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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

As a Son of Immigrants, This Rings So True

Marco Rubio, the speaker below, is projected by polls to become the new U.S. Senator from Florida on election day, this Tuesday. (Disclosure of harmless bias: He is Cuban-American, as I am. He also happens to be Catholic and pro-life.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Catholic Spain

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the destinat...Image via Wikipedia
In November the Pope will be visiting Spain, and in August 2011 World Youth Day will take place in Madrid. Here are some timely statistics from the Vatican Information Service:

[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 29 OCT 2010 (VIS) - For the occasion of Benedict XVI's apostolic trip to the Spanish cities of Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona, due to take place on 6 and 7 November, statistics have been published concerning the Catholic Church in that country. The information, updated to 31 December 2009, comes from the Central Statistical Office of the Church.

Spain has a surface area of 505,992 square kilometres and a population of 45,929,000 of whom 42,470,000 (92.5 percent) are Catholic. There are 70 ecclesiastical circumscriptions and 22,674 parishes. Currently there are 124 bishops, 24,849 priests, 54,599 religious, 2,786 lay members of secular institutes and 101,261 catechists. Minor seminarians number 1,943 and major seminarians 1,963.

A total of 1,596,429 students attend 5,585 centres of Catholic education, from kindergartens to universities. Other institutions belonging to the Church or run by priests or religious in Spain include 93 hospitals, 72 clinics, 788 homes for the elderly or disabled, 435 orphanages and nurseries, 301 family counselling centres and other pro-life centres, 3,036 centres for education and social rehabilitation, and 400 institutions of other kinds.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A New Website to Visit

An old classmate sends me the tip:

"Hi Oz - rob clemenz here - hope all is well - i'm just writing to let you know that i have created a new web site, which will be devotional to the BVM and also revering all of the people named Mary in the world, past and present (including some men!) - the project is in its infancy but i am happy it has finally begun. you're high end, i'm low end, but in many ways our ministries are intertwined and i just love that! take good care and Happy All Saints Day!"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Ultimate Gift May Be Inside a Defeat

Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the BibleImage via Wikipedia
It looks like in the next few days we may have a big political reversal in American politics. This post is not about partisan politics at all, but rather seeks to use this news cycle to point out how sometimes we are surprised by things that can emerge from our defeats in life. Since 2006, there was a strong political trend against the Republicans. During 2010, that trend has, from all objective indications, completely reversed itself. Experienced and wise political observers know that there is always tomorrow. Some political wag might even say in hindsight that more Republicans would have voted for Obama in 2008 if they had known how he would "galvanize -- to borrow a word used by a politician I know-- their party in the very near future.

In our personal lives, apparent defeats may very well hold the seeds of ultimate victory. That should not be hard for theists to embrace, especially Christians whose founder was hung up like a Roman slave on a cross. As Isaiah said long ago, his ways are not our ways, his thoughts are far beyond our thoughts. That prophetic insight makes for great humility, calmness, and humble optimism even when we are faced with defeats and disappointments.

(As an unrelated aside, notice how I used the name "Isaiah" without parsing out the scholarly distinctions between the various possible authors of different sections of that book. In this context, it is just not necessary to make such alleged distinctions although I am familiar with them. Think of what I just did when you hear people allege that, in the Gospels, Jesus somehow quoted the Hebrew Bible naively concerning its historical authorship.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

The "Honor Less" Society: Everyone For Himself

Cain and Abel. Byzantine mosaic i =n MonrealeImage via Wikipedia
A recent passage I read struck me in its so accurate description of the way so many have thought about morality and human behavior for the past 40 years: we cannot interfere with the lives of others even if they are our children or siblings or close colleagues, we reject communal responsibility as parents and as older siblings and relatives, we follow a culture of non-interference in the destructive, dishonorable choices of those to whom we are bound by family or friendship ties out of a benighted embrace of false privacy concerns (I have to track down this particular source which eludes me right now since I read so many books simultaneously). Then, today, at this link, there is also a book review that speaks of how in past eras moral revolutions were facilitated by a cultural embrace of communal honor, a sense of communal responsibility which is now missing and has been replaced by the very individualistic, socially atomized cult of fastidious non-interference.

