29 December 2009

Without philosophy, all we have is story. . .

Let's say you are having martial problems.  Being a good Catholic, you go to your pastor for some advice on how to improve communication.  You patiently tell Fr. Bob what you see as the problem.  Fr. Bob nods and reaches for his bible.  He flips it open to John 2.1-11 and reads to you the story of Jesus' first miracle at the wedding in Cana. 

When he finishes the story, he snaps the book closed and looks at you as if all your problems have been solved.  It takes you a moment to realize that Fr. Bob believes that he has addressed your problems.  You have a few questions about how the story applies to your situation.  When you are done asking your questions, Fr. Bob gives a slightly annoyed look, opens his bible, and re-reads John 2.1-11. 

OK, at this point you are starting to feel as though Fr. Bob is trying to teach you some sort of Kung-fu-Zen-Master-Grasshopper-Wax-on-Wax-off-lesson about listening or sitting quietly or something like this. . .who knows?!  Anyway,  try one more time. 

You reel off several very reasonable questions about applying the Wedding at Cana story to your particular situation.  There's a pleading tone in your voice and you throw in a dash of desperation to help convince Fr. Bob to help.  And to your horror, all he is does is re-read the Wedding at Cana story to you!

Assuming that violence is not an option, what should you do at this point?  Why is Fr. Bob behaving this way?  What are you expecting from Father that he is apparently unwilling or incapable of giving? 

The title of this post gives a hint at the direction of my thinking here. . .


  1. I have to admit, it's hard to see how the Wedding at Cana story applies to my martial problems. It would seem that the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch passage from the Book of Armaments would be more to the point.

    Beyond that, however, I'm not getting your point.

  2. Let me try a stab at this...

    Fr. Bob's approach to the story assumes that the Bible is a self-interpreting form of literature. There is no need for interpretation, no need for textual or contextual critical exegesis, in short, he assumes that the meaning itself is bound in the very text--that the text IS the meaning. Since, however, a word (with a little "w") can only point to meaning and as such cannot embody meaning, there need be some rational, intelligible means discerning that meaning and applying that meaning to a concrete situation.

    The written Word of God, thus, must be interpreted through a rational and intelligible means. The meaning of Scripture is not bound in the text, it is bound in the Word (capital "W") who is the one true key to interpreting the text. And since this Word is Himself the author and source of reason and intelligibility, the narrative account of God's revelation--Scripture--can only be understood by use of solid philosophical principles and methods.

    Thus the question, "What does the Wedding at Cana have to do with my marital problems?" must be answered by 1) understanding the Scriptural context of the passage in light of the entirety of Scripture (how the Gospel of John unfolds in a manner similar to the creation narrative, and how the Wedding Feast of Cana is situated in this context), 2) what the Wedding Feast of Cana says in terms of the nature of marriage, and most importantly 3) how Christ, in this episode, relates to the Scriptural context (Water becomes wine as husband and wife become a "New Creation" effected and presided over by Christ Himself).

    I know there are some gaps, but I think that's the gist of it. Without a solid philosophical interpretive key, the stories of Scripture would remain, well, just that.

  3. well you stumped me with "violence is not an option"

  4. Anonymous7:51 AM

    I have often been amused by the small difference between the word "marital" (which Fr. intended to type in the first paragraph of this post) and the word "martial" (which is the word that actually appears in the first paragraph).

    I think that, from time to time, the word "martial" might be descriptive of marital relations.

  5. Anonymous8:19 AM

    Does anyone think we can/should do without philosophy? That we can/should have stories without philosophy? What reasons -- scratch that -- what stories would they give for such a position?

  6. Unnhhh....is this an AlGore joke?

  7. "Why is Fr. Bob behaving this way?"

    He has a point to make that is evidently covered by the story of the Cana Wedding. Evidently Fr. Bob is unable to see that I don't have the necessary knowledge/background to grasp the point he tries to make.

    I'd say the majority of the problem there lies with Fr. Bob.

    "What are you expecting from Father that he is apparently unwilling or incapable of giving?"

    I'm expecting detailed direction on how to improve aspects of my marriage. This is unrealistic because Father is only able to give general guidance. It's especially true if Fr. Bob has never been married.

    That last might sound like a stupid statement, however two of our local parishes here in North Texas have former Episcopalians for pastors. Both are grandparents. In addition to that, an AA meeting I attended up north had a regular member who became a priest after being widowed (another grandfather). So the possibility of a priest who's "been there, done that" isn't as remote as it might seem.

    Getting back to the questions of your story; In regards to what I want from Fr. Bob, I'm expecting too much. Even if Fr. Bob IS married, every marriage has it's own quirks and specific problems. Expecting very specific guidance in marital affairs with a "one size fits all" mindset is DUMB, D-U-M-B, DUMB!

    Speaking as someone who is currently on marriage #3 (the first was annulled, the second never recognized by the Church), I think I can claim some knowledge about that one!

    The base problem of your story as looked at from the view expressed in the title might be the lack of common philosophical outlook by both myself & Fr. Bob.

  8. My wife often says that nothing is complicated until I explain it. So I will try to answer the questions without doing a lot of explaining (other than this paragraph).

    What should I do at this point? Read the passage on my own, slowly.

    Why is Fr. Bob behaving this way? Because he is using the text as a way to get me to see that:
    1. I have to ask for what I need (i.e., be clear in communicating with my spouse about what I need, and also ask Jesus, through Mary, for help in doing this);
    2. I have to trust Jesus and Mary;
    3. I have to "do what He tells me."

    What am I expecting from Father? An answer (the "right" answer), a solution (a "perfect, infallible" solution), that I can go apply without much, if any, personal investment.

    That, to me, is where the philosophy (a personal belief about how to deal with a situation) comes in. In this case, it's a personal belief about responsibility, and about trust.

    My wife also points out that I frequently miss the point. No surprise if I've done that here.

  9. Anonymous1:57 PM

    Fr. Bob need some serious counseling skills and a methodological approach that does not merely cite scripture as an antidote for what is psychically or spiritually ailing his client.

    I would recommend that Fr. Bob become acquainted (at lesast) with Cognitive Behavioral Theory(CBT) and Emotional Emotive Behavioral Theory (REBT...the topic of my D.Min. dissertation) and the newest movement in pastoral counseling, Philosophical Counseling.

    That is to say, work on the cognitive distortions and logical fallacies that may be at the root of the person's thinking, which affects the emotions in such a way that they produce self-defeating behaviors.

    On the other hand, I think that this is a trick question on your part and you have and answer that will make us all grasshoppers :)

    Fr. Gerald Mendoza, OP

    PS: How in the world did you get "urtomist" as the "word verification?" and is that a clue to the riddle master Po?

  10. It's funny that to make the point that we need more than story, you tell a story :p

  11. Anonymous9:31 PM

    I would suggest that "story" versus "philosophy" is a false dilemma. "Philosophy" is always embedded in the story, in the praxis. And I think "story" -- myth, narrative, poetry, etc. [Poetics in the Jacques Maritain sense] are far more powerful in the right hands.

    I'd much rather talk to a good literary critic about my "issues" than a therapist or a philosopher. Hands down. No contest.

    There's just darn few of them out there.

  12. Fr. Bob needs to have a backup - like Song of Songs - for the hard-to-reach.