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

Friday, May 31, 2013

Good Advice to the Opinionated: Take It Slow

In politics and religion, opinionated people are omnipresent. They often jump the gun, so to speak. They leap before they deliberate. They often think they are too smart and knowledgeable to have to deliberate.

I came across a hymn with a line that gives good advice to those trigger-happy when it comes to criticizing and correcting others:

"Do not form opinions blindly; hastiness to trouble tends."

Now, most of the opinionated, by virtue of being who they are, will promptly disregard this advice. And they will never see how foolish they look to others. Often the silence of others simply means they have written you off, not that you have persuaded them.

(Image below by blogger)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Now, Horace

He seems to have been a mellow fellow, son of a freedman (former slave), who lived life realistically (at least as he portrays it in his poems).

Selections (English translations from the Loeb Classical Library unless stated otherwise):

1. He disdained the busyness of the ambitious and contrasted his own tastes:

Odes (Carmina) Book I.1:

"the frightened trader recommends an easy life on a farm near his home town; a little later he repairs his shattered fleet, for he cannot learn to put up with modest means. One man does not refuse cups of old Massic [wine], and is prepared to take a slice out of the working day, stretched out at length beneath a leafy arbutus [tree] or at the gentle source of a sacred stream" (circa lines 16-22).

Horace is that one man.

The old question arise: if every one were so sane, would our economy be so prosperous?

The old question assumes the answer, namely, that the most important thing is higher GDP.

2. He was proud of his father, the former slave, who gave him an excellent education, both academic and moral:

Satires (Sermones) (circa ll. 89-97)

"Never while in my senses could I be ashamed of such a father, and so I will not defend myself, as would a goodly number, who say it is no fault of theirs that they have not free-born [Horace's father was born a slave and later freed] and famous parents. Far different from this is what I say and what I think: for if after a given age Nature should call upon us to traverse our past lives again, and to choose in keeping with our pride any other parents each might crave--content with my own, I should decline to take those adorned with the rods and chairs of state."

Yes! Here is the humanitas which motivates the study of the classics. In the lines immediately preceding the above excerpt, Horace describes in detail the parental guidance he received. It is a tribute to every dedicated parent.

3. Finally, I cannot pass over his most famous lines (blogger's translation; feel free to ignore my grammatical notes in the Latin--they are for my own use):

Horace, Ode I.11


Tu ne quaesieris [syncopated, Fut. Pf.] (scire nefas) quem mihi, quem tibi finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris [syncopated Fut. Pf.] numeros. Vt melius quicquid erit pati!
Seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare 5
Tyrrhenum, sapias (hortatory), uina liques (strain) et spatio breui
spem longam reseces. Dum loquimur, fugerit (future perfect tense) inuida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula (adj. feminine vocative) postero (to the future; 2nd masc.).

Do not ask, Leuconoe--it is contrary to divine law to know--what end the gods will give to me, what end to you, nor consult the Babylonian star charts. How much better to endure whatever happens!
Whether Jove has assigned more winters [for us] or the last,
which now pummels the Tyrrhenian Sea against the cliffs,
be wise, prepare your wine, and scale back your distant hope because time is brief.
While we speak, hateful age and time slip away: seize the day, trusting as little as possible to the future.

Blogger comment: The older you get, the more you should pay attention to your priorities and concentrate on what you must do. In a way, it is a time of great freedom to jettison what needs to go, as you make your final approach for landing.

(Public domain image from University of Toronto library)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Living Latin

A very good friend of mine is attending the 2013 Latin immersion experience called "Rusticatio" held in an historic Virginia mansion over seven days. I recently attended a two-day workshop with the head instructor (Nancy Llewellyn) and can vouch for her great skill and talent in teaching people to speak Latin.

See this link for more information on this week-long immersion experience.

(Image below of Rusticatio sponsor used under fair use doctrine)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sor Teresita: The Nun of 10 Popes

That is the headline of the Spanish newspaper ABC at this link.

Why is she the nun of 10 Popes?

Because she has lived under all the popes from Pius X to Francis. She entered the convent on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1927, at age 19--the same date on which Joseph Ratzinger (who is her favorite pope) was born.

She is 105 years old and has been in the cloister for 86 years. She did leave once in 2011 to see Benedict XVI when he visited Spain for World Youth (!) Day. The newspaper reports that she holds the world record for time in the cloister.

She reads newspapers voraciously. She notes interesting articles for the other sisters. Apparently, her health has begun to worsen only in the last two years.

She prays very much for Benedict XVI--oh, what a good example for the elderly to pray for those younger!

Update: Sor Teresita has passed away according to a news report dated June 12, 2013. What a marvelous life! See link from Spanish press.

(Image from ABC under fair use doctrine)

When Do You Lack Power?

