Tuesday, December 25, 2012

God is With Us!

Merry Christmas!
Joseph, being of David’s clan and family, came up from the town of Nazareth, in Galilee, to David’s city in Judaea, the city called Bethlehem, to give in his name there. With him was his espoused wife Mary, who was then in her pregnancy; and it was while they were still there that the time came for her delivery.  She brought forth a son, her first-born, whom she wrapped in his swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
In the same country there were shepherds awake in the fields, keeping night-watches over their flocks.  And all at once an angel of the Lord came and stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them, so that they were overcome with fear.  But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid; behold, I bring you good news of a great rejoicing for the whole people.  This day, in the city of David, a Saviour has been born for you, the Lord Christ himself.  This is the sign by which you are to know him; you will find a child still in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.  Then, on a sudden, a multitude of the heavenly army appeared to them at the angel’s side, giving praise to God, and saying,  Glory to God in high heaven, and peace on earth to men that are God’s friends.--Luke 2:4-14
And the Word was made flesh, and came to dwell among us; and we had sight of his glory, glory such as belongs to the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.--John 1
The soloist from the above clip is in the movie version of Les Miserables which comes out today, a fantastic tale of grace and redemption.

Monday, December 24, 2012

"Package for Dr. Jones!

Awesomeness.  This comes from the University of Chicago Admissions blog.  Excerpts:
...We don’t really even know how to start this post. Yesterday we received a package addressed to “Henry Walton Jones, Jr.”. We sort-of shrugged it off and put it in our bin of mail for student workers to sort and deliver to the right faculty member— we get the wrong mail a lot.

Little did we know what we were looking at. When our student mail worker snapped out of his finals-tired haze and realized who Dr. Jones was, we were sort of in luck: this package wasn’t meant for a random professor in the Stat department. It is addressed to “Indiana” Jones.

What we know: The package contained an incredibly detailed replica of “University of Chicago Professor” Abner Ravenwood’s journal from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It looks only sort of like this one, but almost exactly like this one, so much so that we thought it might have been the one that was for sale on Ebay had we not seen some telling inconsistencies in cover color and “Ex Libris” page (and distinct lack of sword). The book itself is a bit dusty, and the cover is teal fabric with a red velvet spine, with weathered inserts and many postcards/pictures of Marion Ravenwood (and some cool old replica money) included. It’s clear that it is mostly, but not completely handmade, as although the included paper is weathered all of the “handwriting” and calligraphy lacks the telltale pressure marks of actual handwriting.

What we don’t know: Why this came to us. The package does not actually have real stamps on it— the outside of the package was crinkly and dirty as if it came through the mail, but the stamps themselves are pasted on and look like they have been photocopied. There is no US postage on the package, but we did receive it in a bin of mail, and it is addressed to the physical address of our building, Rosenwald Hall, which has a distinctly different address from any other buildings where it might be appropriate to send it (Haskell Hall or the Oriental Institute Museum). However, although now home to the Econ department and College Admissions, Rosenwald Hall used to be the home to our departments of geology and geography...
I love it. Can we have a few related incidents regarding, I dunno, blue envelopes and mysterious meeting places?  What about editions of newspapers or even single sheets from a day in the future?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

HHS Mandate Driving Catholic Orders to Emigrate?

See, this is a key reason why that regulation is a problem.  Excerpts:
A religious order of nuns is concerned about its future presence in the United States because of Obamacare’s impact on its charitable operations. The Little Sisters of the Poor told The Daily Caller that it may not qualify for a long-term exemption from Obamacare’s healthcare mandate. The law requires the order to provide government-approved health insurance to its 300 sisters who tend to the elderly in 30 U.S. cities...

The crux of the matter is a religious exemption that the federal government is expected to make available to Catholic churches, but not to other Catholic institutions.

That’s because unlike Catholic parishes and dioceses, the church’s many affiliated schools, charities, religious orders and hospitals don’t discriminate in their hiring or service, often employing staff — and serving people in need — who come from other Christian denominations or from other faiths entirely.

“We are not exempt from the [Obamacare] mandate because we neither serve nor employ a predominantly Catholic population,” Constance added. ”We hire employees and serve/house the elderly regardless of race and religion, so that makes us ineligible for the exemption being granted churches.”

Those employees, she said, number in the thousands.

...In a June 2012 essay appearing in The Tablet, a Catholic newspaper in Brooklyn, N.Y., she said leaving the United States entirely wouldn’t be without precedent.

“[A]s Little Sisters of the Poor, we are not strangers to religious intolerance,” she wrote. “Our foundress was born at the height of the French Revolution and established our congregation in its aftermath. Our sisters have been forced to leave numerous countries, including China, Myanmar and Hungary, because of religious intolerance. We pray that the United States will not be added to this list.”

Ultimately, it’s all a matter of numbers.

“[I]f we were to stop offering health insurance rather than comply with the mandate,” she told the National Catholic Register in October, “we would have to pay a $2,000 penalty per employee. This penalty aside, it just does not seem right to us to stop providing health insurance to our employees.”

