, he was a friend of Archbishop Lefevre and some other traditionalist for whom I have little sympathy. Also, I am probably not as universally negative about modern high culture or pop culture. For instance, I like a lot of the Beatles music. I think some of it passes the classcial aesthetic test, even if it isn't Mozart.
I'll think more about this as I read.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"How to Discern the Elements of Your Personal Vocation

Discernment has always been one of my obsesssions. I'm so obsessed with it that I have never actually learned to do it well. Anyway, Fr. Peter Ryan, S.J. has written an excellent article on discernment for the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly.

Personal vocation is God’s call to each person to live the unique life of good deeds that God has prepared for him or her. Personal vocation cannot be reduced to vocation as one’s state in life, but rather includes it and is relevant for every free choice one makes. This article is about how to discern the elements of one’s personal vocation. However, before we discuss that directly, we must carefully consider certain matters that are logically prior to the process of discernment—points to bear in mind that help put one in a position to discern properly.... (more. You have to scroll down to get to the article.)

Spirituality for businessmen

Here is a neat organization developed by the incomparable Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., president of Gonzaga University.

The Magis Institute is an association of Catholic business leaders and clergy founded in 2002.

The Mission of the Magis Institute is to develop spiritual and intellectual resources which enable lay Catholic business leaders to aid the Roman Catholic Church to transform the culture and accomplish the "even more" ("the magis") of Ignatian spirituality.

The Magis Institute has developed into a Spiritual Think Tank and a "Catholic Venture Group." We look for ways to assist Catholic business leaders not only to improve their own spiritual life and to incorporate spiritual values into their daily work, but also to help them to help the Church fulfill its broader mission.

We intend to incubate or develop enterprises or institutions that turn ideas about what needs to be done to transform the culture into action, either as a part of the Magis Institute or, finally, as independent organizations.

Go here to learn more about the Magis Institute.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dominican Liturgy

I found an online version of the 1948 Dominican Missal in Latin and English. How it is different than the Pius V missal, I have no idea. Maybe some of you liturgy wonks can clue us in.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Second Precept of the Church

Kathy and I noted an apparent discrepancy between the CCC and the CIC.

In the CCC it say:
2042: The second precept ("You shall confess your sins at least once a year.") ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism's work of conversion and forgiveness.83

In the CIC it says:

Can. 989 All the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their grave sins at least once a year.

Kathy grew up with the first version and therefore thought the obligation was absolute. But the CIC says only grave sins must be confessed once a year, which is the way I learned it and have always taught it. I think the CCC should match the CIC on this. Interestingly, the footnote in the CCC cites the CIC canon 989!

Two liturgical sites

I just ran across (thanks to Love2Learn Mom), a blog I was unaware of, but which looks very impressive; Musica Sacra, the blog of the Church Music Association of America. One of the things they had on their blog was the entire 1962 Missale Romanum in pdf format. We don't have to rely on those transcribed sites any more!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Christopher Derrick (1921-2007)

Studeo Blog mentions the death of Christopher Derrick, who wrote Escape from Skeptism. These are reflections he wrote while spending a semester at Thomas Aquinas College. Reading this book (plus meeting such wonderful graduates as Love2Learn Mom , recently Ph.D.'d Nathan Schiedicke, who teaches at St. Charle Borromeo Seminary in Philly, and TAC tutor Andrew Seeley) changed my rather guarded approach to TAC to one of positive warm regard. We now have six former members of our home school group in Milwaukee attending TAC.

If you have any doubts about TAC or like colleges, I suggest you read Derrick's book.

The Fall and the Flood

Someone recently expressed their concern about a bible commentary they were reading that cast doubt about the universality of the flood in Genesis. This is a particular example of the general problem that one experiences when reading biblical criticism, especially of a historical-critical bent. The question: might not some of the texts in the OT be mythological or legendary? The word “mythological” here does not mean “false,” but rather a story using symbolism to express an unseen and invisible truth.