Looking more closely at some Latin words can be an enlightening experience. I am sure that experience is also the case in other languages.

Take the word "impotens." As you can guess, it has the basic meaning of being impotent: weak, feeble.

But there is another common meaning in Latin that might take you by surprise as it did me:

"not master of himself, unbridled, headstrong, violent, insolent, immoderate, excessive, furious" (source: online Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary).

In other words, you are impotent when you lack self-control. Thus, being impotent is not just a matter of lacking some sort of vital energy but also of not being strong enough to control your vital energy, even if you have plenty of it.

So you lack true power when you cannot control yourself.

Our culture glorifies excess when in fact excess is impotence. This idea of excess as weakness is countercultural in our culture, as it was in much of Roman culture, especially as the empire became richer and unchallenged.

(Image of golden mean in public domain)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Two Simple Ideas from a Baptist Preacher

I was privileged to attend a memorial service for a friend at a Baptist church. The preacher gave a short and simple message with two points that I fastened on:

1. Love is seeking to do good for the other;

2. Life is a task.

They are very simple ideas but profound--their importance lies in the reality that they are so often ignored by a wide margin.

If you dare to tell someone of the opposite sex that you love them, the last thing they will think of is that simple definition of active benevolence. The word "love" has been narrowed down and has lost a lot of richness and fruitfulness in the process.

Yes, life is a task. Life is not searching for the next thrill to sedate us as we run away from our unhappiness.

Link the two simple ideas together: life is the task of seeking the good of the other.

There it is: the most important things you need to know about life from a Baptist preacher on Memorial Day weekend.

(Image used under Creative Commons License)

Pope: Open the door to faith

Blogger: You just have to read this. Many parishes follow the approach criticized by the Pope.

2013-05-25 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Those who approach the Church should find the doors open and not find people who want to control the faith. This is what the Pope said this morning during Mass in the Casa Santa Marta.

The day's Gospel tells us that Jesus rebukes the disciples who seek to remove children that people bring to the Lord to bless. "Jesus embraces them, kisses them, touches them, all of them. It tires Jesus and his disciples "want it to stop”. Jesus is indignant: "Jesus got angry, sometimes." And he says: "Let them come to me, do not hinder them. For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these." "The faith of the People of God – observes the Pope - is a simple faith, a faith that is perhaps without much theology, but it has an inward theology that is not wrong, because the Spirit is behind it." The Pope mentions Vatican I and Vatican II, where it is said that "the holy people of God ... cannot err in matters of belief" (Lumen Gentium).

And to explain this theological formulation he adds: "If you want to know who Mary is go to the theologian and he will tell you exactly who Mary is. But if you want to know how to love Mary go to the People of God who teach it better. " The people of God - continued the Pope - "are always asking for something closer to Jesus, they are sometimes a bit 'insistent in this. But it is the insistence of those who believe ":

"I remember once, coming out of the city of Salta, on the patronal feast, there was a humble lady who asked for a priest's blessing. The priest said, 'All right, but you were at the Mass' and explained the whole theology of blessing in the church. You did well: 'Ah, thank you father, yes father,' said the woman. When the priest had gone, the woman turned to another priest: 'Give me your blessing!'. All these words did not register with her, because she had another necessity: the need to be touched by the Lord. That is the faith that we always look for , this is the faith that brings the Holy Spirit. We must facilitate it, make it grow, help it grow. "

The Pope also mentioned the story of the blind man of Jericho, who was rebuked by the disciples because he cried to the Lord, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

"The Gospel says that they didn’t want him to shout, they wanted him not to shout but he wanted to shout more, why? Because he had faith in Jesus! The Holy Spirit had put faith in his heart. And they said, 'No, you cannot do this! You don’t shout to the Lord. Protocol does not allow it. And 'the second Person of the Trinity! Look what you do... 'as if they were saying that, right? ".
And think about the attitude of many Christians:

"Think of the good Christians, with good will, we think about the parish secretary, a secretary of the parish ... 'Good evening, good morning, the two of us - boyfriend and girlfriend - we want to get married'. And instead of saying, 'That's great!'. They say, 'Oh, well, have a seat. If you want the Mass, it costs a lot ... '. This, instead of receiving a good welcome- It is a good thing to get married! '- But instead they get this response:' Do you have the certificate of baptism, all right ... '. And they find a closed door. When this Christian and that Christian has the ability to open a door, thanking God for this fact of a new marriage ... We are many times controllers of faith, instead of becoming facilitators of the faith of the people. "

And 'there is always a temptation - said the Pope - "try and take possession of the Lord." And he tells another story:

"Think about a single mother who goes to church, in the parish and to the secretary she says: 'I want my child baptized'. And then this Christian, this Christian says: 'No, you cannot because you're not married!'. But look, this girl who had the courage to carry her pregnancy and not to return her son to the sender, what is it? A closed door! This is not zeal! It is far from the Lord! It does not open doors! And so when we are on this street, have this attitude, we do not do good to people, the people, the People of God, but Jesus instituted the seven sacraments with this attitude and we are establishing the eighth: the sacrament of pastoral customs! ".