That cult of non-interference especially toward the young to whom we are bound by family or other social ties has left many bodies on the field, especially in the area of self-destructive, reckless sexual behavior. The cult of non-intereference claims that it respects the privacy of a child or of a younger sister or brother. The reality is that the cult of non-interference is an expression of selfishness and egotism: self-preoccupation, indifference, complacency, and narcissism. We do not want to bother with the other, much as Cain no longer wanted to bother with his younger brother Abel. We may not outrightly kill others like Cain killed Abel, but we still refuse to be the keepers of the honor of our children and of our, especially younger, siblings. And by refusing to be their keepers, we have in effect killed them very much in the mode of a modern Cain.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Taking a Look at the Vulgate: Romans 8:35-37

Vulgate 2Image via Wikipedia
Here is the Latin text with an English translation (Douay-Rheims Bible):

35 quis nos separabit a caritate Christi tribulatio an angustia an persecutio an fames an nuditas an periculum an gladius
Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or danger? Or persecution? Or the sword? 
36 sicut scriptum est quia propter te mortificamur tota die aestimati sumus ut oves occisionis
(As it is written: For thy sake, we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) 
37 sed in his omnibus superamus propter eum qui dilexit nos
But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us. 

Source link (emphasis added; Stuttgart edition).

Why learn dead languages? Well, the Latin Vulgate is a seminal work of translation in Western literature and in Christian theological development. To read the "dead" language is a way to come closer and closer (never perfectly, of course) to the intangible sense intended to be conveyed by the author (in this case, a translator, St. Jerome).

We can also try our own hand at translating anew into English, at putting Jerome's Latin in today's English to "ingest," so to speak, the resonances of the Vulgate. Here is my own attempt at verses 35 and 37 above:

35 Who will separate us from the self-sacrificial, unselfish love (caritate) of Christ? Tribulation or anguish [in the sense of something constricting or hemming us into narrow straits--in the book of Psalms, there is a reference to the blessing of wide open spaces] or persecution or famine or nudity or danger or sword?
 . . . .
37 But in all these things, we conquer on account of him who loved us.

Then, ask yourself as part of your own reflection: what tribulation have I experienced? What constricting and suffocating circumstances? What persecution? What hunger or lack of sustenance (physicial or spiritual or emotional)? What nudity (personal vulnerability and exposure of all kinds)? What danger? What aggressive, dangerous, and malicious threats?

Then read the hope that lies in the word "conquer," not because of our own resources or cleverness or shrewdness but because of him who first loved us.

Starting from the "dead" Latin translation of a great and historic theological translator allows us to try to capture a wisdom and a deeper perspective that can so often elude us, especially if the text is already so familiar. Yes, studying a "dead" language is more than a matter of pedantry or academic specialization or sectarian insularity and should be more than that.

Guest Blog: Intelligent Debate

Statues of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Doug...Image via Wikipedia
Religion, Politics, and the Value of Critical Thinking

by Ryan Joseph Delaney

When I was a student in Catholic school, we were forced, from about the Fourth Grade onward, to do “critical thinking” exercises:

“In two to three well-developed sentences, explain how John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ alludes to the West Virginia mining industry. Is his representation accurate? How so?”

Generally, these exercises could be found in the workbooks and worksheets that accompanied our Literature and Social Science texts. At the end of every chapter we would be expected to form a well-supported opinion. And if we groaned about having to write in—gasp—full sentences, well, needless to say, we lived.

I believe that these critical thinking exercises were a remnant—like the ruins of a fortress—of the classical education that died with my grandparents’ generation. Like the more thorough philosophical training before, these exercises established us, in a more limited way, in a discipline of thought. They taught us that education was more than a merely passive reception of facts, but engaging in a conversation, even a debate. And I would contend that if our religious and political discourse in this country has become—not for want of a better word—“polarized”, one can credit it to the fact that our people, even our elected representatives and ordained ministers, have forgotten how to think critically.

More to the point, they have forgotten how to argue effectively, let alone in a civil manner. They have forgotten how to construct valid arguments (and I mean valid in the formal sense, not in our colloquial sense of factual or “relevant”) that are supported by true premises. The result is that, argument failing, we clobber our opponents over the head with dogmas, from the Right and the Left. Just last week, the ladies of ABC’s “The View” hosted neo-conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly. He spoke (on the offensiveness of the Ground-Zero mosque), and they didn’t like what he had to say, so they shouted over him. When they realized that their curses wouldn’t turn him into a toad, Whoopi and Joy walked off set. It was truly pitiful.

