Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy 7th Day of Christmas!

And a few words from the brethren in Britain, with comments from Carl Olson at the end:
...Gratitude is seldom the reward of those who see an unwelcome truth more clearly than others; quite the reverse. But Benedict’s ‘crime,’ apart from being German, goes much further than his failure (or worse his refusal) to screen out the unpleasant consequences of consumerist materialism from his vision, which it is the duty of all right-thinking people. He lays down a ethical challenge to our utilitarian ways of thinking; in other words, he is a heretic to be excommunicated from the Church of Righteous Liberalism.

Read the entire piece, "The Pope Strikes Back" (The Salisbury Review), which directly takes Richard Dawkins to task for holding the Pope to a standard he won't dream of holding the "secular social ‘liberals’" running the "brittle Weltanschauung" (Dalrymple's terms) to. Which segues into a Christmas Eve (er, "Winter Solstice Celebration Evening Prior"?) editorial in The Guardian, which readily admits the loss of religion (Christianity, to be specific) in Great Britain, and reacts with all the passion and incisive reflection of a mid-level, career bureaucrat on the late Friday afternoon:

This Christmas, for perhaps the first time ever, Britain is a majority non-religious nation. Most of us have probably seen this moment coming, but it is a substantial event nonetheless. It is undoubtedly a development that would have astonished our ancestors who built a Britain on the basis that we were and would remain a predominantly Protestant people. The victory of secularism would have flabbergasted them almost as much as the pope appearing on the BBC with his Thought for the Day.

The change ought certainly to inspire some national reflection, though there is no need for national breast-beating. After all, in most eyes, the BSA survey finding simply underscores things that have already become obvious. Today, our three political parties are led by two open atheists, and a prime minister who admits his faith comes and goes, a development impossible to imagine in other parts of a world, in which the loss of religion is not a uniform trend. The Britain of 50 years ago, in which religion was a far larger part of the social fabric and the national way of life, is a country we have lost.

What is more striking about the survey is how quickly the change has come – just a generation. It is not that long since everything shut on Sundays, since a majority went regularly to church of some sort, since all schoolchildren knew and sang hymns and studied the Bible even if they did not believe in it, and since the idea that public figures could be anything other than observantly Christian would have seemed unthinkable. It would be hard to say, by most yardsticks, that those were better times. They were certainly different ones. The direction of change is likely to continue. We must all get used to it.

Yes, indeed: suck it up; bite your lip; grab a nap. Whatever it takes to get you through your meaningless, empty day. The friend who sent me the link simply wrote: "Perhaps Newman was right. Catholicism or atheism. No via media." He was referring Newman's statement, in the Apologia: "And thus again I was led on to examine more attentively what I doubt not was in my thoughts long before, viz. the concatenation of argument by which the mind ascends from its first to its final religious idea; and I came to the conclusion that there was no medium, in true philosophy, between Atheism and Catholicity, and that a perfectly consistent mind, under those circumstances in which it finds itself here below, must embrace either the one or the other." (I suspect Newman's remark is the inspiration for George Neumayr's October 2010 editorial in Catholic World Report titled, "The Battle of Britain: Will Catholicism or atheism prevail?").

Anyhow, I think The Guardian has hit upon the perfect, dreary slogan for the post-Christian, post-meaning, post-have-a-reason-for-living society the West has either embraced or is trying to stuff down our collective throats: "The direction of change is likely to continue. We must all get used to it." No thanks.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy 6th Day of Christmas!

The paradox of the Incarnation is weird as heck, as Msgr. Charles Pope makes clear.
  1. ...The Infinite One becomes an infant.
  2. An antiphon for the Christmas season says,  How can we find words to praise your dignity O Virgin Mary, for he whom the very heavens cannot contain, you carried in your womb.
  3. An old Latin Carol (in Dulci Jublio) says, Alpha et O, Matris in Gremio – (Alpha and Omega, sitting in mommy’s lap).
  4. He who looks down on all creation looks up to see his mother.  The most high looks up from a cradle. Of this moment even the pagans wrote with longing and tenderness: Incipe, parve puer, risu cognoscere matrem….ipsa tibi blandos fundent cunabula flores, occidet et serpens, et fallax herba veneni occidet (Begin, little boy to recognize the face of your mother with a smile….For you, your own cradle will bear delightful flowers; the serpent will die, and the plant that hides its venom) - Virgil 4th Eclogue.
  5. He who indwells all creation is born in homelessness.
  6. He to whom all things in heaven and on earth belong, is born in poverty and neediness.  
  7. He is the mighty Word through whom all things were made. He is the very utterance of God, the Voice which summons all creation into existence. Of this Word, this Utterance, this Voice,  Scritpure says,  The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, upon many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful, the voice of the LORD is full of majesty….The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness …The voice of the LORD makes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forests bare; and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Ps. 29).   Yet, this voice is now heard as the cooing and crying of an infant.
  8. His infant hand squeezes his mother’s finger, as infants do. From that same hand, the universe trumbled into existence. That same hand is steering the stars in their courses.
  9. He who holds all creation together in himself  (Col 1:17) is now held by his mother.
  10. He who is the Bread of Life is born in Bethlehem (House of Bread) and lies in a feeding trough (manger). 
  11. He who is our sustainer and our food, is now hungry and fed by his mother.
  12. Angels and Archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and Seraphim thronged the air! But only his mother in her maiden bliss, could worship the beloved with a kiss. (Christina Rosetti “Ere the Bleak Mid Winter”)...

Deus Ex Real Life

I'm agnostic on what caused most of these--but I love the list:
In the movies, we're furious when plots are resolved by some magical episode of divine intervention, because it's a downright cop-out. Wars should be won through strategy and the greater strength of their heroes, not by all the villains suddenly dropping dead of heart attacks.

As always, Cracked is here to show you that reality is often way weirder than fiction, in this case, that the deus ex machina is actually a common plot device in the story of reality...
To follow:
"What could be done to improve Christianity?" is a question that the church has never, ever asked us. But if they did, we'd tell them to bring back the era of the ass-kicking saints.

Did you even know there was such a thing? Sure enough, history books are full of men who could quote the Bible and beat you to death with it, at the same time. For instance ...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy 5th Day of Christmas!

And to celebrate:
The House of Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Who Is Mary?

One man's search for an answer: family and I kept going to the local Catholic parish in our new town while I did research and home improvement projects. One of the first things I looked into was the problem of Catholics and their obviously misguided devotion to the Virgin Mary.

The funny thing is, I had sat in the pews in the Catholic Church with my wife for close to 18 years and I had never really noticed any wacky or overly zealous devotion to Mary. Not at Mass, anyway, and as we didn't stick around much after the conclusion of Mass, I didn't see anything that made me uncomfortable. Truthfully, I was surprised about this and it's probably a big reason why I continued to sit in the pews with my patient Catholic wife for that long a time.

This didn't stop me from believing that weird Marian devotions were happening though, and I assumed talk of her perpetual virginity was just "crazy talk." Like most, I had no idea what the Immaculate Conception was either and I just thought people were referring to Our Lord's conception. I was ignorant, plain and simple. But I had in mind a mission to correct the wrong religious track that my family was on so I started planning the military campaign to retake the spiritual territory I had ceded to the Church. My first target was what I thought would be the easiest: Mary.

Before I went on my "destroy Marian Devotion" offensive, though, I knew I would have to do a little homework. Planning ahead, you see, I figured the best place to start was with the guys who picked up the Protestant Reformation football and ran with it for touchdowns. Follow the winners Frank, and victory will be yours!

