09 January 2009

Jews are pigs and apes

What you won't hear on CNN or read in the NYT. . .

Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic interviewed Hamas leader, Nizar Rayyan:

The question I wrestle with constantly is whether Hamas is truly, theologically implacable. That is to say, whether the organization can remain true to its understanding of Islamic law and God's word and yet enter into a long-term non-aggression treaty with Israel. I tend to think not, though I've noticed over the years a certain plasticity of belief among some Hamas ideologues. Also, this is the Middle East, so anything is possible.

There was no flexibility with Rayyan. This is what he said when I asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (or cease-fire) with Israel: "The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don't need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel." There is no chance, he said, that true Islam would ever allow a Jewish state to survive in the Muslim Middle East. "Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God."

I asked him if he believed, as some Hamas theologians do (and certainly as many Hezbollah leaders do) that Jews are the "sons of pigs and apes." He gave me an interesting answer that reflects a myopic reading of the Koran. "Allah changed disobedient Jews into apes and pigs, it is true, but he specifically said these apes and pigs did not have the ability to reproduce. So it is not literally true that Jews today are descended from pigs and apes, but it is true that some of the ancestors of Jews were transformed into pigs and apes, and it is true that Allah continually makes the Jews pay for their crimes in many different ways. They are a cursed people."

What are our crimes? I asked Rayyan. "[Jews] are murderers of the prophets and you have closed your ears to the Messenger of Allah," he said. "Jews tried to kill the Prophet, peace be unto him. All throughout history, you have stood in opposition to the word of God."

Rayyan was killed by the Israeli military earlier this week.

Madness on a canvass

I love watching this kind of thing...it really appeals to my creative side. Maybe I should spend some time this summer learning to paint. . .hmmmmm. . .anyway, watch this guy transform his painting over and over. . .from a very dynamic flow to a highly structured grid back to the flow and then: VIOLA!

Why do Catholic theologians dissent?

A note expanding on my post below about Fr. Roger Haight's difficulties with the Vatican.

I get asked a lot why Catholic theologians seem to stray into heresy so often. There are many, many reasons for this--adolescent attention-seeking, need for approval from the secular culture, embarrassment over the Church's use of dogmatic language and authority--but one thing I've never posted about is how the university system pushes academics to the edges and keeps them there.

What most normal people (i.e., non-academics) don't know about the academic world is how professors are hired, promoted and tenured. Every university has an elaborate system detailing every step in a professor's career, from the day he/she applies for a job to the day he/she is retired.

In this description I will have to stick to the liberal arts b/c I know nothing about how the natural sciences, business, medicine, etc. run their shows. I know the lib arts. Here's how it goes:

The theology department needs a new professor to teach systematic theology. The chair of the department informs the dean of the college who then approves (or not) the request to hire a new professor. If approved, the department, using incredibly narrow university guidelines, advertises the position in relevant academic journals. Most ads will lay out the necessary academic qualifications for the position (Ph.D. "in hand" or A.B.D, "all but dissertation") and list teaching and researching requirements. Applicants flood the department's hiring committee. This committee vetts the applications for compatibility and picks several applicants to interview. For the most part and at this point in the process, the committee members are looking for someone they believe will "fit with" the department and at the same time add something different to the mix. Successful interviewees are invited to campus to give a public lecture and meet the deans. Eventually, one of the applicants is hired.

Once hired, the new professor (usually an "assistant professor") begins teaching courses in his/her field. Along with the teaching is the universal requirement to "contribute original research to the field." This means lots of research, lots of writing, lots of publication. Initially, the new professor will begin revising his/her dissertation for publication. Good start. But it's not enough for promotion to "associate professor." For that, the new guy will need to keep a good teaching record, a solid history of service to the univeristy (usually committee drugery), and publish new research. Make no mistake, in most of the U.S.'s research universities, publishing and getting grant money is ALL that really matters when it comes to promotion and tenure. Teaching is something grad students and lazy researchers are expected to do.

It's the "publishing new research" that often lands our Catholic theologians in hot water with the magisterium. Why? In order to progress with an academic career, a professor has to publish books and articles. To get books and articles published, his/her research has to make an "original contribution;" that is, a junior theologian will go no where fast in his/her career if he/she simply articulates and defends already well-estabished theological research. It's got to be new. Who decides what counts as "new"? Research up for publication is peer-reviewed by other academics in the same field. Anonymous reviewers critique the work for originality, reliability, etc. Of late, it has become standard operating procedure in some lib arts fields to critique new research on purely ideological grounds, i.e. "does this manuscript support the oppression of women, minorities, etc. or does it promote diversity, difference, etc.?" Do not imagine for one second that Harvard University Press will be publishing a book any time soon that harshly critiques the field of "women's studies" or one that strongly defends Catholic theological orthodoxy.

Here's where the real trouble starts: if your contribution has to be new, then it follows that you cannot rely too heavily on what has already been done. Older theologies are based on well-established methodologies and certain well-respected texts and authors. To be new and improved, you have to either ignore these, find sources outside your field (psychology, philosophy, etc.), or invent your own. In orthodox Catholic theology, you never totally depart from what has already been done. You can improve arguments; dig up new evidence supporting the Church; sharpen distinctions and clarify differing opinions; you can even ask hard questions that the magisterium ignores or dismisses; but inventing new theologies is out of the question. . .if by "new theologies" we mean writing against the magisterium of the Church.

If you manage to research, write, and publish a new theology or a significant challenge to orthodoxy, you will likely be rewarded by the university with a promotion, tenure, or both. If you are really good at this sort of thing, you might win an endowed chair of some sort and never have to teach again. If you are the best at this sort of whole-clothe invention of theological novelty, you will be called to the Vatican for a spanking.

So, some of the blame for Catholic theologians who stray from the faith can be reasonably laid at the feet of American academic culture. Universities thrive on novelty, edginess, rebellion, and academic star power. They pay for it, reward it with prestige, and encourage it for P.R. purposes. Why do you think that every time the Vatican slaps a theologian on the wrist, the Catholic professorial world screams bloody murder about "academic freedom"? What they know is that if the Vatican too closely monitors their work and calls them on their errors, they may lose power and funds in the world that matters most to them: their department and the university's tenure committee.