"Jesus is indignant when he sees these things" - said the Pope - because those who suffer are "his faithful people, the people that he loves so much."

"We think today of Jesus, who always wants us all to be closer to Him, we think of the Holy People of God, a simple people, who want to get closer to Jesus and we think of so many Christians of goodwill who are wrong and that instead of opening a door they close the door of goodwill ... So we ask the Lord that all those who come to the Church find the doors open, find the doors open, open to meet this love of Jesus. We ask this grace."

(Image used under Creative Commons License)

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Spanish School of Latin Literature

It is wonderful that so many old books lying in libraries throughout our great universities have been digitized. Below is a facsimile of an old 1908 edition by a Professor Edwin Post of the Selected Epigrams of Martial digitized at the University of Michigan by Google. When you read the very first paragraph, you will see what I mean by the Spanish School of Latin Literature.

Hispanic culture is ancient and very Roman.

Here is the relevant digitized text plus an easier-to-read reproduction of paragraph one for your convenience:

1. It is a fact at once striking and suggestive that very few of the great representatives of Latin literature were born and bred in Rome; they came from the Italian towns and country districts, nay, in many cases, from the outlying provinces. Of these provinces Spain furnished more than her share of the men who gave distinction to the literature of Rome. M. Annaeus Seneca, the rhetorician, L. Annaeus Seneca, the philosopher, his more brilliant son, and Lucan, nephew of the latter, were all born at Cordoba, Quintilian at Calagurris, Martial at Bilbilis. These writers, with others of lesser note, such as Columella and Pomponius Mela, almost constitute a Spanish school of Latin literature.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

It Is Time

Yes, it is time for the beatification of assassinated Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador to go forward. Recent news from Rome makes many of us optimistic.

In 1980, Romero was killed while celebrating the Eucharist. What more need be said? For more details, see link.

His martyrdom is an honor to the Church that produced him and to those of us unworthy to be his brothers and sisters in the faith.

(Image used under Creative Commons license)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Fortune Aids the Brave"

These words have been uttered by many in one form or another. I came across them again in a letter of Pliny the Younger describing for the Roman historian Tacitus the brave actions of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, in the face of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on August 24, 79 A.D. The uncle died during the eruption.

Here is the saying in Latin: "Fortes fortuna iuvat" (classical Latin uses "i" as a letter "j").

The Loeb translator suggests that Pliny the Elder was quoting Terence's words found in his play Phormio (Act I, scene iv, line 203).

You can find the same saying in Vergil and also uttered by other historical figures with similar or different words. Caesar was a famous believer in the role of the goddess Fortuna which nevertheless called for individuals to take the bull by the horns in order to benefit from fortune. (See link.)

This ancient wisdom seems trite, but it is really quite profound.

Regardless of the limits imposed by our circumstance, we have a margin of action. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we call it free will. Even the most avowed determinist will live as if he or she has that free margin of action. Look at what people do, not at what they say. Within limits, we are indeed free.

Boldness is a recommendation for engaging that margin of freedom, hopefully after we have prudently scouted the terrain.

(Image of Caesar at the Rubicon in public domain)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Francis' Papal Simplicity Is Profoundly Roman

A relatively few odd birds in our vast Church were initially taken aback by the refreshing simplicity of style of Pope Francis.

Well, that simplicity is a very old Roman virtue (and it certainly is a Christian one):

[Augustus] displayed the quality admired by the Romans under the name of civilitas, absence of unnecessary pomp. Genuinely preferring simplicity to luxury, he at first lived in an unpretentious part of Rome near the Forum, and then moved to a modest though tastefully decorated house on the Palatine . . . where for forty years he slept in the same bedroom. A later ruler, Marcus Aurelius, said he had been taught by his unostentatious predecessor Antoninus Pius that an emperor could almost live like a private gentleman. The founder of the principate [Augustus] had already been imbued with the same idea.

Michael Grant, The Twelve Caesars (N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975), p. 67.

(Image of Augustus in public domain)

Dramatic Prayer

Official Vatican Statement:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Vatican City, 21 May 2013 (VIS) – In response to questions from reporters about an alleged exorcism performed by the Holy Father Francis in St. Peter’s Square after last Sunday’s Mass, the Director of the Holy See Press Office Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said: “The Holy Father had no intention to perform any exorcism. Instead, as he frequently does for the sick and suffering persons who approach him, he simply meant to pray for a suffering person who was presented to him.”