G.K. Chesterton does not address the flood stories as far as I know, but he does address the story of the Garden of Eden in his book, The Thing in the chapter called “The Outline of the Fall.” Here are his thoughts. I’m including my comments in brackets:

When a man is as great a genius as Mr. [H.G.] Wells, I admit it sounds provocative to call him provincial. But if he wants to know why anybody does it, it will be enough to point silently to the headline of one of his pages, which runs: "Where is the Garden of Eden?" To come down to a thing like that, and to think it telling, when talking to an intelligent Catholic about the Fall, that IS provinciality; proud and priceless provinciality. The French peasants of whom Mr. Wells speaks are not in that sense provincial. As Mr. Wells says, they do not know anything about Darwin and Evolution. They do not know and they do not care. That is where they are much better philosophers than Mr. Wells. They hold the philosophy of the Fall, in the form of a simple story which may be historic or symbolic, but anyhow cannot be more important than what it symbolises. In comparison with that truth, it does not matter twopence whether any evolutionary theory is true or not. Whether or no the garden was an allegory, the truth itself can be very well allegorised as a garden. And the point of it is that Man, whatever else he is, is certainly NOT merely one of the plants of the garden that has plucked its roots out of the soil and walked about with them like legs, or on the principle of a double dahlia has grown duplicate eyes and ears. He is something else, something strange and solitary; and more like the statue that was once the god of the garden; but the statue has fallen from its pedestal and lies broken among the plants and weeds. [My emphasis] This conception has nothing to do with materialism as it refers to materials. The image might be made of wood [rather than pre-human primates]; the wood might have come from the garden; the sculptor[God] presumably might, and probably did, allow for the growth and grain of the wood in what he carved and expressed [thus allowing for the possibility of some sort of pre-human evolution, as Pius XII allowed for in Humani Generis (1950)] . But my fable fixes the two truths of the true scripture. The first is that the wood [pre-human body that became human] was graven or stamped with an image, deliberately, and from the outside; in this case the image of God [the human, spiritual soul expressed in the body]. The second is that this image has been damaged and defaced [The Fall, no matter how it actually occurred], so that it [the statue of the god—human nature] is now both better and worse than the mere plants in the garden, which are perfect according to their own plan. There is room for any amount of speculation about the history of the tree before it was turned into an image [ideas of evolution or not]; there is room for any amount of doubt and mystery about what really happened when it was turned into an image [God breathing into the clay? Other means?]; there is room for any amount of hope and imagination about what it will look like when it is really mended and made into the perfect statue we have never seen. But it has the two fixed points, that man was uplifted at the first and fell; and to answer it by saying, "Where is the Garden of Eden?" is like answering a philosophical Buddhist by saying, "When were you last a donkey? [referring to the idea of reincarnation current in Buddhism]"
You can read the entire Chapter (31) here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Speaking of St. Bonaventure,...

As I was in this post, here is the text of the Itinerarium in Latin and English. Cool.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The essential message of St. Francis

I tend to do a lot of interior wrestling over great and small matters, even decisions I've made decades ago that I can do very little about. So recently I was all tied up in knots about the Secular Franciscan Order, of which I am a professed member. It is really hard to be heavily involved in fraternity life when you are as swamped daily as we are. We miss so many meetings. I seem very disconnected. Sometimes I don't even feel like a Franciscan any more, especially since a lot of my spiritual reading is from non-Franciscan sources.

So I was sitting on the couch with my wife moaning, groaning and agonizing about this when I turned to her and said, "What is the essence of Franciscaninsm, anyway?" I felt like Charlie Brown saying, "I guess I just don't understand Christmas, Linus."

Kathy calmly turned to me and said, "Oh, the essence of Franciscanism is naked and complete abandonment before the crucified Christ resulting in an infusion of infectious joy that is shared with everyone."


She went on to say that at the most significant times in his life St. Francis was naked, either physically or spiritually, and standing with open arms before the crucified Lord. For instance, when the crucifix spoke to him at San Damiano, when he renounced his birthright before the bishop, when he received the stigmata at La Verna, on his death bed--or death floor, since he was stripped and placed on the floor at his request. He had stripped himself of all and simply abandoned himself to the will of God. When he was naked before the Lord, he experienced joy and peace.