And yet, I fear it is typical of our religious and political discourse. How has this come to pass, and how to correct it? For it is not enough to bemoan—as Barbara Walters did in the most sanctimonious terms possible—the “polarization” of American politics. In fact it is not “polarization” that is the issue, since by that term most mean the fact that there is a divergence of opinion. What will bring this country down is not our opinions, no matter how wildly they may diverge, but our inability to articulate and defend those opinions intelligently and civilly.

In fact, I would suggest that the Apostle has the best possible prescription for our ills, “to speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). For to sacrifice the truth for love is naïve, and to sacrifice love for the truth is futile. They are the way of the Sadducee and the way of the Pharisee, respectively, and neither is the Way. Or, as our blessed Lord puts it, more poetically, we must “be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Must Read: Stanley Hauerwas on the Calling to be a Student

Stanley HauerwasImage by jimforest via Flickr
Here is the link to the "Letter to Collegebound Christians" by Stanley Hauerwas. All of it is so good that I really think that posting a mere excerpt would be misleading.

The "Letter" reminds me of a few of the sayings of Josemaría Escrivá, stated in the typically exhortative manner of a very different personality:

As a student, you should dedicate yourself to your books with an apostolic spirit, and be convinced in your heart that one hour added to another already make up — even now! — a spiritual sacrifice offered to God and profitable for all mankind, your country and your soul.

Furrow, 522.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Morality in Primates Makes This Theist Smile

Primate skulls provided courtesy of the Museum...Image via Wikipedia
Our Rhode Island supplier of interesting links sends this link to a N.Y. Times blog essay. The lengthy but very worthwhile essay is by a scientist who studies primates. The title is "Morals Without God?" So a theist's first reaction might be: "Oh, here we go again. Another screed telling us that God is totally unnecessary to explain anything." Now, what does the scientist who wrote the blog essay conclude? As I read him (please correct me in the comments if I have somehow misread him--but, of course, I do not think I have if I am wrtiting this post), the primate scientist is saying that he sees in the primates that he observes many examples of altruistic, compassionate, and empathetic behavior as opposed to coldly selfish behavior. Hence, these animals reflect what we humans would call "moral behavior."

Yet, the primates have no religion. So our scientist-author concludes that the notion of God is not necessary to explain morality among primates, with us humans being simply higher-level primates ourselves. Yet, the same scientist-author refuses to join the tiresome and superficial fad of attacking religion by noting that religion contributes a moral framework that we would have to invent if religion disappeared altogether from human society. Here is a crucial excerpt:

While I do consider religious institutions and their representatives — popes, bishops, mega-preachers, ayatollahs, and rabbis — fair game for criticism, what good could come from insulting individuals who find value in religion? And more pertinently, what alternative does science have to offer? Science is not in the business of spelling out the meaning of life and even less in telling us how to live our lives. We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.
Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over the centuries, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately. It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause.

Source link (emphasis added).

At the end of the blog essay, our scientist summarizes his view:

 I take these hints of community concern as yet another sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and that we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today. On the other hand, what would happen if we were able to excise religion from society? I doubt that science and the naturalistic worldview could fill the void and become an inspiration for the good. Any framework we develop to advocate a certain moral outlook is bound to produce its own list of principles, its own prophets, and attract its own devoted followers, so that it will soon look like any old religion.

Source link above.

So our author seems to be saying (as I paraphrase him): we do not need religion to explain morality, but religion of some kind plays a vital role in inspiring us to do good.

Frankly, to the likely surprise of not a few on both sides of the atheist-theist divide, a Catholic can surely agree with the above conclusion as I have paraphrased it! As Catholics, we do not believe that morality originates with a religious revelation. We believe that the creator made us with a natural morality hard-wired into our human nature. Religion does not add morality to our human nature. Morality is already rooted in human nature. This view is what we call the natural law and has its roots in the writings of St. Paul, especially Romans 2:14 and 15 and its immediate context. To see traces of that same human, naturally hard-wired morality also present in our primate cousins simply makes me as a theist smile in wonder at the marvels of a creation shot through with continuity reflecting various degrees and shades of traits that we humans so dramatically possess.

