03 January 2009

I'm definitely slipping. . .

Look for a post with lots of questions later today!

It occurred to me this morning that I haven't begged for books lately. . .

And I call myself a mendicant. . .shame, shame. . . ;-)

Holy Name Devotion

[NB. If you use this devotion, please let me know how it goes!]

A modified version of the Holy Name Litany. I’ve abbreviated the litany itself, added a few modified traditional prayers, changed the pronouns for individual prayer, and cleaned up the theology a bit. I always find litanies to be a bit “messy” in that they seem to be a bit scattered in their exclamations. For example, rather than starting with the creation of the universe and moving to the resurrection, they often mix up the historical elements with merely pious elements and throw in some affective adjectives. . .why not use the litany for catechesis and start at the beginning?

Holy Name Devotion (for individual use)

Blessed be the most holy Name of Jesus among the stars of heaven! Amen.
Blessed be the most holy Name of Jesus among the creatures of the earth! Amen.
Blessed be the most holy Name of Jesus always and forever! Amen.


Prayer of Saint John Vianney

I love You, O my God, and my only desire is to love You until the last breath of my life.
I love You, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving You, than live without loving You.
I love You, Lord and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally.
My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.


The Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me!
Body of Christ, save me!
Blood of Christ, inebriate me!
Water from Christ's side, wash me!
Passion of Christ, strengthen me!
O good Jesus, hear me:
Within Your wounds hide me.
Do not let me be separated from You.
From the malicious enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me
And urge me to come to you
That I may praise you with your saints
Forever and ever. Amen.


Litany of the Holy Name

Jesus, splendor of the Blessed Trinity, brightness of eternal light,
Jesus, Word Made Flesh, Father of the world to come, mighty God,
Jesus, star of justice, Son of Blessed Mary, joy of the Angels,
Jesus, God of peace, author of life, good Shepherd.
Jesus, most powerful, most kind, most admirable,
Jesus, most patient, most obedient, meek and humble of heart,
Jesus, lover of chastity, lover of us all, model of virtue,
Jesus, zealous lover of souls, our refuge, father of the poor,
Jesus, treasure of the faithful, home for sinners,
Jesus, true light, eternal wisdom, ineffable beauty.
Jesus, infinite goodness, our truth, our way and our life,
Jesus, King of the Patriarchs, Master of the Apostles,
Jesus, teacher of the Evangelists, strength of the Martyrs,
Jesus, light of Confessors, purity of Virgins, crown of the Saints,
Jesus, priest, prophet, and preacher,
Jesus, abandoned, betrayed, and beaten,
Jesus, crucified on the cross,
Jesus, resurrected from the tomb,
Jesus, ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father,
Jesus, I AM HE WHO IS!

From your wrath, you spare me.
From the traps of the devil and his dark angels, protect me.
From the spirits of anger, greed, avarice, pride, envy, sloth, and lust, protect me.
From sin and everlasting death, protect me.
From the neglect of your inspirations, protect me.

By the mystery of your Incarnation, you show me my purpose.
By Your Birth, you make me a son of the Father.
By Your Nativity, you teach me to have the faith of a child.
By Your most divine Life, you make me a your disciple and prophet .
By Your most Holy Eucharist, you share with me your Body and Blood.
By Your agony and passion, you teach me how to suffer well.
By Your cross and dereliction, you make me a priest and a sacrifice.
By Your death and burial, you show me that I too will die.
By your Crucifixion, you teach me to die for my friends.
By Your Resurrection, you give me eternal life with you.
By Your Ascension, you bring me to your Throne.
By Your joys, you give me your joy and your peace.
By Your glory, you share with me your divine nature.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, bring me your peace.

O Lord Jesus Christ, you have said, "Ask and you shall receive, seek, and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you." Give to me, I beg you, the gift of your divine love, that I may ever love you with my whole heart, in word and deed, and never cease praising you.

The Holy Name Prayer

O Merciful Jesus, in your infancy you began your ministry as prophet and priest. You became my Savior by shedding your Precious Blood for me, and assuming for us all that Name which is above all names; I thank you for these revelations of your infinite love. I venerate your sacred Name with Gabriel, the angel who first announced your Name, Emmanuel, to the earth, and unite my affections to the tender love which the name “Jesus” has inflamed in the hearts of your Saints.