Blogger comment: I can hear bloggers now: "Wait, he didn't follow the rubrics! He is setting a bad example!" They should get an Academy award for best, unwitting, spontaneous impersonation of the ancient Pharisees.

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In Pure Fun: Plautus

From Act I, scene ii of the comedy (about the twin) Brothers Menaechmus:

Unless you are evil, unless you are stupid, unless wild, unless bereft of your mind,
what you see that is hateful to your husband, you should find it hateful to yourself.

Besides, if, after today, you act toward me in this way, I will pack you off divorced back to your father.

For as often as I wish to go out, you delay me, you call me back, you interrogate me: where I may be going, what I may be doing, what business I am carrying on, what I may be looking for, what I may take along, what I did outside the house.

I have married a customs officer! So I must describe everything, whatever I did and whatever I do.

I have made you too pampered; now therefore, I will say what I will do, since I maintain you well: with slavegirls, food, wool, gold, clothing, purple--you do not lack anything,

You will beware of repercussions if you are wise, you will stop spying on your husband.

And so, lest you watch me in vain, on account of your diligence, today I will take a prostitute [some like to soften this term to "girlfriend"] to dinner and I will engage myself as a guest to anyone outside the house.

(The above is my translation; I consulted the 2011 Loeb translation by Wolfgang De Melo--I like his term "customs officer.")

Plautus, like Terence, wrote comedies. The Loeb Classical Library editors tell us that the comedies of Plautus "are the earliest Latin works to survive complete and are the cornerstones of the European theatrical tradition from Shakespeare and Molière to modern times." His works inspired the musical and movie "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

For those interested in the original Latin, see below from the online Latin Library collection:

MENAECHMVS Ni mala, ni stulta sies, ni indomita imposque animi, 110
quod viro esse odio videas, tute tibi odio habeas.
praeterhac si mihi tale post hunc diem
faxis, faxo foris vidua visas patrem.
nam quotiens foras ire volo, me retines, revocas, rogitas,
quo ego eam, quam rem agam, quid negoti geram, 115
quid petam, quid feram, quid foris egerim.
portitorem domum duxi, ita omnem mihi
rem necesse eloqui est, quidquid egi atque ago.
nimium ego te habui delicatam; nunc adeo ut facturus dicam.
quando ego tibi ancillas, penum, 120
lanam, aurum, vestem, purpuram
bene praebeo nec quicquam eges,
malo cavebis si sapis,
virum observare desines.
atque adeo, ne me nequiquam serves, ob eam industriam
hodie ducam scortum ad cenam atque aliquo condicam foras.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Did This Contribute to a Soccer Upset in Spain?

Did the holy cards of Josemaría Escrivá (founder of Opus Dei) contribute to the upset victory of an underdog Madrid soccer team over the dominant Madrid soccer champion?

The story can be found in Spanish at this link.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Why the Pope Washed Feet (Including Female Ones) on Holy Thursday 2013

Here is the link, and below is an image of the Pope's letter to a fellow Jesuit who also washed feet in a juvenile prison on Holy Thursday--a bridge from Rome to L.A. by the bridge builder.

Pope Francis is an Intellectual in the Best Sense of the Term

See this link at Religion News Service (credit to M.S. Winters at Nat'l Catholic Reporter).

Here is an excerpt from Professor Mark Silk of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut:

Francis is very wary of those who pride themselves on their intellectual grasp of religious doctrine. In a talk six years ago, he had this to say about the Prophet Jonah, who fled God’s command to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh:

Jonah had everything clear. He had clear ideas about God, very clear ideas about good and evil. On what God does and on what He wants, on who was faithful to the Covenant and who instead was outside the Covenant. He had the recipe for being a good prophet…
What he was fleeing was not so much Nineveh as the boundless love of God for those people. It was that that didn’t come into his plans. God had come once… “and I’ll see to the rest”: that’s what Jonah told himself. He wanted to do things his way, he wanted to steer it all. His stubbornness shut him in his own structures of evaluation, in his pre-ordained methods, in his righteous opinions.

Source link.

We never learn, do we. That's why it's good to reread what we think we already know.

(The image of Jonah in the Sistine Chapel is in the public domain.)

Now, Terence (circa 185 to 159 B.C.)

He was a freed slave from North Africa, who uttered one of my favorite quotations (one that fanatics of all stripes should consider carefully):

"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto"/"I am human, I do not consider anything human to be alien to me" (see link).

Like Plautus, he wrote Latin comedies. The one I read today was The Brothers.

Here is a wise tidbit:

"Life is like a game of dice. If you don't get the exact throw you want, you have to use your skill and make the best of the one you do get" (Loeb translation).