What's interesting is that Today's Cutting Edge Research is tomorrow's Old Hat. We are already starting to see in academic theology in the U.S. younger theologians throwing off their feminist/Marxist oppressors and liberating themselves by researching and defending Catholic orthodoxy. However, because the dissenters still control the purse strings in the department and the hiring/promotion/tenure process in the university, these orthodox theologians do not get hired at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Notre Dame, etc. And given the rise and proliferation of smaller Catholic universities dedicated to the tradition, who cares if the moldy Ivy Leagues schools look askance at their orthodoxy?

But it's only a matter of time before the next generation steps up. . .let's pray they don't mess it up.

Global Warming Hoax & the Myth of Scientific Concensus

Recent evidence from the North Pole and your own backyard has shaken the ideological delusions of Climate Alarmists in the Church of Global Warming. Turns out, "global warming" is just another trendy leftist Cause, a man-made religion to collect alms (i.e. tax dollars) to fund the progress of the Nanny State.

The serious scientific world is rattling Archdruid Gore's cage with the Oregon Petition. This project has set itself the task of reviewing the research work of climate change advocates, and has consistently found their "evidence" to be deeply flawed. As a result of both past and on-going review, the scientists of the Oregon Petition Project have asked scientists world-view to sign the following petition addressed to the U.S. government:

"We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth."

At last count this petition has received over 31,000 signatures from scientists world, including over 9,000 Ph.D.'s. By the way, the petition has strict guidelines for who can and cannot sign.

In a paper summarizing the available peer-reviewed research on global warming titled, "Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide," scientists, Arthur B. Robinson, Noah E. Robinson, and Willie Soon of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, conclude:

"A review of the research literature concerning the environmental consequences of increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide leads to the conclusion that increases during the 20th and early 21st centuries have produced no deleterious effects upon Earth's weather and climate. Increased carbon dioxide has, however, markedly increased plant growth. Predictions of harmful climatic effects due to future increases in hydrocarbon use and minor greenhouse gases like CO2 do not conform to current experimental knowledge. The environmental effects of rapid expansion of the nuclear and hydrocarbon energy industries are discussed [. . .]

There are no experimental data to support the hypothesis that increases in human hydrocarbon use or in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are causing or can be expected to cause unfavorable changes in global temperatures, weather, or landscape. There is no reason to limit human production of CO2, CH4, and other minor greenhouse gases as has been proposed.

We also need not worry about environmental calamities even if the current natural warming trend continues. The Earth has been much warmer during the past 3,000 years without catastrophic effects. Warmer weather extends growing seasons and generally improves the habitability of colder regions [. . .]

Human use of coal, oil, and natural gas has not harmfully warmed the Earth, and the extrapolation of current trends shows that it will not do so in the foreseeable future. The CO2 produced does, however, accelerate the growth rates of plants and also permits plants to grow in drier regions. Animal life, which depends upon plants, also flourishes, and the diversity of plant and animal life is increased [. . .]

Dr. Noah Robinson has produced a video titled, "The Global Warming Myth," which neatly presents the above quoted research. Skip to 2:25 for the beginning the actual presentation.

The north pole is not melting.
It is has become a pseudo-religion practiced by eco-fundamentalists in the media, has-been celebrities, Marxist radicals, and quack scientists.

The Church of Global Warming claims that there is a "scientific concensus" on the reality of global warming. They are wrong.

Even the moonbats at the Huffington Report are starting to figure it all out.

So, when you hear Archdruid Al Gore pontificating on global warming while reaching for your wallet, go out in the snow and have some fun.

08 January 2009

Pic 1: the usual suspects

Alright! For all of you who have been bugging me about posting a pic showing my hair buzzed. . .here are two.

Both taken this last Sunday (Jan 4) outside a restaurant on the corner of Via Panisperna and Via dei Serpenti. Best spaghetti carbonara I have ever eaten!

These guys are U.D. students and alums who sing for the university's Gregorian Chant choir, Collegium. They were in Rome, singing.

(L to R): Molly, Jimmy, me, Chris and Lindsay. Chris and Lindsay will be married in June!

Pic 2: all cheese

In this one I am pulling up my garters, while Lindsay A. begins an aria. Lourdez looks on, amused that I have more cheese in my grin than on my habit after lunch.

07 January 2009

5 Theological Givens for the Co-Redemptrix

In his amazingly clear explication in the role of the Blessed Virgin's compassion and sorrow in salvation history, The Foot of the Cross Or, The Sorrows of Mary, English theologian, Fr. Frederick W. Faber, argues for the use of the title, "Co-Redemptress" when referring to Mary's contribution to Christ's unique sacrifice for our sins. He argues that the title must be understood in the context of the following five theological facts:

1) Our Blessed Lord is the sole Redeemer of the world in the true and proper sense of the word and in this sense no creature whatsoever shares the honour with Him neither can it be said of Him without impiety that He is co redeemer with Mary

2) In a secondary dependent sense and by participation all the elect co-operate with our Lord in the redemption of the world

3) In the same sense but in a degree to which no others approach our Blessed Lady co-operated with Him in the redemption of the world

4) Besides this and independent of her dolours she co-operated in it in a sense and after a manner in which no other creatures did or could

5) Furthermore by her dolours she co-operated in the redemption of the world in a separate and peculiar way separate and peculiar not only as regards the co-operation of the elect but also as regards her own other co-operation independently of the dolours.

Could not be clearer or more precise.

BTW, this book was written in the late 1840's and published in 1858. And Fr. Faber was an Anglican priest before converting to the Church under Cardinal Newman's tutelage. He was also a founding member of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in London, the famous "Bromption Oratory."

It's cold....

Another leftist Nanny Fad bites the dust. . .ermmm. . .I mean, snow.

Anyone out there got a petition to have the old fraud's Nobel Prize revoked?

source: newsbusters.org (if you aren't reading this site regularly, it's likely you have been replaced by a Old Media pod twin. Get your DNA checked. If you have the dreaded MSNBC mutation or the NYT strain, Dr. Ann Coulter has the perfect medicine.)

The Dominican Rite (UPDATED)

The Western Dominican Province (USA) is sponsoring and hosting a conference on the
Dominican Rite of the Mass.

I'll be in the US then, so there's a good chance I'll fly out to attend. Depends on my U.D. teaching schedule and the inevitable limitations of the budget. [Update: looks like the summer term at U.D. will prevent me from attending. . .%$#@!]

