By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tyrants and Self-Destructive Acts

John Milton.Image via Wikipedia
"Self-destructive acts" is my synonym for "sin"  When people hear the word "sin," they automatically think of something pleasurable that others want to forbid out of envy or spite. Screwtape loves that definition. Rather, "sin" is objectively self-destructive behavior, which usually inflicts harm on others also. (Sin is also an offense against the Creator of those selves so being destroyed.) Tyrants are those who want to control and manipulate us for their own ends, not for our objective good.

What is the interest of tyrants in fostering sin? The connection came to mind in reading David Hawkes'  biography of John Milton, previously mentioned in a recent post. Read the following:

A legal slave is one who serves the ends of another; a psychological slave is one who serves his appetite rather than his reason. In both cases, their servility is defined by their pursuit of an end other than that for which they are naturally designed. It is therefore in the interest of tyrants to foster sinful behavior as a means to enslave their subjects because sin, as the Bible also repeatedly stesses, is slavery. . . . But the connection between individual moral rectitude and political liberation faded from popular view in the Western world during the 1960s, when libidinal excess and leftist politics were often associated, or rather confused. Today, when the tyranny of money over humanity forcibly demands incessant consumption and indulgence, so that it effectively becomes a duty, internalized through ubiquitous advertisement, the rationale behind Milton's ascetic radicalism may be clearer than it was a generation ago.

Hawkes, p. 218 (emphasis added).

The political tyrant, whether Hitler or Stalin or the Islamist extremist, manipulates his subjects by encouraging them to violence against others. They become slaves of the tyrant by joining in the crimes of the tyrant and becoming dependent on the tyrant for justifying these outlandish crimes and for protection from the enemies that have been created by this very violence. The tyrant makes them continually dependent on his insane programme.

Yet, in our Western democracies, we also have the tyranny of consumerism which takes many forms beyond the prosaic and trivial form of getting us to prefer one brand of soap over another. The vast and diverse contraceptive industry (just try to name the multitude of different products available, if you can) has a strong interest in fostering fornication and casual sex. The abortion industry has a similar interest in fostering the view that abortion is the safety net for this very same unlimited premarital sex. The vast pornographic industry certainly has a direct interest in fostering addiction to lust in all its forms and in many hitherto unimagined, more intense forms. Each of these "sex" industries is a tyrant in its own right exploiting our vulnerabilities in order to enslave us so that they reap our cash flows. Of course, the alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics industries do the same with highly destructive products. Note also how cities in the U.S. (Oakland, California, is one) are now seeking to exploit large-scale marijuana cultivation for the so-called "medicinal marijuana industry."

 In the West, we think slavery was abolished long ago; but slavery is everywhere. Yet, our "false consciousness" keeps us from seeing the chains. In all fairness, some credit must be given to those social thinkers who used Marxian or other insights to alert us to this false consciousness. (Yes, there are some legitimate Marxian intellectual insights we can note for the record, while, at the same time, robustly rejecting the political ideology of Marxism. Some right-wing fanatics may not like such nuance, but the nuance is nevertheless true.)

Of course, let me not focus solely on the traditional vices. The fostering of consumerist materialism is itself a vast tyranny: bigger and bigger houses, more and more luxuries, manic anxiety about how we compare with others and how to impress them with our material possessions. That over-arching materialism is the uber-empire that encompasses the contraceptive, abortion, pornographic, alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics industries as just a few of its very diverse segments.

The weaker the individual, the more enslaved to appetites that are highly vulnerable to manipulation, the better for the tyrant with a very particular agenda of exploitation. As the quote above notes, in the 1960s and ever since, there has been a riot of ignorant false consciousness: casual sex would make us "free and joyful" and substance abuse would make us "high"--yet everywhere we are in chains as degraded slaves of a multitude of fiendish tyrants. As you can see, the free market's excesses and idolatry get no pass from the Gospel. The free market is wonderful when kept in its proper and appropriate place of fostering enterprise and improving living standards for all, but Christianity refuses to give it a blank check. Keep that in mind when you see Christians and maybe some Catholics who become too closely associated with right-wing politics. The slave mentality is present across the entire political spectrum.

Update:

Having just finished the David Hawkes biography of Milton, let me give my final impressions in order to avoid confusion among my own readers as to what I really think of the biography. I enjoyed and still recommend the book for its insight into the mind, life, and times of John Milton, a seminal figure in literature, in history, and in Christian writing. When Mr. Hawkes focuses on the writings of Milton, we get that wonderful insight.

Yet, like other non-believing commentators dealing with Christian or Jewish writers, Hawkes jumps to premature (I suspect, at times, wishful) conclusions when reading the writings of a Christian like Milton. For example, when Milton emphasizes the origins and obedience of the Son in relation to God the Father, Hawkes jumps too quickly to the unwarranted inference of Arianism. I think this premature judgment of the writings of some Christians as subversively unorthodox reflects the handicap of non-believing writiers who are unfamiliar with the rich diversity of Christian and Catholic theological expression (and biblical expression, for that matter). To emphasize the obedient and servant role of the Son is not necessarily to be espousing Arianism at all. Rather, such emphasis is simply reflecting one crucial aspect of the mystery of the Incarnation. I have seen the same tendency to unwarranted theological conclusions when non-theistic biblical commentators find reflected in Scripture their own mindset or lack of faith. For example, some will view the book of Job as counseling despair in the face of the cruelties of life, when, in fact, it is a much more reasonable exegesis to see the book as emphasizing the limits of the human mind in knowing the ways of God.

(I also noticed in the biography a tendency to find Miltonic references to homosexuality based on very, very thin grounds. This tendency may simply reflect the status of homosexuality as a fashionable and exaggerated issue in academia.)