Animated with a firm faith in your unerring word, and strengthened with confidence in your mercy, I now humbly remind you of the promise you made, that where two or three assemble in your Name, you yourself would be in the midst of them. Jesus, come to me and the company of your saints and angels, for it is in your sacred Name that I am here; come into my heart, that I may be ruled by your holy spirit; in your mercy give to me, through your adorable Name, which is the joy of Heaven, the terror of Hell, the consolation of the suffering, and the solid ground of my unshakable confidence, all my holy needs.

Blessed Mother of our Redeemer! You suffer with your Son as he sheds his sacred blood and assumes for me the Name of Jesus, obtain for me, through his adorable Name, all my holy needs and the needs of those for whom I pray.

Pray, Blessed Mother, that your son's passionate love may imprint his sacred Name on my heart, that his Name may always be in my mind and always on my lips; that his Name may defend me from despair and be my refuge from all the temptations and trials of this life; and in the hour of my death, may his Name be my consolation and support. Amen.

(Best used before the Blessed Sacrament)

Mary, Co-Redemptrix?

Recent posts on Mary, Mother of God and Marian devotions have prompted questions about the proposed Marian dogma called “Mary, Co-Redemptrix.” Supporters of the proposed dogma frequently refer to this teaching as “the fifth Marian dogma.”

There is a lay led group that promotes the dogma rather vigorously, Vox Populi.

Definition of the proposed dogma

Mary is given many titles by the Church: Queen of Heaven, Mother of God, Mediatrix of All Graces. Supporters of the fifth Marian dogma are petitioning the Holy Father to add one more: Co-Redemptrix. What does this title mean? Simply put, the Holy Father is being asked to declare solemnly and infallibly that the Blessed Virgin Mary is a co-worker in the redemption of mankind through her initial assent to be the mother of God and through her suffering with Christ as he dies on the cross. Essentially, the title would specify Mary’s role as a human co-operator with Christ’s redeeming sacrifice for us.

The controversy around the dogma is rooted in the easy misunderstanding that the Holy Father is being asked to declare that Mary is our Redeemer on level equal to that of Christ. This is false. In Latin, the prefix “co” means “with” not “equal to.” In English, we use the prefix “co” to mean “with” but it has the connotation of “equal to.” This is not the case in Latin. Think of how we use the terms “Co-Chair” and “Co-Pilot.” We tend to think of the co-chair and the co-pilot was functionally equivalent to the chair and the pilot. Again, not the case in Latin.

Essentially, the fifth Marian dogma, if declared, would do nothing more than make explicit what Catholics already believe to be the case regarding Mary’s role in our salvation history. She cooperated with the Holy Spirit by assenting to be the Mother of God, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” With this assent, Mary became the spiritual mother of the Church by giving birth to the Word Made Flesh, Jesus (CCC 964). In the same way, any person who assents to the teachings of Christ, is baptized, and lives a life directed to growing in holiness is said to be a cooperator with Christ in his/her own redemption. Since God will not force His grace on us, we are free to “work with” or “work against” His gifts to us. When we “work with” God’s plan for our redemption. we are properly called “co-redeemers” in our salvation.

How is Mary a co-redeemer in my salvation? Assuming Mary’s freedom to accept or reject Gabriel’s call to become the Mother of God, we can see that Mary’s assent made it possible for the second Person of the Blessed Trinity to become man—a step necessary in for the universal efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Without her consent, the Son would have not been incarnated. You might object here and say that Gabriel could have accepted her no and moved on to another woman with the same invitation. This is purely speculative, of course, but had he done so, any woman who said yes would be our spiritual mother and worthy of the title “Co-Redemptrix.”

In all of her titles, Mary is understood to be the perfected form of a human response to God’s invitation to live in union with Him in eternity (CCC 967-70). So, in every sense, we all participate in an imperfect way in all of Mary’s titles. We all mediate God’s grace to others—what are the corporeal works of mercy but our human use of divine gifts for the benefit of others? We all give birth to the Word made flesh—what is Eucharistic communion but the taking in of Christ so that we might become more and more the Word given flesh? We are all “co-operators” (operators with) God’s will for us when we assent to and make good use of His gifts for others (CCC 1996-2000).


There are basically two objections to the fifth Marian dogma. First, a declaration of the proposed dogma is unnecessary since Catholic theology already recognizes Mary’s unique role in God’s plan for human salvation. Second, the dogma is ecumenically dangerous in that it threatens good relations with other Christian ecclesial communities by seeming to elevate Mary to a level equal to that of Christ as sole Redeemer.

