05 December 2009

The Real 2nd Sun of Advent 2007 Homily

[OK. . .this is my homily from 2nd Sun of Advent 2007. . .the repost below this repost is my homily for the Monday after 2nd Sun of Advent. . .OY!]

2nd Sunday Advent (A): Isa 11.1-10; Rom 15.4-9; Matt 3.1-12
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

We are told again and again during Advent that we must wait. Sit still. Anticipate. Be watchful. Alert. Just…wait. And hope. Expect and hope. Soon now, very soon. Keep hoping, keep hoping, keep hoping. Fortunately, we are assured by Paul in his letter to the Romans that “by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Endurance, indeed. What is it that we are waiting for? For whom do we wait? And why must we endure? Wait a minute, why do we need encouragement to endure!? That doesn’t sound all that attractive! Don’t we encourage one another in grief or sorrow or when some devastating event has crushed all hope? Strengthen my heart to last, O Lord. Strengthen my heart to suffer well until the coming of your Son! And may I with him produce good fruit. Again, who is it that we wait for?

We wait for: Jesus the Just Judge, eyes radiant with his Father’s mercy; Christ the King, right hand lifted high in blessing; Jesus the transfigured sacrifice of Mt Tabor, sign of the Father’s promise of resurrection; Jesus the entombed, wrapped in burial clothe and laid to rest in his grave; Christ the broken man of the cross, lifted off by Joseph and washed for burial; Jesus, “the King of the Jews,” nailed hands and feet to the cross, admitting to heaven the crucified but repentant thief; Christ the scorned, the beaten, the one betrayed in the garden; Jesus the revolutionary criminal, arrested and abandoned by his friends; Christ the Bread of Life, the Cup of Salvation, given for us at Passover; Jesus the teacher, who teaches only truth; Christ the preacher, who preaches repentance and mercy; Jesus the healer, who draws out the faith of the sick, the crippled, the unclean and makes them whole; Christ at the wedding feast, the Son of Mary, changing water to wine, the first sign of his ministry to come; Jesus the baptized, raising from the Jordan at the hands of John; Christ the beloved son, the one to whom we must listen; Jesus the student in the temple, learning the Law and its fulfillment; Christ the misplaced boy, teaching his elders in the synagogue. Jesus, the God-child asleep in his bed of straw; Christ the newborn, receiving the reverend Magi; Jesus, the Spirit of God who overshadowed his Mother and ours to be born a man like us; Christ the Word at Creation, Wisdom at his Father’s side, prophet of reconciliation, instrument of both division and peace; we wait for the coming of the shoot from Jesse’s branch, Christ Jesus, Lord, Emmanuel, God-with-Us, I AM. We wait for the consummation of the world and the coming again of Christ the Just Judge!

And here you thought you were waiting for Santa Claus and your favorite Christmas ham! NO! Absolutely not…

Listen again to Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.” He will judge with justice and “decide aright” for the poor. He will strike down the ruthless and slay the wicked. His coming will subvert the natural order of creation: wolf and lamb, leopard and sheep, lion and calf—all will “browse together” as guests at his table. The Child will lead the bear and cow to friendship and the lion will eat hay like the ox. His coming will be a sign for all the nations, and “the Gentiles shall seek [him] out, for his dwelling shall be glorious!” Paul, our witness, teaches us, “…that Christ became the minister of [the Jews] to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises of the patriarchs, so that the Gentiles [the rest of us] might glorify God for his mercy.” We are not waiting on egg nog, ugly sweaters, gift cards to Cracker Barrel, battery-operated dolls with glam outfits, new cars, fake furs, or Britney Spears’ last CD. Our gospel acclamation says it all: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths: all flesh shall see the salvation of God!”

It is too quick and easy to say that Advent is a season of preparation. For us, the ones who wait for the Thief to come at any moment, for us, being prepared is a way of life, right? I mean, sitting on edge, vibrating with adrenaline fueled tension, just waiting to spring into holiness, to snap into charitable action the second the heavenly trumpet blares and the first cumulus nimbus parts! Being ready is what we do. Trumpet. Cloud. Jesus. BAM! We on it and set to go. But, ummmm, just one small question: who are we waiting on again? We’ve heard King and Judge, Child and Lamb, Servant and Master, Emmanuel and I AM. By the way, what or who does an “I AM” looks like? Anyway, so we are sitting here, standing here, praying here, praising here, just being here, waiting in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord, but are we sure what it means “to make straight the path of the Lord”? And, for that matter, are we real clear on what “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” means?

Naw, I don’t think so. John the Baptist understood his mission perfectly. Leaping in his mother’s womb when a pregnant Mary visited his mom, John knew instantly what his prophetic responsibility would be: to announce the coming of the Lord to all flesh, all nations. And so, John preached in the deserts of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” When confronted by Pharisees and Sadducees—latecomers to the Lord’s party trying to get baptized —John said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Ahhhhh ha! John the Baptist and his prophetic mission is exactly what Advent is all about. Not wreaths and violet vestments and hanging out ‘til Santa brings me my stuff. Advent is about getting ready for the return of our Lord and the end of everything as we know it. Thus, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths…” Are you situated right now, settled right now and ready for Lord of your redemption to return? Or, are you wiggling around with the vipers, coming lately to the feast and hoping to sneak in the back door?