One major insight that I quite enjoyed is how Milton, contrary to our stereotypical view of the English Puritan, combined throughout his life a love of Greco-Roman culture with his Christian, biblical faith. At the risk of incurring the wrath of the historical Milton, I find this to be a very Catholic combination. Tertullian famously asked, "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" My answer and, I think, that of Milton would be: both reflect the glory of one and the same God. Of course, Jerusalem is uniquely foundational as the conduit of direct divine revelation.
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Friday, July 30, 2010

To Be a Mensch: Josemaría Escrivá

St. Josemaria EscrivaImage by In Toon With the World via Flickr
A friend wrote reminding me that a movie on the life of Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, is in the works. Let me try to articulate the very personal and subjective sense and impression I have of the saint from his writings, from the audio recordings we have of him, and from his filmed talks. He was a mensch, a word that is not so easily defined. Let me give my highly personal take on the word as applied to Josemaría.

1. While always very properly dressed and well-groomed, Josemaría never gives the sense of partaking of that vaguely effeminate fastidiousness that, to be honest, is not uncommon among some clergy. Josemaría is a soldier, a Spartan, not a soft touch over impressed with elaborate vestments and other pretty frills.

2. Josemaría was blunt in a very manly, Spanish way that is hard to communicate to those who have not grown up around Spanish grandfathers. They do not waste words. They are not argumentative. They are decisive and tend to the laconic. They have rough edges.

3. Josemaría was also ebullient and loved life and people. He was not beyond appropriately complimenting the beauty of a lady in public. He was very human and admitted to it. He never gave the impression of being a pious, perfumed, smarmy flower pressed between the pages of a prayerbook.

4. Josemaría was never sectarian. He was bluntly Catholic and very Roman and very loyal to the Pope. He did not play the divisive politics of intra-Church factionalism, even at the risk of taking some unfair hits. There was a simplicity to his Catholicism, the Catholicism absorbed from the type of Spanish grandmother who devoutly kissed her rosary.

We need more clergy who are more concerned with reaching others than with the style of one's vestments. We need more clergy who refuse to draw more and more abstruse lines separating those who are supposedly "more" Catholic than other Catholics. We need a simple Catholicism that knows that imitating the Jesus of the Gospels is the priority, not the latest sectarian faddishness or irrelevant arguments about matters of taste.

We need more menschen. See for yourself.


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Thursday, July 29, 2010

New Blog List at Sidebar

It is located above the "Guest Blogger Policy." I am adding the new links as I receive them. Thanks for contributing to the list.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Wi-Fi Kindle Book Reader for $139

I just found out about the new model at $139. You can get this blog and related books on the Kindle. See N.Y. Times news story.

Submit Your Blog Link

After several years, it is time to start afresh and update my very old sidebar list of blogs. So, if you have a blog link you wish to submit, please do so as a comment to this post; and I will consider adding it to the sidebar. Please note that I reserve the right to exercise full and unquestioned personal discretion in deciding whether to list a blog link in the sidebar. My policy is ecumenical, so you can submit Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Protestant blogs. At this time, I prefer to avoid explicitly political blogs to make clear that Christianity is not necessarily tied to any particular political ideology.

Rare Common Sense on the "Historical Jesus"

Like many others, I have a fascination with books on the "historical Jesus" because of the central role that Jesus plays in my life and because the Christian faith is tied to historical facts. Having said that, I must note that the area of historical Jesus studies is full of much nonsense. Some scholars claim that the Christian faith has nothing to do with history (compare Rudolph Bultmann, pictured at left). Others, with similar-- pardon the language-- stupidity, claim that the fact of the empty tomb is irrelevant to Christian faith even though the early Christians staked their lives on the historical fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. You did not need me to tell you this: erudite scholars with doctorates are not immune from stupidity. I often suspect that such absurd conclusions and analyses are more influenced by deep personal confusion or some sort of identity crisis rather than by the dictates of objective, historical method.


Yet, a book by Michael McClymond of St. Louis University is, in great contrast, a balanced, common sense overview of historical Jesus studies. Let's sample his book Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of  Nazareth (Eerdmans, 2004). Here are a few telling points from the book:

1.) Most scholars hold that the Gospel of Mark was the earliest of the canonical gospels ("Marcan priority"). Yet, "about two-thirds of Mark, prior to the story of Jesus' final week in Jerusalem, concerns the miraculous" (p. 88). So much for those who want to conjure up a Jesus without embarrassing miracles. To do that, you need to follow in the revisionist footsteps of the deeply confused and anti-historical Thomas Jefferson and literally cut the miracles out of the text with your arbitrary scissors.

2.) "While we do not have the fullness of biographical detail and the wealth of firsthand accounts that are available for recent public figures, such as Winston Churchill or Mother Teresa, we nonetheless have much more data on Jesus than we do for such ancient figures as Alexander the Great" (p. 8).

3.) Lo and behold, the "best archaeological candidate for the site of Jesus' death is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem" (p. 128). If you can afford the trip, go there.
The Holy Sepulchre Church, Jerusalem. Catholic...