In my judgment, neither objection is substantial. The first objection is easily an argument for declaring the dogma and making explicit what is already implicit. By declaring the dogma, the Holy Father will open up an area of theological and philosophical research that is underdeveloped in Catholic theology, namely soteriology (theology of salvation). The Eastern Churches have a much more developed theology in this area in their focus on theosis as the explanatory process of our salvation; that is, the theology that explores how the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection bring the human person into a relationship with the Divine and make that person a sharer in the divine nature. Aquinas calls this process “deiformity,” how the person is formed in the divine (ST. I.12.5).

The second objection rests on the assumption that other ecclesial communities, mostly Protestant, will misunderstand the dogma. Two responses are appropriate here. First, the Church has never hesitated in teaching and preaching the truth of the faith out of a fear that the truth might be misunderstood by those not in communion with the Church. That we would flinch from speaking the truth because some might misunderstand simply means that we fear a negative response from our ecumenical partners. If the dogma is clearly defined to place Mary along side Christ as a cooperator in our redemption, there is no reason for anyone to find this objectionable.

Second, this objection might have more weight if our ecumenical partners hesitated themselves when tempted to act unilaterally in redefining the historical catholic faith. Our Anglican brothers and sisters have ordained women, sexually active homosexuals, blessed same-sex marriages, approved the use of artificial contraception and abortion, and generally made a mess of the faith out of a misguided sense of “reading the signs of the times.” In other words, they have never hesitated in adding to or subtracting from the historical faith when they felt doing so was necessary for their members. The objection that the proposed fifth Marian dogma will damage ecumenical relations seems somewhat dubious in the harsh light of the ecclesial reality dropped into our Catholic laps without our consultation. Why this sudden need for Protestant approval of Catholic teaching?

My guess is that this objection is really more about a certain sort of generational embarrassment with Marian dogma and devotion in general and rests on the need of some in the Church to please those they feel are more theologically sophisticated. How am I supposed to show my Catholic face at the next meeting of the American Academy of Religion when all of my more enlightened Protestant colleagues from Harvard and Yale know we silly Catholics have infallibly declared that Mary is Co-Redemptrix? How embarrassing! Such individuals are left with the choice of defending what appears to be another exercise of raw papal power and earning the pity of their more progressive betters or rejecting the dogma and winning the accolades of their more enlightened colleagues. Guess which one they choose over and over again.

Anglican Oxford scholar, The Rev'd Dr. John Macquarrie, gets it exactly right when he writes: "The matter [of Marian mediation] cannot be settled by pointing to the danger of exaggeration and abuse, or by appealing to isolated texts of scripture as the verse quoted above from 1 Timothy 2:5 or by the desire not to say anything that might offend one's partners in ecumenical dialogue. Unthinking enthusiasts may have elevated Mary's position to a virtual equality with Christ, but this aberration is not a necessary consequence of recognizing that there may be a truth striving for expression in words like Mediatrix and Co-redemptrix. All responsible theologians would agree that Mary's co-redemptive role is subordinate and auxiliary to the central role of Christ. But if she does have such a role, the more clearly we understand it, the better. And like other doctrines concerning Mary, it is not only saying something about her, but something more general about the Church as a whole, and even humanity as a whole."

To sum up, the proposed dogma, as written, does nothing more than make explicit what the Church already teaches about Mary’s role in human salvation history; that is, that by assenting to become the Mother of God, Mary cooperated with God’s invitation to live with Him in eternity by giving birth to His Word, Jesus, and suffering with Jesus while he died on the cross. Nothing more than all of us are called to do in virtue of our baptism (CCC 628).

02 January 2009

Coming attractions

Coming up tomorrow (Jan 3):

My version of the Holy Name Litany

A post on the proposed Marian dogma, Mary as "Co-Redemptrix"

More reader questions. . .(add a few more while you can!)

On Devotional Practices (Updated 2.0)

My recent post requesting suggestions for a good devotion has prompted a number of readers to write with questions regarding the nature and practice of Catholic devotions.

In this post I want to offer a few definitions and clarify some points of theology.

What the Church teaches

On the question of devotional practices, the council Fathers of Vatican Two, in their document, Sacrosanctum concilium, teach: "The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the Liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with his brethren, but he must also enter into his chamber to pray to the Father, in secret; yet more, according to the teaching of the Apostle, he should pray without ceasing [. . .] Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they are ordered by the Apostolic See [. . .] But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the Sacred Liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the Liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them" (SC 12-13).