If you would like to donate to the conference scholarship fund to help needy Dominicans (novices, students, etc.) attend, send your donations to:

The Living Tradition
Holy Rosary Church
375 N.E. Clackamas Street
Portland, OR 97232

Mark your donation: "for scholarships to attend the Living Tradition Conference"

Why should you donate? Easy, cheesy. Now that our incomparable Holy Father has given universal permission to all priests to celebrate the Mass in the Extraordinary Form (a.k.a. "Tridentine Mass"), Dominicans all over the world are reviving our unique tradition of the Mass as one more way of fulfilling the Pope's desire for a more solemn celebration of the sacrament that is at once organically faithful to the Church's longest liturgical tradition and appealing to a growing number of Catholic who long for an experience of the transcendent in worship. Your donation to the scholarhship fund will make it possible for budget-challenged OP's to attend. Think about what the next generation of priests will do for the Church armed with the Extraordinary Form AND the Dominican Rite! Not to mention what these two traditional rites will do to help bring the Ordinary Form (a.k.a, "Novus Ordo Mass") out of the crippling experimentation and goofiness of the 1970's!

Check it out! If you are a blogger, please link to this post so we can get the word out. . .

God bless, F. Philip, OP

And even more. . .

An even MORE!

1). Do dogs go to heaven?


2). Can I wear a black wedding dress?

Sure. Are you marrying Satan?

3). What's the best way to get my pastor to stop abusing the liturgy?

Slip him a $50 and tell him there's more where that came from if he behaves.

4). Can God create a rock so big that even He can't move it?

Yes. We call it "Nancy Pelosi."

5). Should we try to Christianize the middle-east?

Yes. At gunpoint. Or we could just send in more Starbucks franchises with WWJD mugs.

6). Can infinity can measured?

Yes. But it will take some time.

7). Will having Masses said for Obama's conversion have any real affect?

No. But a good butt whopping would.

8). Who's your fav political thinker?

In order: Ann Coulter, Mao Se-Tung, and Al Franken. What can I say? I like diversity.

9). How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Is this alleged woodchucking woodchuck Italian?

10). I'm going to buy you a book. Which one on your list do you need most?

The one with the most pictures.

Questions, questions, questions

Even more questions!

1). How is a "personal relationship with Jesus" really achieved in prayer and daily life? I am particularly confused about the "personal" part.

Boy, have you ask the right priest about this! Having spent most of my life in the deep, fundamentalist Protestant South, I am intimately acquainted with the notion of a "personal relationship with Jesus." This phrase has a simple semantic meaning and a rhetorical use. The simple meaning is that we are all as individuals invited by God to encounter Jesus as a person. Now, this is rather difficult since Jesus lived over 2,000 year ago. . .afternoon tea with Lord is temporally impossible. Fortunately for us, Jesus arranged for us to meet him personally in the sacrament of the Church, most intimately in the Eucharist. We meet the person of Jesus in the Eucharist as persons ourselves--person to person, as it were. This means that the entire liturgy of the Eucharist is our chance to encounter the Risen Lord by offering ourselves through him and with him as "acceptable sacrifices." At once, with him, we are priests, victims, and the thankful beneficiaries of his "once for all" sacrifice on the cross.

Now, in my neck of the woods, the phrase "personal relationship with Jesus" has a number of rhetorical uses. Most broadly, the phrase is used to indicate that you have "been saved" by "accepting Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior." This is a pithy slogan that captures the fundamentalist Protestant idea that what matters to MY salvation is MY encounter with MY Lord. The emphasis is on ME and Jesus. This is a reaction to the Catholic teaching that we encounter the Lord most fully in the sacrament of the Church: all of US come together as one Body in Christ. What upsets our Protestant friends is the notion that we are saved as a Body rather than saved as individuals. Worried that we might come to think that membership in a denomination (Baptist, Methodist, etc.) is what saves us from Hell, Protestants emphasize the necessity of each of us coming to know Christ individually. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church is not a denomination. She is the Church, the Body; so, belonging to the Catholic Church is what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ that will be taken to Heaven. I am not saved; WE are.

The phrase is also used rhetorically to emphasize MY authority in religious matters over and against the authority of any ecclesial body. My denomination can teach and preach and make whatever rules it wants to. What matters for ME and MY salvation is MY personal relationship with Jesus. Obviously, this is a particularly American development that introduces a completely alien philosophy into the Christian tradition: democracy. In Protestant denominations almost everything can be put up for a vote to determine its truth, goodness, and beauty. Nothing is spared the scrutiny of a majority vote, including the applicability of the authority of scripture and tradition to our contemporary circumstances. The dangers here are legion. Fueled by a desire to appear "relevant" and up-to-date, one denomination after another has abandoned the classical catholic tradition in favor of modernist fads. Against centuries-old teachings, they have approved by majority vote abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, sexual activity outside of marriage, divorce, female clergy, historical-critical-linguistic criticism of the Bible, syncretistic liturgies and on and on. Without the Church, the teachings of the apostolic faith, the interpretative magisterium, and the sacraments, Christians in a group become little more than a theological debating club.

For Catholics, there is only one way to establish a personal relationship with Jesus: establish a personal relationship with his Body on earth, the Church. . .more specially, the Catholic Church.

2). You post political stuff sometimes and I wonder why you think priests have a right to talk politics. Shouldn't you just stick to religion?

No, I shouldn't nor should anyone else. The idea that our faith-lives and our political-lives should exist separated by a giant wall is a particuarly insidious philosophy that deprives us of our chance and our duty to bring the whole person into our citizenship. We cannot exist as multiple personalities: a faith personality, a political personality, an academic personality, etc. This is a mental disorder that privileges secular worldviews by supressing religious ones. You will rarely find someone who holds this idea who at the same time believes that religion is beneficial to our society. The American notion of separation of church and state was articulated and written into the US Constitution as a way of preventing the state from creating an established church on the model of the Church of England. Without the establishment clause we would have an official American church, probably the Episcopal Church! The establishment clause is meant to free the church from state interference. It is not meant to free the state from church influence. Secularists have been extraordinarily successful in persuading successive Supreme Courts that the establishment clause prevents churches from "meddling in politics" or even having a legitimate say in civil discourse. If you are crippled as an indiviudal when you adopt the multiple-personality approach to politics and religion, how much more crippled are we when we adopt this approach as a nation!