A Catholic can also, more obviously, concur with the scientist's recognition of the morality-inspiring role of religion. Religious revelation refines our natural moral instincts and makes our natural morality more explicit and more intelligible in a conscious and coherent way. Religious revelation also challenges us and shocks us (think of the parables and life of Jesus) into follow the earth-shaking implications of our natural morality, implications that can be obscured by our selfish and customary tendencies to moral mediocrity.

Bottom Line: The scientifically observed altruism of the primates reminds this theist of a creator who made a moral universe that shines forth in the moral continuum populated both by animals and by humans.

Real Clear Religion

RealClearPoliticsImage via Wikipedia
That is the title of a new offshoot of the reliable and very useful Real Clear Politics website. Here is the link for you to explore.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I Prefer Catholic Christianity Over Islam: 12 Gems

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26.8.1919-5.9.1997)...Image via Wikipedia
1. God humbled himself to become human out of self-sacrificial love for each individual person.

2. Jesus did not engage in armed warfare.

3. No polygamy. No temporary marriages.

4. Gave rise to the originally Western, now universal, emphasis on natural human rights, including the rights of women, children, and the disabled.

5. Encouraged the accountability of rulers to the people and hence the development of electoral democracy in the West and now throughout the world.

6. The continuing and current charisms of the Holy Spirit, especially healing and prophecy.

7. A firm and comprehensive rejection of both abortion and contraception in all cases.

8. One central teaching authority in the Bishop of Rome.

9. Most dramatically emphasizes service to the most poor and vulnerable as exemplified in modern times by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

10. The liturgy of the Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments which unite us with God the Father and heal us through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.

11. The continuing embrace of all of the Hebrew Bible as free of corruption.

12. The embrace of the entire content of the four Gospels in the New Testament as incorrupt.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Real Consequences Even For the Forgiven

Acceptance and Commitment TherapyImage by Leonard John Matthews via Flickr
I sometimes think that some of us Christians have a misguided notion about God's mercy and forgiveness that reminds me of the "cheap grace" criticized by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian martyr executed by the Nazis. That misguided notion of mercy and forgiveness seems to boil down to this: "Hey, I did really bad things; but now I am forgiven, so forget about it." Mercy requires true sorrow and contrition for serious misdeeds. Such true sorrow is demonstrated by an eagerness to face the consequences and compensate and mitigate for the results of our serious misdeeds. Otherwise, we are still acting as irresponsibly as we did when we first committed the misdeeds.

The Wall Street Journal has an article on the political ideology of the Tea Party movement that reminds me of this need to emphasize and embrace the real consequences of our actions (note: I am certainly not endorsing any particular political movement; nor am I a member of any political movement, but am merely citing an article containing an interesting moral insight regardless of the related political content):

"For every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty, and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit, and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering."

Source link.

Yes, you may have embezzled $500,000, and been forgiven; but don't expect to be hired as the bookkeeper for your local parish. Yes, you may have engaged in some form of child abuse and been forgiven even for something so wickedly and horribly awful and heinous; but don't expect to be hired as the director of a kindergarten. Yes, you may have been a member of organized crime for years and been forgiven; but don't expect to be hired as the local police chief or director of the FBI. Yes, you may have been lived outside of marriage with many sexual partners, one after another, over the years and surely been forgiven; but don't expect an eager and thoughtful marriage proposal from everyone who knows or should be told about your past.

As Benedict XVI said not too long ago about the sex abuse scandal, forgiveness does not substitute for justice. The truly contrite would be the first to spontaneously tell you that truth. The truly contrite and forgiven take responsibility and accept the consequences. That unflinching, responsible attitude is the best proof of our genuine contrition and sorrow for past misdeeds. We don't expect others to irrationally become amnesiacs. The aftermath is something to seriously consider the next time that we are tempted to engage in serious wrong.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Present Moment

"Give yourself a gift: the present moment. People out for posthumous fame forget that the Generations To Come will be the same annoying people they know now. And just as mortal. What does it matter to you if they say x about you, or think y?"

--Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8, no. 44 (see book image; emphasis added)

The Roman emperor gives shrewd advice. As St. Josemaría Escrivá said, our lives slip through our fingers like water. The emperor knew that truth also, a truth that led him to recommend living intensely and purposefully.

I do not adopt the extreme version (or caricature) of Stoicism that evil lacks reality (a tendency also found in St. Augustine's exploration of evil). Evil is quite real and quite destructive.  Evil exists. Yes, metaphysically and philosophically, we can say that, compared to good, evil is empty and parasitic and thus, in a way, lacking in being and that this lack is its reality (compare this Augustine link and this Aquinas  link). But, in ordinary language, the parasite causes real damage; and only something very real--not a mere lack or absence--can cause real damage.

What I do find persuasive in the Stoic outlook (a particular outlook also present in the Gospels and  present in other religious traditions since the Holy Spirit reveals truth in some measure in varying degrees to all humans) is the emphasis on our freedom to defy the reality of evil without having to sugar coat it. I can choose to live the present moment intensely in defiance of evil.  It is not a matter of denying the reality of evil or of deluding ourselves that evil acts are not harmful. It is a question of defying evil by living more intently, knowingly, and boldly. In other words, we would be wise to live intensely before the water of life completely slips through our fingers.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sarah Ruden: Blunt and Passionate

Yale School of Divinity Coat of ArmsImage via Wikipedia
Sarah Ruden is a classicist and poet (she has translated various works--most notably the Aeneid) who still holds a visiting library fellowship at Yale Divinity School (seal at right). In this 2008 article for the Wall Street Journal, she takes strong exception to a Muslim-Christian conference hosted by Yale and the steps taken to ensure that Muslim participants were not offended at the conference. Here is an excerpt:

The Christian God gave up all of his power out of love, gave up even human dignity and human life. An image offensive to Muslims but indispensable to Christians was apparently kept out of the conference: the crucifix. Often worn over a woman's breasts or on a man's chest, it is an image not only of God, but also of God dying nearly naked and in agony. To Muslims, it is blasphemy broadcast through lewd idolatry. No explanation is likely to change their minds, but we should at least try to get across our commitment. We should state plainly that not only are we inspired by this image, but that we shaped our societies around it. It led us to express love not through power but through its sacrifice, so that, over time, we came to see defending the weak as the only legitimate use of force, limited our governments accordingly, and emerged looking—to Muslims—thoroughly godless. We're not: we've merely got the societies our God demanded, and most of us are happy to serve our God within them.
A Guarda. Cruceiro de S.Caetano 2
The cost of a phony love-fest between Christian and Muslim leaders could be high. There is already a great imbalance in knowledge or respect, if not both. As part of our confirmation course, when I was a teenage Methodist in rural Ohio in the 1970s, we were taken not only to a synagogue but to a mosque and learned the basics of both faiths. But the Muslim cleric who lectured to us clearly disapproved of Christianity, and the minister misled him to keep the peace. We don't want to be called Mohammedans, the Muslim huffed; we don't worship Mohammed, who was a man. The minister jumped in to assure him that we were just the same—we didn't call ourselves Jesus-ans or anything like that. I nearly gasped at the lie, but I wasn't bold enough to challenge it.
I'm bolder now. (It's amazing what a decade in Africa will do to you.) And truth in theology while theology approaches politics is worth a bold defense. Essential to Muslim extremism is the notion that the West is decadent and not attached to its professed values. "Violence will weaken political support for Israel" has a religious parallel: "The West resists adopting Islam only because Muslims do not push hard enough against Christianity." Not to speak up for Christianity with complete honesty sends our Muslim interlocutors home with a time-bomb version of us: either that we have no objection to being like them, or that we are in essence like them already. America has made the mistake of assuming our values are universal, and we may be encouraging the same kind of assumption about ourselves.

Source link (emphasis added).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Suburban Detroit Parish Mission

You are invited to St. Mary of the Hills' Parish Mission, "Have you found your Way?" - Jesus 
Led by Fr. Alex Kratz O.F.M. the mission will run from October 17th - 19th with three evening sessions and morning sessions on the 18th and 19th. 