Liturgical vs. devotional practice

"Liturgy" is used to describe the rites and rituals of the Church celebrated publicly for the good of the whole Church. The word means "public work." "Public" here does not simply mean "celebrated in front of others" but also "celebrated by, for, and with the people." Almost all liturgical celebrations are celebrations of one of the seven sacraments. Sometimes "liturgy" is used to mean "ritual."

"Devotional practice" is used to describe those prayers and practices recognized by the Church that are prayed and practiced privately or personally for the benefit of the individual or other intended individuals. Devotions prayed in public are still devotional rather than liturgical because they do not involve the Church as a whole.

One of the results of the liturgical renewal post Vatican Two was the trimming away of the excessive devotional practices that had accumulated in the Mass over time. Some saw this as a way of emphasizing the action of the Mass. Other saw it as a "de-sacralization" of the Mass. The debate tended to revolve around what counted as liturgical and what counted as devotional.

Regardless, the council Fathers wished devotional practices to continue. Their principle concern was that these practices "tie in" with the Church's larger liturgical celebrations by following the Church calendar. The Father teach us that our devotions must "in some fashion derive from [the Sacred Liturgy] and lead the people to [the Sacred Liturgy], since, in fact, the Liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any [devotional practice]." In other words, liturgical practices are to be given pride of place over devotional practices any time the two seem to be in competition.

For example, the "full, active, conscious participation" in the Mass should preclude you from praying the rosary while Mass is prayed. Think about this way: you would be a negligent outfielder if you played your Gameboy in the middle of a baseball game! There's nothing wrong with playing baseball. There's nothing wrong with playing a Gameboy. But if you are committed to playing on a team, you do not shirk your duties while playing on that team to play a private game of Tetris.

Devotional Practices

Any and all devotional practices should lead you to God through Christ. Many devotional practices are addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mother. There is nothing wrong with this as such. However, you must be careful! Any devotional practice that pretends to replace the proper role of Christ as our only mediator with the Father is idolatrous. Mary is the mediator of the Word Made Flesh insofar as she was and is the mother of God. As mother, she mediates the Word as we all do when we take on Christ at baptism. However, in no way can Mary ever be understood as our Redeemer. Though immaculately preserved from the ravages of original sin, Mary is a human being. Perfected in the assumption, she is nonetheless a creature and therefore incapable of dying for our sins. Mary was not and is not divine in any sense of the word.

Many Marian devotions call on the devotee to "consecrate" his/her heart to Mary. This is not a problem so long as the consecration is directed to Christ through Mary's intercession. Strictly speaking, such a consecration is wholly unnecessary. Christ is immediately available to anyone who calls on his name. You may consecrate your heart to Mary in order to obtain the Blessed Mother's assistance in living a life of holiness; however, read the consecration prayer very carefully. The end result of any such prayer must be the absolute acceptance of Christ as one's only Redeemer. Mary can be a means, never an end.

I've read some prayers that read "I give my whole self, body and soul, heart and mind to Mother Mary. . ." If the prayer ends there, you are in trouble. If the prayer goes on to read, ". . .so that she may give me to Christ, my savior," that's fine. The question is: why go through Mary? That's a devotional question. a question about your affective needs and preferences. Such a prayer is never necessary for your salvation.

The best way to understand devotional practices is to see them as "icing on the cake" or "gravy on the potatoes." A very good thing to have available but not strictly necessary for good spiritual nutrition. You can live a perfectly holy and healthy Catholic life without ever praying the rosary or attending Eucharistic adoration or consecrating your heart to Mary. You cannot be a healthy Catholic without the liturgy of the sacraments.

Now, I heartily recommend the rosary, Eucharistic adoration, and Marian consecrations. All are perfectly good things to do to foster holiness. But remember: your baptismal goal is to become Christ. He is your principal means and your ONLY end.

Update: NB. I am not attacking Marian devotions in this post. I am merely urging Catholics to keep Marian devotions (all devotions) in their proper place. No Catholic is required to offer Mary devotion as a matter of his/her salvation. Assent to the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, however, is not optional for Catholics. These dogmas are "definitive of the faith," that is, they are "de fide," of the deposit of faith and as such must be held by all the faithful.