As a priest, I am duty-bound to teach and preach the Catholic faith as the Church's magisterium interprets it. When political matters impinge on religious and moral questions, I am free to teach and preach that faith. Ninety-nine percent of the time this happens, all I can offer is guidelines and advice. I am no more qualified or empowered to order Cathlics to vote for or against Candidate X than I am to order a nuclear strike on the Itailian postal service. I try as hard as I can to follow the social teachings of the Church in my politics. This means that I am a registered Independent who usually votes Republican. However, the GOP fails on any number of counts to capture the Catholic social ethic. President Bush's approval and use of torture in the war on terror is an abomination to human dignity. The Democratic Party's worship of the god of abortion is beyond reprehensible and reaches well into the demonic.

In so far as politics is about the use and abuse of civil power, the Church is always obligated to defend the poor, the oppressed, "the least" of the Lord's people. This means standing up for those who often find their innate dignity as creatures of God violated by the powerful. Old Testament prophets regularly and frequently condemned whole cities and nations for failing to take care of widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor--all those who have no family or friends readily available to help them. Whether it's the government's job to do this is a political question open to public debate. Religious people cannot be excluded from the debate on the grounds that faith and politics are best kept lcoked in separare rooms.

3). You've mentioned many times your conversion from being a radical to being a conservative. Catholic. How did that happen?

First, I am not a conservative Catholic. I am an orthodox Catholic. One can be a perfectly faithful liberal Catholic. Being a faithful liberal Catholic is the US in 2009 is extraordinarily difficult because what it means to be liberal these days often means opposing most of the Church's moral teaching. However, it's possible. Being a conservative Catholic is easier because political conservatives usually embrace the core of Catholic moral teaching. Being an orthodox Catholic is a huge headache in our current political climate. Witness the recent presidential election and mourn.

If I had to put a date on my conversion from being a secular liberal to an orthodox Catholic, I would have to say that it happened in my first semester of seminary in 2000. One of my doctoral areas of speciality is critical literary theory. I was steeped in the postmodernist ethic of relativism, social constructivism, and identity politics. I began to notice in my novitiate that those in the religious life who held to these notions were often the ones who caused us the most trouble in terms of living out our vows. At the time, this disturbed me, but I managed marshalled my philosophical leanings and invoked the gods of subjectivism. Once I was in seminary, I saw these leanings being invoked by professors of Catholic theology against the tradition of the Church and wondered why those espousing these ideas remained in the Church. This disconnect roused my deeply engrained sense of justice, and I started asking questions. . .not always so politely, mind you. The reaction my questions received from some of these liberal professors sounded exactly like the right-wing facists I battled against in college. The hypocrisy of liberals suppressing legitimate academic inquiry shocked me. Then I did some soul-searching and remembered that I myself often used oppressive rhetoric and tactics (contra my professed liberalism) to silence anyone who failed to applaud my radical leftist agenda. That realization of personal hypocrisy and inconsistency broke open Pandora's Box, and here I am.

4). Any luck finding a publisher?

Yes! Well, I should say that I have been contacted by an acquisitions editor of a large Catholic publishing house and asked to submit proposals for books. Right now, all I can manage is a proposal for a book of contemporary Catholic devotions like the Litany of the Holy Name posted below. We'll see where it all goes. . .

5). From my Facebook account: is it OK for the priest to sit in the congregation during Mass rather than in the presider's chair? Is it OK for the priest to preach away from the pulpit ,like walking around the church?

No and no. Sitting in the congregation rather than the presider's chair was one of those liturgical innovations that was supposed to show the folks at Mass that Father is just one of the guys. It's the liturgical equivalent of 65 year old's using "dude" and "wasup?" with teenagers in order to make the teenagers think that the geezers are hip. Very embarrassing. . .for the teenagers. More than anything it is a form of what I call "liberal clericalism," that is, the use of clerical power against Church authority in an effort to undermine that authority. You see examples of this all the time when priests alter the wording of the Mass in order to be "inclusive" or to show that the priest isn't really the priest but a regular Catholic just like you. The irony of abusing clerical power to usurp the abusive use of clerical power usually escapes the abuser. What these gestures really demonstrate to the people at Mass is that Father is the priest and has the power (though not the authority) to alter rubrics at his whim. Just try talking to a priest when he does this sort thing. . .you'll get a face full of clericalism right quick!

Leaving the pulpit/ambo to preach is not in and of itself an abuse. If the priest leaves the pulpit to preach it should be for no other reason than to help the congregation hear and understand the homily. In other words, if the priest is preaching away from the pulpit, it should be for the sole benefit of the congregation. If the homily is delivered in this way so that Father might be even more the center of attention, or to give Father a thrill, then it should be avoided. I attended Mass once where the priest was The Star of the Show. He grabbed a Mr. Micorphone and spent an hour walking around the church warbling cheesy hymns about love. This told me several things about this priest: 1) he couldn't be bothered to prepare a real homily; 2) he sees himself and his ministry as a stage act to be applauded (the congregation obliged); 3) he has no idea what a homily is or is supposed to be; 4) he couldn't give a damn if his people went another week without hearing the Word preached. Sad, very sad. At this same Mass, the priest consecrated Eggo waffles. Literally, they were Eggo Waffles right out of the box. Breakfast, ya know. This same priest went outside to smoke during communion, leaving the distribution to several lay women. Communion was presented to the people in large aluminum bowls where we were invited to "chip and dip" the sacrament. He also kept the congregation well past time to go singing "Happy Birthday" and "Happy Anniversary" to several parishioners. I know another priest who makes a special effort to approach members of the parish who have complained about the chaotic nature of the peace and picks them out for his special attention. He does it, as he told me "to piss them off." As my novice master used to say when he heard about these kind of abuses: "It's all about ME! It's all about MMMEEEEE!"

6). My parish priest told me and my fiancee that we couldn't use a unity candle during the wedding. Is this right?