As a fan of the great and underappreciated philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (maybe, his being underappreciated is a good and telling sign), I have always loved how Ortega captured the drama of each of our lives: "I am I and my circumstance; and, if I do not save it, I do not save myself." See link. What is this "saving"? It is finding meaning and purpose.

It's ancient wisdom as Terence attests. It also strikes me that those who get the throw they want may actually be worse off: what they want is often the product of vanity, egotism, and ignorance. They have their reward. For the rest of us, the rewards are surprising and come in unexpected ways that our small minds could not have foreseen.

(Images of Terence and of Latin manuscript of The Brothers are in the public domain.)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Christians Emphatically for the Poor

[Bold emphasis added by blogger]

Vatican City, 16 May 2013 (VIS) - This morning the Holy Father received the credential letters of four new ambassadors to the Holy See: Mr. Bolot Iskovich Otunbaev from Kyrgyzstan; Mr. David Shoul from Antigua and Barbuda; Mr. Jean-Paul Senninger from Luxembourg; and Mr. Lameck Nthekela from Botswana. In the address he gave them, the pontiff urged them not to forget the predominance of ethics in the economy and in social life, emphasizing the value of solidarity and the centrality of the human being.

“Our human family,” the Pope said, “is presently experiencing something of a turning point in its own history, if we consider the advances made in various areas. We can only praise the positive achievements which contribute to the authentic welfare of mankind, in fields such as those of health, education and communications. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences. Certain pathologies are increasing, with their psychological consequences; fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident. People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way. One cause of this situation, in my opinion, is in . . . our relationship with money, and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society. Consequently the financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis. In the denial of the primacy of human beings! We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”

“The worldwide financial and economic crisis,” the pontiff observed, “seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces men and women to just one of their needs alone, namely, consumption. Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have started down the path of a disposable culture. This tendency is seen on the level of individuals and whole societies; and it is being promoted! In circumstances like these, solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance and the economy. While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules. Moreover, indebtedness and credit distance countries from their real economy and citizens from their real buying power. Added to this, as if it were needed, is widespread corruption and selfish fiscal evasion which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The will to power and of possession has become limitless.”

“Concealed behind this attitude,” the Bishop of Rome warned, “is a rejection of ethics, a rejection of God. Ethics, like solidarity, is a nuisance! It is regarded as counterproductive: as something too human, because it relativizes money and power; as a threat, because it rejects manipulation and subjection of people: because ethics leads to God, who is situated outside the categories of the market. These financiers, economists and politicians consider God to be unmanageable, God is unmanageable, even dangerous, because He calls man to his full realization and to independence from any kind of slavery. Ethics—naturally, not the ethics of ideology—makes it possible, in my view, to create a balanced social order that is more humane. In this sense, I encourage the financial experts and the political leaders of your countries to consider the words of Saint John Chrysostom: 'Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs'.”

The Pope asserted that “there is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. This would nevertheless require a courageous change of attitude on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and farsightedness, taking account, naturally, of their particular situations. Money has to serve, not to rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but the Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them. The Pope appeals for disinterested solidarity and for a return to person-centred ethics in the world of finance and economics.”

“For her part, the Church,” he reiterated, “always works for the integral development of every person. In this sense, she reiterates that the common good should not be simply an extra, simply a conceptual scheme of inferior quality tacked onto political programmes. The Church encourages those in power to be truly at the service of the common good of their peoples. She urges financial leaders to take account of ethics and solidarity. And why should they not turn to God to draw inspiration from his designs? In this way, a new political and economic mindset would arise that would help to transform the absolute dichotomy between the economic and social spheres into a healthy symbiosis.”

Finally, Francis greeted—through the ambassadors—the faithful of the Catholic communities present in their respective countries, urging them “to continue their courageous and joyful witness of faith and fraternal love in accordance with Christ’s teaching. Let them not be afraid to offer their contribution to the development of their countries, through initiatives and attitudes inspired by the Sacred Scriptures!”

Blogger Comment: Neoconservatives will turn their noses down at this cri de coeur.

(Image in public domain)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

From Seneca (circa 4 B.C. to 65 A.D.)

As my review of Latin literature continues, here are some tidbits from the Hispano-Roman philosopher Seneca:

I. From Epistle/Letter 114:

He observes that a lax writing style indicates the moral state of the writer:
"a lax style, if it be popular, shows that the mind (which is the source of the word) has lost its balance" (Loeb translation, Epistle 114.12).

It reminds me of the saying--you will know them by their fruits. People's words and actions reveal what is within. When we see art and music that are full of darkness and the bizarre, we are seeing minds that are also dark and bizarre. The shame is that many in the audience can identify with the darkness and irrationality of the artist or writer.