In conclusion, below is an extended discussion of foolishness written by scholars Borg and Crossan (in my personal opinion, Crossan takes the cake as the most "wacko" of those who have unfortunately inserted themselves into historical Jesus studies):

In the modern period there has been a tendency among some scholars to interpret the resurrection language of the New Testament as referring to the experiences of the disciples rather than to the person and body of Jesus. Such writers will say that the meaning of the resurrection is continuing hope in God, or a sense of divine presence, or joy in the face of tragedy, or some other experience that is religiously significant but not necessarily connected with the body of Jesus. In this vein, Marcus Borg claims that "the truth of the resurrection is not dependent upon an empty tomb or a vanished corpse. Rather, the truth of the resurrection is grounded in the experience of Christ as a living reality before his death." Similarly, John Dominic Crossan [a typically and unnecessarily long and pompous academic name] explains that "the resurrection of Jesus means for me that the human empowerment that some people experienced in Lower Galilee . . . is now available to any person in any place at any time." While Borg and Crossan have stated what the resurrection means for them personally, this is not what the resurrection of Jesus meant for the earliest Christians.

McClymond, p. 131 (emphasis added by blogger).

That such nonsense exists under the false cover of historical, advanced, specialized academic study is a landmark in intellectual abuse. I strongly recommend Familiar Stranger as a remedy for that profuse nonsense.


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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thought of the Day

smilingImage by ambery via Flickr
"The best apologetics is joy."

                    ---Oswald Sobrino

Facing Facts

Senator Truman seeks senatorial re-election du...Image via Wikipedia
I recall an anecdote about Truman. A man encouraged Harry to keep "giving 'em hell."  Truman replied to the effect (my recollected paraphrase): "I simply tell them the truth, but they think it's hell."

We see that type of reaction a lot in human relations. I had one incident where the person insisted on a face-to-face meeting (which I knew would be fruitless) to attempt to quash my view (and that of others) that she need to share power in the group that she was running. I told her the truth in a calm, logical fashion. She apparently thought it was hell. Result: no change. Why seek more feedback if the default mode is to reject any reduction of power as utterly out of bounds? This incident reminded me of the biblical Pharaoh who kept meeting face-to-face with Moses but had no intent of letting the children of Israel go.

In other situations, I have seen people react negatively even when the criticism did not concern them at all. Even using an example was considered "hell" because very likely the person had done the very same thing that was being negatively evaluated and did not want to be reminded of certain contradictions.

Now, let me be clear. I have met religious fanatics with personality disorders who compulsively insult and alienate people. Of course, I am not encouraging that at all. What I am talking about is situations in which egregious behavior is assertively, responsibly, and respectfully criticized, but is met with a stubborn, self-willed refusal to face the facts.

One of  the central keys to sanity is facing reality and not denying it. The Gospel tells us that it is not worth losing your soul to gain the world. In the end, you really gain nothing by refusing to face the truth. Yet, in a perverse way, many of us humans--individually and in groups--prefer to live in lies, as if the lies keep us from falling apart. They do not keep us from falling apart. They keep us apart.

Update:

For the exact Truman quote noted above, see this link.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

The Joy of Concrete Ecumenism

Liturgy in Orthodox churchImage via Wikipedia
It is important to share the following--with our fellow Christians and especially and more importantly with non-Christians, whether they are of other religions or without any religious identity whatsoever: when Christians from different traditions (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant) come together to pray and to study, it is an experience of robust joy, peace, and contentment. Let me give some examples from my own recent experience.

A friend of mine, a Catholic seminarian, and I periodically attend the Divine Liturgy at the local Greek Orthodox church as visitors. We do not receive Holy Communion, but we join in the praise and prayer and are invited to receive the blessed (unconsecrated) bread called prosphora which is available to all visitors after the liturgy. (This bread is technically called antidoron, "instead of the gift," when unconsecrated and distributed to those who cannot receive Holy Communion.) We later attend our own Catholic Mass where we do receive Holy Communion. But the central point is this: we delight in attending the worship of our sister church; and we delight in the friendship we have with the local Eastern Orthodox priest, who is doing a great job at his parish.

The same friend and I also gather regularly with a good, Protestant evangelical friend of ours to study ancient Greek, the language of the New Testament. We are learning and reviewing the Lord's Prayer together in Greek. We are actively translating and studying grammar. We explore theological points in what we have translated. Recently, we have been exploring that unusual word in the Lord's Prayer that appears nowhere else in the Greek language: epiousion (translated "daily," or  even "super-substantial" by some). Since this mysterious word is believed to make its only appearance in Greek only in the Lord's Prayer and not anywhere else, it is called a hapax legomenon.

The message I wish to share is the following: ecumenism is alive and well, and it is a great joy. I invite all Christians to seek out these opportunities for fellowship and study with Christians from different traditions. I invite non-Christians to notice how we love one another and to consider becoming part of the fellowship and communion of Christians (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant) bound by friendship in Jesus.
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Guest Blogger: On Salvation for Non-Christians

Detail - Glory of the New Born Christ in prese...Image via Wikipedia
Praised be Jesus Christ! [A friend] has asked me to write this message clarifying the Catholic Church's teaching on salvation, particularly as it pertains to those of the Muslim faith. I should state from the outset that I do not speak for the Church in any official capacity; that authority lies with our bishops and Pope alone. Rather, I repeat and--I hope--clarify the Church's teaching as it has been enunciated by our revered pastors. I pray that the Holy Spirit guide me in this and preserve me from error.

What about the Muslims?

Some non-Catholic Christians have suggested to me that the Church teaches that Muslims are saved through faith in the God of Abraham, rather that faith in Jesus Christ. This, however, is a misunderstanding of the Church's teaching. Quoting the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day (841).

Please observe that the Catechism does not say that Muslims are saved through faith in the God of Abraham, but rather that they are included in God's plan of salvation. In other words, God intends to save the Muslims, just as He intends to save everyone, for God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). Please also observe that the Catechism does not say that Muslims do hold the faith of Abraham, but profess to hold the faith of Abraham. While admitting our similarities (i.e. reverence for Abraham and the worship of God who is one, merciful and just), the Church does not deny our differences, still less suggest that these differences do not matter when it comes to salvation.