Update 2.0: I should have mentioned this earlier. . .be very wary of any novena or litany that "guarantees" results. Devotions that make claims like "never known to fail" teach an incredibly magical notion of prayer. Litanies, novenas, rosaries are NOT magical spells that guarantee anything. They are prayers of praise and thanksgiving that help us to align ourselves with God's will for us and better prepare us to receive His gifts. I have seen too many "Novenas to the Big Toe of St Bubba: Guaranteed to Work!" booklets in Churches to know that this sort of thing is legion. You know what I'm talking about: "Pray this novena for nine days while walking counter clockwise around the Church nine times and put nine of these booklets in nine different Churches. . .and your wish will be granted!" This is superstitious nonsense and no Catholic who is serious about their prayer life will bother with it. Now, someone is going to leave a combox message telling me that they have prayed this sort of novena for the last hundred years and everything they have ever prayed for has been granted. Great! God gave you the blessings you asked for. The magical novena had nothing to do with it. You prayed according to God's will for you and received His blessings with thanksgiving. Give God the credit, not the magical novena.

01 January 2009

Help Fr. Philip Pick a Devotion (UPDATED)

My students at the University of Dallas frequently heard me say, "I am orthodox but not very pious." By this I mean that I am "right believing" but not always as affectively aligned with God as I should be. This misalignment is most evident in the fact that I can rightly parse theology but often have difficulty reacting pastorally. Now, as I have written many, many times: "Truth is always pastoral!" Veritas in caritas. The veritas I can handle. The caritas is sometimes more of a problem.

My partial solution to this difficulty is to adopt a devotional practice that pushes me further into my affective relationship with God. So, I am resolved to start and persevere in a devotional practice that assists me in this.

I am familiar with all the common devotions: rosary, Eucharistic adoration, Sacred Heart, etc.

Tell me (and us) about a devotion you practice that might be a bit unusual but nonetheless spiritual beneficial.

It goes without saying (he says), that the practice should be consistent with Church teaching.

UPDATE: Wow. . .thanks for the outpouring of good suggestions and advice. . .I've decided to take a typically "Fr. Philip approach." I'm going to writing my own devotion! using traditional prayers. I'll post it when I'm done!

Mary, Mother of God

The Solemnity of the Mary, Mother of God, celebrates the decision taken at the Council of Ephesus (431) against the teaching of the Patriarch, Nestorius, who held that a human person could not be said to have given birth to God. The Patriarch of Alexander, Cyril, argued that Mary, as the chosen instrument of the Incarnation, conceived and gave birth to the Word, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, one person with two natures. Mary, then, is properly understood to be “Theotokos,” God-bearer.

Cyril wrote (in part) to Nestorius:

"And since the holy Virgin brought forth corporally God made one with flesh according to nature, for this reason we also call her Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh.

For In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God, and he is the Maker of the ages, coeternal with the Father, and Creator of all; but, as we have already said, since he united to himself hypostatically human nature from her womb, also he subjected himself to birth as man, not as needing necessarily in his own nature birth in time and in these last times of the world, but in order that he might bless the beginning of our existence, and that that which sent the earthly bodies of our whole race to death, might lose its power for the future by his being born of a woman in the flesh. And this: In sorrow you shall bring forth children, being removed through him, he showed the truth of that spoken by the prophet, Strong death swallowed them up, and again God has wiped away every tear from off all faces. For this cause also we say that he attended, having been called, and also blessed, the marriage in Cana of Galilee, with his holy Apostles in accordance with the economy. We have been taught to hold these things by the holy Apostles and Evangelists, and all the God-inspired Scriptures, and in the true confessions of the blessed Fathers."

Cryril published twelve anathemas against Nestorius. Cyril's letters and his anathemas became the primary texts from which the council fathers drew up their canons for the council.

The first anathema reads: “If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, The Word was made flesh] let him be anathema.”

The fifth anathema reads: “If anyone shall dare to say that the Christ is a Theophorus [that is, God-bearing] man and not rather that he is very God, as an only Son through nature, because the Word was made flesh, and has a share in flesh and blood as we do: let him be anathema.”

