Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Best Explanation of the Immaculate Conception.

Yes. Exactly.
That is the best explanation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception I've ever read. Why?

Because that's the point on which Protestant friends and interlocutors always get hung up--how could Mary need the salvation offered by Jesus if she never sinned?

And the answer, of course, is that she was conceived immaculate and never sinned by the grace which came through her Son and Savior.
We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.
The order of events is unusual, yes, and yet Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is eternal, and so all events in his personal experience are similarly eternal--standing outside of time.

All grace comes through Jesus Christ. No grace enters time and history except through Jesus Christ, including all grace in the lives of the Old Testament folk, all grace in the lives of people who've never heard the Gospel, and all grace which enters the lives of Christians--even though Jesus comes later in time than the folk of the Old Testament.

All grace comes to Mary through Jesus, just as much and more than the grace which comes into the lives of anyone else.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
It's all in Doctor Who, all in Doctor Who--goodness me, what do they teach in schools these days?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happy Feast of the Annunciation!

Chesterton describes it all best.
Gloria in Profundis
There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all—
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Catholics in the Heart of the Land of Islam, and Other Surprising Facts of Global Catholicism

John Allen lays out some interesting points in his recent piece, including the following starkly true statement. Excerpts:
...The typical Christian in the world today isn’t a middle-class white male in Dubuque pulling up to church in his Lincoln Continental. She is an impoverished black mother of four in Nigeria, or a Dalit grandmother in India, or an exploited Filipina maid in Saudi Arabia. They often face hardships that are hard for most American Christians, accustomed to material comfort and lacking any real experience of religious persecution, to fathom.

Until you get that, you won’t see the full story of Christianity in this era...
Click and read.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Seeing Jesus When He Turns Up

The essence of Christianity is that God was one of us, and is, and will be forever. And that he can be encountered in every human being, as the Anchoress shows so well. Excerpts:
My mood being what it was, I wasn’t interested in finding out. I kept my head down, and my eyes lowered, and as I approached the steps I could hear him asking, “which one? This one? This one? Which door?”

Finally looking up, I realized the man was talking to me. “Which door?” he repeated, moving quickly from one to the other. “This one? I’m going to open the door for you! I’m the doorman! I’m waiting to open the door for you, if you’ll let me.”

“If you’ll let me…” those words struck something inside me, and made me feel guilty. I was too ungenerous to allow someone else to be generous. I know this about myself; it is an old flaw, and a deep one.

I let him open the door, and thanked him, but not warmly. I felt intruded upon, in exactly the way that shy, introverted people can feel burdened by simple exchanges of pleasantry that come so naturally for others. Why, oh why did people have to put themselves in my way, and inflict themselves upon my consciousness — forcing me to engage when I am so intent on only doing so on my own terms! Grouse, grouse.

Settling into my pew, still disturbed by the doorman in a way I couldn’t quite understand, I breathed deeply and asked God’s forgiveness for my unpardonable me-ness. I began to catalogue for him the prayer intentions I had brought with me — for a young woman and a young man, both battling breast cancer; for my family members sick in body, or mind and spirit; for a missing jetliner and grieving families; for the priest I could see preparing in the sacristy — a shy fellow, himself, who always inspires me to pray for him. Opening my Magnificat, I happened on a quote from the Servant of God Catherine deHueck Doherty:
The mercy that we must give to others includes that of standing up for the poor, the lonely, those who have no education and cannot stand up for themselves. It means to engage in what we call social justice on behalf of our brother. That involves opening ourselves to being pushed around and crucified. This always happens to those who stand up for others…

Lent is here to remind us that the mercy of God is ours provided we embrace his law of love; provided we realize that it’s going to hurt, and hurt plenty, but that the very hurting will be a healing. That’s the paradox of God, that while you hurt, you heal. That’s true healing.