Yes. And good for him! The unity candle is an invention of the Catholic religious good industry. (like blue vestments and over-the-chasuble stoles). Its use is not part of the liturgy of the Sacrament of Matrimony. I've been very, very lucky with the few weddings I performed in Texas that the couples I worked with understood the liturgy and never demanded that we do anything outside the liturgy. A couple's wedding day is most certainly "their day," but this doesn't mean that they get to shape a sacrament of the Church anyway they like. Brides are particularly bad about asserting their preferences for music and liturgical color for a wedding. I know a priest who refused to preside at a couple's wedding because the bride wanted him to wear matching teal vestments! She simply could not understand why he was being so hateful on "her day." There are legends among priests about brides demanding inappropriate kinds of music, that flowers be placed on the altar, that the vows be changed to reflect feminist ideology, that the father or mother of the bride be allowed to preach the homily, that the moms and dads be allowed to renew their vows during the liturgy, that non-biblical readings be used. . .and on and no.

The only thing I have ever had to get nasty about is the use of flash photography during the sacrament. For some reason, family and friends think that it is appropriate to spend the liturgy snapping pictures. This is an affront to the solemnity of the occasion and should be absolutely forbidden. The bride and groom are just folks, not celebrities. You are guests at a Catholic sacrament, not paparazzi at a move premiere! I know a priest who was asked to "redo" the consecration of the bread and wine b/c a guest missed "the shot."

05 January 2009

The messy business of love

[It’s a miracle! A homily! Remember those. . .?]

Christmas Week (T): 1 Jn 4:7-10; Mk 6:34-44
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

How casually do you use the word “love”? How quickly does it trip off your tongue when necessary, yet means almost nothing at all? Or, are you some kind of Christian freak who uses “love” to mean Love and in doing so, really mean it? In English, superlatives like “awesome,” “greatest,” “wonderful,” are quickly emptied of their strictest meaning by meaningless repetition. I listened to an American comedian over the weekend who riffed on the overuse of the word “awesome.” He noted that Americans will describe hot dogs as “awesome.” He asks, “What does the next astronaut do when he lands on Mars and receives a call from the President asking him to describe the Red Planet? ‘Mr. President, Mars is awesome!’ ‘You mean like a hot dog?’ ‘Um, well, yeah, but like a billion hot dogs!’” See the problem? When everything is awesome, nothing is awesome. If love can mean something as trivial as “I don’t hate you…much” or “this is my preference,” then love is emptied of its meaning. So, for Christians, what does Love mean?

In his first letter, John writes: “…everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” God is Love. Now, the first thing we must do is quickly move beyond any vacuous secular notion of love and settle firmly in the middle of the Christian tradition. Love is not a fluttering stomach, or a swooning head, or a surge of hormones. Those can be signs of love, but they are not Love Himself. If we are to know God, we must love. And we are capable of loving because God, who is Love, loved us first. Since God is the source and destination of our love, when we love we come to know Him. But if our love is to be anything but an abstraction, we must love each other; that is, our love must be for other people. This means we come to know each other in and through God as God knows each of us.

How is this possible? How is it possible that we, mere humans, can come to love another as God loves us and come to know Him and others all the while loving? In his 2005 encyclical, Deus caritas est, our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, writes: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”(1). We just celebrated the event: the Nativity of the Christ Child. We have just met the person—fully God, fully Man—Jesus Christ. In this event and this person, we have Love given flesh! To participate in this event, our baptism, and to meet this person, in the Eucharist, our lives as “mere” humans are transformed; we are given new life, a new horizon, a fresh ambition; we are given a decisive direction, set on an unsullied path, and gifted with every grace we need to arrive in His divine presence whole and secure. The Christ Child—human and divine—is Love in the flesh. Know him and know the One Who sent him: God.

This messy business of loving sinful men and women is no less messy because we must do so with and through Love Himself. But loving God and one another is one superlative that will not be emptied by overuse. Quite the opposite: “God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might have life through him.” The longer and harder and more faithfully we love, the more we come to our perfection in this flesh and blood life of Christ.

Christ, human and divine (UPDATED)

From the Catholic Encyclopedia (1910), "The Incarnation":

Did union with the Divine nature do away, with all bodily imperfections?. . .Catholics hold that, before the Resurrection, the Body of Christ was subject to all the bodily weaknesses to which human nature unassumed is universally subject; such are hunger, thirst, pain, death. Christ hungered (Matthew 4:2), thirsted (John 19:28), was fatigued (John 4:6), suffered pain and death. "We have not a high priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities: but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). "For in that, wherein he himself hath suffered and been tempted, he is able to succour them also that are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18). All these bodily weaknesses were not miraculously brought about by Jesus; they were the natural results of the human nature He assumed [. . .] Weaknesses due to old age are common to mankind. Had Christ lived to an old age, He would have suffered such weaknesses just as He suffered the weaknesses that are common to infancy. Death from old age would have come to Jesus, had He not been violently put to death. The reasonableness of these bodily imperfections in Christ is clear from the fact that He assumed human nature so as to satisfy for that nature's sin. Now, to satisfy for the sin of another is to accept the penalty of that sin. Hence it was fitting that Christ should take upon himself all those penalties of the sin of Adam that are common to man and becoming, or at least not unbecoming to the Hypostatic Union [. . .] Theologians now are unanimous in the view that Christ was noble in bearing and beautiful in form, such as a perfect man should be; for Christ was, by virtue of His incarnation, a perfect man.

Reread the last sentence in light of the initial statement about the nature of Christ's bodily weaknesses. Christ was subject to "bodily weaknesses to which human nature unassumed is universally subject." This means Christ did not assume in his person any human weakness that is not found universally in all humans.

Later in the same article, we read:

One of the most important effects of the union of the Divine nature and human nature in One Person is a mutual interchange of attributes, Divine and human, between God and man, the Communicatio Idiomatum. The God-Man is one Person, and to Him in the concrete may be applied the predicates that refer to the Divinity as well as those that refer to the Humanity of Christ. We may say God is man, was born, died, was buried. These predicates refer to the Person Whose nature is human, as well as Divine; to the Person Who is man, as well as God. We do not mean to say that God, as God, was born; but God, Who is man, was born. We may not predicate the abstract Divinity of the abstract humanity, nor the abstract Divinity of the concrete man, nor vice versa; nor the concrete God of the abstract humanity, nor vice versa. We predicate the concrete of the concrete: Jesus is God; Jesus is man; the God-Man was sad; the Man-God was killed. Some ways of speaking should not be used, not that they may not be rightly explained, but that they may easily be misunderstood in an heretical sense.