“If we chose to offer insurance without the objectionable services,” she continued, “we would honor our consciences, but we’d have to pay $100 per day per employee. … [F]or an organization with 50 employees, that would mean almost $2 million per year.”

Constance added that Medicaid reimbursements from the government cover only half the cost of caring for elderly sick people “in the way they deserve.”

She also explained to the National Catholic Reporter that although the Catholic Church’s primary objection to Obamacare involves reproductive health care — a subject seldom associated with nuns or their elderly patients — “we are concerned about what could happen later.”

“What we fear is that, if the federal government succeeds in this case, there are other areas where they could exert pressure or enact measures that could endanger our apostolate — particularly in end-of-life care and in the possible rationing of care to the elderly as a cost-saving measure...”

Friday, December 21, 2012

Gandalf, Galadriel, and Cosmic Battle

There are moments in The Hobbit where it suddenly becomes starkly clear that Peter Jackson really gets certain of Tolkien's influences, such as the gathering of the White Council at Rivendell.
Stratford Caldecott writes:
...There is a second way in which the Virgin Mary is present, and that is through her reflections in certain feminine characters, specifically Galadriel and Elbereth.19 Galadriel is one of the pivotal elvish characters: Bearer of one of the three Rings and preserver of the land of Lothlorien, Tolkien himself calls her “unstained” (a word that Catholics normally only use of the Virgin Mary), adding that “she had committed no evil deeds.”20 In another letter he wrote: “I think it is true that I owe much of this character to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary.”21

Yet the workings and reworkings of his manuscript reveal an ambiguity, or an evolution, for in earlier drafts Galadriel was a leader in the rebellion of the Elves against the Valar, the world’s angelic guardians. From this rebellion Tolkien obviously later felt the need to absolve her. In the Unfinished Tales, we find a chapter containing the “History of Galadriel and Celeborn,” in which Christopher Tolkien records the “late and partly illegible note” that is “the last writing of my father’s on the subject . . . set down in the last month of his life.” In this revised history, which he intended to incorporate in the next version of The Silmarillion, Galadriel is not at all involved in the rebellion of the Elves but indeed opposed it, and was caught up in the departure from Aman to Middle-earth through no fault of her own. Thus she was morally as well as “physically” equipped to be the elvish leader in Middle-earth of resistance to Sauron. We see here, I think, the pressure of the Marian archetype in Tolkien’s imagination on the development of the character of Galadriel.

Not quite “immaculate” (without sin), then, in the official version, but to the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, and even to the Dwarf Gimli (who asks for the parting gift of a hair from her head, which he intends to enshrine within imperishable crystal), Galadriel is nevertheless a vision of wisdom, beauty, and grace, of light untarnished.

Galadriel, however, remains an earthly figure. In Roman Catholic devotion and dogma, Mary, having been assumed into heaven at the end of her earthly life, has long been venerated as Queen of Heaven and “Star of the Sea.” We find this cosmic aspect of the Marian archetype expressed in the person of Galadriel’s own heavenly patroness, Elbereth, Queen of the Stars, who plays the role in Tolkien’s legendarium of transmitting light from the heavenly places. It is to Elbereth that the Elves sing the following invocation:
Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western seas!
O light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees!
O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy Starlight on the Western seas.
Tolkien would have been familiar with one of the most popular Catholic hymns from his childhood, the tone and mood of which are markedly close to those of Tolkien’s song to Elbereth:22
Hail, Queen of Heaven, the ocean star,
Guide of the wand’rer here below:
Thrown on life’s surge, we claim thy care—
Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, star of the sea,
Pray for the wanderer, pray for me...
Gandalf--well, perhaps a comparison will make it clear. This is Gandalf striking the Balrog as it falls in the opening of the Two Towers.
Thia is a traditional Catholic icon of Saint Michael.
The imagery and teaching on St. Michael follows in large part from several key passages of Scripture.
“Do not fear, Daniel,” he continued; “from the first day you made up your mind to acquire understanding and humble yourself before God, your prayer was heard. Because of it I started out, but the prince of the kingdom of Persia stood in my way for twenty-one days, until finally Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me. I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia, and came to make you understand what shall happen to your people in the last days; for there is yet a vision concerning those days.” Daniel 10:12-14

So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. (No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince." Daniel 10:20-21

“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered." Daniel 12:12

"But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Jude 1:9

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God, that there she might be taken care of for twelve hundred and sixty days.

Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, 8but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them. But woe to you, earth and sea, for the Devil has come down to you in great fury, for he knows he has but a short time.”  Revelation 12:1-12
From St. Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Excerpts:
...Every day, from one end of the earth to the other, in the highest heaven and in the lowest abyss, all things preach, all things proclaim the wondrous Virgin Mary. The nine choirs of angels, men and women of every age, rank and religion, both good and evil, even the very devils themselves are compelled by the force of truth, willingly or unwillingly, to call her blessed.