But get this. Much to my surprise, nay, shock(!) I had to throw a penalty flag on myself and look for a different angle of attack. Because what I found out was that the Big Three "Reformers" all agreed with the Catholic Church's teachings on the Mother of God!...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On the Origins of Christmas

More complicated than almost anyone thinks:
The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131. In Dutch it is Kerstmis, in Latin Dies Natalis, whence comes the French Noël, and Italian Il natale; in German Weihnachtsfest, from the preceeding sacred vigil. The term Yule is of disputed origin. It is unconnected with any word meaning "wheel". The name in Anglo-Saxon was geol, feast: geola, the name of a month (cf. Icelandic iol a feast in December).

Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; Arnobius (VII, 32 in P.L., V, 1264) can still ridicule the "birthdays" of the gods.

The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt...

"...Christianity is not about our search for God..."

'Tis the season to celebrate deification:
George Weigel, in his most recent column ("Christmas, Jews and Christians"), takes up a theme near and dear to my heart:

Eastern Christian theology has long stressed “theosis,” or divinization, as the goal of the Christian life. It can be a somewhat startling theme for western Christian ears, formed as we are by Augustine’s sense of the distance that original sin created between humanity and God.

Yet if, as theologians East and West have long insisted, Christianity is not about our search for God (as so much pop-spirituality these days insists), but about God coming into history in search of us and our learning to take the same path through history that God is taking, then “divinization” makes perfect sense: for how could we follow God through history unless we became more and more like God?

Read the entire piece. Two years ago I wrote an essay, "Theosis: The Reason for the Season", in which I stated:

Theosis, deification, and adoptive sonship have received much attention in recent decades from Catholic theologians and scholars. Ressourcement theologians such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, and Jean Daniélou addressed them in a variety of books and articles. Recent books such as Divine Light: The Theology of Denys the Areopagite, by Dr. William Riordan, and Deification And Grace by Daniel Keating are scholarly studies worthy of attention.

Pope John Paul II's Trinitarian encyclicals—Redemptor Hominis, Dives in Misericordia and Dominum et Vivificantemoften emphasized divine adoption:
For as Saint Paul teaches, "all who are led by the Spirit of God" are "children of God." The filiation of divine adoption is born in man on the basis of the mystery of the Incarnation, therefore through Christ the eternal Son. But the birth, or rebirth, happens when God the Father "sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts." Then we receive a spirit of adopted sons by which we cry 'Abba, Father!'" Hence the divine filiation planted in the human soul through sanctifying grace is the work of the Holy Spirit. "It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." Sanctifying grace is the principle and source of man's new life: divine, supernatural life. (Dives in Misericordia, 52.2).
Coming full circle, the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers time and time again to the reality of theosis. "God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life," it states, "a communion brought about by the 'convocation' of men in Christ, and this 'convocation' is the Church" (par 760). Through the sacraments we are made "children of God, partakers of the divine nature" (par 1692). The foundation of the moral life, the living out of the Christian calling, is found in the theological virtues: faith, hope and love, infused by the Holy Spirit. Those theological virtues "adapt man's faculties for participation in the divine nature" (par 1812). Our prayer to and adoration of the Father is rooted in divine adoption, for "he has caused us to be reborn to his life by adopting us as his children in his only Son" (par 2782)...

The Vatican and Wikileaks

In two pieces by John Allen, which, if I tried to excerpt, I'd end up copying them entire.  So go read them.

Happy 4th Day of Christmas!

And in order to celebrate properly:

Go See "Voyage of the Dawn Treader"!

John Wright does a nice review.  A snippet:
...As adaptions go, the changes made were understandable, but I think the adaptation of PRINCE CASPIAN, which was less faithful to the book, made for a better movie.

All in all, I rather liked it. I saw it in 2D, which I recommend. There are so many indecent films, and so many anti-Christian films, we really ought to “vote with our dollars” and encourage films like this.

And I will most likely see it again.

Happy 4th Day of Christmas!

Chesterton on the slaughter of the Innocents:
...We might well be content to say that mythology had come with the shepherds and philosophy with the philosophers; and that it only remained for them to combine in the recognisation of religion. But there was a third element that must not be ignored and one which that religion for ever refuses to ignore, in any revel or reconciliation. There was present in the primary scenes of the drama that Enemy that had rotted the legends with lust and frozen the theories into atheism, but which answered the direct challenge with something of that more direct method which we have seen in the conscious cult of the demons.

In the description of that demon-worship, of the devouring detestation of innocence shown in the works of its witchcraft and the most inhuman of its human sacrifice, I have said less of its indirect and secret penetration of the saner paganism; the soaking of mythological imagination with sex; the rise of imperial pride into insanity. But both the indirect and the direct influence make themselves felt in the drama of Bethlehem. A ruler under the Roman suzerainty, probably equipped and surrounded with the Roman ornament and order though himself of eastern blood, seems in that hour to have felt stirring within him the spirit of strange things. We all know the story of how Herod, alarmed at some rumour of a mysterious rival, remembered the wild gesture of the capricious despots of Asia and ordered a massacre of suspects of the new generation of the populace.

Everyone knows the story; but not everyone has perhaps noted its place in the story of the strange religions of men. Not everybody has seen the significance even of its very contrast with the Corinthian columns and Roman pavement of that conquered and superficially civilised world. Only, as the purpose in this dark spirit began to show and shine in the eyes of the Idumean, a seer might perhaps have seen something like a great grey ghost that looked over his shoulder; have seen behind him filling the dome of night and hovering for the last time over history, that vast and fearful fact that was Moloch of the Carthaginians; awaiting his last tribute from a ruler of the races of Shem. The demons in that first festival of Christmas, feasted also in their own fashion...

Happy Feast of the Holy Innocents!

Though they had a tragic place in Christmas.

And the tragedy continues to this day:
Abortion advocates have long argued for a woman's right to control her body and to be able to dispose of the unborn child if she wishes. In a bizarre decision, a Belgian court has extended that reasoning to say that a child has a right to be aborted...
I concur with Mark Shea:
I think we should let the babies be born and then wait till they can talk. Then ask them if they want to die. My money is on "no".

I also think that the Brussels Court of Appeals needs to volunteer to be euthanized to set an example for the rest of us. Just the court, mind you, not the humans who comprise it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Wizard! Cat vs. Gator

The obvious and easy explanation for this:
is, of course, this.

Wanna Cure Poverty?

Have sex! (in the context of a marriage open to life, of course...)
For more fun and creative ways to view global problems, see their homepage.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

All of Salvation History--on the Ceiling

and the walls of the Sistine Chapel.  Take an up close and personal look!

"It is Not Good for Man to Be Alone"

Man, male and female, was made for love. Evidence? The language of the body, the nuptial meaning written into our very nature.

The Most Ancient Marian Feast

according to the Orthodox:
On the second day of the feast, the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos is celebrated. Combining the hymns of the Nativity with those celebrating the Mother of God, the Church points to Mary as the one through whom the Incarnation was made possible. His humanity - concretely and historically - is the humanity He received from Mary. His body is, first of all, her body. His life is her life. This feast, the assembly in honor of the Theotokos, is probably the most ancient feast of Mary in the Christian tradition, the very beginning of her veneration by the Church.

Six days of post-feast bring the Christmas season to a close on December 31. At the services of all these days, the Church repeats the hymns and songs glorifying Christ's Incarnation, reminding us that the source and foundation of our salvation is only to be found in the One who, as God before the ages, came into this world and for our sake was "born as a little Child."