As is the case with all Marian dogma and doctrine, we are immediately directed back to Christ as our Lord and Savior. No Marian dogma or doctrine is declared or defined in isolation from Christ. She is always understood to be an exemplar for the Church and a sign through which we come to a more perfect union with Christ. Though our Blessed Mother is rightly revered and venerated, she is never worshiped as if she were divine. She is rightly understood as the Mediatrix of All Graces in so far as she mediated, through her own body, the conception and birth of Christ, who is Grace Himself. In no sense are we to understand our Blessed Mother as the source of grace. Rather, she was and is a conduit through which we benefit from the only mediation between God and man, Christ. In her immaculate conception and assumption into heaven, our Blessed Mother is herself a beneficiary of Christ's grace. As such, she cannot be the source of our blessedness, our giftedness in Christ.

31 December 2008

On Spiritual Directors

When looking for a good spiritual director, it is standard practice to interview the potential S.D. first. The idea is not to weed out those who are going to challenge you or disagree with you. The idea is find one who holds and practice the Catholic faith as taught by the Church and is able to actually help you grow in holiness.

Ask the following questions politely. There is no need to be offensive or defensive. You are not an Inquisitor. You are not hunting heresy. If it turns out that the potential S.D. is some kind of New Age kook, you are obligated to keep that assessment to yourself. The obligation to confidentiality binds both the director and the directee.

A few cautions up front:

1). Do not be impressed with S.D.'s who have credentials in spiritual direction. Most spiritual direction programs in the U.S. teach their students amateur forms of guru-ism and occult gibberish.

2). Do not be impressed by titles like "Father," "Sister," "Brother," or "Doctor." Anyone holding any of these titles can be dodgy.

3). Do not be impressed by celebrity or ecclesial status. Abbot Father Dr. Alred Boniface Schultz of the St. Labyrinth Benedominican Monastery, author of 46 books on meditation and a national speaker, can be as big a moonbat as anyone.

4). Do not be impressed by the potential S.D.'s personal piety, orthodox theology, solid publishing record with the best Catholic houses, or his/her reputation for brilliant spiritual direction. Every director/directee relationship is different. What works for you, might not work for me. And being a good S.D. takes more than unwavering allegiance to the magisterium.

5). Do not be impressed by a potential S.D.'s willingness, even eagerness, to take you on as a directee. In fact, I would interpret any sort of "salemanship" on the part of the S.D. as creepy and immediately disqualify him/her.

Questions (with the qualification that he/she may say, "'Nunya."):

--Tell me about your spiritual life, your daily spiritual routine, your prayer life.

--What are your strengths as a S.D.? Weaknesses?

--Tell me about your experience as a S.D. How many years? What sorts of directees?

--How would you describe your relationship to the Church? The local bishop? The Holy Father?

--What do you think of commonly used spiritual direction tools like the Ennegram, labrynith?

--What do you think of personal devotions like the rosary, novenas, etc.?

--What authors/books do you regularly read and recommend?

--Have you had any spiritual direction training? Where and what kind?

--What's your understanding of the sacraments, esp. Mass, confession, marriage?

--How do you understand the relationship btw God and creation?

--How do you understand holiness, goodness, morality, sin, etc.?

--Do you use fasting or other sorts of penance in your direction?

--My biggest spititual difficulty is X. How would begin to approach this problem?

--My greatest spiritual gift is X. How would you direct me to use this gift?

--Generally speaking, from what sources do you pull from for inspiration as a S.D.?

Keep in mind that you are being interviewed as well. I have turned down potential directees b/c I didn't have the particular gifts to deal with their challenges. I have also been "fired" as a S.D. for being too theologically orthodox and for being "too hard."

Do you want someone who will "kick butt and take names"?
Or someone who will be more of a gentle listener, a guide?
Or someone who will function as a teacher, a model?
Or someone who will sympathize but challenge nonetheless?
Or someone who maintains an emotional distance and directs you?
Or someone who will "get in there with you" and fight?
Or someone versatile enough to shift among these as needed?

You really have to know yourself before choosing a S.D. But you also have to be open to change and growth. I find it very difficult to get a good S.D. because I need a "kick butt and take names" kinda director. I need someone who can look me in the eye and tell me how full of crap I am. Not many of those around these days. . .sigh. . .

30 December 2008

Guidelines for Faithful Catholic Reading (Updated)

Question. . .

1). Can you give me some guidelines about what books are OK for Catholics to read?