Evenings at 7 pm:
Sunday, October 17th -  "Living the Kingdom Life: Faith" 
Monday, October 18th - "Longing for the Kingdom: Hope" and Healing Mass 
Tuesday, October 19th - "The Inbreaking of the Kingdom: Love" and Healing Prayer Teams 

Reconciliation will be available in the evenings one hour before meetings
Praise and Worship music will be led by Dan Greig and "Beata"

Morning sessions at 9 am
Monday, October 18th - "A Life of Prayer" 
Tuesday, October 19th - "Being Holy like Jesus" 

A children's program is available evenings for those 10 and under- please call the parish to register your child - 248-853-5390 

Please come and bring a friend!  St. Mary of the Hills is located at 2675 John R. Road in Rochester Hills.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Only Thing We Have to Fear

Through the Great DepressionImage by B Tal via Flickr
Yes, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. FDR famously said it in the midst of the Great Depression. Economic collapse gets everyone's attention and understandably strikes fear in the hearts of millions. Other forms of collapse--a collapse of honor or of fundamental morality or of families-- such collapses do not get as much widespread attention or anxiety. Money "talks" in life and easily takes center stage.

Is that wise? Not at all. A collapse of honor and integrity is far more catastrophic than financial collapse. There are many individuals who are, outwardly speaking, financially and professionally successful. Their inside story is very different. I know some of them. You probably do too. Success can be a big mask for great personal failure. Some lives have become exhausted projects--morally exhausted and empty of true honor--even if they are outwardly basking in social success. You won't hear that truth in polite and often misleading eulogies.

As we accumulate experience, we learn to be quite skeptical about outward appearances and smiling photographs because we have seen the great contrast between the inner reality and the outward show. It is possible to live as the walking dead. That, really, is the only thing we have to fear.

"What good does it do for people to win the whole world yet lose their lives?"  Mark 8:36

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Catholic at the Head of Europe

European Union mapImage via Wikipedia
I do not claim to understand thoroughly the bureaucracy that attempts to run the European Union. But it is heartening to see a serious Catholic taking a leading role in a continent that often reflects nihilism, a loss of nerve, and despair about the future. Below is an excerpt from today's N.Y. Times:

WHEN a visit to the United Nations was canceled abruptly last month, the European Union’s new president,  Herman Van Rompuy, headed instead for somewhere he says he feels really at home: Affligem Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in the countryside here, founded in 1062.
Mr. Van Rompuy spent a day in a simple room, attending services and eating in a cavernous hall where monks listen to readings from a library of 70,000 books. And he also likes the beer, one of Belgium’s most famous, now brewed under license from the monks.
. . . .
A Roman Catholic, Mr. Van Rompuy often seems to be fighting to conquer the sin of pride — in his manner, his dress (he favors brown) and his lack of affectation. But it is a struggle he sometimes loses. He is a man who feels inferior, it can be said, to few, and he is convinced that the modest and back-room fashion in which he is guiding Europe — and quietly expanding his influence — is the only possible way to do it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Inexplicable Joy

pOOr.... buT hAppY...Image by poonomo 
We talk a lot about evangelizing and how to do it. There are even advanced degrees offered in the subject--degrees that the Apostles never had. Yet, we all know already that the best evangelizer is inexplicable joy. Now, explicable joy is not really noteworthy--if you are a recipient of most or every desirable human good, with no big disappointments, then your joy is neither surprising nor especially noticeable. But if, in the midst of disappointment or disillusioning experiences or great trials, you still exhibit joy, then that oddity is something people will notice because we are all looking
for such joy due to the simple fact that we are alive.

We are very good at living, as Thoreau said, "lives of quiet desperation." We have many things to keep us busy and distracted. We love to smile for the cameras (now digital!) and the internet. Yet, so commonly, the exterior camouflages the interior reality.

Inexplicable joy is not just a matter of being radiant in the midst of difficulties. Inexplicable joy verifies itself by bearing fruit, by producing good things. The invitation was issued for a specific reason long ago, and that reason is still current and is still being renewed hourly:

For my yoke is sweet and my burden light (Douay-Rheims, Matthew 11:30).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More From C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair

A lion being used to represent AslanImage via Wikipedia

The Silver Chair is Book 6 in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Previously, I blogged on Puddleglum. Today, I have two more thoughtful snippets.