The sea of his mercy is open before us. Lent definitely and inexorably leads us to it and makes us think about what it takes to swim in it.
Oh, busted!
Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Seeing is Believing: The Demonic, the Skeptic, and the Christian Empiricist

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. - Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio.
Mark Shea discusses the demonic and why folks believe it exists. Excerpts:
...Devils are facts of our universe. They are not psychological projections, myths, or legends (though, of course, the mind of man takes them–as it takes everything other concrete reality of creation–and makes up stories about them so that devils, like kings, lamps, ants, elephants, and grasshoppers, become part of the vast legendarium that man has been creating ever since he spun the first yarn around a campfire. But just only a fool would conclude that elephants are unreal because somebody once told a tale about one that could fly, so only a fool conclude that devil cannot exist because he once saw a picture of horned gent with a goatee in red tights...
Years ago, I heard a Black Pentecostal pastor in Spokane talking about a time he and some other local non-denominational pastors had been asked by a family they knew to come and pray for their granny who, her family said, “had an evil spirit”. One of the pastors was of a more modern frame of mind—the sort of frame of mind that fancies itself “open-minded” by closing itself off to the very possibility of the supernatural ever actually occurring. He somehow found himself invited to this meeting of pastors who were going to the house of this family to pray for granny. The liberal pastor reluctantly agreed and joined the circle as they gathered round granny and began to ask God to intervene on her behalf.

The doubting pastor happened to have taken up a position right behind granny, perhaps due to his reluctance to look at her face during what he considered to be a hugely superstitious bit of medieval hocus pocus. Granny, who was quite long in the tooth and rather frail, submitted to the prayer, but as it went on she began to act oddly and, quite suddenly reached behind her (over her shoulders), seized the doubting pastor and lifted him clean off the ground.

“That kind of thing changes your theology,” observed the Black Pentecostal pastor drily.
...Rationalist skeptics love to pride themselves on being tough-minded empiricists with the courage to follow the evidence wherever it leads–and to accuse Christians of relying on dogma in the teeth of the evidence.

Rubbish. Nine times out of ten it is the materialist who is the kneejerk dogmatist.

“Even if all the sick in Lourdes were cured in one moment, I would not believe [in miracles]!” – Emile Zola
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the sort of worldview espoused by Dan Brown, who's quite busily encouraging every sound scientist and reasonable person out there to become a materialist magician--to accept the occult as one more branch of science and to study it seriously in the hopes of regaining the knowledge so viciously suppressed by Catholicism and the rest of the Christians of the world.

Monday, March 10, 2014

What's His Line? The Miraculous

Archbishop Fulton Sheen may well have his beatification miracle! Excerpts:
...The reputed miracle involves the unexplained recovery of James Fulton Engstrom, a boy born apparently stillborn in September 2010 to Bonnie and Travis Engstrom of the Peoria-area town of Goodfield. He showed no signs of life as medical professionals tried to revive him. The child’s mother and father prayed to Archbishop Sheen to heal their son.

Although the baby showed no pulse for an hour after his birth, his heart started beating again and he escaped serious medical problems.

The Vatican’s medical advisory panel ruled that there is no medical explanation for the healing of the baby. The ruling means that a board of theologians will now review the case. If they approve the case, its consideration could pass to the cardinals and bishops who advise Pope Francis on beatifications.

If the case reaches Pope Francis, his approval would recognize Archbishop Sheen as “blessed,” the final stage before possible canonization as a saint...
Want to see him in person?.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

On the Unity of Christians

I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, 3striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.--Ephesians 4:1-6
John Paul II (soon to be canonized a saint) reiterated the Gospel call for the unity of Christians in his encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint. Excerpts:
Ut unum sint! (May they be one)...The courageous witness of so many martyrs of our century, including members of Churches and Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, gives new vigour to the Council's call and reminds us of our duty to listen to and put into practice its exhortation. These brothers and sisters of ours, united in the selfless offering of their lives for the Kingdom of God, are the most powerful proof that every factor of division can be transcended and overcome in the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel.

Christ calls all his disciples to unity. My earnest desire is to renew this call today, to propose it once more with determination, repeating what I said at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday 1994, at the end of the meditation on the Via Crucis prepared by my Venerable Brother Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. There I stated that believers in Christ, united in following in the footsteps of the martyrs, cannot remain divided. If they wish truly and effectively to oppose the world's tendency to reduce to powerlessness the Mystery of Redemption, they must profess together the same truth about the Cross.1 The Cross! An anti-Christian outlook seeks to minimize the Cross, to empty it of its meaning, and to deny that in it man has the source of his new life. It claims that the Cross is unable to provide either vision or hope. Man, it says, is nothing but an earthly being, who must live as if God did not exist.
And Pope Francis had some rather poignant words to speak on the same subject. Excerpts:
...Is Christian unity a priority for you?

Pope Francis: Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for.