Sure, but first you have to decide where you are on your road to be perfected with God's grace. For someone who is intellectually and spiritually solid, that is, someone who thinks with the Church and believes with the Church, most anything is appropriate so long as you approach it with a strong critical eye. A Catholic who knows his/her faith well and holds to it tenaciously will not be easily dislodged from the Body. Now, I do not mean to say here that you must be a closed-mined anti-intellectual with your mind made-up already. What I mean to say is that your relationship with God through the Church is sufficiently strong that you "see" the world through your faith. Some tend to make their faith (or Church teachings) as just one more compartment of their lives that can be kept separate from their personal relationships, their politics, their jobs. This sort of compartmentalization gives us divorced/re-married, pro-abortion Catholic Republicans who work for Greenpeace and who see no contradictions in their lives yet wonder why they are unhappy!

If you are new to the faith, your situation is quite different and I would urge a different approach. So much of our faith is about just living day to day with the sacraments, in personal prayer and service. The more intellectual side of the faith is attractive b/c it allows a certain distance from the grubbiness of working on our perfection in grace. That's a trap. Our faith is about beliefs and works, knowing and doing, trusting and acting. For a new Catholic, I would suggest that you ground your first few years in the Church in three things: 1) frequent use of the sacraments (Mass, confession, etc.) and a prayerful devotion (rosary, etc.); 2) stick to the basics in your reading--the Catechism, a good "treasury of Catholic writing" type book, the Bible; and 3) do volunteer work consistent with our tradition (pro-life work, St Vincent de Paul Society, etc.). Your intellectual needs will arise out of these and give you a better direction for reading.

NB. If you have a copy of Richard McBrien's popular work, Catholicism, throw it away. It's useless for understanding the faith. I mention this book in particular because it is one that most new Catholics buy for instruction and is widely used in diocesan RCIA programs. Though he gets some things right, he has been admonished multiple times by the American bishops to revise the errors in this book, and he has steadfastly refused. Most of it is modernist nonsense and heresy.

General Guidelines for all Catholics

Catholics have nothing to fear from reading material that opposes the Church or attacks our faith. God is in control not us. The question for your reading choices is this: will this book help me to better cooperate with God's grace given through the Church to grow in perfection? If not, don't waste your time. If so, try it out.

Don't waste your time on most of the books in the Self-Help section of your bookstore. There is no such thing as "self-help" for Catholics. "Self-help" is just Pelagianism and gnosticism dressed up in pop-psychology. God helps us and we cooperate with that help.

Don't waste you time on most of the books in the Spirituality section of your bookstore. Most of these are New Age and neo-pagan garbage. The only good thing about these books is that they don't lie about their non-Christian origins and pretend to be helpful to Catholics. This section will likely include many books with Christ, christian, Catholic, etc. in the titles. Don't be fooled.

Don't waste your time on most of the books in the Christian Inspiration section of your bookstore. Most of these are fundamentalist Protestant or "community church" movement versions of Positive Thinking pseudo-theology or Purpose-Driven Life drivel. The fiction is mostly anti-Catholic nonsense from a fundie Prot perspective, i.e. the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon in the Book of Revelation blahblahblah.

In the bookstore, go to the Christian religion section and look for books published by Ignatius Press. These books are normally written for intelligent Catholics who are curious about growing with Christ in his Church and who want to do more than memorize the Catechism but aren't yet willing or able to put in the time and effort to delve full-time in the complicated academic world of Catholic theology. They well-written, solidly orthodox, challenging, but not high-brow theology. Now, having said all of that, let me add: Ignatius Press does publish some very, very high brow stuff. They publish Hans Urs von Balthazar. There are probably three people in the world who have read his stuff and understood it. One of them currently occupies the Chair of Peter. The other two teach at Oxford University and one of them has decided that von Balthazar is probably dangerous to the faith. But generally, Ignatius Press is the way to go.

UPDATE: from the comboxes I want to add two publishers:

TAN Books: mostly reprints of Catholic classics
Our Sunday Visitor: contemporary spirituality, theology of moderate difficulty

Spend some money on a good Catholic theological dictionary (O'Collins is good, so is Hardon). This can help you get a grasp of basic terms and usage. Also there are a number of "shorter catechisms" out there as well as catechisms written for adults.

Some new Catholics like to jump into the classical Catholic spiritual tradition (mostly writers like John of the Cross, Thomas a Kempis, Theresa of Avila). If you can read this stuff and it helps, go for it! Generally, I steer young Catholics and those new to the Church away from these texts because these mystics and saints are writing to and for monks, nuns, priests who have been at this perfection in grace thing for a long while. Many of my spiritual directees at U.D. were reading Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. This is a classic Catholic work. It is also a dangerous book for those not ready to use it properly. And the proper way to use it is with an experienced spiritual director! A requirement, by the way, that the saint himself insists on. These classic texts require religious maturity and a deep discernment. They are NOT textbooks or DIY manuals.