A very important sign of Francis's total focus on God and His will was absolute lack of self-awareness in his nakedness. He was so taken with the beauty of the crucified Lord, and responding to His will, and the beauty of His creation, it simply didn't occur to him to be embarrassed about his behavior. A second sign of his total focus on God and his will was his lack of concern for creating institutions, controlling others or for forcing outcomes. The outcome was not his concern or in his control. He didn't try to control anything, nor was he obsessed with results. Rather, he was obsessed with simple obedience.

He also was not calculating about when, where and with whom he shared his joy--the poor certainly, but also the rich (Brother Jacopa) and the mighty (Cardinal Hugolino or Pope Gregory IX). The leper was bathed in the light of his joy, as was the Pope. As was Clare.

Yet, St. Francis was not ineffective. He and his movement are credited with being instrumental in turning the Italian feudal society away from violence as a solution to social conflicts. He was able to effect change in the medieval world in which he lived not primarily through systematic policy, planning, or programs, but through simple obedience, infectious joy and personal love, which were expressed in spontaneous prayers of praise, spontaneous acts of love for the poor, especially the lepers. When he did implement a policy, such as the requirement for Franciscans in the world to write a will and the requirement for lay Franciscans to bear no arms, he did so out of spontaneous love and obedience to the perceived will of God in the situation, rather than from implementation of a formal, comprehensive scheme for social change. God did not want Franciscans to kill each other because of feudal property disputes.

Both of these qualities--lack of embarrassment and lack of concern about comprehensive results--led people and continue to lead people to consider him a fool. In his day it was the lack of decorum that people couldn't tolerate. In our day, so steeped in utilitarianism and pragmatism, it is St. Francis's lack of concern for effectiveness that good Christians, legitimately concerned with social change, would find frustrating, if not intolerable.

The Franciscan message seems to be: when you focus on either yourself or on particular results, you are less likely to succeed. When you focus on the Glory of God, the crucified Lord, and obedience and conformity to his known will, you will be the kind of transforming light to the nations we are called to be.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Books that changed my life

These are not necessarily the greatest books I ever read, nor are they all books that I would be sympathetic with now (although most of them are), but they had a decisive influence on the direction of my intellectual life at the time I read them.* To use A.G. Sertillanges' categories, these books were formative of my intellect in decisive ways. Note: I am not including influential spiritual books, such as The Imitation of Christ, unless they also influenced me intellectually somehow.

Sneetches and Other Stories, by Dr. Suess. (Early 1960s.) This is the only Suess we had in my house when I was growing up. I read it again and again. I especially liked the name "Oliver Boliver Butt." The influence it had was on the appreciation of the use of language (and a love of poetry).

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. (Early 1960s.) Once again, I read it over and over. I still don't know what to think of it, especially since I don't like much else that Silverstein wrote. It is very philosophical and transcends simple moralism by emphasizing sacrificial love.

Have Space Suit Will Travel, by Robert Heinlein. (1967.) This is the first book I ever checked out of the library on my own (upon the recommendation of my best friend, Jimmy Wilson, who called me "worm mouth" and then told me if I wanted to know what he was talking about I should read this book; at least he didn't call me "mother thing."). This opened the floodgates for my reading of science fiction. Because it was the 1960s and I was smart, everyone assumed I was going to be a scientist. My grandfather even bought me a subscription to Popular Science magazine. So I read Heinlein and Asimov especially, but also John Christopher and the Mushroom Planet books. And some anthologies. I think this was the beginning of my interest in philosophy. John Christopher especially had a humanistic perspective that transcended the crass materialism of Asimov and libertarian ethos of Heinlein, so I suppose I could put the tripod trilogy on my list. My dissatisfaction with science fiction and discovery of the next book took me out of the realm of implicit materialism into the realm of the invisible/symbolic and ultimately spiritual.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. (Middle high school--mid 1970s.) This opened intellectual vistas for me that I am still exploring and formally introduced me to the Catholic imagination (setting the Bible aside). It is the only book that I'm sure I'll read again and again until I die. It fueled my love of languages, literature, poetry and my belief that story is the proper vehicle for divine truth. It also helped me find C.S. Lewis, whose books were in general very influential in the development of my intellect and imagination. The birth of my true self began here.