I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism.  After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: "I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest's." This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don't ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptized in. We need to take these facts into consideration...
The martyrs, the greatest Christian witnesses to the faith and the truth of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, challenge their brethren, separated and divided in the face of tremendous challenges from the world, the flesh, and the devil these days. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, as Tertullian wrote, and perhaps also the bond of charity which holds the whole together, mediating the Holy Spirit, opening a door through their sacrifice as Jesus did.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Odd Thomas Movie is Out!

And I'm excited, especially when every review seems to be complaining about the things Koontz put into the story for a reason.
  • Wacky tone: Yes. Exactly.  Odd's got an odd way of speaking and writing. There's a certain amount of Forrest Gump monotone in the midst of impossible situations, a certain depth of humility which affects his entire worldview and the way he approaches the world. Everyone who's read the books knows that and wants it in the movie.
  • Prediction versus payoff: "...In adapting Dean Koontz's series, Sommers nails the hero but bungles the world-building. Odd predicts mythological violence, but the climactic wreckage we see on screen is too real for what should play out as weightless entertainment. The tonal confusion persists through a mawkish epilogue that optimistically sets up a sequel, but by then it's too late: We have no reason to return to this world..."  But that precisely misses the point. The sort of violence we've come to accept as being "all too real" is precisely the sort of violence that's mythological in scope and size.  We can summon fire from the heavens, rain poison on our enemies, draw down the sun to blast those who oppose us--that is, we can drop napalm, chemical weaponry, or nukes on our opponents.  We live in mythological times.  Most of our movies don't appreciate that, and slog forward with a weird, realpolitik determination--nothing to see here, move along, nothing strange that we choose Machiavelli over St. Matthew or find WMD a permanent part of the foreign policy discussions.  Odd Thomas is an apocalyptic series, a modern chivalric romance, all incarnated into a supernatural thriller. The "tonal confusion" isn't confused at all--it's unusually clear eyed, and that's why it's popular.
It sounds like they did a good job. The author certainly liked it. Excerpts:
It is so wonderful that I am whacked flat by happiness. It makes no missteps, races forward with unrelenting momentum, is gripping, and has great heart, and even has an excellent score! It is a totally fresh wind in the genres upon which it touches, and we felt that we were seeing one of those rare productions with the potential to dramatically alter how other filmmakers approach such movies in the future.
Theater information and links for ordering it here.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Shopkeeper Refuses Service Over Gay Marriage

Huh.  Elizabeth Scalia has the story (from over a year ago). Excerpts:
So, you know all this brouhaha, all these hysterics about how bakers, and photographers, and other service-providers who routinely work for gay clientele (but draw a line at serving gay weddings because they feel it imperils their souls) are horrible people?

And you know the whole “if you think that way, then you’re a bigot,” thing, because governments and pundits have taken it into their heads that it is their job to define “sin” to another person?

And you know that whole, “refusing to serve someone because they think differently than you is all Jim Crow-y and immoral?”

Yeah, well…so much for that.
A gay stylist in Santa Fe refused to cut New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s hair due to her stance on same-sex marriage. KOB-TV’s Stuart Dyson reports.

A Santa Fe hairdresser is waging his own boycott of sorts: He is denying service to the governor of New Mexico because she opposes gay marriage.

Antonio Darden, who has been with his partner for 15 years, said he made his views clear the last time Gov. Susana Martinez’s office called to make an appointment.

“The governor’s aides called not too long ago wanting another appointment to come in,” Darden told “Because of her stances and her views on this, I told her aides, ‘no.’ They called the next day asking if I’d changed my mind about taking the governor in, and I said ‘no’ again.”

Martinez has said marriage should be between a man and a woman. Darden, who said he has cut the governor’s hair three times, said he won’t serve her unless she changes her mind about gay marriage.
Darden apparently feels that it would go against his own personal moral code — his individual conscience — to cut the governor’s hair. He does not see this decision as an act of “intolerance.” In his mind, he believes that to cut her hair would be to co-operate with evil — a kind of sin, if not against God, then against his own reason and beliefs. He may fear that serving to the governor could be misconstrued as an affirmation of her views.

And no one in the press is arguing differently on the governor’s behalf...
Links in the original.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Living the (Secret) Gift

Coolness in the life of WH Auden.  Excerpts;
W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it.