According to St. Bonaventure, all the angels in heaven unceasingly call out to her: "Holy, holy, holy Mary, Virgin Mother of God." They greet her countless times each day with the angelic greeting, "Hail, Mary", while prostrating themselves before her, begging her as a favour to honour them with one of her requests. According to St. Augustine, even St. Michael, though prince of all the heavenly court, is the most eager of all the angels to honour her and lead others to honour her. At all times he awaits the privilege of going at her word to the aid of one of her servants...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pace the Mayan Calendar, December 21, 2012, Will Not Be The End of The World

Oh, fun. This whole Mayan Apocalypse thing has really jumped the shark. Excerpts:
...This week, at sunrise on Friday, December 21, an era closes in the Maya Long Count calendar, an event that has been likened by different groups to the end of days, the start of a new, more spiritual age or a good reason to hang out at old Maya temples across Mexico and Central America.

"If it is the end of the world, hopefully Luke will come and blow up that Death Star," said Alex Markovitz, a 24-year-old consultant and Star Wars fan from Philadelphia, looking out over the site of Skywalker's rebel base. "I see why they shot here. It doesn't look real. It looks like an alien planet."

Once at the heart of a conquering civilization in its own right, the ancient city of Tikal is now a pilgrimage site for both hard-core Star Wars fans and enthusiasts of Maya culture eager to discover what exactly the modern interpretations of old lore portend.

In the 1960s, a leading U.S. scholar said the end of the Maya's 13th bak'tun - an epoch lasting some 400 years - could signify an "Armageddon," though many people trekking to the old temples believe it could herald something wonderful.

Discovered in 1848 when locals unearthed human skulls whose teeth were studded with jade jewels, Tikal draws tourists from around the globe. Visitors this week said they felt a powerful presence in the blue skies above them.

"The force is strong here," said Jimena Teijeiro, 35, an Argentine-born self-help blogger. "The world as we know it is coming to an end. We are being propelled to a new age of light, synchronicity and simple wonderment with life."

Maya scholars and astronomers have dismissed the idea the world is on the brink of destruction but mystics and spiritual thrill-seekers have flocked to feed off Tikal's energy. Park guards said they had to throw out 13 naked women who were dancing and chanting around a fire pit near the temples last week.

"Something big is going to happen," said the president of Guatemala's Star Wars fan club, entrepreneur Ricardo Alejos. "The Maya were an incredibly precise people. Something big is going to happen and we'll find out what in a few days."

Surrounded by thick jungle home to jaguars, monkeys and toucans, the view of Yavin 4 from the top of Tikal's Temple Four, known as the temple of the double-headed serpent, has changed little since Lucas filmed here in 1977...
Whatever may or may not happen, aside from the ticking over into the next Long Count (and ancient New World civilizations have managed to make some interesting predictions based on their stargazing, rather like some ancient Middle Eastern folk), December 21, 2012, will not be the end of the world.  Excerpts:
Signs that are to precede the general judgment

The Scriptures mention certain events which are to take place before the final judgment. These predictions were not intended to serve as indications of the exact time of the judgment, for that day and hour are known only to the Father, and will come when least expected. They were meant to foreshadow the last judgment and to keep the end of the world present to the minds of Christians, without, however, exciting useless curiosity and vain fears. Theologians usually enumerate the following nine events as signs of the last judgment...
  • General preaching of the Christian religion...
  • Conversion of the Jews...
  • Return of Enoch and Elijah...
  • A great apostasy...
  • The reign of Antichrist...
  • Extraordinary perturbations of nature...
  • The universal conflagration...
  • The Trumpet of Resurrection...
  • "The sign of the Son of Man appearing in the heavens..."
And when, pray tell, have all of the above--repeat: all--occurred in the past few years?  As Jesus said:
But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be [also] at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.  Matthew 24:36-44
If you want an encounter with the living God, I've got some guidance for you.
h/t Catholic Memes

Court Requires HHS Mandate Revision

Hurray! Excerpts:
...Today, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. handed Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College a major victory in their challenges to the HHS mandate.  Last summer, two lower courts had dismissed the Colleges’ cases as premature.  Today, the appellate court reinstated those cases, and ordered the Obama Administration to report back every 60 days—starting in mid-February—until the Administration makes good on its promise to issue a new rule that protects the Colleges’ religious freedom.  The new rule must be issued by March 31, 2013...

The court based its decision on two concessions that government lawyers made in open court. First, the government promised “it would never enforce [the mandate] in its current form” against Wheaton, Belmont Abbey or other similarly situated religious groups.  Second, the government promised it would publish a proposed new rule “in the first quarter of 2013” and would finalize it by next August. The administration made both concessions under intense questioning by the appellate judges.  The court deemed the concessions a “binding commitment” and has retained jurisdiction over the case to ensure the government follows through.

“This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious non-profits challenging the mandate,” said Duncan. “The government has now been forced to promise that it will never enforce the current mandate against religious employers like Wheaton and Belmont Abbey and a federal appellate court will hold the government to its word...”

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Did Jesus Exist?

Mark Shea writes:
...Here’s the thing about the gospels. There really is nothing quite like them in the annals of world literature and the sooner you confront that fact, the less chance you have of the media making you stupid about them.