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. (1979--early college.) With East of Eden, the first adult novel I read on my own. Besides the connection with my home state (Oklahoma), this book reinforced and matured the interest in social justice that my parents tried to cultivate in me. I find the closing scene of The Grapes of Wrath among the most poignant in American literature.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. (1980--junior year in college.) I've read this book three times at various stages in my adult life. It not only helped seal my interest in philosophy, but reinforced my intuition that there was more to truth than a dry, scholastic dialectic can communicate. Hence Pirsig's use of the novel/travelogue to make his points. Also, his invocation of "quality" as an element in judgment of truth. I don't know if I would agree with him philosophically now (I'm much more of a Thomist than I was back then). I also don't like the epilogue in the later editions. It resolves something that should remain unresolved in the last line of the actual book.

A Grammar of Ascent, by John Henry Cardinal Newman and Itinerarium Mentis, by St. Bonaventure. (1980--senior year.) These two works read at the same time dominated the first semester of my senior year in college. They helped shape my understanding of the nature of the intellect act and what it means to know, including the role of the non-rational.

New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton. (1980--Christmas.) I read a lot of Merton as a young adult Catholic. I liked this one the best. It is deeply grounded in the Greek patristic tradition, but is also colored by Merton's Benedictine and Carmelite studies. It helped me form a coherent theological anthropology.

Lost Christianity, by Jacob Needleman. Okay, this one borders on new age, but I read it at least three times and I wonder if Needleman's concept of middle Christianity may not somehow coordinate with de Lubac's insight about natural desire for the beatific vision. I'd have to reread it to see.

Poustinia, by Catherine de Hueck Doherty. (1981, after graduating from college and while working with the poor in Appalachia.) This book opened me up to the spiritual riches of the East and to the practice of quiet (which I am still not good at). The idea of a Word from God growing gradually in us makes a lot of sense. God's communication is often subtle. He accomplishes his task in our deepest self. We need to patiently and quietly await the eruption of the Word in consciousness. Sertillanges (mentioned later) makes this point from a Thomistic perspective.

The Way of All the Earth, by John S. Donne, C.S.C. (1982.) I hardly remember what this book was about, but I do know that it showed me how to look at the sweep of history theologically. I still remember the concept of axial man which I gained from this book, although I can't remember what it means. I never could read any of Dunne's other books.

The Good News About Sex, David Knight. (1983.) I read two books by Fr. Knight. The other was a book on spirituality called His Way, which led me to my favorite OT passage--Wisdom 9. This book was probably at the time the best, most sound presentation of the deep meaning of human, sexual bodiliness and it was geared toward young people. It anticipated the theology of the body in many ways. It should be noted that Knight publicly stated in 1996 that he does not accept as definitive the teaching that the Church has no authority to ordain women. I don't know where he stand on the issue now, or where he stood on it when The Good News About Sex was written. His understanding of the relationship between infallibility and the ordinary exercise of the teaching authority of the Church is faulty.

Lost in the Cosmos and A Message in a Bottle, by Walker Percy. (Late 1990s.) Once again, what does it mean to know and especially, what is the social context of authentic communication. What is the real drama that lies behind the American experience? A great analysis of the weaknesses of American culture severed from the Source and our predilection for violence and sexual perversion. A good spoof of Phil Donahue, as well.

Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis. (Late 1990s.) This is by far the best book Lewis ever wrote on the intellectual, psychological and spiritual levels. It certainly illustrates the glories and inadequacies of both chthonic religion and rationalism--in light of the true source of wisdom. It is the Lewis I would take on a desert island.

God and the Ways of Knowing, by Jean Danielou. (2002.) Of all the books by all the ressourcement authors, this is probably the single most influential book on my fundamental dogmatic theology. I seem to have a real attraction to books about knowing and the intellectual act. De Lubac is a separate case, who will be dealt with later.

Healing the Culture, by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. (2003.) Ostensibly a book giving a coherent American philosophy of the pro-life movement, in fact, it contains a deep philosophical anthropology which allows Spitzer to articulate some clear, Ignatian inspired spiritual guidance.