For a great book on Christology (the theological study of the person of Christ), you can't do better for clarity, solid research, and readability than Fr. Gerald O'Collins,' Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus Christ, 1999. This book was my salvation when I was writing 20 page essays every week for my Christology tutorials at Blackfriars, Oxford! You might also check out his latest book, Jesus Our Redeemer: A Christian Approach to Salvation, 2007. I've not read this one, but everything I've read of his has been extraordinarily enlightening. . .even though he's a Jesuit (mumble mumble mumble).

Do you know a publisher?

I have an idea rattling around in my head. . .

I'm working on several litanies and novenas that pick up traditional themes that are often ignored in prayers books and books of litanies and devotions.

I wonder if there would be any interest out there in a book length collection of these litanies and devotions. . .?

Anyone reading this know someone in the Catholic publishing world who might be interested?

Haight "punished" by the CDF (Updated)

In 2000, the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published a "notification" regarding the book, Jesus, Symbol of God, written by Fr. Roger Haight, S.J. The notification details the many errors the book contains regarding the nature of Christ and his relation to non-Christian religions. Essentially, Haight denies the divinity of Christ* contra the Nicene Creed and centuries of settled Catholic teaching and equates non-Christian religions with Christianity. In the book, he argues that Christ is a symbol of God but goes on to argue that all symbols of God are inadequate. Therefore, we must conclude, that Jesus is an inadequate symbol of God. A CCD class at St Bubba's can figure out that this is not the Christian faith.

Fortunately, this book is a dense morass of postmodernist gibberish, mostly incomprehensible even to intelligent, well-informed readers. It will remain a favorite of dissident theologians but have little influence outside this self-selected cadre of initiated brights. His introductory theology textbook, The Dynamics of Theology, is also packed with dodgy claims about the faith and should be avoided by anyone wanting to know what the Church actually teaches.

Because of the errors found in Jesus, Symbol of God, the CDF removed Haight's license to teach theology in Catholic universities. Haight moved to the Union Theological Seminary in NYC, a Protestant school.

Now, Commonweal is reporting that the CDF has removed Haight's license to teach theology at any university, Catholic or otherwise. He has also been told to cease writing on Catholic theology.

The howls of protest against the "Inquisitional Church" have already begun. Accused of conducting its investigations in secret, the CDF is once again the target of pampered Catholic academics who see any attempt to hold them responsible to the wide limits of orthodoxy as an act of an abusive father bent on spanking his unjustly accused children. The irony here is that a public investigation of Haight would have been called a "witch hunt" and unnecessarily damaging to his reputation. A "secret" investigation saves him from this public scrutnity. But his defenders then claim that the CDF is acting unjustly in keeping the proceedings secret. So, the CDF is damned either way. Surprise, surprise.

If the proceedings were truly secret, then how do Haight's defenders know anything at all about how the investigation was conducted? As far as we can tell, the CDF communicated with Haight's Jesuit superiors and his superiors communicated with him. That Haight is just now finding out about this most recent sanction seems to be the fault of his superiors not the CDF. We can imagine that any attempt by the CDF to communicate with Haight directly would be called "harrassment."

Critics of the CDF will whine and moan that the congregation is acting to suppress creative thinking and legitimate theological research. They will rend garments and gnash teeth over the cosmic injustice of asking a Catholic theologian to actually teach the Catholic faith. They will use Haight's sanctions as evidence that they being persecuted by a medieval Church who hates any and all difference of opinion. Let's be quick to note the ratio of publishing, teaching dissident theologians to those investigated and sanctioned by the CDF. What, maybe one in every 10,000 theologians merit the CDF's attention? Hardly a worldwide "crackdown" on dissent. But maybe that's the problem. The CDF isn't paying these whiners any attention and their reputations among the heretical inner-circle are suffering.

So, ignore the mewling academics and leftist pundits and focus on the fact that Haight himself chose to write against well-established, infallible Christian doctrine. He will not go hungry. He will have a place to live. God still loves him. He's still a priest, a Jesuit, and a member of the Church. He can still write on questions in spirituality, and he will no doubt become a conference/lecture circuit star among the thousands of professionally aggrieved institutions and individuals the Church allows to flourish despite its apparent bloodthirsty, inquistional ways. If anything, the CDF sanctions have guaranteed Haight's books a spot on most theology syllabi well into this century.

UPDATE: The Vatican is doing some "nuancing" with regard to Haight's recent trip to the magisterial woodshed. The CNS report mentions that the Vatican has asked three American Jesuit theologians to review Haight's work. Anyone know the names of those three?

*Type "LOGOS" in the "Inside this Book" search field and then click on the link to page 177. This excerpt from the book shows that Haight understands the Prologue to the Gospel of God as a poem, relegating the Logos (the Word) to the status of a mere metaphor for God's presence in Jesus. In other words, he denies that Christ is God and argues that Christ is simply a metaphor for God.

04 January 2009

Anti-Christ, Vocations, Magic vs. Prayer

A few more questions before I hit the hay. . .

1). Lots of talk on the blogsphere these days about the "end times." What say you?

Along with speculation about the identity of the Anti-Christ, predicting the date of the Second Coming is a favorite Christian past time. Catholic art, literature, music, theology, etc. have all been directly inspired by the Book of Revelation's graphic depictions of the Last Battle, the rise of the Beast, his "666" mark, and the Woman Clothed in the Sun. For the most part, this sort of thing doesn't much interest me. As a fundie Protestant way-back-when I fretted and sweated about it because I believed that we were heading into the End Times as a matter of historical fact; that is, I knew that we were all playing out our parts in the scripted drama of the Apocalypse to come. Now, however, I realize something more important: when it comes, it comes. Jesus said to be ready for his return "like a thief in the night." When asked directly about the coming end of the age, Jesus shrugged and said, "I dunno. Only the Father knows." So, if Jesus himself doesn't know when this thing's gonna blow, I'm not going to lose much sleep worrying about it either.

2). What basic questions should those discerning a religious vocation ask themselves?

I get a lot of questions from younger readers about vocation discernment. For the most part, they want to know how they know whether or not they have a religious vocation. I wish it were as easy as drawing blooding, testing it, and announcing the result. If horse had wings, etc. Here are three cautions and a few questions to ask yourself:

Three Cautions

Suspend any romantic or idealistic notions you might have about religious life. Religious orders are made up of sinful men and women. There is no perfect Order; no perfect monastery; no perfect charism. You WILL be disappointed at some point if you enter religious life. You are going to find folks in religious life who are angry, wounded, bitter, mean-spirited, disobedient, secretive, and just plain hateful. You will also find living saints.