I learned about it mostly by chance, so it may have been far more extensive than I or anyone ever knew. Once at a party I met a woman who belonged to the same Episcopal church that Auden attended in the 1950s, St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery in New York. She told me that Auden heard that an old woman in the congregation was suffering night terrors, so he took a blanket and slept in the hallway outside her apartment until she felt safe again.

Someone else recalled that Auden had once been told that a friend needed a medical operation that he couldn’t afford. Auden invited the friend to dinner, never mentioned the operation, but as the friend was leaving said, “I want you to have this,” and handed him a large notebook containing the manuscript of The Age of Anxiety. The University of Texas bought the notebook and the friend had the operation.

From some letters I found in Auden’s papers, I learned that a few years after World War II he had arranged through a European relief agency to pay the college costs for two war orphans chosen by the agency, an arrangement that continued, with a new set of orphans every few years, until his death at sixty-six in 1973.

At times, he went out of his way to seem selfish while doing something selfless. When NBC Television was producing a broadcast of The Magic Flute for which Auden, together with Chester Kallman, had translated the libretto, he stormed into the producer’s office demanding to be paid immediately, instead of on the date specified in his contract. He waited there, making himself unpleasant, until a check finally arrived. A few weeks later, when the canceled check came back to NBC, someone noticed that he had endorsed it, “Pay to the order of Dorothy Day.” The New York City Fire Department had recently ordered Day to make costly repairs to the homeless shelter she managed for the Catholic Worker Movement, and the shelter would have been shut down had she failed to come up with the money...

The whole piece is well worth a read.

Pope Francis in Corriere Della Serra

Pope Francis speaks once again. And once again, if you want to know what he said, read the transcript.  Excerpts:
...The relations with your predecessor. Have you ever asked for the counsel of Benedict XVI?

Yes. The Pope emeritus is not a statue in a museum. It is an institution. We weren’t used to it. 60 or 70 years ago, ‘bishop emeritus’ didn’t exist. It came after the (Second Vatican) Council. Today, it is an institution. The same thing must happen for the Pope emeritus. Benedict is the first and perhaps there will be others. We don’t know. He is discreet, humble, and he doesn’t want to disturb. We have spoken about it and we decided together that it would be better that he sees people, gets out and participates in the life of the Church. He once came here for the blessing of the statue of St. Michael the Archangel, then to lunch at Santa Marta and, after Christmas, I sent him an invitation to participate in the consistory and he accepted. His wisdom is a gift of God. Some would have wished that he retire to a Benedictine abbey far from the Vatican. I thought of grandparents and their wisdom. Their counsels give strength to the family and they do not deserve to be in an elderly home...

You have indicated that in globalization, especially financially, there are some evils that accost humanity. But, globalization has ripped millions of people out of indigence. It has given hope, a rare feeling not to be confused with optimism.

It is true, globalization has saved many persons from poverty, but it has condemned many others to die of hunger, because with this economic system it becomes selective. The globalization which the Church supports is similar not to a sphere in which every point is equidistant from the center and in which then one loses the particularity of a people, but a polyhedron, with its diverse faces, in which every people conserves its own culture, language, religion, identity. The current ‘spherical’ economic, and especially financial, globalization produces a single thought, a weak thought. At the center is no longer the human person, just money.

The theme of the family is central in the activity of the Council of eight cardinals. Since the exhortation ‘Familiaris Consortio’ of John Paul II many things have changed. Two Synods are on the schedule. Great newness is expected. You have said of the divorced: they are not to be condemned but helped.

It is a long path that the Church must complete. A process wanted by the Lord. Three months after my election the themes for the Synod were placed before me. It was proposed that we discuss what is the contribution of Jesus to contemporary man. But in the end with gradual steps - which for me are signs of the will of God - it was chosen to discuss the family, which is going through a very serious crisis. It is difficult to form it. Few young people marry. There are many separated families in which the project of common life has failed. The children suffer greatly. We must give a response. But for this we must reflect very deeply. It is that which the Consistory and the Synod are doing. We need to avoid remaining on the surface. The temptation to resolve every problem with casuistry is an error, a simplification of profound things, as the Pharisees did, a very superficial theology. It is in light of the deep reflection that we will be able to seriously confront particular situations, also those of the divorced, with a pastoral depth...
There's a lot more where that came from. Go read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


And I'm back after a long hiatus.  For Lenten ideas and information, see here.


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