Love and Responsibility, by Karol Wojtyla. (2003.) The anthropology of this book, quite classical, amazed me. I had never heard the sexual nature of man so clearly and obviously accurately stated. The book includes great critiques of utilitarianism, hedonism, romanticism, sentimentalism, etc. Adding this to the anthropological insights found in previous books made my view of man seemingly complete.

The Trivium, by Sr. Miriam Joseph, C.S.C.. (2007.) Strange that a textbook for College freshmen would have such an impact upon me. Yet, it articulates very clearly and systematically a deep, philosophical analysis on the meaning and use of language which underpins the essential role that the trivium plays in an authentic human education. After reading it I understood things I'd certainly learned before, but never assimilated into my own understanding. In particular I am amazed that I never realized that the predicate in a statement is about relationship. This is important, especially in a theologically informed anthropology, such as Wojtyla's mentioned above. Chapter eleven also has some very important practical material on writing and critiquing poetry, fiction and essays.

Student Guide to Liberal Learning, by Fr. James Schall, S.J. (2007.) A clear articulation of the kind of reading a young student should read and how they should read them to inoculate themselves against that ideological cesspool of the modern university. Schall especially emphasises the importance of self-discipline and moral character in developing a truly sane understanding of the whole and its relationship to God.

The Intellectual Life, by A.G. Sertillanges. (2007.) I haven't actually finished this book, but I know already it will having lasting influence. I should have read this in the early 1980s before starting my academic career. It talks about the virtues and practices of a person with an intellectual vocation. It is at the same time very philosophically and theologically grounded and very practical. I am sure my production will go way up if I follow this guide.

I have put nothing by de Lubac on this list because I can't choose which particular book of his was especially significant. They all fed me intellectually and spiritually. His is a vision of the Thing that I find most congenial. I guess The Discovery of God may come closest to my favorite.

*Note: I do not intentionally link to commercial bookstores on this site. Why should I give them free advertising? I presume anyone reading this will know how to find a book at a library or a bookstore.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Reclaiming Fatherhood event

From Vicki Thorne of Project Rachel:

Reclaiming Fatherhood
This conference is the first to focus on the effects of abortion on men. Speakers will cover the following topics: pertinent research, abortion as trauma, and counseling men who have experienced pregnancy loss through abortion. This is a unique opportunity for those who deal with men in pastoral or clinical settings to learn about this much neglected topic.

Topics Include:
Men and Abortion: A Review of the Research
Trauma and Abortion: When Men Hollow
Sociology of Fatherhood and Abortion
The Masculine Side of Healing
Spiritual Aspects of Healing for Post-Abortion Fathers
Wounded Fathers: Why Do They Come for Help
Medicating the Pain of Lost Fatherhood:
Looking for Their Pain In all the Wrong Places
Forgiveness Therapy with Post- Abortion Men

Speakers Include:
Vincent Rue, Ph.D. Institute for Pregnancy Loss
Catherine Coyle, Ph.D. Author, “Men and Abortion: A Path to Healing”
Warren Williams, MBA Founder, Fathers & Brothers Ministries International
Tom Golden, LCSW Author, “Swallowed By A Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing”
Rev. Martin Pable. Ph.D. Author, “The Quest for the Male Soul”
Gregory Hasek, MA/MFT LPC Executive Director, Misty Mountain Counseling Center
Andrzej Winkler, MA Psychotherapist treating men in Poland

Dates: November 28-29, 2007
Location: St. Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco
Registration Fee: $250 before Nov. 1, $350 after Nov. 1 (Limited Scholarships available)
Sponsors: National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing Knights of Columbus, Archdiocese of San Francisco

NFP Mass in Milwaukee

“Conscious of the Gift”

A Mass Honoring Those Who Have Given of Themselves
In Encouraging, Promoting, and Teaching
Natural Family Planning
In The Archdiocese of Milwaukee

Sponsored by the Marquette University Institute
For Natural Family Planning

In Conjunction With

The Nazareth Project for the Domestic Church
The John Paul II Center for Lifelong Faith and Ministry Formation
Rev. William Kurz, SJ, Celebrant and Homilist

October 24th, 2007,
6:00 PM

St. Joseph Chapel
1501 South Layton Boulevard
(27th and Greenfield)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A nice definition of "study"