Do your homework. There is no perfect Order, etc. but there is an Order out there that will best use your gifts, strengthen your weaknesses, and challenge you to grow in holiness. Learn everything you can about the Order or monastery you are considering. Use the internet, libraries, "people on the inside," and ask lots and lots of questions. Vocation directors are not salesmen. For the most part, they will not pressure you into a decision. They are looking at you as hard as you are looking them.

Be prepared to do some hard soul-searching. Before you apply to any Order or monastery, be ready to spend a great deal of time in prayer. You will have to go through interviews, psychological evaluations, physicals, credit checks, reference checks, transcript reviews, retreats, and just about anything else the vocations director can think of to make sure he/she knows as much about you as possible. Think of it as penance.

Practical Advice

If you are considering religious life right out of undergraduate school, consider again and again. Get a job. Spend two or three years doing some unpaid volunteer work for one of your favorite Orders. These help you to mature spiritually and will make you a better religious. Most communities these days need folks with practical life-skills like managing money, maintaining cars and equipment, etc.

If you have school loans, start paying them back ASAP! For men, this is not such a huge problem b/c most men's communities will assume loans on a case by case basis when you take solemn vows. For some reason, women's communities do not do this as much. Regardless, paying back your loans shows maturity. I was extremely fortunate and had my grad school loans cancelled after I was ordained! Long story. Don't ask.

Don't make any large, credit-based purchases before joining a community. Cars, houses, boats, etc. will have to be disposed of once you are in vows. Of course, if you are 22 and not thinking of joining an Order until you are 32, well, that's different story. But be aware that you cannot "take it with you" when you come into a community.

Tell family, friends, professors, employers that you thinking about religious life. It helps to hear from others what they think of you becoming a religious. Their perceptions cannot be determinitative, but they can be insightful.

Be very open and honest with anyone you may become involve with romantically that you are thinking of religious life. One of the saddest things I have ever seen was a young woman in my office suffering because her fiance broke off their three year engagement to become a monk. She had no idea he was even thinking about it. There is no alternative here: you must tell. Hedging your bet with a boyfriend or girlfriend on the odds that you might not join up is fraudlent and shows a deep immaturity.

Be prepared for denial, scorn, ridicule, and outright opposition from family and friends. I can't tell you how many young men and women I have counseled who have decided not to follow their religious vocations b/c family and friends thought it was a waste of their lives. It's sad to say, but families are often the primary source of opposition. The potential loss of grandchildren is a deep sorrow for many moms and dads. Be ready to hear about it.

Questions to ask yourself

What is it precisely that makes me think I have a religious vocation?

What gifts do I have that point me to this end?

Can I live continent chaste celibacy for the rest of my life?

Can I be completely dependent on this group of men/women for all my physical needs? For most, if not all, of my emotional and spiritual needs?

Am I willing to work in order to provide resources for my Order/community? Even if my work seems to be more difficult, demanding, time-consuming, etc. than any other member of the community?

Am I willing to surrender my plans for my life and rely on my religious superiors to use my gifts for the mission of the Order? In other words, can I be obedient. . .even and especially when I think my superiors are cracked?

Am I willing to go where I am needed? Anywhere in the world?

Can I listen to those who disagree with me in the community and still live in fraternity? (A hard one!)

Am I willing join the Order/community and learn what I need to learn to be a good friar, monk, or nun? Or, do I see my admission as an opportunity to "straighten these guys out"?

How do I understand "failure" in religious life? I mean, how do I see and cope with brothers/sisters who do not seem to be doing what they vowed to do as religious?

What would count as success for me as a religious? Failure?

How patient am I with others as they grow in holiness? With myself?

I can personally attest to having "failed" to answer just about every single one of these before I became a Dominican. I was extremely fortunate to fall in with a community that has a high tolerance for friars who need to fumble around and start over. In the four years before I took solemn vows, there were three times when I had decided to leave the Order and a few more times when the prospects of becoming an "OP" didn't look too good. I hung on. They hung on. And here I am. For better or worse. Here I am.

3). I don't get what you are saying about prayer. Don't we pray to God for what we need? Why not ask St Joseph for help in selling a house?

My objection to the use of St Joseph statues to sell a house hinges on the superstitious use of a sacramental. If God does not will your house to be sold, it will not be sold. . .you can bury hundreds of St Joseph's statues, and it won't make a bit of difference. Burying statues will not change God's mind. Magic is the belief that we can alter reality by using willing it to be altered. Prayer is not magic. What we do in prayer is train our hearts and minds to receive as gifts all the blessings God has already given us. Every blessing you will ever receive has already been given to you. Prayer is your way of receiving those blessings in thanksgiving. The best prayer is: "Lord, I receive today all the blessings you have given me and give you thanks for them." Petitions are designed to keep us constantly aware that everything we have and everything we are is a direct gift from God. We ask for food, shelter, clothing so that we are reminded that food, shelter, clothing are God's gifts to us for our use. The "claim it and get it" school of prayer is a fraud. When Jesus says, "Ask and you shall receive," he means "You have been given, now ask for it." This is a spirituality of humity and gratitude. Think of it this way: God, from eternity, has willed that you get a new job. He has also willed that you will actually get that job when you ask for it with thanksgiving. Don't ask, don't get. So, the best thing to do is to assume that God always wills the absolute best for you; align yourself with His will for you; ask for what you need, according to His will, and give thanks BEFORE and after you get it.

Many more questions. . .(Updated)

Questions (some are even serious!):

1). Did the child Jesus throw temper tantrums in an age appropriate fashion?

Yes. Fully human, fully divine. I should say that we do not know that he threw tantrums, but he was certainly capable of it.

2). Will I have stretch marks in Heaven? They might be considered meritorious "wounds."

No, no stretch marks in heaven. We will be given "glorified bodies." Of course, we could say that our glorified bodies will reflect the perfection of our intended ends. So, mothers, women in the perfection of their motherhood, may have stretch marks as a sign of their perfection!

3). What is the line between gossip and legitimate venting about a situation that is difficult?