Father Alexander Schmemann, The Services of Christmas (1981)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Holy Family

on Facebook:

On Images and the Incarnation

 from that great Christian Father in the courts of Damascus:
John Damascene was also among the first to distinguish, in the cult, both public and private, of the Christians, between worship (latreia), and veneration (proskynesis): the first can only be offered to God, spiritual above all else, the second, on the other hand, can make use of an image to address the one whom the image represents. Obviously the Saint can in no way be identified with the material of which the icon is composed. This distinction was immediately seen to be very important in finding an answer in Christian terms to those who considered universal and eternal the strict Old Testament prohibition against the use of cult images.

This was also a matter of great debate in the Islamic world, which accepts the Jewish tradition of the total exclusion of cult images. Christians, on the other hand, in this context, have discussed the problem and found a justification for the veneration of images.

John Damascene writes,
"In other ages God had not been represented in images, being incorporate and faceless. But since God has now been seen in the flesh, and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved. But I do not venerate it in absolute terms as God! How could that which, from non-existence, has been given existence, be God?...

But I also venerate and respect all the rest of matter which has brought me salvation, since it is full of energy and Holy graces. Is not the wood of the Cross, three times blessed, matter?... And the ink, and the most Holy Book of the Gospels, are they not matter? The redeeming altar which dispenses the Bread of life, is it not matter?...

And, before all else, are not the flesh and blood of Our Lord matter? Either we must suppress the sacred nature of all these things, or we must concede to the tradition of the Church the veneration of the images of God and that of the friends of God who are sanctified by the name they bear, and for this reason are possessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not, therefore, offend matter: it is not contemptible, because nothing that God has made is contemptible" (cf. Contra imaginum calumniatores, I, 16, ed. Kotter, pp. 89-90).
We see that as a result of the Incarnation, matter is seen to have become divine, is seen as the habitation of God. It is a new vision of the world and of material reality. God became flesh and flesh became truly the habitation of God, whose glory shines in the human Face of Christ. Thus the arguments of the Doctor of the East are still extremely relevant today, considering the very great dignity that matter has acquired through the Incarnation, capable of becoming, through faith, a sign and a sacrament, efficacious in the meeting of man with God...
There's a discussion of relics at the end as well.

Merry Christmas!

The song for the day:

Friday, December 24, 2010


These are awesome.


O, Holy Night!
Breathless was the air over Bethlehem. Black and bare
Were the fields; hard as granite the clods;
Hedges stiff with ice; the sedge in the vice
Of the pool, like pointed iron rods.
And the deathly stillness spread from Bethlehem. It was shed
Wider each moment on the land;
Through rampart and wall into camp and into hall
Stole the hush; all tongues were at a stand.
At the Procurator's feast the jocular freedman ceased
His story, and gaped. All were glum
Travellers at their beer in a tavern turned to hear
The landlord; their oracle was dumb.
But the silence flowed forth to the islands and the North
And smoothed the unquiet river bars
And levelled out the waves from their revelling and paved
The sea with cold reflected stars.
Where the Caesar on Palatine sat at ease to sign,
Without anger, signatures of death,
There stole into his room and on his soul a gloom,
And his pen faltered, and his breath.
Then to Carthage and the Gauls, past Parthia and the Falls
Of Nile and Mount Amara it crept;
The romp and war of beast in swamp and jungle ceased,
The forest grew still as though it slept.
So it ran about the girth of the planet. From the Earth
A signal, a warning, went out
And away behind the air. Her neighbours were aware
Of change. They were troubled with a doubt.

Salamanders in the Sun that brandish as they run
Tails like the Americas in size
Were stunned by it and dazed; wondering, they gazed
Up at Earth, misgiving in their eyes.
In Houses and Signs Ousiarchs divine
Grew pale and questioned what it meant;
Great Galactal lords stood back to back with swords
Half-drawn, awaiting the event,
And a whisper among them passed, 'Is this perhaps the last
Of our story and the glories of our crown?
--The entropy worked out?--The central redoubt
Abandoned? The world-spring running down?
Then they could speak no more. Weakness overbore
Even them. They were as flies in a web,
In their lethargy stone-dumb. The death had almost come;
The tide lay motionless at ebb.

Like a stab at that moment, over Crab and Bowman,
Over Maiden and Lion, came the shock
Of returning life, the start and burning pang at heart,
Setting Galaxies to tingle and rock;
And the Lords dared to breathe, and swords were sheathed
And a rustling, a relaxing began,
With a rumour and noise of the resuming of joys,
On the nerves of the universe it ran.
Then pulsing into space with delicate, dulcet pace
Came a music, infinitely small
And clear. But it swelled and drew nearer and held
All worlds in the sharpness of its call.
And now divinely deep, and louder, with the sweep
and quiver of inebriating sound,
The vibrant dithyramb shook Libra and the Ram,
The brains of Aquarius spun round;
Such a note as neither Throne nor Potentate had known
Since the Word first founded the abyss,
But this time it was changed in a mystery, estranged,
A paradox, an ambiguous bliss.
Heaven danced to it and burned. Such answer was returned
To the hush, the Favete, the fear
That Earth had sent out; revel, mirth and shout
Descended to her, sphere below sphere.
Saturn laughed and lost his latter age's frost,
His beard, Niagara-like, unfroze;
Monsters in the Sun rejoiced; the Inconstant One,
The unwedded Moon, forgot her woes.
A shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth
went gliding. Her bonds were released.
Into broken light a breeze rippled and woke the seas,
In the forest it startled every beast.
Capripods fell to dance from Taproban to France,
Leprechauns from Down to Labrador,
In his green Asian dell the Phoenix from his shell
Burst forth and was the Phoenix once more.

So death lay in arrest. But at Bethlehem the bless'd
Nothing greater could be heard
Than a dry wind in the thorn, the cry of the One new-born,
And cattle in stall as they stirred.

~C.S. Lewis, Poems, "The Turn of the Tide", (1st published November 1 in Punch, 1948)

Curmudgeonly Old St. Nick!

A world away from the Santa of today:
The real St. Nicholas was nothing close to the St. Nick  (Santa Claus) of the modern age. He was a thin curmudgeonly man with a zeal for the Lord that caused flairs of anger. Compromise was unknown to him. The slow transformation of him into “Jolly ole’ Saint Nicholas is a remarkable recasting of him centuries in the making. Some years ago the Washington Post featured an article entitled Poles Apart: Nicholas of Myra; How a 4th-Century Bishop Achieved Fame 1,500 Years Later, With a Whole New Attitude...

The year is 325. The place is Nicaea, a small town near the Black Sea in what is now Turkey. Thousands of priests, 318 bishops, two papal lieutenants and the Roman emperor Constantine are gathered to face a looming church crisis…..

One of the churchmen rises to speak. Arius, from the Egyptian city of Alexandria, tells the gathering that Jesus was not divine. He was just a prophet. Suddenly, a second man is on his feet, an obscure, cantankerous bishop named Nicholas. He approaches Arius, fist raised menacingly. There are gasps. Would he dare? He would. Fist strikes face. Arius goes down. He will have a shiner. Nick, meanwhile, is set upon by holy men. His robes are torn off. He is thrown into a dungeon.

Peer down through the bars. Behold the simmering zealot sitting there, scowling, defiant, imprisoned for his uncompromising piety. Recognize his sallow face? No? Well, no reason you should. But he knows you. He’s been to your house many times….

[O]n this holiday we  examine the puzzling paradox of Santa Claus. On the one hand, we have the modern Santa, a porcine, jolly man who resides at the North Pole with a woman known only as Mrs. Claus. …

On the other hand, we have the ancient Santa. Saint Nicholas. Paintings show a thin man. He was spare of frame, flinty of eye, pugnacious of spirit. In the Middle Ages, he was known as a brawling saint. He had no particular sense of humor that we know of. He could be vengeful, wrathful, an embittered ex- con….No doubt, Saint Nick was a good man. A noble man. But a hard man.
Well, of course! Anyone who breaks into houses must be familiar with prison!