On the one hand, the gospels clearly have a sacramental and theological view of the world.  It is a world charged with meaning and sacramental power.  So every detail they record has symbolic significance.  Jesus is born, not just anywhere, but in Bethlehem, the House of Bread.  He is laid in a manger–a feed box, and Luke notices that because Jesus is the Bread of Life.  Luke will make the same eucharistic connection at the other end of his gospel by recording that he was made known “in the breaking of the bread”.  So it becomes easy, once you have gotten used to reading the gospels for all their massive amount of sacramental symbolism, to start imagining that the symbols are being invented and not reported by the authors.

Only here’s the thing, the gospel writers absolutely insist that they are reporting, not inventing this story.  The action takes place not in cloud cuckoo land, but in various locales around the Holy Land.  It happens not once upon a time, but “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberi-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysani-as tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas”.  Indeed, Luke explicitly tells us, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, 2* just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3* it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely * for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4* that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.”

Sorry, but this ain’t the language of myth even though the events reported have a mythic quality.  This is the language of an ancient chronicler. Moreover, it is the language of an ancient chronicler who is quite careful to get his facts straight and has been shown, on repeated occasions, to know what he is talking about *better* than modernist scholars who are ready to dismiss him as having made crap up...

Here’s some reality: actual biblical scholarship by real, you know, scholars (even, by the way, unbelieving scholars) laughs to scorn the notion that “Jesus never existed”. What is quite clear is that the gospel are eyewitness accounts of a very real Jesus of Nazareth. And what is most solidly and definitely established by any reasonable assessment of the records we have is that, in the words of Tacitus, “Christus… suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” Only a crank–or a member of American Atheists–denies this...
For more on this, see here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

John Wright, Utter Geekiness, and the Baptized Imagination

Guh. As a commentator observed:
I’d think you were joking if you hadn’t written a book where King Arthur was reincarnated as Batman.
No, seriously. If you've never read a John Wright novel, you've denied yourself a brain-sucking, universe-bending, magnificent mashup of the classical Western canon, sci-fi, and fantasy.

I mean--LOOK at it!
...I had also been toying with the idea of writing an Anti-Dan Brown novel, one where the Roman Catholic Church, through the Knights Templar, had indeed been engaged in a two-millennium-old secret war against Harvard Symbolists and other servants of Satan to save the world from vampires and werewolves and mummies and giants and astrologers. I envisioned the Church as secretly funding and organizing the Knights Templar like the special ops vampire hunters in VAN HELSING starring Kate Beckinsale.

The two ideas came together when I struck on the happy thought of having the millennium-old secret known to the Church, but not to the world, to be the existence of parallel timelines, where biblical history had gone differently.

By “Biblical history” I mean that the secret history of the world is what is written in the Bible, and in the parallel timelines history went differently: the giants come from a world where the Flood of Noah never happened, so they were not wiped out; vampires come from a world where Christ was never crucified; evil astrologers rule a world where the Tower of Babel was never smitten with the confusion of tongues; mummies rule the world where Moses never freed the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage; werewolves rule a world where Nebuchadnezzar never repented of his lycanthropy, but instead spread the affliction; immortals come from a world where Fallen Eve stole the fruit from the tree of life; and so on.

I also wanted to write a novel where the witchcraft is bad for a change. Compare the way witchcraft is treated in the characters, for example, of Willow Rosenberg from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and Serafina Pekkala from THE GOLDEN COMPASS and the Halliwell Sisters from CHARMED on the one hand versus the way witchcraft is treated in Samantha Stevens from BEWITCHED and Gillian Holroyd from BELL BOOK AND CANDLE and Eglantine Price from BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS on the other… Ditto for vampires and werewolves. I wanted to write a book where the monsters were, you now, bad. And one where the Christians were good. This is not because I am bigoted against monsters or particularly fond of Christians (all the ones I know are sinners), but just because I am weary of the stereotypes.

What genre does this fall under?

I have no idea...
And then he summarizes (ha!):
...What is the one-sentence synopsis of the book?

“After my boss, Professor Anthrope, Harvard Symbologist, escaped from the insane asylum, he send me a secret message revealing that his beautiful daughter, Verity, had broken into the basement of the Haunted Museum and found the Moebius Coil he had constructed there from plans transmitted to Earth from across the Sea of Uncreation during the CERN disaster, and he begged me to find her and stop her, before the Dark Tower of the Ur race cast its twilight shadow across our helpless globe; and so, borrowing my father the Templar exorcist’s switchblade crucifix relict and my grandfather’s antique Japanese sword, not to mention my squirrel gun, I rushed in to save the girl but managed to get myself yanked headfirst into this interdimensional bathtub drain; and then things started getting weird…”

That is almost one sentence...
He has a wife, you know.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Face to Face With Heaven

Jennifer Fulwiler on icons.  Excerpts:
... It wasn't until I got to know my iconographer cousin (whom I was only reunited with after my conversion to Catholicism) that I came to appreciate icons. Before then, I thought icons were just another type of art, and since it wasn't to my taste, I had no interest in the subject. But I had completely misunderstood this sacred form of communication. The creation of icons goes back to the very first centuries of Christianity, back when many of the faithful were illiterate. It's a way of explaining theology through visual symbolism, and iconographers follow ancient prototypes with very detailed specifications when creating an icon (for example, an image search on Christ the Teacher shows how similar all the representations are). This is why iconographers fast when they are working on a project, and why icons are said to be "written" rather than "painted": Each one contains a small book's worth of information about sacred truths.