Salvation Through Christ Alone

It has also been suggested to me that the Catholic Church teaches that one can be saved without Jesus Christ. This also is a misunderstanding of the Church's teaching. Again quoting Vatican II, the Catechism states:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience--these too may achieve eternal salvation (847).

In other words, those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel are not thereby guilty of a sin worthy of damnation.

Further, the Catholic Church professes that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The Church reiterates this in the document Dominus Iesus:

The thesis which denies the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ... has no biblical foundation. In fact, the truth of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lord and only Savior, who through the event of his incarnation, death and resurrection has brought the history of salvation to fulfilment, and which has in him its fullness and centre, must be firmly believed" (13, emphasis mine).

Thus, there can be no suggestion that the Church teaches that salvation is possible without Christ.

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus

However, the Catholic Church also teaches that "outside the Church there is no salvation." The Catechism again:

How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Reformulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His Body (846).

Make no mistake, since salvation comes from Christ alone, and the Body is perfectly united to the Head, there can be no salvation without the Church. However, this is not to say that all who are not "Catholic" in the way the world understands it are necessarily damned. But if they are saved, it is necessarily through the agency of the Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.

Attitude Check

My feeling is that, in general, Christians need an attitude check when it comes to the salvation of unbelievers. The attitude of the Catholic Church, which is reflective of the attitude of Jesus Christ, is simply this: "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Mt 7:1). Remember, Christ's teaching is not that unbelievers must believe in the Gospel or woe to them, but that we believers must preach the Gospel or woe to us. For "to whom much has been given, much shall be expected" (Lk 12:48). If our attitude is fundamentally condemnatory of unbelievers, yet we never lift a finger to evangelize, the judgement upon us will be severe.

I hope that this helps to clarify the Church's teaching on salvation. Any questions or comments are most welcome. I only ask that they be offered in a spirit of Christian charity, realizing that we all "have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23).

May Jesus Christ, our Lord and only Savior, bless you and those you love.

In the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,

Ryan Delaney
Catholic seminarian (college level)
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Friday, July 23, 2010

John Milton and Our Human Penchant for Slavery

I recently began a biography of the great English epic poet John Milton (1608-1674), pictured at left. I have not finished it and have yet to form an opinion of  the book as a whole; but I have already found something noteworthy. The biographer introduces the mindset of Milton with these words:

Milton believed that most people are natural slaves. He got this idea from Aristotle . . . . [for whom] a slave is a person whose actions serve the purposes of somebody else: a person whose own activity is alien to him, because it belongs to another. By serving the purposes of another he ceases to belong to himself--he becomes an attribute, a "property," of the other person. Serving alien purposes is unnatural, because it is human nature to pursue one's own purposes, but many, perhaps most, people are attracted to this unnatural way of life. These people would rather be slaves than be free.

Hawkes, pp. 4-5.

Now, often, we do have to serve the purposes of another--after all, that is what being employed by another means. The deeper question is rather whether this service matches our true purposes. I think that in personal relationships we can see this "slavery" more clearly. I wrote recently a July 6th post entitled "Profoundly Irrational and Exploitive" about how many females submit to the sexual purposes of males clearly using them.  This situation is an example of Milton's view that many people are attracted to slavery.  What frequently accompanies such slavery is trying to cloak or disguise the exploitation under a euphemism such as "living together" or even, in the case of some non-Christian religious people, by calling it "temporary marriage."

We see this "unnatural way of life" any time that an individual makes this fatal bargain: I will do anything to get your approval, whether it is your money or your affection or your envy. That Faustian bargain is indeed literally self-destructive. We have idolatrously submitted to the dictates of another, another who, by the way, is certainly far from divine. 

In contrast, the Gospel asks us to submit to someone who is divine and as such all wise and all good, to someone who underwent torture and death for us without first requiring us to even like him or decide to follow him, someone who wills our true, authentic good as our creator, someone who no longer calls us servants but rather "friends" (John 15:15). The Gospel is about freedom and liberation.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Speaking of Living Simply . . .

Palace of versailles, partImage via Wikipedia
In a recent post, I wrote about the Christian value of living simply. While taking a short vacation, we passed several summer homes on a coastal boat tour of a summer vacation spot. The tour guide commented on the extremely lavish homes in so many words: "If these are their summer homes, I wonder what their main homes are like." These summer "cottages" were not cottages at all. In fact, what you saw on display was a mania to add one more thing, build one more addition, impose a new architectural twist to try to outdo oneself and others in these modern summer castles. Frankly, in some ways, this type of display is decidedly obscene, especially when we consider the living conditions of most people even in the affluent United States. It is not just pornography that is obscene. "Obscenity" is going too far--it is hubris that defies sane limits and dares to be stopped in an arrogant expression of stubborn, insatiable self-will. It is wrong both in its sexual degradations and in its material degradations. All such degradations are unseemly.
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Is the Gospel Really That Complicated?

text of the Acts of the Apostles 2:17-21 with ...Image via Wikipedia
Christians can sure get complicated, and certainly we Catholics can. It is human nature. The Gospel is very simple: turn your life around and trust in Jesus. The early Christians are described in the Acts of the Apostles as living in a very straightforward fashion:


And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 

Acts 2:42 (ESV).

Pray, gather together, celebrate the Eucharist. Many Christians will rightly emphasize the need to pray daily, to set aside time to read the Bible and to listen to God more than just once a week.