Intent is everything here. Gossip can be defined as "spreading news that thrills the inordinate desire to hurt others with words." You might share with a friend that Susie is getting a divorce and ask for prayer for her. Or, you can share this news as an attempt to hurt Susie or in some way discredit her. Venting is fine so long as it is truly just blowing off steam. It's best to do it with those who know you well. My big mouth gets me in trouble all the time. Audience is everything. I have non-Catholic friends that bear the brunt of my venting.

4). If you are a married woman, is it disrespectful of your marriage vows to let your physical appearance "go," or is it ok to say that doing other things to benefit your family or others trumps looking pretty?

I don't think that maintaining one's "looks" in a marriage is an absolute obligation. There's a difference between the natural change of our appearance over time and just "letting go." If "letting go" means ignoring one's health or actively abusing one's health, then that's a different matter. Body and soul are intimately bound together. Ignoring one's physical health could be a sign of spiritual malaise. This is definitely a question for a married couple to discuss openly and honestly. That means a willingness on your part to hear your husband out. Same goes for him. Are you willing to hear, "Honey, you've let yourself go, and I would find you more physically appealing if you lost a few pounds and dressed up occasionally"? Could he hear you say that?

This link is for MEN ONLY! (I mean it. . .)

5). Under what circumstances is being overweight problematic from a moral perspective, ie. an expression of the sin of gluttony?

You're hitting close to home on this one. Being overweight as a matter of over-eating or eating junky food or a refusal to get the proper exercise is a moral problem. Again, body and soul are united to make the person, so if one is being neglected the person suffers. Being overweight is not always a sign of gluttony. Genetics often plays a huge role in one's weight. So, the question is: why are you overweight? My own problem is the lack of proper exercise. Considering my size (6'1" 320 lbs) I don't eat nearly as much as most people would expect. However, I don't always eat the best food, and I hardly ever exercise. This is a moral problem for me that I have working on since high school.

6). What is the good from drinking alcohol?

All things in moderation. . .even moderation! Alcohol can be a good addition to a social occasion in that it tends to free people temporarily from inhibitions that might keep them from being as approachable as they can be. Some of my best "work" has been done with a bourbon in hand. Being less guarded, more open, freer to interact, we show ourselves more truly. Of course, like all goods, alcohol can be abused and overindulged. At some point, inhibitions are completely removed, and we do stupid things that hurt us and others. This is why drunkeness is prohibited in scripture but not drinking alcohol as such. I think the questions are: why am I drinking alcohol? Why am I drinking it now? Serving as a campus minister, I am all too familiar with the binge drinking of college students. Often, alcohol becomes the reason for getting together. Not good. However, a gathering that includes alcohol is not a problem. Europeans are much better at this than Americans. From a very young age, children here are taught to drink wine and beer as matter of course. Our somewhat Puritan standards in the U.S. make alcohol disproportionately attractive to adolescents by making it something forbidden.

7). I have had two miscarriages. My husband and I would have had both children baptized if they had been born. Does our intention to have these children baptized "count" toward the eternal destination of our unborn children?

Yes, it counts. If the parents' intent to baptize a living infant "counts" toward that infant's salvation, then it counts for the unborn as well. The Catechism defines Hell as the "state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God. . ."(CCC 1033). Infants and the unborn cannot exclude themselves from God. In purgatory, we experience directly and fully our longing for God's love while being immediately denied the fullness of that love until we are ready to enter His presence. Purgatory "burns away" the last vestiges of our reluctance and resistance to embrace fully God's will for us. The pain of purgatory is the difference between this unmediated desire for God and our temporary distance from Him. Infants and the unborn have never willingly established any resistance to God's love. The theological question becomes: how do we think about original sin (in the absence of actual sin) and its consequences for unbaptized infants and the unborn? Traditionally, the Church has speculated that since baptism is necessary for entry into heaven, and since we cannot say that these children choose Hell or need purgatory, unbaptized infants and the unborn enjoy a diluted experience of heaven called limbo. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI and his International Theological Commission took up this question. They concluded, ". . .that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation." The Catechism teaches, ". . .the Church can only entrust [unbaptized infants] to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved. . .allow[s] us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism" (CCC 1261). My conclusion: given that it is the will of God that all should be saved, and that infants and the unborn cannot exercise a free-will to thwart God's salvific will for them, through actual sin unbaptized children are admitted into heaven. Now, do I know this? No. No one does. The Church calls us to hope. This doesn't mean the Church calls us to cross our fingers and make wishes. Hope is the sure expectation that God's will will be done!

8). What is the best way to articulate analogia fidei within the wider frame of analogia entis?

God's providence is great indeed! Just minutes after receiving this question, I received an email from a friend working in Hong Kong, linking to an article that handles this very question quite admirably: "Who's Afraid of the Analogia Entis?" Check it out!

9). On the question of devotional practices, what is the proper use of sacramentals like holy water and statues?

Sacraments are signs of God's grace; that is, they are outward and visible pointers to the presence of God's grace AND they effect what they point to. In other words, signs are not mere symbols. Symbols point to that which they symbolize. Signs point to AND effect God's grace. For example, we use water in baptism. Water is the symbol of baptism. However, baptism is not a symbol; it is a sacramental sign. Washing a person with water in baptism points to God's grace in cleaning away our sins AND baptism actually cleans away sins. In the actual practie of the sacraments, intent is vital. The minister of the sacrament and those receiving the sacrament must intend the goal of the sacrament. Otherwise, they are pretending. Imagine a group of Hindu schoolchildren putting on a play where one of them is "baptized" by a "Catholic priest." They use water, the Trinitarian formula, all the correct props. But there is no intention to perform a Christian baptism. No intent, no sacrament. Sacramentals like holy water, statues, and medals should do the same thing: point to and effect the presence of God's grace. Literally, a Catholic statue is just a piece of plaster or wood or resin shaped into the figure of a saint or Jesus or an angel. Used with the proper intent, God's grace is pointed to and made present. The danger, of course, is using sacramentals in some magical way. There is nothing magical about any of these. It is the grace of God that grants blessings. We do not manipulate reality to get what we want from the saints or from the angels. Using sacramentals in this way is idolatrous. For example, I have seen Catholics "punish" saints by turning them to face the wall or putting bags over them. These punishments continue until the saint grants the desired wish. Also, burying statues of St Joseph in order to sell a house is common. These are superstitious for Catholics and should be avoided as such.

All for now! More later. . .