Friday, March 05, 2010

Dancing in the Dark Present

Presented without comment, but with the utmost approval:
"Suppose that Christendom—the deep unity of Western culture through the years—survives best not when it is trying to respond to the relentless thud with which secular history marches, but when it dances a little." Joseph Bottum, "God and Bertie Wooster," First Things.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Prolifers are all over sixty, right?

I suppose Mr. Loftus would say they were brain washed. It certainly couldn't be that the arguments for life are persuasive, could it?

The first one is by family friends. The second one is by one of my online students.

Playing hard?

I ran across this in a job description: "This individual should be prepared to operate in a fast-paced, deadline-oriented environment where they will enjoy working hard, playing hard and being an integral part of a close-knit team."

Playing hard? I associate that phrase mostly with the "work" culture that characterized the original SNL. Think John Belushi. Is that who they are looking for? I don't think they mean having a pancake supper on Shrove Tuesday, including one six-pack of beer between forty people and a rip-roaring game of Balderdash. I'd better not apply.

We did play Cajun music at the pancake party. Does that count?

Newman Center

There appears to be an explosion of wonderful Newman Centers in the upper Midwest these days. I just discovered the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Among their neato nifty things they have there is the Integritas Institute for Ethics, which helps students at UIC become properly formed in Christian ethical decision-making in business, the health care. I've recently added the St. John's Catholic Newman Center at UI in Champaign to my list of Higher Ed sites. They have a wonderful St. John's Institute for Catholic Thought that co-sponsored the debate between D'Sousa and Loftus that I posted on recently. Finally there is the St. Paul's University Catholic Center, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with its wildly successful evangelization efforts. I discovered this Center one winter day while I was attending a Junior Classical League Convention. I was walking down State Street, saw the sign, and thought, "Oh no! A Newman Center!" My limited previous knowledge of Newman Centers had been that they were anemic at best in their presentation of the Catholic faith and misleading at worst. I walked in and found myself in the midst of a beautiful exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. It was like entering heaven on earth--the peace of the chapel vs. the sometimes demonic chaos of State street. It is wonderful that Jesus is there.

What a lot of the new breed of Newman Centers have in common is a dedication not only to the spiritual, ethical and devotional life of the students, but also the intellectual formation--especially in the Catholic intellectual and cultural tradition. I think a Newman center that does not do this in a robust manner for its students at a secular university is failing miserably.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Here is one for R.C. to comment on.

Chesterton on Br. Elias:
There was Bernard, his first friend, and Angelo, who had served as his secretary, and Elias, his successor, whom tradition tried to turn into a sort of Judas, but who seems to have been little worse than an official in the wrong place. His tragedy was that he had a Franciscan habit without a Franciscan heart, or at any rate with a very un-Franciscan head. But though he made a bad Franciscan, he might have made a decent Dominican. Anyhow, there is no reason to doubt that he loved Francis, for ruffians and savages did that. Anyhow he stood among the rest as the hours passed and the shadows lengthened in the house of the Portiuncula; and nobody need think so ill of him as to suppose that his thoughts were then in the tumultuous future, in the ambitions and controversies of his later years.

Here is the man in whose footsteps I have promised to follow

A young fool or rascal is caught robbing his father and selling goods which he ought to guard; and the only explanation he will offer is that a loud voice from nowhere spoke in his ear and told him to mend the cracks and holes in a particular wall. He then declared himself naturally independent of all powers corresponding to the police or magistrates, and takes refuge with an amiable bishop who is forced to remonstrate with him and tell him he is wrong. He then proceeds to take off his clothes in public and practically throw them at his father; announcing at the same time that his father is not his father at all. He then runs about the town asking everybody he meets to give him fragments of buildings or building materials, apparently with reference to his old monomania about mending the wall. It may be an excellent thing that cracks should be filled up, but preferably not by somebody who is himself cracked; and architectural restoration like other things is not best performed by builders who, as we should say, have a tile loose. Finally the wretched youth relapses into rags and squalor and practically crawls away into the gutter. (Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi, Chapter 4, p. 64).
How am I doing?

D'Sousa/Loftus Debate

You know, if I didn't see that this debate was sponsored by two Catholic organizations and two atheist ones, I would swear that it was rigged. D'Sousa, although his arguments are not always air tight, is at least coherent. Loftus comes off sounding like he is just shooting from the hip and as though he had never debated this issue before. Surely atheists can do better than this and Dawkins! What about Anthony Flew? Oh, wait; he converted to theism.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Pope Paul VI's prophetic one-two punch

Most people are aware of the prophetic nature of Humanae vitae. Although widely ignored and reviled, it was the Holy Spirit's warning against trends in the life and thinking of the Church regarding marriage and sexuality. Had Catholics (not to mention humanity) headed that prophetic warning, we may have avoided many sorrows, inclduing, perhaps, the worst of the sexual abuse scandal (prepared for by the dissenting formation faculty at seminaries in the 1960s and 1970s). It took John Paul II's Theology of the Body to help many people see the depth of the danger that getting the Church's teaching on contraception wrong meant for a Church that is the Bride of Christ.