Yet, we do love complexity. That complexity is, to a certain extent, part of the healthy and natural human desire to go deeper and to try new things. Yet, that complexity, when excessive, can also be due to unhealthy human desires stemming from psychological problems and personality disorders (the list of such disorders is long; the most distasteful disorders are usually a variation of some form of megalomaniac tendencies). In previous Catholic generations, some of these dysfunctional approaches to religious practice were usually captured by the term "scrupulosity." Today, some might instead use the term "obsessive compulsive disorder." In the history of Catholicism, another term you hear sometimes applied to a compulsion toward very legalistic and burdensome religiosity is Jansenism. All of this  legalism and adding of burdens is profoundly ironic given that, in the Gospels, Jesus is always butting heads with the ritualistic and legalistic Pharisees and even explicitly declares that his burden is light and his yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30). 

Today, we see many examples of excessive, anxious religiosity among Christians. Of course, we also see examples of burdensome practices in other religions, often to an even greater, much more damaging, and more absurd degree than in the various forms of Christianity. A prime example of such unhealthy religiosity among Catholics is the obsession by many with absolute liturgical purity and propriety (usually according to their own imagined and ever more stringent standards). If you want to get Catholics talking, just raise the topics thoroughly beaten to death over the last four decades by the various liturgical wars. It would be a much better situation if you could, instead, stir up avid conversation merely by raising topics such as helping the poor, reaching out to unwed mothers even before they drive to an abortion clinic, and encouraging people to live simply. The burden of anxious religiosity is also seen in an excessive focus on religious conferences, retreats, pilgrimages, devotions, and various ministries. No one is called to do everything. In fact, in my personal opinion, individuals are called to only a few, very important things: pray often, read the Scriptures, celebrate the Eucharist, reach out with spiritual and material help to those around you.  That is a very simple list, but human nature and its various desires prefer burdensome complexity. Yet, Someone walking the villages of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea a very long time ago promised us freedom from all of that. Burdensome, anxious religiosity was old news even back then. Why act as if He never came to free us from all of that?


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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Liking Latin and Liking the Vernacular: the "Both . . . And" ("Et ... Et") Approach

Holy MassImage via Wikipedia
My guess is that there are many of us who like both: the beauty of the Latin language (especially in the Vulgate and in writers like St. Augustine, at least in my opinion) and large chunks of the liturgy in the vernacular. There is no logical conflict between the two loves. Having taking five years of Latin in high school, having taught it to my kids at various ages, and planning to take it again at an even more advanced level to renew the "romance" (pun intended), I still as a Catholic Christian rejoice in the widespread use of the vernacular in the Mass so that each may hear the Good News in his own language, as happened to the privileged bystanders at the first Pentecost (see Acts 2:5).

You can find on the side bar of this blog some reminders from Cardinal de Lubac and from the current Pope that the Eucharist, the Mass, is always both Last Supper and Pentecost. It is very theologically and biblically appropriate that Catholics and others get to hear the Good News, re-presented in the Mass, proclaimed and celebrated in their own languages. It is also good, as a matter of heritage and tradition with a small "t," to have the Mass celebrated partially or even wholly in Latin. But this particular lover of Latin (who, by the way, as a Hispanic descended from Hispano-Romans, is himself culturally and ethnically "Latin") is very happy to have the Good News proclaiming the saving death of Jesus and enacted in the Eucharist heard in his own native languages (in my case, both English and the very latinate Spanish). As in the first Pentecost, let the Good News re-enacted and celebrated so graphically in the Eucharistic Liturgy be heard in all the languages of the world. How fitting, how "incarnational," how "evangelizing" and missionary, how "pentecostal," how universal and catholic.
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Suspending Pride

The Tower of BabelImage via Wikipedia
We should all wish to be in touch with reality. Yet, experience shows, that many do not wish to be in touch with reality. In many dysfunctional situations, the human mind often takes the route of denial with great boldness and skill--the terrible childhood actually becomes "a great childhood," alcoholism becomes "joviality" or a "way to relax," slutty behavior becomes "expressing love" or "being nice to others," the abusive spouse (who can be male or female) suddenly becomes worthy of defending against any objective, negative evaluations, etc.

With certain personalities, there is even the strong, prideful belief that they are more in touch with reality than others. I recall one instance in which the individuals actually thought of themselves as quite wise, prudent, and perceptive--yet, my considered conclusion was that they were profoundly clueless about many, many things. They literally could not see the human reality under their noses. Yet, they viewed themselves as insightful people worthy of leading, guiding, instructing, and counseling others.

Docility is a great virtue. It means being open to learning from others. It involves listening. It requires suspending belief in our own self-sufficiency in many matters and recognizing that we do not have it all figured out in life--even if we are middle-aged or older, even if we make a high income, even if we think of ourselves as "successful." Listen; and, if the other is giving you nonsense, then, of course, reject it. But, be sure to suspend pride and denial in order to be docile and teachable because all of us always have a lot to learn for our own benefit and that of others. Suspending pride, suspending our smug illusion of knowing it all are keys to being docile and teachable and to growing in maturity. I see this smugness among many who are in middle age. But, lo and behold, I even see it in people in their early twenties. Pride is the default human condition for all ages. Suspend it for your own good and for the good of others.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Simplicity

Original single story government built Colonia...Image via Wikipedia
I recently visited my local Greek Orthodox Church with a friend and was happily surprised to hear a homily by the local bishop. The bishop took a swipe at the materialism that envelops so many, including Christians of all stripes. He noted that at the end of World War II, the average square footage of a home was a relatively low number. As of five years ago, he stated that number was many, many times bigger.