Seneca follows up at section 22:

"Therefore, I say, take care of the soul; for from the soul issue our thoughts, from the soul our words, from the soul our dispositions, our expressions, and our very gait. When the soul is sound and strong, the style too is vigorous, energetic, manly; but if the soul loses its balance, down comes all the rest in ruins" (Loeb translation).

Readers of the gospels will find these words very familiar (notice the dates for Seneca).

II. From Epistle 88 (all from the Loeb translation):

Seneca presents a sensible way to deal with the uncertainties of life:

"For just as I know that all things can happen, so I know, too, that they will not happen in every case. I am ready for favorable events in every case, but I am prepared for evil." Ep. 88.17

There is a sound, healthy core to this viewpoint. You are steady and ready, shocked, as your humanity requires, by the evil people do but never really surprised.

Seneca also gives a word of warning to legalists, utopians, and fanatics of every stripe:

"Wisdom is a large and spacious thing. It needs plenty of free room." Ep. 88.33.

I think that Seneca's point is similar to that of 20th century phenomenologists: we must clear our minds first and look at things with fresh eyes. He continues:

"And in order that these manifold and mighty subjects may have free entertainment in your soul, you must remove therefrom all superfluous things. Virtue will not surrender herself to these narrow bounds of ours; a great subject needs wide space in which to move. Let all other things be driven out, and let the breast be emptied to receive virtue." Ep. 88.35.

III. From Epistle 65:

The Stoic advice: Fortes sim adversus fortuita. "Let us be brave when facing chance events" (blogger's translation). Ep. 65.24

Here is good advice when listening to a discussion by very self-assured know-it-alls:

"[S]tate who seems to you to say what is truest, and not who says what is absolutely true. For to do that is as far beyond our ken as truth itself." Ep. 65.10 (Loeb trans.)

(Image under Creative Commons License at this link)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Niagara Falls and Life

I write these thoughts after spending a day watching the torrential, unbelievable force of nature that are these greatest of waterfalls. They are beautiful as you see massive columns of water pour over the edge of a cliff, turning bright blue-green as the columns flow over the edge and descend. They never stop. We see a continuous, constant, massively powerful but graceful descent, elegant in its beauty.

People come from everywhere on the globe to take it all in. There is a healing and calming effect to see such an overwhelming, perpetual combination of power and beauty.

Our own lives are part of that constant movement, as each generation follows another and is in turn replaced. As I showed my kids the falls, we enacted a pilgrimage to a holy place bespeaking the power of the deity, the source of all life. I know many others see no need to invoke the deity, yet also feel struck by the beauty and majesty of the falls. Our intuitions differ.

In the falls, we see the transient nature of our human lives: how they are constantly passing away. Yet, in that passing away, I see vibrant life, beauty, grace, elegance, meaning, and purpose. That is why my intuition differs from that of my atheist friends. No matter all the evil and mistakes of this world--the falls remain, life endures with its truth, goodness, and beauty, fused into one. No evil can defeat the falls. No evil can defeat the goodness of life. The crashing, continual descent of the falls drowns out the evils present in nature and the evils we choose to impose on nature. The falls with their soft, constant roar marginalize evil and stupidity. The falls persist in spite of everything that is wrong. It is as if the falls are continuously baptizing the world. The idiots who bring so much evil into the world have lost.

(Image by blogger)


Here is today's papal homily from Vatican Radio at this link.

When I teach the Gospels, the Exodus is the theme that I emphasize (in fact, I emphasize the same theme when teaching the entire Bible).

Like a master, Pope Francis takes the theme and runs with it.

By the way, in my personal opinion, these simple and profound homilies are of more value in reaching ordinary people than lengthy encyclicals which sometimes have a greater impact on theological connoisseurs than on the rank and file.

Next time you hear someone criticize the simplicity of Pope Francis, remind yourself that the teaching office does not exist primarily for the pleasure and comfort of self-styled theological connoisseurs.

(Image of Israelites leaving Egypt in public domain)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Loyola New Orleans Gets State Funds for Chair in Catholic Studies

See link.

My native state of Louisiana is different. After all, I never heard of counties growing up. All we had were parishes, sometimes even named after saints (St. Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard, St. Helena, St. Martin, St. James, etc.). Our cultural background (at least in the southern half of the state) was French and Spanish, not Anglo-Saxon.

By the way, congratulations to my Jesuit college alma mater, Loyola University New Orleans, for celebrating 100 years as the largest Catholic university in the South in 2012, and for having survived the Katrina crisis. And how providential to celebrate this anniversary with the crowning event of the first Jesuit pope ever!