Eve, New and Old

A lovely piece, appropriate for this Silent Night:
When we left the garden we knew that it would be
The new world we entered was dark and strange.
Nights were cold.
We lay together for warmth, and because we were
of the unnamed animals, and of the others;
we had never
known about the giants, and angels gone wild.
We had not been told
of dwarves and elves; they teased us; we hid
whenever they played.

Adam held me. When my belly grew taut and
began to swell
I didn’t know what was happening. I thought it was
the beginning
of death, the very first death. I clung to Adam and
As I grew bigger something within me moved.
One day I fell
and the pains started. A true angel came and
pushed the grinning
creatures back. Adam helped. There was a tearing.
I thought I’d died.
Instead, from within me came a tiny thing, a new
red-faced, bellowing, mouth groping for my breast.
This was not death, but birth, and joy came to my
heart again.
This was the first-born child. How I did laugh and
But from this birth came death. He never gave me
any rest.
And then he killed his brother. Oh, my child. Oh,
my son Cain.
I watched from then on over every birth,
seeing in each babe cruelty ready to kill
For centuries the pattern did not change. Birth
always meant death.
Each manchild who was born upon the longing
in gratefulness and joy brought me only a fresh
of tears. I had let hate into the world with that first

Yet something made me hope. Each baby born
brought me hurrying, bringing, as in the old tales,
a gift
looking – for what? I went to every slum and cave
and palace
seeking the mothers, thinking that at least I could
their hearts. Thus perhaps the balance might shift
and kindness and concern replace self-will and

So I was waiting at that extraordinary intersection
of Eternity and Time when David’s son (Adam’s,
was born. I watched the Incarnate at his mother’s
making, by his humble, holy birth the one possible
of all that I by disobedience had done. I knelt and
saw new
Adam, and I cried, “My son!” and came at last to
— Madeleine L’Engle
Poem Source: Magnificat Magazine

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The DREAM Act and Catholic Social Teaching

Late to the game, I know, but this is worth noting:
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput joined his brother bishops in expressing support for the controversial DREAM Act – a bill that would grant citizenship to many children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. The bill is expected to be voted on by the Senate on Dec. 18.

Joining coadjutor Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles in endorsing the legislation, Archbishop Chaput issued a statement on Dec. 17 urging Catholics to contact their local lawmakers to vote in favor of the measure...

Archbishop Chaput said the bill “is about fairness to high school graduates who were brought to this country unlawfully through no fault of their own, since they came with their parents.”

He added that those who would benefit from the act are “talented, intelligent and dedicated young persons who know only the United States as their home.”

He called the bill “a practical, fair and compassionate solution for thousands of young persons in our nation who simply want to reach their God-given potential and contribute to the well-being of our nation.”

“This important piece of legislation is critical for the lives and hopes of thousands of young people across America,” the Denver archbishop said, urging people to contact their federal senators and representatives. Voting in favor of the act “is the right and just thing to do,” he said.

Adding to Archbishop Chaput's support of the bill, several U.S. bishops held a teleconference on Dec. 17 urging Congress to pass the legislation.

Those who participated in the conference included: Cardinal Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, Archbishop Gomez, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City and Bishop Edward J. Burns of Juneau, Alaska.

Joseph on Joseph

in preparation for the big day:
...In the Bible passage, the ancient prophecy is fulfilled and the Son of God is made man in the womb of a virgin. St. Joseph, upset at finding that Mary is with child, decides to quietly leave her.

But an angel comes to him in a dream and tells him not to fear, to take Mary as his wife and to name the child "Emmanuel," or "God is with us," because he "shall save his people from their sins."

Joseph then abandons the thought of leaving Mary, said the Pope, "because now his eyes see the work of God in her."

St. Joseph is "certain of doing the right thing," obeys the angel's command, and stays with her. In following the directives of God, said the Pope, he joins the ranks of the humble and faithful servants, like the angels, prophets, martyrs and apostles.

Joseph "announces the portents of the Lord, giving testimony to the virginity of Mary, the gratuitous actions of God and protecting the earthly life of the Messiah," he said.

"Thus, we venerate the 'legal father' of Jesus, because in him the new man is outlined, one who looks with trust and courage to the future, who does not seek his own project but entrusts himself totally to the infinite mercy of He who makes the prophecies true and opens up the time of salvation."

Pope Benedict entrusted all of the Church's priests and bishops to St. Joseph, the universal patron of the Church. He exhorted clergy to bring themselves ever closer to the person of Jesus, to "present quietly Christ’s words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world..."

"This is the Purpose of Christmas"

our deification:
...Too often we look at Heaven as just a really great earth: we eat whatever we want, we hang out with whoever we want and we never get sick or hurt. But Heaven is less about what we do and more about what we become. When we enter into Heaven we are transformed into a new creation: while keeping our human nature we participate in the divine nature. In the scandalous words of St. Athanasius, we “become God” – we are deified.

We of course must be careful not to confuse the Christian doctrine of deification with Eastern conceptions which confuse divinity and humanity. But we must also not minimize the great transformation that will take place: we become by grace what God is by nature, all while retaining our human nature and individuality. It might seem impossible to see how this could happen, but we have a model already: Jesus Christ, who is true God and true man. By his incarnation he showed us the path which unites divinity and humanity. In his bountiful love he gives us as a gift what he has by right.

The full name of this blog is “Divine Life: Why We Were Created”. Our deification – being made like God – is the very reason we were created by God; it is the final goal for each and every one of us. The plans God has in store for those who love Him are so much more than just simple happiness and contentment. They include becoming like Him and having our human natures transformed so that they participate in the very divine life of God. This is what we celebrate at this time of year – this is the purpose of Christmas.

The Wonders of

They can do what...well, most the rest of the world can't!
The website-attacking group "Anonymous" tried and failed to take down on Thursday. The group's vengeance horde quickly found out something techies have known for years: Amazon, which has built one of the world's most invincible websites, is almost impossible to crash.

Amazon has famously massive server capacity in order to handle the December e-commerce rush. That short holiday shopping window is so critical, and so intense, that even a few minutes of downtime could cost Amazon millions. So Amazon has spent years creating and refining an "elastic" infrastructure, called EC2, designed to automatically scale to handle giant traffic spikes. The company has so much spare server capacity, in fact, that it runs a sideline business hosting other websites...
As the Dark Lord Sheavius has observed:
Amazon mystifies me. They ran for years without turning a profit, they seem to sell everything to everyone, and they are better prepared for cyber-terror than the Feds. I have this theory that they are a vast corporate cyberstate that is preparing to assume control of Planet Earth. Our new World State Holy Scripture will be the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition (available for purchase from!).

How Can You Resist

a blog post titled "Dominicans: The Shocking Expose"?

And they're Irish!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oh, Bioethicists!

Note, all you unemployed philosophy majors out there--hospitals are awaiting your brilliant bioethical theorizing!

Quality, Not Just Kitsch

Exactly!  Stanford Nutting hits the nail on the head:
...the problem is this: without the creative input, formula will only get you so far for so long.

There is an unpredictable and almost uncontrollable element in any creative work. Talent and inspiration are gifts from God. The challenge to any artist is to channel and apply these talents responsibly so that they bear good fruit. This is the challenge to producers and managers as well.