I do not recall the exact numbers that he gave, but these are the numbers I found on my own. In 2009, the average square footage for a new single-family home in the U.S. was 2438 sq. ft. In contrast,  in 1973, the comparable square footage was 1660. Going back to 1950, the average U.S. home size was about 1000 sq. ft.  Ironically, during this same time period, the size of families significantly decreased.

When is enough is enough? Human nature has an insatiable component based on our own grandiose illusions and on the need to obtain the social approval or envy of others. Is it healthy? Beyond a certain point, it is a sure-fire recipe for unhappiness and turmoil. Simplicity offers peace and contentment. But to get there, you need to declare your independence from the irrational standards of others. I call this independence maturity.
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Monday, July 12, 2010

So, This Is New?

Portrait of René Descartes, dubbed the "F...Image via Wikipedia
Read the title with the impatient air of a Yiddish-speaker. Yes, the generation of  "baby boomers" is, oh my, aging rapidly. If the World War II generation was the "greatest generation" (at least many of them), then what will be the moniker for the "baby boomers"? The "Me Generation" or the "Worst Generation"? I propose the "Obtuse/Reinvent the Wheel Generation." My grandmother used to tell us kids, when we did something inane, that we lacked the "natural light"--in Spanish, "la luz natural" (yes, middle class kids with two responsible, very present, married parents used to grow up in multi-generational households). It's an old-fashioned term for common sense. Descartes, the Jesuit-educated father of modern philosophy, uses the term in the original Latin "lumine naturali" (sic) [in French, "lumière naturelle"--everything sounds better in French].

I was reading the Sunday New York Times; and two financial books (money is, ironically, a very big, very bourgeois obsession of the supposedly "care-free" baby boomers of sixties and seventies vintage) are reviewed telling us to save money by living below our means and also that we are responsible for our money. For that, we need two books? Another article notes the anxiety of baby boomer parents that their kids do not date but rather "hook up." Well, if promiscuity is not good, then you had better rethink the profound value of the premarital chastity that the obtuse generation could never grasp and has largely failed to pass on to its kids or its younger siblings. Then, there is the article on aging, as if the obtuse generation is the first generation to age. Here is the advice given in one article: don't get so hung up on activity as the sign of successful aging, also take time just "to be." Well, the advice to take time just to "be" is good advice at any age. The sooner you start to value "being" over aimless busyness, grasping, and getting, the better off your youth, not to mention your senior years, will be. Your whole life from teen years to age 100 will be better off.

For the obtuse generation, I have my own advice: there is really no special recipe for old age. Start young and  apply common sense and then just keep applying it for as long as you live. Cultivate common sense, la luz natural. And, if your natural light is dim, then the wisdom of the Bible, of great philosophical thinkers, and of great novels and plays can be your lighter fluid--especially, in my experience, in that order.
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Friday, July 9, 2010

Seeds Sprout

The sowerImage via Wikipedia
As the years pass, the wisdom of the New Testament is, of course, confirmed: you reap what you sow. I have seen it in many cases. The person who always liked to cut ethical corners ends up in very serious legal trouble. The female who thought that there was no social cost to being serially promiscuous discovers that she has lost a certain, crucial credibility that she cannot regain from everyone. The bullying, bossy "leader" ends up deserted by former cooperators. The materialistic, status-hungry person ends up in a meaningless, vacuous lifestyle.

Even entire communities pay the price. Cities burdened with years of corruption, mediocrity, and mismanagement find themselves in ever more desperate predicaments. Proud national churches with a culture of dysfunctional substance abuse combined with a dysfunctional code of silence end up in terrible scandals that make headlines all over the world.

In all these cases, the individuals and communities concerned went about their disastrous course of action with aplomb and great boldness. Some even went about it quite jovially and proudly.

I am sure readers have seen the same phenomenon. A word to the wise: tally up the long-term costs before cavalierly assuming that you will get off scot-free in capricious, reckless, and obtuse behavior.

"Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."

Galatians 6:7 (ESV).
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Profoundly Irrational and Exploitative

A young woman--very wholesome looking, very responsible, very hardworking, apparently from a stable family background--does the supremely irrational which is very possible even for someone of her quality because the stigma or taboo has utterly disappeared: buying a home with a live-in boyfriend (read: shacking up). She yearns that he would marry her; he refuses. It is a story that is likely quite common in America and certainly not unique.

Oh, yes, buying a house in today's low-price market with a tax credit is very "rational."  Getting someone else to help you buy it is also very "rational"-- pooling resources and all that. Gaining home equity as opposed to paying rent is very "rational." How beautifully rational and cooperative!

But, is being tied to a sexual opportunist, with his name on the house title, "rational"? Is giving it all, 24/7, to someone who does not deem you worth a life-long commitment "rational"? If you end up free of this entanglement somehow in some unforeseen way and at some unpredictable future time, what have you done to your capacity to bond in unique fashion with someone who does consider you worthy of marriage? Something has been definitively lost forever that can never be fully replaced. Yes, there can be recovery, as the Gospel proclaims; but you can't undo past acts and simply erase their inherent emotional and physical consequences. The wounds remain, not to mention the loss of honor and reputation.

Now, I ask is that choice to create an unmarried household granting full, continuous sexual access really rational for her? Is this now common and very American "Benjamin Franklin type" of narrow, stunted, fallacious economic calculation really reflecting all of the true explicit costs of this arrangement, not to say the tremendous, ongoing opportunity cost of foregoing the chance to meet someone much better who will indeed consider you marriage-worthy?

"And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?"


Mark 8:36 (NLT).
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The Real Benedict XVI

PRAYER IS NEVER DETACHED FROM REALITY
[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 4 JUL 2010 (VIS) - Today at 4.30 p.m., before leaving the House for Clergy in Sulmona, the Holy Father greeted members of the committee that had organised his visit to that Italian town. He subsequently received a delegation from the nearby high-security prison made up of the director, chaplains, warders and a number of prisoners.