As I sat in my room and stared at Christ the Teacher, I got lost in all the messages conveyed in the image. Christ's blue cloak symbolizes his divine nature, and the crimson color of the garment underneath is to remind us of the human blood that he shed for each of us. I looked at the halo that surrounds his head and noticed the Greek letters, which express "I am Who Am," the name of God in Exodus 3:14. And yet the letters are in the shape of a cross, which hit home the shattering truth that the unfathomable "I Am" allowed himself to be subject to human torture, that he is the God who suffers with us. Jesus' fingers are bent in a blessing, and form the letters IC XC, a monogram for the name of Jesus Christ in Greek, which prompted me to mediate for a moment on the power of his holy name. My eyes drifted up to meet the eyes of Christ, represented as large and open per the format of this icon, which reminded me that at this very moment I am being seen my God himself. For a long time I let that idea sink in, just silently absorbed that feeling that someone is watching you, and wondered what my life looked like through the eyes of God.

I could go on, but you get the idea...

I don't think I could have ever understood the power of icons without moments like last night, when I was too weary to delve into my normal prayerful reading. I felt a special kinship with all my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages who have not had the educational background or the free time or the resources to be able to sit down and study the Word of God in written form. What a gift icons must have been for all the people who lived before the printing press and thus couldn't afford a hand-copied Bible, or who were illiterate, or who were just too fatigued to read at the end of a long day of toil. They'd hear the Scriptures read at Mass, and then could go home to their icons and savor those same truths, spelled out in simple visual form that even the most uneducated, tired person could understand...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why? Suffering, Evil, and Death

From Michael O'Brien's Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. Excerpts:
"The enemy killed the Lamb."
"You know the rest of it."
"And the Lamb overcame death."
"Yes. But first He had to die."
"Why did He have to die? Why did my wife die? Why are you covered with bruises?"
"Because we are in a real war."
"It is not right!"
"You a priest for so many years and you say that? Of course it's not right. The Cross isn't right. But our Lord took it and turned it into the great sign that the devil hates above all other signs. Each time we accept to bear that cross and be nailed to it, believing against all believing--when it's impossible any longer to believe because of our pain--that's when we defeat him. By the blood of the Lamb."--page 107
The universe is designed to demand everything from us. Why? Because we are made to enter into communion with God and share his life, which consists of absolute self-gift, a self-gift to the point where we must give everything, even our lives, to keep up--and still it would not be enough without his grace.

The universe is designed to be the medium of the exchange, of the divine to the human and the human to the divine, designed to be sacramental, to accommodate God's gift of self and our gift of self.  There was a rupture when we fell, and now the world is often more dangerous, more deadly, than ever it was meant to be.  The world is on some levels disordered, and so humans fall ill, animal turns on animal, the world is often hostile and harsh.  Our intellects are darkened, our wills weakened, our passions disordered.  The devil prowls the world, the flesh rebels, the world allures.  And so there is often pain and suffering that God had never intended from the beginning, that strikes the innocent and leaves the wicked seemingly unscathed.

It's an answer easy to write.  It may not comfort or explain to someone in the depths of grief and suffering. And it would seem that God would rather hear us getting angry at him, believing he has the power to avert suffering, believing he is a good and loving God, and raging to him from the depths of our suffering because he stood by and permitted it to happen, than have us hear anodyne explanations and ponderous platitudes.  See the Book of Psalms for extensive kvetching to God.  He even speaks a curse against apologists in the Book of Job after Job cries out to God for an explanation, rejecting all the pieties of his friends:
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "My anger blazes against you and your two friends! You have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job. So now take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves, and let my servant Job pray for you. To him I will show favor, and not punish your folly, for you have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job."…Then all his brothers and sisters came to him, and all his former acquaintances, and they dined with him in his house. They consoled and comforted him for all the evil the LORD had brought upon him….—Job 42:7-8, 11
So take it or leave it. I thought the explanation might help some people. Whatever else you do, though, pray for the victims and the first responders and the whole country, for the society and an end to the culture of death and fear. Pray for the mentally ill and those who love them, who try to care for them.  Pray.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hitchcock: "Robots Are Boring. Come On, Let's Have Mass"

Heh.  Excerpts:
...At the time, I was a graduate student in philosophy at UCLA, and I was (and remain) a Jesuit priest. A fellow priest, Tom Sullivan, who knew Hitchcock, said one Thursday that the next day he was going over to hear Hitchcock's confession. Tom asked whether on Saturday afternoon I would accompany him to celebrate a Mass in Hitchcock's house.

I was dumbfounded, but of course said yes. On that Saturday, when we found Hitchcock asleep in the living room, Tom gently shook him. Hitchcock awoke, looked up and kissed Tom's hand, thanking him.

Tom said, "Hitch, this is Mark Henninger, a young priest from Cleveland."

"Cleveland?" Hitchcock said. "Disgraceful!"