I was fortunate to be part of a cohort in an honors scholarship program that required courses in Metaphysics, in Epistemology, and in close study of a major philosopher (in my year, Heidegger). That program instilled in me a lifelong love of philosophy. The philosophy courses were required of all majors, even if you were in the business school. Without the requirements, I doubt that I would have ever taken a philosophy course on my own. After the four years honors program, we were deeply educated--probably more so than many attending elite graduate schools, certainly more than many at elite undergraduate colleges where curricular chaos reigns.

Maximas Gratias, Alma Mater!

Bridges for Listening

“The Christian who would bring the Gospel must go down this road: [must] listen to everyone! But now is a good time in the life of the Church: the last 50 or 60 years have been a good time - for I remember when as a child one would hear in Catholic families, in my family, ‘No, we cannot go to their house, because they are not married in the Church, eh!’. It was as an exclusion. No, you could not go! Neither could we go to [the houses of] socialists or atheists. Now, thank God, people do not says such things, right? [Such an attitude] was a defense of the faith, but it was one of walls: the LORD made bridges. First: Paul has this attitude, because it was the attitude of Jesus. Second, Paul is aware that he must evangelize, not proselytize."

-----Pope Francis at this link.

(Image in public domain)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Moderation is Grace Under Pressure

I recall hearing a conservative, multimillionaire talk-radio "performer" continually mocking political moderates as those who stand for nothing, who are just indecisive, spineless, and useless.

That line of mockery makes sense for him since the cash flow for conservative talk radio is in direct proportion to the amount of over-the-top rhetoric provided to the audience. Many audiences have a natural taste for extreme rhetoric, a taste related to a general liking for vulgar, outrageous behavior and speech in books, movies, videos, and social media.

But it is easy to be immoderate. It really takes little courage to be so. Once you adopt a take-no-prisoners ideological posture in politics or religion, your intellectual life is easy: you have all the answers, the old reliable tropes trip off your tongue with ease and without thought.

What is harder and takes more courage is to let the facts determine your response. Letting the facts in means taking time to observe and collect facts, both the kind you can read about and the kind that comes only from human experience and interaction.

Facts are very difficult and challenging things. They usually do not conveniently fit ideological agenda. Borrowing from 20th century philosophy, I recommend a phenomenological approach: bracket your preconceptions and focus on the facts first and foremost. Only after doing that, should we start exploring solutions. This approach is supremely fruitful in our personal lives and can also be very fruitful in our social and political discussions. The best way to approach reality is inductively, not deductively from unthinking assumptions.

We also have to be careful to know ourselves, as the ancient Delphic oracle said. Our political conservatism, for example, may be rooted in great personal insecurity about our personal identity. Our political liberalism may also be rooted in visceral personal reactions based on resentment or, even, ironically, on a sense of elitist grandiosity. Those visceral, emotional stances shape a lot of what is passed off on the surface as rational discussion and analysis. Both the right and the left thrive on plenty of personal anger.

Another major inducement to immoderation is the drive to reject the good because it is not perfect. If you reject the good because of the unattainably perfect, you will often end up doing nothing at all for no one at all. The moderate knows how to save what he can. I recall the wisdom of an elderly, African-American councilwoman (Fannie M. Lewis) in a major Midwest city when she was attacked for supporting school vouchers: you "save who you can." That approach doesn't mean giving up on others--but it also means not refusing to help those whom we can indeed help now.

The answer to personal insecurity is not to create a right wing world of neat pigeonholes. The answer to injustice is not to overthrow all traditional customs and taboos. A friend I like recently mentioned that she would never again have a child without being married but made clear that she was motivated by practical, not ethical, reasons. I simply noted that the ethical is often rooted in the practical that has been validated over centuries of human experience.

So, be moderate: look for facts first then take a stand. That is the braver option because it requires a personality comfortable with a period of ambiguity as the facts emerge. Hemingway once observed that courage was grace under pressure. Moderation is grace--being able to suspend rash judgment--under the pressure of events until the moment is ripe. The true moderate is more courageous than an ideologue of either the right or the left. The true moderate can stand on his own two feet without an ideological crutch--as long as it takes to get it right.

(The image of "Know thyself" in Greek is in the public domain.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Academic Markers Are Not Enough

That statement comes from me, a life-long student and teacher. What do I mean?

Very many can create an academic product: cite many sources, use many footnotes, follow the desired format, use the jargon of your specialty, demonstrate that the general public cannot understand you--and, presto, you have created another academic product, whether in the form of a book or commentary or dissertation. And often you can find an academic institution to bless the final product.

We often take these external markers as sufficient for a demonstration of insight, intellect, and useful analysis. We are often wrong to do so. While, in academic settings, most of the above markers are necessary in order to obtain a degree or tenure, the customary markers of the academic product are certainly not sufficient to produce the valid conclusion that the product is authentically intellectual, rather than being merely a mime of the intellectual.