I recently read another, earlier encyclical by Pope Paul VI that has the same cautionary tone that HV does--Mysterium Fidei, "On the Holy Eucharist," issued right after Vatican II and in the midst of the great liturgical enthusiasm that was sweeping the Church that had just received the Council's Sacrosanctum Conciliim, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Paul VI warns against three trends in the theology and pastoral practice of the Church in 1965
  • the tendency to replace the doctrine of Transubstantiation with a doctrine that relies exclusively on the symbolic nature of the sacrament, thus diminishing the sense of the radical nature of the reality of Christ's presence in the Eucharist,
  • the rejection of the value of private Masses, thus diminishing the sense of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, and
  • the tendency to jettison completely and disparage worship of the Blessed Sacrament outside of the Mass.

Polls, of course, show the effect of these trends have had on the faith of the believer in the doctrine of the Real Presence and of the sacrifician nature of the Mass.

It is telling that in the introduction of MF, Pope Paul VI twice mentions the spousal nature of the Church's relationship with Christ, thus linking these two encyclicals. The first mention is in the very first sentence, indicating perhaps the importance of the connection. “The Mystery of Faith, that is the ineffable gifts of the Eucharist which she has received from Christ her spouse as a pledge of his boundless love” (MF 1).

I think a fair reading of the Theology of the Body will show the basis for a link between a waning faith in the Eucharist and a waning adherence to the Church's teahcing on contraception. A strong sense of the spousal nature of the Church's relationship to Christ is the binding analogy. It is sad, for instance, that so many women's religious communities have lost the sense that their first vocation is as bride of Christ. It is also sad that we so often call the Church "it" rather than "she."

The New and Old Testaments

In St. Francis of Assisi, Chesterton spends a significant part of Chapter Two explaining why we must begin telling the life of a person by explaining origins and development the historical forces that are in play when the person arrives on the scene. He is preparing for his main thesis, that St. Francis came at the end of a long penitential season for Europe, by which Christendom and its approach to nature was purged of the corrupting influence of the perverted gods of Paganism. "Until we understand, not necessarily in detail, but in their big bulk and proportion that pagan progress and that Christian reaction, we cannot really understand the point of history at which Saint Francis appears or what his great popular mission was all about."

It has always struck me that the same can be said about the New Testament. How can be understand Jesus without fairly well-developed knowledge of the Old Testament? (Or the Greco-Roman context, for that matter--another argument for a classical education). I find it very difficult to read a passage from the New Testament without having access to the Old Testament to check out allusions. I carry a little New Testament in my back pack. When I want to meditate on the Gospels, I feel like I am holding an incomplete book, because I can't access the OT passages that are in the marginal notes.

As a random example, how much more rich is our reading of the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah in Luke 1 if we read in in light of the many Old Testament who had singular children through an act of God? The NAB footnote lists them as: Sarah (Genesis 15:3; 16:1); Rebekah (Genesis 25:21); Rachel (Genesis 29:31; 30:1); the mother of Samson and wife of Manoah (Judges 13:2-3); Hannah (1 Sam 1:2).

Or how much better can we understand John 7-8 if we understand the OT background of the Feast of Tabernacles? According to the NAB, "(Sukkoth, Ingathering: Exodus 23:16; Tents, Booths: Deut 16:13-16), with its symbols of booths (originally built to shelter harvesters), rain (water from Siloam poured on the temple altar), and lights (illumination of the four torches in the Court of the Women)."

Matthew even begins with a shorthand review of the OT background of Jesus. If we don't know our OT, we can't get the allusions in the genealogy.

Ignorance of the OT is ignorance of Christ.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Vir ecclesiasticus

Vir ecclesiasticus has two words, vir and ecclesiasticus. Both are important. Being a fan of things ecclesiastical should never be an excuse to neglect or ignore one's basic humanity. We need to cultivate basic human (and, for men, manly) virtues as well as developing an aesthetic or even theological taste for the distinctively Catholic realia (to use the sociological term). Grace builds upon and perfects nature. We need to attend to both.

I think about this in reference to a conversation I had with a home school mom about the importance of learning things like cooking, sewing, knitting, woodwork, gardening and in response the the emphasis on basic manly virtues at the Men of Christ conference the other day. In fact, I'm enough of a Chestertonian distributist to believe that if we cultivate in ourselves and our children such crafts, we will be somewhat more immune from the vicissitudes of the global economy. Heck, if you have bushels of home grown potatoes in your basement over the winter, you won't worry about the price of potatoes.

It is hard to make your own contact lenses, however.

All of this may seem disjointed, but it all hangs together. I'll try to post a more coherent version of these thoughts at length.