  Benedict XVI then travelled to the cathedral for a meeting with local youth. On arrival he paused for a few moments of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament then, following some words of greeting from Bishop Angelo Spina of Sulmona-Valva, addressed the young people gathered in the building.

  The Pope began by praising their "historical memory", evident in their belief that Celestine V is a figure who still retains all his relevance today. "Without memory", said the Holy Father, "there is no future. It used to be said that history is a teacher of life, but consumer culture tends to limit man to the present, to make him lose his sense of the past, of history. But by so doing, it also deprives him of the capacity to understand himself, to perceive problems and build the future. Therefore, dear young people, I wish to tell you that a Christian is someone who has a good memory, who loves history and seeks to understand it".

  Reflecting then on how to evaluate Pietro da Morrone's life today in the twenty-first century, the Pope highlighted how certain things are perennial and enduring, "for example the capacity to listen to God in exterior silence, and above all in interior silence. ... It is important to learn how to experience moments of interior silence in our daily lives in order to be capable of hearing the voice of the Lord", he said.

  "Be sure that if someone learns to listen to this voice and to follow it with generosity, he is afraid of nothing, he knows and feels that God is with him. ... The secret of vocation lies in the relationship with God, in prayer. ... And this remains true both before making the choice - in other words, at the moment of deciding to start on the journey - and afterwards, if we wish to be faithful and persevere. St. Celestine V was first and foremost... a man of prayer, a man of God".

  But "authentic prayer is not detached from reality. If prayer alienates you, removes you from real life, be aware that it is not authentic prayer. ... It is not a question of simply multiplying the number of words", the Pope explained, "but of being in God's presence, making the expressions of the 'Our Father' present in our minds and our hearts, or adoring the Eucharist, ... or meditating on the Gospel, ... or participating in the liturgy. All this does not detach us from life; rather, it helps us truly to be ourselves in all environments, faithful to the voice of God which speaks to our conscience, free from the conditioning of the present moment".

  "Faith and prayer do not resolve problems, but enable them to be faced with a new light and a new strength, in a manner worthy of man, more serenely and more effectively. If we look at the history of the Church we see that it is rich in saints and blesseds who, on the basis of an intense and constant dialogue with God, illuminated by faith, were able to find creative and novel solutions to respond to the concrete human needs of all times: health, education, work, etc. Their resourcefulness was animated by the Holy Spirit and by a strong and generous love for their brothers and sisters, especially the weakest and most disadvantaged.

  "Dear young people", the Pope added, "allow yourselves to be conquered by Christ. Start decisively down the path of sanctity, the path (which is open to everyone) of contact with and conformity to God. Thus you too will become more creative in seeking solutions to the problems you encounter and in seeking them together; for this is another distinctive sign of Christians: they are never individualists".

  In this context, Benedict XVI explained that by choosing the hermit life Pietro da Morrone's was not fleeing responsibility because, "in the experiences approved by the Church, the solitary life of prayer and penance is always at the service of the community, it is open to others, it never contrasts with the needs of the community. Hermitages and monasteries are oases and wellsprings of spiritual life from which everyone can draw. The monk lives not for himself, but for others. It is for the good of the Church and society that he cultivates the contemplative life, that the Church and society may be ever irrigated with new energies, with the action of the Lord".

  The Pope concluded by telling the young people to "love the Church: she gave you the faith, she brought you to know Christ. ... Conserve your enthusiasm, your joy, the joy that comes from having met the Lord, and communicate this to your friends and peers. ... In you, I feel, the Church is young. ... Walk in the way of the Gospel; love the Church our mother: be simple and pure of heart; be mild and strong in the truth; be humble and generous".

  At the end of the meeting the Pope descended to the crypt where he venerated the relics of St. Panfilo and St. Celestine V. He then travelled to the nearby Pallozzi Stadium where he bid farewell to the authorities and, at 5.45 p.m., departed by helicopter for the Vatican.
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The Real Benedict XVI Continued

JP II RosaryImage by Pacopus via Flickr
INTERIOR AND EXTERIOR SILENCE TO PERCEIVE THE VOICE OF GOD
[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 4 JUL 2010 (VIS) - Benedict XVI today made a pastoral visit to the town of Sulmona, in the Italian region of Abruzzo, to mark the eighth centenary of the birth of St. Celestine V, the hermit Pope.

  At 10 a.m. he presided at a Eucharistic concelebration in the town's Piazza Garibaldi, attended by some 25,000 faithful.

  The Holy Father began his homily with a reference to the difficulties the local people have to face every day, giving them assurances of his "closeness and recollection in prayer", especially for "those who live their lives in precarious situations due to a lack of work, uncertainty over the future, and with physical and moral suffering and a sense of loss due to the earthquake of 6 April 2009".

  Speaking then of Celestine V, known as Pietro da Morrone because he lived in seclusion on a mountain of that name until his election as Pope in 1294, the Holy Father highlighted how "he abides in history, ... above all for his sanctity. Sanctity, indeed, never loses its power of attraction, it does not fall into oblivion, it never goes out of fashion; rather, with the passing of time it becomes ever brighter, expressing man's perennial striving after God".

  This saint was, "from his youth, a 'seeker after God', a man who wished to find answers to the great questions of existence: Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I alive? For whom do I live? ... In exterior silence, but above all in interior silence, he managed to perceive the voice of God which was able to guide his life".