Finally, for all Catholics, check everything you are reading against the Catechism. This sounds juvenile, I know. However, the Catechism, for all of its structural flaws and misplaced emphasises, is a distillation of 2,000 years of Catholic wisdom. Use the index to find specific topics. There are a number of searchable Catechisms on-line. There is a book titled A The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church that contains the texts of all the footnotes in the Catechsim. Having this book handy can make your reading easier. You can read the CCC as a book, starting on page one and going to the end. It is a "one piece" book in that understanding page two requires that you understand page one. Using it as a reference book is OK, but don't expect to get fullsome answers 100% of the time. You will still have to think through most of your questions with a critical mind.


If you are new to the faith and/or not sure of your spiritual maturity, I would caution you against the following:

--trying to read advanced works of theology/spirituality
--works of spirituality without a solidly orthodox spiritual director
--works that claim to combine Catholicism with some other spiritual tradition (New Agey junk)
--"self-help" books, even ones claiming to be Christian/Catholic
--avoid identity politics theologies: feminist, queer, black/latino, liberation, ecological theologies
--books of private revelations, "An angel came to me and told me that. . ." type books
--books that stress "spiritual warfare" or "apocalyptic" themes; "end times"
--purely "social justice" works, i.e., books that focus on good works alone
--books by self-anointed prophets and mystics
--books about a Catholic spirituality using the "new cosmologies," junk science, junk theology
--Merton's later works, i.e. his Buddhist writings & his peace/justice writing; early work is great
--anything by any of the following popular writers: Eckhart Tolle, Don Miguel Ruiz, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Jon Kabat-Zin, Anthony De Mello, Ken Wilber, Brian Swimme, Thomas Berry, Fritjof Capra, Elaine Pagels, Joan Chittister, Richard McBrien, Matthew Fox, and Richard Rohr. This is not a comprehensive list, just a mention of authors I've read and have found damaging.
--generally books published by Orbis Books, Paulist Press*, St Anthony Messenger Press, The Liturgical Press are dodgy though not always. . .just a caution.
--big caution: books about Ennegrams, centering prayer, yoga, angelic prayers, Buddhism
--basically anything that negatively challenges your faith too early in your growth

Let me also direct you to a recent post titled "Can Catholics Dabble in the New Age Practices?" Under section three ("Discernment") of this post you will find a fairly comprehensive set of questions designed to steer you clear of dangerous spiritual practices. To apply these questions to your reading habits, just replace "Does this practice. . .?" with "Does this book. . .?"

A (very) few recommendations:

Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (adults, moderately advanced)
Joseph Ratzinger, God is Near Us: the Eucharist, the Heart of Life (adults)
Robert Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (adults)
Pope Benedict XVI, The Church Fathers (adults)
Romano Cessario, Introduction to Moral Theology (adults)
Kenan Osborne, Sacramental Theology: A General Introduction (adults, advanced)
John O'Connor, The Catholic Prayer Book (general)
Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics (advanced)
Servais Pinckaers, Morality: The Catholic View (adult)

Happy reading! If you have questions about a specific book or author, leave a comment and I will respond if I know anything about either.

*Paulist Press often gets it right: Thomas McDermott, Catherine of Siena: Spiritual Development in Her Life and Teaching, 2008.

29 December 2008

Additions to the blog, OK to read?

Check out the new additions on the side-bar.

I've added links to three of my recently posted personal stories & links to a few of my fav posts from this blog.

I might get up the nerve to post links to my fav homilies! [Partially done. . .on-going revision]

Also, I've gotten a lot of questions these last few months about whether not This or That book is OK for Catholics to read. If you will post the title and author of the book in the combox, I can respond if I know anything about the book or the author.

Generally speaking, a Catholic strong in the apostolic faith and thinking with the magisterium, one who has a good critical sense (and sense of humor) can read just about anything. If you are new to the Church, be careful! There's a lot of junk out there pretending to be Catholic.

Another Dominican preacher blog

If you need a spiritual boost or a some wisdom to wrestle with, click over to Fr. Carmen Mele, OP's homily site and enjoy!

He calls his pieces "homilettes," but that only indicates their brevity in length not their depth in wisdom.

Tell him I sent you!