Without this wild and dangerous fire that burns in the hearts of people who produce art - whether it’s visual art, films, written works, or what have you - you have nothing. It really does begin with the content. We can try to sell the sizzle, but it’s the steak that nourishes. We can try to follow empty formulas, but it’s the truth within that carries the show. We can try to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thes. 5:19), but our lives will only grow cold if we do so.

And this fact is linked to what I’ve written about elsewhere and called the Catholic Ghetto. When markets become contrived, you can get by with bad products. For example, yesterday I went to my daughter’s Christmas concert at her school. Much of the music was poorly performed, but the audience, filled with parents and relatives, didn’t care – which is as it should be. An audience at a school play or concert is a contrived audience. People off the street, regular people not related to the performers, would never pay to see these kids play or sing.

Likewise, much of what passes for Catholic art or drama or children’s television programming would never be tolerated if there were a real market for such material, and not the contrived market of the true believers who are desperate for crumbs that fall from the table in a culture-at-large that is starving them.

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that Catholic artists must begin to recognize that the market of regular people will indeed pay for good content, but that such content must be developed and marketed to them, keeping in mind that it may be art, but it’s also a business (without keeping this in mind, Catholic artists are bound to get taken advantage of, as all talent tends to be taken advantage of). To fall back either on empty formulas with bad content (as some producers do) or to get lazy and rely on the contrived market that will accept bad content without complaint (as many who produce for the Catholic Ghetto do) is wrong.

And yet, as they say, “That’s show biz!”

The Church of Christ

We're guaranteed infallibility, not impeccability.  And we make it through to the end of time--but it ain't often pretty:
...Without doing complete justice to these various works, I'll simply point out what they reveal, without pulling any punches:

• A Church fraught with internal dissent, division, and confusion.

• A Church with many weak leaders who sometimes openly reject the Faith, many leaders who seem indifferent or confused, and with a few strong leaders who routinely face opposition and even mockery from those who should be supporting and defending them. This includes popes succumbing to internal pressures and personal weaknesses and bishops jostling for position and prestige instead of focusing on the words of Jesus.

• A Church in which serious moral rot is evident in often alarming amounts and ways. This includes spiritual laxity, acceptance of pagan ideas and practices, arrogance, jealousy, infighting, immodesty, hypocrisy, adultery, and sexual perversion. The absence of charity is equalled (or informed by) a failure to consider the spiritual and physical well-being of others.

• A Church whose members often display doctrinal confusion, indifference and even overt syncretism, and whose understanding of theological basics and doctrinal fundamentals is often sorely lacking.

• A Church beseiged by false teaching from both within and without, including forms of spiritualism, as well as extreme beliefs ranging from disgusting libertinism to hyper-legalism. There seems to be a perpetual wave of false teachers from within, openly assaulting Church authority and attacking orthodox doctrine, including overt attacks on the divinity and person of Jesus Christ. Others are so obsessed with external laws that they seem to completely ignore the need for conversion and inner transformation. And some insist that moral codes and limits are not necessary at all (faith, they insist, is all that is needed, not works); they even go so far as to promote practices that can only be describes as demonic in origin.

• A Church in which liturgical abuse is often present, including failures to treat the Eucharistic liturgy with reverence and a failure on the part of many Catholics to receive the Eucharist while in a state of grace and with proper respect.

• A Church filled with Catholics who openly disregard Church teaching on nearly every subject, refuse to admit their sins (however public they might be), pursue a way of life that can fairly be described as idolatrous, and yet shamelessly present themselves for Holy Communion and declare themselves to be Christian.

It is, indeed, a difficult thing to consider and contemplate. But we must, if we are honest, admit that these books—the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, to be specific—do indeed reveal a Church filled with deeply disturbing problems, immoral behavior, liturgical abuse, failure of leadership, failure of obedience, and much else besides

Christmas Carols and Crying Babes

The horrors that attend the coming of Christ:
...What doesn't get noticed as often is how much fear and Christmas go together. The best Christmas stories are rooted in fear and, at their very best, even a sort of terror. The original story, of course, contains not only the heartwarming icon of the Holy Family in the stable, but also Joseph's confusion and fear over the Holy Pregnancy. That terror, whether you read it as Joseph's doubts about Mary or (as Jerome did) as Joseph's doubts about himself, is not the stuff of a Kodak moment.

It is, after all, about a man contemplating dumping his completely vulnerable wife in deep fear and doubt. It requires nothing less than an angelic visitation to keep the Blessed Virgin from facing the abandonment and rejection that her Holy Child will one day face in full strength. The story passes from annunciation, through near catastrophe, to happy resolution as Joseph takes up his role as "son of David" and takes his place as father and guardian of the Christ.

That's not the last time we will see that pattern of joy, fear, and happy resolution. The tale of the escape of Jesus, even more, is a tale that passes with alarming swiftness from joy to terror to happy resolution. Your average Best Christmas Pageant Ever doesn't tend to include a scene where a bunch of kids in plastic armor march on stage and then begin to methodically dismember a clutch of baby dolls. But that's an integral part of the original Christmas story. It's also the basis of the most heartbreaking of all Christmas carols:
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young to slay.

It is from this horror that the Holy Family flees and finds safety in Egypt. The Christ, at the beginning of His mission as well as at the end, is delivered from death and the dragon that would devour him and the Woman. The Church remembers this element of terror in the Gospel story by immediately following the birth of Christ with feasts that celebrate not only the Slaughter of the Innocents, but the murder of St. Stephen, the first martyr; the murder of St. Thomas a Becket, and the first white martyr; and St. John, who had to endure the murder of his brother James, the first apostle to be martyred. All these stand as reminders that the point of the gospel is that Christ has come to break the power of the kingdom of the final earthly fear: death.

In the same way, the art about Christmas contains an element of fear as well...

...That, in the end, is the point of the Christmas story all along. It is expressed in the beautiful legend that the cradle was made from the same tree as the wood of the cross. The Evangelists see everything -- including the birth of Jesus -- as related to the ultimate truth about Him: that He is born to die and rise for us. The passion and resurrection of Jesus are imprinted on every aspect of reality, from the miracles He performs to the stories He tells to the very circumstances of His birth.

So the Eucharistic Lord is laid in a manger in Bethlehem -- that is, a feed box in the House of Bread, because it is His destiny to be the Bread of Life broken for us. He is lost for three days and found at the Temple, because He will be lost for three days in the grave and then the Temple of His body will be found alive again. The darkness and fear of the hellish dragon who seeks to devour Him as a child is the same darkness and fear that will swallow Him completely on the cross -- and perish when He destroys darkness and fear in the Resurrection.

It is why He is heralded by a star in the darkness of a fearful night -- for hell is real, and our fears of it are justified. But the baby was, after all, born to save us from the fires of hell.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shea on the Great American Schism

between truth and love:
...Americans are in the grip of a particular sort of heresy that I would call the Schism of Truth and Love. Like all such heresies, it takes crucial aspects of the Faith that cannot be separated and then suppresses one in favor of the other. So just as ancient Docetists pitted Christ's deity against his humanity, and Arians pitted the Father against the Son, and Calvinists pitted God's sovereignty against human free will, so this schism pits love against truth.

Paul tells us to "speak the truth in love". As a general rule, we seem to find that hard to do. We tend to act as though truth has to be nasty and divisive and insulting, while love has to be indifferentist, conciliatory and non-confrontational. So we wind up where we are, with the backlashes and backlashes against backlashes on the one hand, and the formless Moralistic Therapeutic Deism on the other. Christianity, in that case, resolves into those who are obsessed with beating people over the head with TRVTH (and this often curdles into a politicized theology which holds that Opposition to Abortion Taketh Away the Sins of the World) or it becomes mere "faith communities" celebrating our usness.