  In this context, the Holy Father noted how "we live in a society in which every space, every moment must be 'filled' with initiatives, activities, sounds. Often there is not even time to listen or to converse. Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid to create silence inside and outside ourselves if we wish to be capable not only of hearing the voice of God, but also the voice of those near us, the voice of our fellow man".

  Another element of St. Celestine's life was his recognition of the work of Grace. "What he had and what he was did not come from him, it was given to him. It was the work of Grace and, therefore, constituted a responsibility before God and before others".

  "God anticipates us always. Each individual life contains good and beautiful things that we can easily recognise as His Grace. ... If we learn to recognise God in His infinite goodness then we will be able to see, with wonder, the signs of God in our lives, just as the saints did". The signs of a God "Who is always close, Who is always good to us, Who says: 'Have faith in me'".

  "The cross", said Benedict XVI, "was the focal point of Pietro da Morrone's life, it gave him the strength to face harsh penance and the most difficult moments, from his youth until his final hour. ... When he was elected to the See of the Apostle Peter he chose to grant a special indulgence called 'La Perdonanza'".

  Pope Celestine, "though leading a hermit's life, was not 'closed in on himself', but was seized with the passion to carry the good news of the Gospel to his brothers and sisters", said the Holy Father.

  The Church's mission, he explained, consists "in the calm, clear and courageous announcement of the evangelical message - even in moments of persecution - without surrendering to the lure of fashion, or of violence and imposition". It consists "in detachment from concern for things (money or clothes), trusting in the Providence of the Father; in particular attention and concern towards those sick in body or in spirit".

  At the end of Mass and before praying the Angelus, the Holy Father entrusted the local Church to the Virgin Mary, venerated in Sulmona at the shrine of the "Madonna della Libera". He said: "May you walk united and joyful in the way of faith, hope and charity. Faithful to the heritage of St. Celestine V, always combine evangelical radicalism with mercy, so that all those who seek God may find Him.

  "In Mary, Virgin of silence and of listening, St, Peter da Morrone found the perfect model of obedience to divine will, in his simple and humble life directed at the search for what is truly essential", the Pope added.

  "We too, who live in an age of greater comfort and of more possibilities, are called to appreciate a sober lifestyle, to keep our minds and hearts free in order to share our goods with our brothers and sisters".

  After praying the Angelus, the Pope went to the House for Clergy at the diocesan pastoral centre of Sulmona where he had lunch with bishops of the Abruzzo region. The House for Clergy, built to accommodate sick and elderly priests, was inaugurated today following restoration work and is dedicated to Benedict XVI.
PV-ITALY/                                                                                       
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Monday, July 5, 2010

Doctors of What?

Juris Doctor candidates gather before commence...Image via Wikipedia
In today's highly specialized academic world, many have long lamented the failure of academics to see the forests for the trees. As a recent example, note this very interesting article in the N.Y. Times in which the work of two economists-- who did see the forest-- shows how too many others in that profession have ignored history and empirical evidence in their excessive focus on specialized, highly abstract theoretical models divorced from current data (see link). This blind spot helps explain why economists are not known for their prescient forecasting of events, as this latest economic crisis has demonstrated.

All of which makes me question why we award doctorates in philosophy (Ph.D. or D. Phil.) at all to people who have no advanced learning or training in philosophy per se, which is the academic study that is traditionally focused on getting us to see the "forest" or the "big picture" in the first place. In the Middle Ages, the term "philosophy" had a broad usage and applied to forms of knowledge outside the traditional fields of theology, law, and medicine (see link). Yet, no one, today, at least in the English-speaking world, follows that now quaint-sounding usage. In addition, today, in contrast to the Middle Ages, academic study is so specialized, fragmented, and, yes, chaotic at times, that you can easily find people with advanced academic credentials who have never read a word of or studied, say, Plato, the chief font of philosophy itself.

My modest proposal is that we stop awarding doctorates in "philosophy" in areas outside the study of what is taught in the Department of Philosophy. You should get your Doctorate in Economics or in Chemisty or in Near Eastern Studies, not in "philosophy." Such a move would better reflect the reality that many specialists are just that: only specialists, unless proven otherwise. We should beware of and carefully weigh the statements of specialists who may not, by training or inclination, see the forest for the trees.

In fact, my own professional doctorate in law (the J.D. or Juris Doctor degree) is a good model: it specifically and precisely states the area of expertise, without necessarily implying any wider expertise. Moreover, this proposal makes sense in an educational system in which few study philosophy as a general or common area of required study, regardless of one's professional or career goals. The required study of philosophy for all is, in my American experience, most common in Catholic unversities and seminaries, not in the typical public or private American college or university (but at least the University of Chicago seems to be making a valiant effort, although it does not seem that philosophy per se is required; there must be other, similar institutional efforts of which I am not aware). We should stop pretending that today's highly specialized credentials are genuinely philosophical in character. Maybe, then, more will see the need to study real philosophy and experience the love of wisdom, as a prerequisite to future specialization. We would all be better served. So would their eventual fields of specialization, as the fiasco of economics has made clear.
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Saturday, July 3, 2010

4th of July Weekend Salute

A salute to the only country I know of that, as soon as you arrive by boat or by airplane or by whatever route taken, you are just as American as anyone else, as long as you want to be, regardless of your funny name or accent. In fact, we could say--if anything--that no one better captures the American spirit than the new immigrant ready to embrace all that freedom offers, even if some others, whose ancestors may have been here since Plymouth Rock or 1776, have grown jaded and, in some cases, even shamefully and embarrassingly degenerate. Thank goodness that we are replenished continually by new, more honorable stock. Maybe, that's the secret to our success.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."

Source link.

That's all it takes.