After we chatted for a while, we all crossed from the living room through a breezeway to his study, and there, with his wife, Alma, we celebrated a quiet Mass. Across from me were the bound volumes of his movie scripts, "The Birds," "Psycho," "North by Northwest" and others—a great distraction. Hitchcock had been away from the church for some time, and he answered the responses in Latin the old way. But the most remarkable sight was that after receiving communion, he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks...

Friday, December 14, 2012

On Suffering and Bravery

Not just on today's tragedy, but more generally, as well.

The Anchoress reacts.  Excerpts:
Christmas is coming. These beautiful children, who likely had written their letters to Santa, or perhaps had opened a new window in an Advent calendar before going to school, are lost to us — now — in these weeks where nothing gives us a sense of promise, a future and a hope, than a child’s smile.

God help us.

In Advent, the days are short; the light is scarce and darkness gathers more fully every day. And today it nearly encompasses our hearts. We need light; we need illumination, because we do not understand...

We all of us struggle, every day, with God and with mankind. Today, our name is Israel, and we struggle...

God help us. There are no words. No one has new wisdom. We are broken and in our wounds evil enters in and battles goodness, and all I can do is run to the crucifix and bend low before it and remember these parents, these children, in my prayers, and turn to Christ and his Mother, who understand...

Msgr. Pope shares the tragedy and self-sacrifice of his parents with regard to his mentally ill sister.

Father Longenecker celebrates St. Lucy on her recent feast, a child who suffered at the hands of evil for the sake of good.  Excerpts:
...This is why I love Lucy–because she did not compromise. Finally, as I love St Therese, I love Lucy because she was a little girl. It was not the great soldier, the great he-man, the great warrior who stood up bravely for Christ….it was a little girl, and this reminds us that unless you become like one of these little ones you cannot see the kingdom of heaven...
The Crescat talks tragedy. Excerpts:
...My prayers are with the victims and their families. The pain of losing a child is the hardest thing ever. Of this I know personally.

“In the face of horror … there is no other answer than the cross of Christ: Love that descends to the abyss of evil.” — Pope Benedict XVI...
From a discussion of The Hobbit.  Excerpts:
"The more truly we can see life as a fairy tale," said G.K. Chesterton, "the more clearly the tale resolves itself into war with the dragon who is wasting fairyland."
On the Suffering of Innocents. Excerpts:
...As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child I do not see the face of God, but the face of His enemy. It is not a faith that would necessarily satisfy Ivan Karamazov, but neither is it one that his arguments can defeat: for it has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead. We can rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that He will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes—and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new...”
And a reminder of happier realities, of every day life, of children home and safe, of families living and working together.

5 Goals for Life, Religious Freedom, and Marriage

Ladies and gentlemen, the Bishops have a to-do list for us.  Excerpts:
1.Starting with the Sunday after Christmas (Feast of the Holy Family) and continuing on or near the last Sunday of every month through Christ the King Sunday, November 2013, cathedrals and parishes are encouraged to hold a Eucharistic Holy Hour for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty.

2.Families and individuals are encouraged to pray a daily Rosary, especially for the preservation of Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty in the nation.

3.At Sunday and daily Masses, it is encouraged that the Prayers of the Faithful include specific intentions for respect for all human life from conception to natural death, the strengthening of marriage and family life, and the preservation of religious libertyat all levels of government, both at home and abroad.

4.Abstinence from meat and fasting on Fridays are encouraged for the intention of the protection of Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty, recognizing the importance of spiritual and bodily sacrifice in the life of the Church.

5.The celebration of a second Fortnight for Freedom at the end of June and the beginning of July 2013 is being planned. This Fortnight would emphasize faith and marriage in a particular way in the face of the potential Supreme Court rulings during this time. The Fortnight would also emphasize the need for conscience protection in light of the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate, as well as religious freedom concerns in other areas, such as immigration, adoption, and humanitarian services.

A website with resources from the USCCB is available at: www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty...
We have our marching orders. In the words of President Obama's reelection campaign, "Forward!"

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christianity, Women's Empowerment, and Pagan Misogyny

Rodney Stark makes some very interesting points.  Excerpts:
...Amidst contemporary denunciations of Christianity as patriarchal and sexist, it easily is forgotten that the early church was so especially attractive to women that in 370 the Emperor Valentinian issued a written order to Pope Damasus I requiring the Christian missionaries to cease calling at the homes of pagan women. Although some classical writers claimed that women were easy prey for any "foreign superstition," most recognized that Christianity was unusually appealing because within the Christian subculture women enjoyed far higher status than did women in the Greco-Roman world at large (Fox 1987; Chadwick 1967; Harnack 1908).

But if historians have long noted this fact, they have made no serious efforts to explain it. Why were women accorded higher status in Christian circles than elsewhere in the classical world? In what follows I shall attempt to link the increased power and privilege of Christian women to a very major shift in sex ratios. I show that an initial shift in sex ratios resulted from Christian doctrines prohibiting infanticide and abortion and then show how the initial shift would have been amplified by a subsequent tendency to over-recruit women. Along the way I shall summarize evidence from ancient sources as well as from modern archeology and historical demography concerning the status of women in the early church. Finally, I shall explore the relatively high rates of exogenous marriages by Christian women and suggest how these would have generated many "secondary" conversions to Christianity...
And many women paid the ultimate price for their fidelity to Jesus (make sure your sound is on.)  Further points from here, out of Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief. Excerpts:
...In a Greco-Roman world where women were severely disadvantaged and many upper-class women even were relegated to nearly complete seclusion, Christianity (like the other “oriental” faiths) accorded women considerable status and an opportunity to lead. Beyond that, Christianity made life far more attractive for all female members.