1. A gnome recounts what happened when the gnomes in the Underworld were liberated from their enchantment by the Witch:

And everyone thinks to himself, Why, I must have been enchanted. And then everyone says to himself, I'm blessed if I know why I'm carrying this load, and I'm not going to carry it any farther: that's that. And down we all throw our sacks and bundles and tools. 

From Ch. 14, pp. 211-12.

2. Prince Rilian can relate to the newly liberated gnomes:

I have been enchanted like you and your fellows, and have but newly remembered myself.

From Ch. 14, p. 214.

Yesterday, I wrote on Genesis and on the great superiority of being good as opposed to mere knowledge of good and evil. The snippets above point to the great liberation in dropping our burdens and "remembering ourselves" anew. Our experience is indeed fallen. We know it. We are clumsily looking for a path back and behind all that is fallen and broken.

But the enchantment of the fallen condition keeps us tied down. When the enchantment is broken, we remember ourselves anew and drop all the strange and alien burdens imposed by a fallen world. The good news is that this liberation is certainly and really possible. The Gospels are the story of that liberation. In the Gospels, we remember who we really are and who we were meant to be. We find our way back.

Plato foreshadowed this liberation when he wrote about remembering what we had forgotten. A few centuries later, the veil of amnesia was lifted in the villages of Israel.

Monday, October 4, 2010

To Be or To Know

Genesis : God the Father forbids Eve to pick t...Image via Wikipedia
I have Genesis on my mind, probably because I was recently invited to attend a group translating Genesis from the Hebrew (an invitation I reluctantly declined due to other commitments). Most know the story of the Fall so well that it is really unnecessary to repeat it. Anyone who doesn't know the story should just google "Genesis" and read the first three chapters of that book.

The serpent tells Eve that to eat of the forbidden fruit will make her like a god. She will have the knowledge of good and evil. I have even seen some revisionistic biblical commentary present this temptation as something desirable: knowledge of good and evil is a great gift from the revisionistic point of view. I recall even one commentary claiming, with no evidence whatsoever, that sex arose from Eve's violating God's command--hence, the implication being that the disobedience was worthwhile.

The assumption in such revisionism is that somehow to know is better than to be. Hard human experience undermines that blithe assumption. To be good is well beyond merely knowing good. To be left with knowledge of good and evil is a crumb left over after the feast of being good has ended. To be good is to flourish and thrive in accordance with our human nature. Mere knowledge of good and evil is the proverbial morning after.

There are certainly many of us humans who wish we had never known evil or gotten to know about the evil that occurs on this planet and that lurks in too many disordered minds and hearts. Simply being good is far superior to that sort of knowledge. The wisdom of Genesis underlines that the serpent's lie is still a lie: the truth is that it is indeed better to be good than to settle for the mere knowledge of good and evil.  The fallen condition means having to settle for that very unsatisfactory sort of knowledge.

Even in our fallen condition, we sense the great qualitative difference between the state of being good and the state of knowing good and evil. Many can remember a time when they existed in a happy innocence before coming in contact with real evil. After that point, we are stuck with the knowledge of good and evil for the remainder of our days and long for a simpler time when we were happy being good without being conscious of serious evil at all. In this way, our lives even after the Fall reenact this lesson from Genesis: better to exist as being good than to settle for the very second rate state of merely knowing about good and evil.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Thirst for Wisdom

AeropagusAeropagus Image by Cinghius 
In my own personal apostolate and friendships, the thirst for wisdom is very much the key to my encounters with others. Regardless of political and "denominational" differences, when two or more people meet who are both committed to the pursuit of wisdom, friendship and fruitful conversation are possible and fruitful.

This same appeal to a common thirst for wisdom is what Paul used at the Aeropagus (Mars Hill) to begin a dialogue with the Athenians in the agora or marketplace (Acts 17:16-34). Today, we are doing the very same thing that Paul did. This model of engagement is very different from two dead-end approaches: those who view evangelization and communion as a matter of shouting at people on street corners (a method used by some fundamentalist Protestants) or as a matter of condemning and condemning without befriending (a method used in print by some Catholic extremists). Paul did neither. Rather, Paul became all things to all men (1 Cor. 9:22b).