Sertillanges is big on the virtue of humility in the intellectual life. It is self-assertion and pride that inhibits true progress in the discovery of truth. He makes clear that the intellect is primarily a passive faculty. The most important attitude we can have in pursuing our studies is receptivity. We must refrain from premature judgment and from identifying our current understanding with the truth itself even about things that we are quite familiar with. This is because the primary actor in the pursuit of truth is God himself.
Study might be defined by saying that it is God becoming conscious in us of His work. Like every action, intellection passes from God to God, as it were, through us. God is the first cause; He is its last end; on the way, our too assertive self can deflect the movement. Let us rather open our eyes wisely so that our inspiring Spirit may see in us.
--A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life (Washington: CUA Pres, 1987), p. 131.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Brewers gameday

Look, I know the Brewers being 3 1/2 games out, the Cubbies would have to collapse in order for Milwaukee to make it to the top of the NL Central by the end of the season, and I know that our schedule is much harder than Chicago (who will be playing Cinci and Florida), but there is still a slim chance. At least we still have seven games to their six.

So, I am very excited that I just landed seven free tickets to tonight's Brewer's game against St. Louis.

Pennant races are fun.

Anyone have any free Packer tickets they want to give me?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Motu Proprio

I haven't written much commentary on the Motu Proprio concerning the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. I still remember the pre-Paul VI and Ray Repp days quite vividly and would like to see some of the ethos of that liturgy revived in the celebration of the ordinary form. On the other hand, the one celebration of the old form I've been to since the change left me cold. I guess I wasn't prepared for it, or something. I look forward to attending some celebrations of the extraordinary form in the near future and regret missing the pontifical Mass at St. Stan's in Milwaukee celebrated by Bishop Perry of Chicago (former priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee). We had illness in the family and our son who would have been singing in the schola was at his Order of the Arrow ordeal.

I had planned to write a comprehensive post about it, stating basically that what is missing in the current celebration of the ordinary form in most cases is a sense that we are mysteriously present at and participating in the sacrifice of Christ. We are with Mary at the foot of the Cross. We are in heaven at the right hand of the Father. I think the ordinary form can have that if celebrated properly. I think a couple of changes would help--new translation (in process), reorientation of the priest to face liturgical east, altar rail, some Latin and Greek (I've said all this before). Even without these changes, though, I am able to enter into the spirit of the liturgy quite well participating in the ordinary form.

I also would love to see restoration of some of the old biblical prayers, such as the one the priest says before reading the Gospel quoting Isaiah
Cleanse my heart and my lips, O Almighty God, Who didst cleanse the lips of the prophet Isaias with a burning coal; through Thy gracious mercy so purify me
that I may worthily proclaim Thy holy Gospel. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. (quoted here)
I also like the old lavabo prayer quoting from Psalm 26.

I will wash my hands among the innocent, and I will encompass Thine Altar, O Lord. That I may hear the voice of praise, and tell of all Thy wondrous works. I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth. Take not away my soul, O God, with the wicked, nor my life with men of blood. In whose hands are iniquities, their right hand is filled with gifts.

But as for me, I have walked in my innocence; redeem me, and have mercy on me. My foot hath stood in the right way; in the churches I will bless Thee, O Lord. (quoted here)

And, finally, a revival of emphasis on the processional chants, such as the Introit, offertory and communion chants. I like vernacular hymns, but don't think they should replace the chants. I know. It is allowed in the rubrics. So, out of obedience I accept it. I still prefer the chants.

Speaking of obedience, what this post is really about is a statement made by another Paul VI Catholic, Jeff Mirus, on his blog.

The most important liturgical disposition is obedience, the very virtue by which Christ saved us in following the Father’s will, the very virtue which lies at the heart of what God the Son does at Mass. The precise form of the liturgy, the style of the music, the brilliance of the homilist, the exterior devotion of the faithful avail nothing without the willingness to be obedient to what the Church prescribes for Divine worship.