What external markers might indicate the real thing--genuine intellectual insight?

1. The end result is understandable and explains its use of technical terms;

2. The product has a clear and logical structure--the reader can follow the train of thought, even if the route is complex;

3. The product addresses a non-trivial issue. In the humanities, the issue should address in some way wisdom for living and for understanding the world (two types of wisdom which are profoundly connected to each other, as all forms of wisdom are).

4. The writing shows how a non-biased, non-committed reader can honestly reach the same conclusion. The writing is persuasive to the non-committed.

Given those markers of genuine intellectual insight, many academic products fail the grade.

For example, in the area of theology, we often see (as we also often see in legal analysis of all kinds) that the writing is simply the demonstration of a foregone conclusion. What is better is to show the reader how honestly engaging the data and the sources in a wide and comperehensive manner leads to the suggested thesis or conclusion.

Start with the sources then reach your conclusion, not the other way around. Approach the sources with a wide and liberal cast of mind by paying attention to all clues not just those which advance your preferred conclusion.

Often, what is presented to us in books is not a search for truth but a justification of a pre-existing view or bias or even a mere apologia pro vita sua (a self-defense) of some kind. The justification of a pre-existing view or bias can easily be transformed into an academic product, but still falls short of being genuinely intellectual.

Of course, there is an audience for the pseudo-intellectual academic product. Many simply desire a confirmation of their views and are willing to pay for it in print or via other forms of media.

The intellectual shows us the steps of thinking, the path of grappling with questions. Many are uncomfortable and impatient with the twists, turns, and repeating spirals of what is truly intellectual. They prefer a straight and snappy path to a sedating conclusion. They have their reward. Caveat emptor.

(Image depicting Socrates and Plato in public domain)

Monday, May 6, 2013

When It Doesn't Work Anymore

Religious vs. Christian. Some of our Protestant brethren often speak about this distinction. I know why. You can't read the Gospels without seeing the conflict between the religious elite and Jesus right smack in the middle of the storyline.

What doesn't work?

1. When your love for liturgical ritual really means, first and foremost, your love for your own tastes and preferences present in the liturgical ritual.

2. When your first and persistent instinct is to correct someone rather than to go positive and find common ground.

3. When your religion reflects more a personality addicted to authority, control, judgment, and structure than a personality that generously and warmly reaches out to individuals.

4. When your image is antiseptic and "white-bread" rather than that of someone who is willing to get into the trenches and into the midst of the messy, complex lives and questions of people.

5. When your religious knowledge is a badge of hidden arrogance (no different than secular arrogance) rather than a lesson in humility.

Pope Francis captured it best: we must be people who go out into the streets and risk the inevitable accidents, rather than just staying in the sanctuary and in select "self-referential" circles. We must be people others find immensely approachable, rather than forbidding and intimidating.

Here is Christian wisdom that is good advice for all, whether they are consciously Christian or not. It is advice of value to anyone who wants to be fully human.

The Founder did it. But the lesson is especially true here, that is also true of many other founders: too many of the followers (and some who are the loudest and project the greatest rigor) end up being the opposite of the founder--an ironic but common inversion. (If you want a label, we can call it "follower inversion.")

(Image in public domain)

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Legacy

Recently, George W. Bush inaugurated his presidential library at the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas (a very nice university to visit with an excellent art museum dedicated to Spanish art and with close ties to the Prado museum in Spain, if your budget does not allow a Madrid trip).

Presidential legacies.

Well, as I read the poems of Catullus in preparation for an exam, I was struck by this word used to translate one of the poet's lines in Poem 37: "clintonize." Well, at least, they don't use the poor, confused woman's name.

Here is the link with a user warning that the content is neither tasteful nor dignified nor appropriate for all users.

Wow, all of that sturm und drang, for this. Or, as Shakespeare would say, all this "sound and fury signifiying," in the end, "nothing."

(Image in public domain)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why Is This Image So Powerful?

The Pope says daily Mass in public. Many have told us (some very loudly) how important the liturgy (from the Greek for "public service or work") is to the work of salvation and evangelization. Well, Pope Francis puts the liturgy front and center: by celebrating daily Mass, as every priest must do, in a simple, dignified, and very public setting. Why wasn't this done before in such a public manner? Never mind. Let it also be done by future popes. I hope the future popes among us are taking notes.

And ordinary people--the common priesthood of the baptized--assist in this public work. That's why this image is so powerful. On May 1st, the day of the worker, we see the most important work, a public work involving and including both types of priest, the ordained and the lay.

And so I propose this thought: Pope Francis is the most liturgical of recent popes because he dramatically and very publicly puts the daily liturgy at the center of each day.

(Image source at this Vatican link)