And, as American Grace points out, it results in a rising generation which sees little connection between their lives and the barking yellers on the one hand and the bland communitarianism on the other.

I don't think it has to be that way. Chesterton saw no contradiction between loving the Truth who is Jesus and the Dickensian absurdity who was his neighbor. At the end of the day, it seems to me that the prescription American Grace is looking for is "love God" and "love your neighbor".

For the Christian who is big on whacking his neighbor with TRVTH and who regards love as touchy feely Kumbaya Catholicism (or whatever flavor of Christianity he is), the contempt for love that is often at work in such personalities will need to be squarely confronted with the same courage he is constantly demanding of those he abuses with his polarizing dogmatism.

For the Christian who is big on formless communitarianism and full of fear of dogmatic Christianity, the contempt for theological rigor and seriousness that is often at work in such personalities will need to be squarely confronted with the same courage he is constantly demanding of those he dismisses with unthinking indifferentism...

AIDS, Africa, and ABCs

An interesting piece:
...Hanley and de Irala show that behavior change is not only possible, but has actually occurred in several countries. In fact, in every African country where HIV infections have declined, there has been a corresponding decrease in the proportion of men and women reporting more than one sex partner over the course of a year. Increasing marital fidelity is, not surprisingly, associated with a decrease in the spread of HIV infections. Another factor that is positively correlated with lower infection rates is a decrease in premarital sex among young people.

Increased condom use, on the other hand, seems to actually contribute to higher levels of infection. Why? Because when you tell young people that condoms will protect them against HIV infection, many will take greater sexual risks as a result. Of course, condoms often fail even when they are used consistently—which is, as it turns out, not often. Those who argue that “consistent condom use” will lower HIV infection rates have produced no evidence to speak of. Consistent condom use is rare.

By marshalling the evidence, Hanley and de Irala convincingly show that fidelity and chastity are not merely faith-based motivational programs but are also based on empirical evidence that they actually prevent AIDS. They offer a detailed case study of Uganda, where the Catholic Church played a major role in developing an AIDS prevention program. The emphasis in the program was placed on marital fidelity and delay of sexual debut—and the AIDS rate plummeted.

Catholics and others who are concerned that the Church's teaching on condom use somehow hinders AIDS prevention will benefit from a close reading of Hanley and de Irala's book. They will come away understanding that the epidemic does not stem from outdated moral teachings—as the Left claims—but from the ruthless imposition of Western notions of sexual liberation and license on traditional societies in Africa.

The major HIV/AIDS organizations, most of whom double as population control promoters, are ideologically committed to sexual license at all costs—even the cost of African lives—and take a very dim view of the African people. First and foremost, they claim that Africans cannot control their sexual urges and cannot change their sexual behavior, except of course for adopting condom use. As one Catholic priest put it, the current approach to HIV/AIDS prevention “is to treat people as rapacious … incapable of anything beyond immediate self-gratification…. When it is imposed by public and international agencies on Africans, it also represents unconscious but abhorrent racism. This is not a route that the Church can take...”

On C. S. Lewis and Endurance

I find this perplexing:
...Lewis’ contemporary appeal may strike some as odd at first because he seemed so firmly planted in the past. A scholar at the University of Oxford in England, he wore shabby tweed jackets, smoked a pipe in the pub and was wounded in the trenches of World War I...
Something firmly planted in the past having contemporary appeal makes no sense...why?  Are my contemporaries truly people who can only appreciate something new, and not anything older than a week?  And for heaven's sake--what exactly is there about pre-sexual revolution things that make people somehow lump them in with pre-modernity?
...Lyle Dorsett, author of “Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis,” says Lewis was fearless.

“He didn’t dodge the tough questions,” says Dorsett, who told the story of Lewis’ conversation with his lawyer in “Seeking the Secret Place.” “People find that refreshing...”
That a Christian who writes wouldn't dodge the tough questions? Is that really so rare?  Ladies and gentlemen, tell me--what is so uniquely refreshing about Lewis's engagement with the fundamental questions of life, death, and eternity?  The man worked in the train of a long, long tradition, drawing from a ton of sources and other authors.  Were the churches really guilty of such terminal avoidance of the "tough questions"?
...According to some accounts, Tolkien, a Christian intellectual, helped convert Lewis. He showed Lewis that many of the mythological books he loved to read were Christian allegories...
Didn't know or didn't want to mention that Tolkien was Catholic? And I'm not entirely sure that covers what exactly Tolkien showed Lewis...
...In “Shadowlands,” Joy Gresham is portrayed as a party crasher who alienated a stuffy Tolkien. Some scholars have suggested that Lewis and Tolkien’s friendship suffered because of Lewis’ marriage to Gresham.

“Tolkien was a devout Catholic,” says Dorsett, Lewis’ biographer. "He found her quite abrasive.”

Gresham, though, snorts at the suggestion that his mother damaged Lewis’ friendship with Tolkien.

“It never happened,” he says...
What on earth does Tolkien's Catholicism have to do with his perceptions of Lewis's wife?

So there's good moments in the piece as well, but--it could have been a great deal better. Why is his writing enduring? Because he was an astute observer and critic of modernity, because he told the truth in remarkably clear prose, and because he wrote well about enduring realities--God, man, the world, the created order, the spiritual combat--rending his writing just as enduring.

Search for C. S. Lewis

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Catholic on Dracula

and intercession for souls:
Yesterday, I did something that I can only explain by pointing to the fact that I am a Catholic. I said a prayer for the soul of Dracula. No, not for Bram Stoker's fictional vampyre version of him, but for the real Dracula. That's right, Vlad "the Impaler."

For all we really now, he died a hero and a good Catholic. Bear with me for a second...

You could blame G.K. Chesterton for my wandering mind possibly. I was just reading over chapter six of Orthodoxy and I re-read the following lines that led me to consider praying a prayer for Vlad's soul,

I felt that a strong case against Christianity lay in the charge that there is something timid, monkish, and unmanly about all that is called “Christian,” especially in its attitude towards resistance and fighting. The great sceptics of the nineteenth century were largely virile. Bradlaugh in an expansive way, Huxley, in a reticent way, were decidedly men. In comparison, it did seem tenable that there was something weak and over patient about Christian counsels.

The Gospel paradox about the other cheek, the fact that priests never fought, a hundred things made plausible the accusation that Christianity was an attempt to make a man too like a sheep. I read it and believed it, and if I had read nothing different, I should have gone on believing it. But I read something very different. I turned the next page in my agnostic manual, and my brain turned up-side down. Now I found that I was to hate Christianity not for fighting too little, but for fighting too much. Christianity, it seemed, was the mother of wars. Christianity had deluged the world with blood.

I had got thoroughly angry with the Christian, because he never was angry. And now I was told to be angry with him because his anger had been the most huge and horrible thing in human history; because his anger had soaked the earth and smoked to the sun. The very people who reproached Christianity with the meekness and non-resistance of the monasteries were the very people who reproached it also with the violence and valour of the Crusades. It was the fault of poor old Christianity (somehow or other) both that Edward the Confessor did not fight and that Richard Coeur de Leon did. The Quakers (we were told) were the only characteristic Christians; and yet the massacres of Cromwell and Alva were characteristic Christian crimes.

What could it all mean? What was this Christianity which always forbade war and always produced wars? What could be the nature of the thing which one could abuse first because it would not fight, and second because it was always fighting? In what world of riddles was born this monstrous murder and this monstrous meekness? The shape of Christianity grew a queerer shape every instant.