The advantages of Christian females began at birth. Infanticide was widely practiced by Greco-Romans, and it was especially female infants who were dispatched. A study of inscriptions at Delphi made it possible to reconstruct 600 families. Of these, only six had raised more than one daughter. As would be expected, the bias against female infants showed up dramatically in the sex ratios of the imperial population. It is estimated that there were 131 males per 100 females in the city of Rome, and 140 males per 100 females elsewhere in the Empire.

The advantages of Christian women continued into the teens. Roman law suggested that girls not marry until age twelve, but there were no restrictions on earlier marriage (always to a far older man). A study based on inscriptions determined that about 20 percent of pagan girls married before the age of thirteen, compared with 7 percent of Christian girls. Only a third of pagan girls married at eighteen or older, compared with half of Christian girls. Once married, pagan girls had a substantially lower life expectancy, much of the difference being due to the great prevalence of abortion, which involved barbaric methods in an age without soap, let alone antibiotics. Given the very significant threat to life and the agony of the procedure, one might wonder why pagan women took such risks. They didn’t do so voluntarily. It was men—husbands, lovers, and fathers—who made the decision to abort. It isn’t surprising that a world that gave husbands the right to demand that infant girls be done away with would also give men the right to order their wives, mistresses, or daughters to abort. Indeed, both Plato and Aristotle advocated mandatory abortions to limit family size and for various other reasons.

Christian wives did not have abortions (nor did Jewish wives). According to the Didache, a first-century manual of Church teachings, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.”

Christian women also enjoyed very important advantages in terms of a secure marriage and family life. Although rules prohibiting divorce and remarriage evolved slowly, the earliest Church councils ruled that “twice-married” Christians could not hold church offices. Like pagans, early Christians prized female chastity, but unlike pagans they rejected the double standard that gave men sexual license. Christian men were urged to remain virgins until marriage, and extramarital sex was denounced as adultery. Henry Chadwick noted that Christianity “regarded unchastity in a husband as no less serious a breach of loyalty and trust than unfaithfulness in a wife.” However, this was not paired with opposition to marital sexual expression….  (pp. 320-321)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pray for Us!

Happy feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!
By artist Nellie Edwards
"Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?"--Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, 1531, at Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City, Mexico

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

President Obama, Natural Law, and Inherent Contradictions

Well.  That's interesting.  Excerpts:
..."There is no doubt that what I retained in my politics is a sense that the only way I could have a sturdy sense of identity of who I was depended on digging beneath the surface differences of people," Obama said during an interview on 10 November 2011. "The only way my life makes sense is if, regardless of culture, race, religion, tribe, there is this commonality, these essential human truths and passions and hopes and moral precepts that are universal. And that we can reach out beyond our differences. If that is not the case, then it is pretty hard for me to make sense of my life. So that is at the core of who I am."...
Almost like, well...this. Excerpts:
In English this term is frequently employed as equivalent to the laws of nature, meaning the order which governs the activities of the material universe. Among the Roman jurists natural law designated those instincts and emotions common to man and the lower animals, such as the instinct of self-preservation and love of offspring. In its strictly ethical application—the sense in which this article treats it—the natural law is the rule of conduct which is prescribed to us by the Creator in the constitution of the nature with which He has endowed us...
But those who support President Obama sometimes sound like this. Excerpts:
...Rights are man made. So is the notion of right and wrong...The harsh truth is that mankind lacks natural law and that you only have as many rights as the political capital you own...
And the reason for that finds its roots in this.

I don't know what to conclude.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, and a Post-Christian Media

Man.  Just...man.  Excerpts:
...it is notable that the English press, as is its custom, has treated the publication of the Pope’s book–which is intended as a theological reflection and is explicitly set forth as something to be subjected to comment, criticism and argument among other theologians who may even correct the Pope in his personal views (as is the way with the scholarly community)–is treated as though it is an edict from a dictator.  So the Pope does not “say”.  He “declares”.  This is of a piece with the press’ tendency to perpetually speak of the Vatican “cracking down” on this and that...

The happy thing about the normal train wreck of press coverage of the Pope’s new book is, of course, that the Pope’s new book is getting a lot of exposure.  People who read it looking for sound scholarship and serious theological reflection will be rewarded in spades as they always are whenever anybody takes up something written by Benedict XVI.  Put it on your Christmas list for any Christian who wants to see how a smart and faithful scholar reads his Bible.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Costs of Catholicism: HHS Mandate Fines

This is why repealing the HHS mandate matters for the future of religious organizations and for businesses and organizations owned and operated by people of certain religious convictions.  Excerpts:

The owners of Hobby Lobby asked to be exempted from providing the "morning after" and "week after" pills on religious grounds, arguing this would violate their Christian belief that abortion is wrong.