In a Church where things can sometimes seem somewhat screwy, this could be a heroic virtue.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My favorite Jesuits

I'm among those who occasionally will bemoan the state of the Jesuit order, but in fact my experience of the Jesuits has been very good. I know, for instance, of at least two excellent novices in the Wisconsin Province. I also have a strong admiration for many living Jesuits, some whom I do know and some I don't. Here is the list in alphabetical order and a brief description:
  • Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society, Fordham University.
  • Fr. Raymond Gawronsi, S.J., who does spiritual direction and teaches at St. Jean Vianny Seminary in Denver.
  • Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., associate professor of philophy at Fordham, very active in University Faculty for Life, and a great teacher of the Ignatian examen.
  • Fr. Bill Kurz, S.J., scripture scholar, pro-life activist, leader in the charismatic renewal, professor at Marquette University.
  • Fr. Michael Maher, associate professor of history at Gonzaga University and a fixture at Milwaukee Irish Fest (he can really ceili dance!).
  • Fr. James Schall, S.J., professor of political theory at Georgetown, wise guide for Catholic liberal higher education.
  • Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, S.J., The Elizabeth Breckenridge Caldwell Professor of Philosophy at Catholic University of America.
  • Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., President of Gonzaga University and author of Healing the Culture, a systematic presentation of the Life Principles program he developed.

I have a feeling I've published this list before. And I'm sure I've missed many most excellent Jesuits. Still, I think these are the most influential in my own intellectual work and/or personal life. If I remember more, or someone reminds me of some, I'll add them later.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Discerning an avocation

A.G. Stertillanges, O.P., in The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods (Washingon D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1986), gives us a clue about how to discover one's avocation. This does not mean one's livelihood so much as that thing to which one wishes to commit one's heart, even if part time in the hours left after one fulfills one's obligation to make a living. In this case he is talking about the vocation to the intellectual life, but the principles he articulates apply to all avocations.

The intellectual vocation is like every other: it is written in our instincts, in our powers, in a sort of inner impulse of which reason must judge. Our dispositions are like the chemical properties which determine for every body, the combinations into which that body can enter. A vocation is not something that can be had for the asking. It comes from heaven and from our first nature. The whole point is to be docile to God and to oneself as soon as they have spoken.

Understood in this sense, Disraeli's saying that you may do what you please, provided it really pleases you, contains a great meaning. Our liking, if coordinated with our fundamental tendencies and to our aptitudes, is an excellent judge. If St. Thomas could say that pleasure characterizes functions and may serve to classify men, he must be led to conclude that pleasure can also reveal our vocation. Only we must search down into the depths where liking and the spontaneous impulse are linked up with the gifts of God and His providence. (pp. 4-5)

This is the way I discovered I was not to be a linguist. I had ( and continue to have) a deep love of languages, but not the aptitude for them. Specifically, I have no memory for vocabulary, so I will forever be reliant on the dictionary for words that I have looked up over and over again. A true linguist, such as my son, cannot have this defect. A linguist who had worked as much with Latin and German as I have would be fluent in the languages by now. I'm not. So, I get to be a theologian. I seem to be able to do that kind of work.

Oh, thanks to Jeff Vehige for directing me to this work.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Conversion of the Jews

Observant Jews believe that conformity to the Law is a non-negotiable. What an observant Jew would have to understand in order to convert to Christianity is that he does not have to give up strict obedience to the law to become Christian. Indeed, he will continue to follow every jot and tittle of the Law, but it its fulfilled, spiritual mode in Christ and the Spirit.

This is one of the reasons I cannot read the New Testament alone, without the Old Testament. Somehow the NT limps and seem anemic without the OT. I always read the marginal notes citing the OT references when reading the NT. For instance, among other things, the cleansing of the Temple can be read in light of Jer. 7, where Jeremiah berates temple worshipers for their hypocrisy. That is why Jesus is not simply arrested, but is asked to produce a sign--because the Jews know he is acting in a prophetic way and they are familiar with the passage from Jeremiah. He is fulfilling the prophets. There is, of course, more to it than that--about Jesus' body as a temple.

The Reformed and Conservative Jews must realize (perhaps under the influence of the Christians) that strict external observance of the letter is not necessary to fulfill the Law. They just don't realize where the true fulfillment is. They try to do it through their natural humanity, which is why they become secular humanists.