Again, you may believe that I have lost it and completely gone off the deep end, but I ask you to consider the fact that Vlad didn't live in your comfortable little suburban world, or in your supposedly tame modern time. Your experience has been colored by the fact that by the grace of God, and sheer happenstance, you were born in a country that stands on the principles of Classical Liberalism, where the rule of law is the norm...

An American Apparition

...In October 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on three occasions to Adele Brise, a young Belgian immigrant. Brise stated that a lady dressed in dazzling white appeared to her and claimed to be the "Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners."

The Lady asked Brise to pray for sinners, as well as to gather the children and teach them what they should know for salvation. The Blessed Virgin followed the commands with these words of assurance to Adele Brise, "Go and fear nothing, I will help you."

Since 1859, countless faithful have made the pilgrimage to Champion, Wisconsin to offer prayers of thanksgiving and petition to Jesus and to ask for intercession from Our Lady of Good Help.

After receiving the apparitions, Adele Brise immediately began to fulfill the obligations the Blessed Virgin entrusted to her. She gathered local children and taught them how to pray, make the sign of the cross, and to give love, thanks, and praise to the Lord.

As part of her commitment to the Blessed Virgin, Brise set up a Catholic school and began a community of Third Order Franciscan women. Eventually, a school and convent were built on the grounds to further the mission entrusted to Brise.

Many prayers have been answered and healings and conversation recorded at the Shrine.

When "the Peshtigo fire of 1871 engulfed the surrounding area, the entire five acres of land consecrated to the Blessed Virgin remained unscathed. It is believed that the land was spared after Brise organized a prayer vigil that circled the area"...

You Learn Something New Every Day

Vale Decem, a remarkably powerful piece:

was sung by a man for the Proms this past year. Whodathunk. Here's the video:

When Times Get Tough

the tough get literary:
...A vandal who gouged 13 vehicles at a Pittsburgh-area dealership decided to use a 2006 Focus as a chalkboard, scrawling the Latin phrase "Nemo me inpune lacessit" on its flank. The recession really hasn't been good for literature majors.

The phrase sketchily etched last week refers to the family coat of arms of the protagonist from Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado," and translates as "no one attacks me with impunity." Police have no leads, but on the bright side someone's getting a deal on a four-year-old Focus for Christmas....
The best part is the comments:
As I wandered through South Pitty
Listless, same as half the city,
Suddenly I saw this shitty
Focus that I’d owned before.

Left I looked and then to starboard,
No one near, just trash and cardboard.
Never knew that I had harbored
Long-lived hatred for this Ford.

Fury, hatred, rage galore.

Gas I’d none, nor e’en a hammer.
Nothing left but Lit and grammar.
I might end up in the slammer
If I whacked it like I’s Thor.

Armed with what my life had left me
Silently and oh-so-deftly,
Hand and key engraved my message,
Gouged into the frickin’ door.

Take that, finance-hawking whore!

I wandered onward, sans rancor.
And this is great:
Impia tortorum longos hic turba furores
Sanguinis innocui, non satiata, aluit.
Sospite nunc Focus, fracto nunc funeris superficies,
Mors ubi dira fuit vita salusque patent.

"Here an unholy mob of torturers, with an unquenchable thirst for human blood, once fed their long frenzy. Our Focus is safe now, the baneful paint destroyed, and what was once a place of savage death is now a scene of life and health."

We Never Walk Alone

You are loved:
Oh! What mysteries will be revealed to us later... How often have I thought that I perhaps owe all the graces showered upon me to the earnest prayer of a little soul whom I shall know only in Heaven. It is God's will that in this world by means of prayer Heavenly treasures should be imparted by souls one to another, so that when they reach the Fatherland they may love one another with a love born of gratitude, with an affection far, far exceeding the most ideal family affection upon earth.

There, we shall meet with no indifferent looks, because all the Saints will be indebted to each other.

No envious glances will be seen; the happiness of every one of the elect will be the happiness of all. With the Martyrs we shall be like to the Martyrs; with the Doctors we shall be as the Doctors; with the Virgins, as the Virgins; and just as the members of a family are proud of one another, so shall we be of our brethren, without the least jealousy.

Who knows even if the joy we shall experience in beholding the glory of the great Saints, and knowing that by a secret disposition of Providence we have contributed thereunto, who knows if this joy will not be as intense and sweeter perhaps, than the happiness they will themselves possess.

And do you not think that on their side the great Saints, seeing what they owe to quite little souls, will love them with an incomparable love? Delightful and surprising will be the friendships found there - I am sure of it. The favored companion of an Apostle or a great Doctor of the Church, will perhaps be a young shepherd lad; and a simple little child may be the intimate friend of a Patriarch. Oh! how I long to dwell in that Kingdom of Love...

Counsels and Reminiscences

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Weigel on Papal Condoments

A (4-week) retrospective:
...While the media misreporting and over-reporting of radical change has played its usual, mischievous role over the past four weeks, it cannot be doubted that a certain lack of clarity has characterized the Holy See’s response to the controversy. That lack of clarity could impede the possibility of a genuine deepening of Catholic moral insight as the internal theological debate unfolds. There is little question that it will put Catholic bishops who have taken a strong line in defending the Catholic integrity of Catholic medical institutions and Catholic health care professionals in a very difficult position vis-à-vis an increasingly aggressive and secularist ambient culture.

Thus, both to ensure that the theological debate generated by Light of the World is a genuine advance rather than a moment of retreat from the truths taught in Veritatis Splendor, and to provide armor for those bishops who are determined to defend the integrity of their institutions and the consciences of those members of their flocks who are medical professionals, it would seem opportune for an indisputably authoritative voice, capable of speaking in the name of the Church, to publish a substantial clarification of the issues that have surfaced over the past month.

Such a clarification might usefully touch several key points. It would reaffirm the Church’s classic teaching on marriage and human sexuality, underscoring that the basic principles at stake here are true and can be known to be true by reason. It would reiterate the intrinsic wrong of contraception. It would endorse educational and pastoral programs affirming chastity and fidelity as the morally appropriate and empirically effective response to HIV/AIDS, while recommitting the Catholic Church to the relief of those already suffering from HIV/AIDS.

It would also be helpful if such a statement would reaffirm that what the Catholic Church teaches in these complex and delicate areas of human life is not a matter of “positions” that can be changed if sufficient public pressure is brought to bear. Rather, the Church brings the light of both reason and revelation to bear on these questions, in the certain conviction that the truth liberates us in the deepest meaning of human liberation.

"Mary is an essential 'dimension' of the Gospel itself"

From one of the great Russian Orthodox theologians of the past century (he's got some fascinating stuff on sacramentality):
...if nothing else  were revealed in the Gospel than the mere fact of Mary's existence, i.e., that Christ, God and man, had a mother and that her name was Mary, it would have enough for the Church to love her, to think of her relationship with her Son, and to draw theological contemplations from this revelation.  Thus, there is no need for additional or special revelations; Mary is a self-evident and essential "dimension" of the Gospel itself.--Alexander Schmemann, "On Mariology in Orthodoxy", Celebration of Faith.

Antichrist: The End

From Bl. Cardinal Newman's pen, the fourth and last sermon:
We have been so accustomed to hear of the persecutions of the Church, both from the New Testament and from the history of Christianity, that it is much if we have not at length come to regard the account of them as words of course, to speak of them without understanding what we say, and to receive no practical benefit from having been told of them; much less are we likely to take them for what they really are, a characteristic mark of Christ’s Church. They are not indeed the necessary lot of the Church, but at least one of her appropriate badges; so that, on the whole, looking at the course of history, you might set down persecutions as one of the peculiarities by which you recognize her.