Judge Joe Heaton of the U.S. District for the Western District of Oklahoma denied the request for a preliminary injunction.

Heaton ruled that while individual members of the family that owns and operates Hobby Lobby have religious rights, the companies the family owns are secular, for-profit enterprises that do not possess the same rights.

The family operate 514 Hobby Lobby stores in 41 states and employ 13,240 people. It funds a variety of Christian charities, closes its stores on Sundays and plays inspirational Christian music in its stores...

...The Food and Drug Administration lists the "morning after" and "week after" pills as emergency contraceptives. But abortion opponents like the Green family consider them abortion-inducing drugs because they are often taken after conception.

Hobby Lobby faces a January 1 deadline to comply with the mandate to provide all FDA-approved contraceptives. Failure to do so would entail a penalty of up to $1.3 million per day...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

St. Anselm writes:
...Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendor by men who believe in God.

The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new.

Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.

To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary.

The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God.

The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life.

For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed...

Heart of Jesus

Fountain of divine life and love to all who will love him. Excerpts:
...Adoring contemplation of the side pierced by the spear makes us sensitive to God's salvific will. It enables us to entrust ourselves to his saving and merciful love, and at the same time strengthens us in the desire to take part in his work of salvation, becoming his instruments.

The gifts received from the open side, from which "blood and water" flowed (cf. John 19:34), ensure that our lives will also become for others a source from which "rivers of living water" flow (John 7:38; cf. "Deus Caritas Est," No. 7).

The experience of love, brought by the devotion to the pierced side of the Redeemer, protects us from the risk of withdrawing into ourselves and makes us readier to live for others. "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16; cf. "Haurietis Aquas," No. 38)...

Friday, December 7, 2012

Confession for Christmas

This sounds like a good idea.  Excerpts:
...A priest became pastor of a smaller rural parish, of approximately 300 registered families. The first Sunday of Advent, he announced to the parish that he wanted no Christmas presents from the parish that year – no gifts of money, or food, or gift certificates. Instead, the present he wanted from his new parish was for every member of the parish to go to confession during Advent.

To that end, he would add times for confessions during the week, bring in outside priests, and make the sacrament as available as possible.

To his surprise, the parish took him up on his offer...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Meaning of Suffering

From Jeff Cavins.  Excerpts:
Suffering, unlike anything else, causes us to reflect on life. Where is God in my suffering? Did I do something wrong? What will be the quality of my life from here on out? Simply, we want to make sense out of that which doesn't seem to make sense.

Understanding the meaning of suffering became an urgent personal concern for me not too long ago when I began to develop excruciating pain in my neck and arm. I discovered after repeated visits to the doctor that the cause of my pain was a split disk in my neck, and I would need a cervical spine fusion. Previous to my injury, I was well acquainted with Catholic Church teaching on redemptive suffering, but I found that in the midst of my pain, my clear theological understanding was reduced to sloppy, emotional and inconsistent application. To say the least, I wrestled day and night with this issue of suffering and pain, disappointed with my level of courage and trust in God. After months of prayer, questions, and many books, my quest for answers led me right into the very heart of the Trinity. It was only then, when my heart was in union with God, that my suffering took on significance...

When we fail to find meaning in our suffering, we can easily fall into despair. But once we find meaning in our suffering, it is astounding what we can endure, both mentally and physically. The key is not the suffering itself, but the meaning found within it. At the beginning of my ordeal my faith was inconsistent, focusing more on myself than the opportunity Christ had given me to join myself to Him. As the months rolled on, I spent more time before the Blessed Sacrament, more time in prayer and study. I longed for answers that would make my suffering meaningful. I desperately wanted a revelation of the meaning of suffering that would result in one of those "aha" moments. I was not disappointed...

In his Apostolic Letter "On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering," Pope John Paul II speaks of two types of suffering; temporal and definitive. We experience temporal suffering, both moral and physical, as a consequence of sin. But there is a suffering that goes much deeper than depression or cancer, a definitive suffering. Concerning this definitive suffering Pope John Paul II says, "Man perishes when he loses 'eternal life.' The opposite of salvation is not, therefore, only temporal suffering, and kind of suffering, but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God - damnation. The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil and against definitive suffering" (Salvifici Doloris 14). In temporal suffering "there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace" (Salvifici Doloris 26) that acquaints us with pure love.

The work of Christ doesn't guarantee an escape from suffering. No-instead, He has changed the meaning of suffering. We are now joined through baptism with Christ in His death and resurrection, and we have become intimately united to Him, so much so that we are His Body. Because of our union with Christ, even our suffering is changed; it becomes redemptive. Because Christ loves us so much, He invites us to participate in His redeeming work by allowing us to offer up our sufferings in union with His...

St. Paul understood that our life is a cooperation with the work of Christ when he wrote: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Colossians 1:24). Think about that: Paul said that something is lacking in Christ's afflictions. What could possibly be lacking in Christ's afflictions? Our part!...

Today, Jesus tells us that if we are to follow Him we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (see Luke 9:23). Our lives become an imitation of and participation in the love of the Trinity when we offer up our complete lives in union with Christ...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...