And the Lord seems to intimate how becoming, how natural persecution is to the Church, by placing it among His Beatitudes. “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven;” giving it the same high and honorable rank in the assemblage of evangelical graces, which the Sabbath holds among the Ten Commandments,- I mean, as a sort of sign and token of His followers, and, as such, placed in the moral code, though in itself external to it.

He seems to show us this in another way, viz., by intimating to us the fact that in persecution the Church begins and in persecution she ends. He left her in persecution, and He will find her in persecution. He recognizes her as His own,-He framed, and He will claim her,-as a persecuted Church, bearing His Cross. And that awful relic of which He gave her, and which she is found possessed of at the end, she cannot have lost by the way...

Building the Civilization of Love

Charity is as indispensable for those of us giving, as it is for those who receive, for each charitable act speaks the very language of faith and hope, and each time that language is spoken, it builds up a civilization of love.

Two years ago, Pope Benedict invited us to live out hope "with works of charity, because hope, like faith, is demonstrated in love."

That love of neighbor, which expresses both faith and hope, is the story of the Knights of Columbus...

The Knights were a living example of what Pope Benedict referred to in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, when he wrote: "The parable of the Good Samaritan offers two particularly important clarifications. Until that time, the concept of ‘neighbor' was understood as referring essentially to one's countrymen and to foreigners who had settled in the land of Israel; in other words, to the closely-knit community of a single country or people. This limit is now abolished. Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor."...

Other religions had service centers that catered to those of one faith or another, but for a Catholic to avail himself of their services meant that he would have to run a gauntlet of proselytizing.

The Knights stepped forward – at home and in Europe. Caring for the temporal needs of the troops meant running service centers. Unlike those with an overt sectarian agenda run by other non-Catholic religious groups, the Knights' program proclaimed "Everybody Welcome, Everything Free." As a witness to authentic Christian charity, the Knights embraced all as our neighbor.

In fact, though racial tolerance – let alone acceptance and equality – was decades away, the Knights were applauded by Emmet J. Scott, the black historian who chronicled African Americans' experiences in World War I. He wrote: "Another organization was of much service in making Negro soldiers comfortable at the front. This was the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic society, which has to its credit that, unlike the other social welfare organizations operating in the war, it never drew the color line."

On a spiritual level, the Knights also provided Catholic chaplains to the troops, supplementing those provided directly by the Army. More than 50 chaplains were sponsored by the Knights. These brave priests risked everything...

...having been victims of prejudice as Catholics, and having seen the horrors on the battlefields of the Great War, the Knights continued – or perhaps I should say pioneered – work on racial equality. In the 1920s, in keeping with our commitment to the marginalized, we published a series of books on the contributions of racial and ethnic minorities – including such titles as The Gift of Black Folk, by W.E.B. du Bois, and the Jews in the Making of America, by George Cohen...

Over the years, the commitment to charity remained. During the Great Depression, the Knights ran job boards to help those who were out of work. In the 1940s, it was again the Knights who assisted Canadian troops with Army Huts – and provided a similar program for Allied troops in the Philippines.

Having done pioneering work on racial equality during the 1920s, it was no surprise that during the 1960s, the Knights were a proud partner of the American civil rights movement. Members of the Knights including then Supreme Knight John McDevitt and Oblate Father William P. Ryan, just to name a few, were outspoken supporters of civil rights.

One story of the Knights work during this period illustrates this work well. In 1964, the Knights threatened to boycott the New Orleans hotel scheduled to hold our convention if the hotel did not repeal its segregationist policies. It immediately integrated. Catholic action in defense of the dignity of the human person had resulted in real change. It had triumphed over prejudice.

As racial bigotry began to diminish, old threats to human dignity remained and new ones began to emerge. One marginalized group with which the Knights began to work very closely in the 1960s was the intellectually disabled. Our work with Special Olympics, for example goes back 40 years, when the Knights began working with the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, wife of Knight and American statesman Sargent Shriver.

And this work continues to this day as one of the Knights strongest programs...
The recounting continues. It's a distinguished and noble history.

Christ, Incarnate

...All other social teachings fall under the shadow cast by the dignity of the human person. Not only that, but all other social actions gain their legitimacy from how well they affirm the dignity of the human person.

There are two major reasons why this is true.

But first, here’s a little riddle from catechism class that will help us uncover the reason:  What are the only man-made things in heaven?  Take your time. Puzzle it out. We can wait…

Answer: The nail prints on the hands and feet of Jesus, and the scar in his side.

Jesus still has a human body. The omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent almighty Savior of the World still has a human body, albeit a glorified one.

The post-resurrection Gospel accounts verify its amazing properties: walking through walls, startling appearances and disappearances (Cf. Luke 24: 31, 36-43, John 20:19-20). Most famously Jesus appeared to Thomas and the apostles, permitting Thomas to probe the nail prints to assuage his doubt. (Cf. John 20:24-29.)

The Word become flesh (Cf. John 1:14). The Son of God incarnate is both God and man.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, par.469 and 470:
The Church thus confesses that Jesus is inseparably true God and true man. He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother…

The Son of God. . . worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.

Even now, that mystical Body is united with the Trinity. The body of Jesus was not some kind of disposable earthly transport vehicle. No. Jesus completely united himself to humanity in a permanent way...

The Perils

of intra-Christian apologetics:
...we often forget that no one comes to the question of intra-Christian dialogue and disputation with a blank slate. Consider, for example, the poorly catechized cradle Catholic who finds herself confronted by one of the many itinerant and irascible “Protestant apologists” whose polemical and superficial tomes are published for the very purpose of shaking the faith of such Catholics. The goal, of course, is to get the papist prey to “accept Jesus in her heart” and to become “born again.” But what if the Catholic, overwhelmed and ill-equipped, thinks of Catholicism as really the only legitimate Christian option, even though she does not know it very well? And what if the arguments against the Catholic Church simply destroy all of Christianity for that person? In that case, the Protestant apologist, though winning the argument, cooperates in the loss of a soul.

Similarly, imagine the case of the prodigal Protestant, an Evangelical college student who encounters on campus young and enthusiastic Catholic apologists. They spend most of their time with their Evangelical friend trashing the Protestant Reformers and contemporary Evangelicalism in such a way that the student, rather than entertaining Catholicism, considers abandoning his Christian faith altogether. This is because the student grew up an Evangelical Protestant in a vibrant ecclesial community that was the center of his family’s social, cultural, and religious life for generations. For such a person, Catholicism is not even on the conceptual radar. Thus, his Catholic friends, though intending no harm, contribute to his loss of faith in Christ...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Interactive Family Catechism

This looks like a remarkably useful and carefully crafted interactive catechism. Cardinal Arinze's participation in the project indicates its probably well worth checking out. Anyone who wants some basic answers to questions about the faith, something to use to instruct their children (and themselves!) would probably find this useful.

For anyone looking for the full Catechism, see here.

The Resurrection of the Dead

And the life in the world to come:
...St Paul writes to the Philippians of the glory that our currently lowly bodies will one day enjoy:

He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Phil 3:19)

I once spoke with an older woman who wasn’t all that pleased to hear that her body was going to rise and be joined again to her soul: “Oh, Father, you don’t mean this old decrepit body?! If this body has to rise I am hoping for an improved model!”

Yes! I think most of us can relate to the need that our current lowly bodies will be improved. And they will surely be. Notice how the passage above says, that these lowly, often weak, diseased, and often over-weight bodies will be changed and reflect the glory of the resurrected body of Jesus. Yes, this old general issue clunker that I’m currently experiencing is going to be upgraded to a luxury model. We’re headed for first class...


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