Our basic Advent question is: can you produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance? Let’s hope so. John warns, “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.” Is this meant to scare us? Frighten us like children into a last-second fit of self-flagellation and groveling for mercy? The picture John paints for us isn’t all that comforting. John says that though he himself baptizes you with water “for repentance,” the Lord, “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Wheat goes in the barn. Chaff goes in the fire. Who it is we are waiting on? We’re not waiting on Jesus the Social Worker. Jesus the Hippie Priest. Jesus the Babydoll of God. We’re not waiting on a pacified, commercialized, suburbanized, plastic Messiah. Our Blessed Mother did not give birth to a Group Facilitator or a Dialog Specialist or a Conflict Mediator. Our Father did not preserve the Virgin Mary from all stain of Original Sin so that she might bring into this world some guy to teach us to be nice to one another, to show us how to just get along. As much as we would love to believe that Christ will return and pat us on the head for our C- efforts, his Coming Again is about one thing and one thing only: the consummation of human history, the end of everything as we know it. So, let’s ask that Advent question one more time: can you produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance?

Truly, we must resist the temptation to domesticate our Lord. To whittle him down to a toy or sugarcoat him into a holiday candy. We are not playing a game. We are not feeling the warm-fuzzy of rum nog. The Good News of Advent is that he is coming again. This is the Good News of Christmas, the New Year, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time, and every solemnity we celebrate in between and among the feast days of the saints. Our need to repent, to turn from sin and to love as God loves, is a daily, hourly need, a nothing-special-about-this-season need. If you are ready, stay ready. If you are not ready, get ready. Why? Because if you have ears to hear, listen: there is a voice crying out in the desert, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Let astonishment seize you. . .(2nd Sun of Advent 2007)

[NB.  This is a repost.  I am running up against a deadline for my thesis, so blogging will be very light until Wed, Dec 9th.] 

[NB.  This is not the homily for 2nd Sun of Advent but the Monday after 2nd Advent Sun.] 

2nd Week Advent (M): Isa 35.1-10 and Luke 5.17-26
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

In his 1944 existentialist play, No Exit, French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre declared, “Hell is other people.” On one of the last episodes of Angel, the main character, Angel, a vampire with a soul turned private detective, the one who dated Buffy on her show, acquires a magical ring that allows him to travel to Hell where he intends to confront Satan himself. In a not-so-Dantesque device, he rides a service elevator straight down to Hell itself. After a lengthy ride down, the doors open, our hero is poised to do battle with every kind of vile demon imaginable. Instead, when the doors open we see the exact same street scene we saw when our hero got in the elevator. Apparently, Hell is wherever you are and the demons we battle do not always live in That Special Place. One more: that wonderful Twilight Zone episode with Anthony Burgess.* Burgess plays an impatient, bespectacled misanthrope librarian who just wants to be left alone to read his books. War breaks out and he survives the destruction of mankind. He rejoices b/c, as the last man on Earth, he now has all the time he needs to read. While celebrating on the steps of the New York Public Library, he fall and breaks his only pair of glasses. Perhaps Hell is no other people.

Jesus teaches his disciples that there is a connection to be made between sin and sickness. He heals the paralyzed man by forgiving him his sins. This causes the persnickety Pharisees to fall all over themselves accusing him of blasphemy for daring to presume that he can forgive anyone’s sin. The point of the scene is to show us Christ’s healing power and to reinforce his claim that he is the Messiah. That’s evident. But what we might overlook is the small detail that makes this scene truly instructive. The paralyzed man is carried by his friends to the house where Jesus is teaching. Because they cannot reach him through the crowd, they climb over the crowd to the roof of the house and lower the man through the ceiling on a stretcher. The man’s friends lower him to rest directly in front of Christ as he preaches. Luke writes, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said [to the man] ‘As for you, your sins are forgiven.’” Did you catch that?

The genius of our faith is the bizarre religious notion we borrow from our Jewish ancestors that we are saved as a body and not as individuals—as a nation, a people, a tribe and not as Me Alone. We are in-corp-orated—that is, embodied—into the Body of Christ through baptism. We live out our spiritual lives by attending to the regularly celebrated public sacraments of the Church. Jesus heals the paralyzed man not because the man is particularly pious or holy or because he is a great benefactor of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus heals the man of his sin and sickness because of the faith of his friends! Their trust in God, their hope in the healing power of truth and mercy, their love of their friend moves Jesus to act.

Quite literally, the man’s friends “make straight the path of the Lord” and they walk that path straight to Jesus, carrying their paralyzed friend. So that the Pharisees might know that he is who he says he is, our Lord, says to the man, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” And he does, thus letting us all, all flesh, all nations see the salvation of God. Sartre would have seen these men and their love for him as Hell. Angel would have walked into that house and observed a mundane image of the devil’s lair. Our librarian friend with the broken glasses would regret his impatience and long for someone to read to him. In their isolation and despair, these men would find their “definitive self-exclusion from the presence of God.”

We cannot come to Christ alone. We cannot baptize ourselves. Forgive our own sins. Nor can we bear witness to God’s healing power if we stand alone. Therefore, let astonishment seize you and glorify God to all flesh, all nations. Though you have seen incredible things up til now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

*As a Nitpicky Reader points out, the actor's name is Burgess Meredith.  Get a job, Subvet!  :-)

03 December 2009

Desecrating the Host: another try

OK. . .let's try this again:

A young man comes into my office and tells me that last Sunday he stole a host at Mass and intends to flush it down the toilet.  He will make video of the event and put it on Youtube.

I ask him why he wants to do this.  He reels off all the usual anti-Catholic junk about oppression of women, same-sex marriage, blahblahblah, and proudly proclaims himself to be an atheist.

Rather than trying to persuade him that he is mistaken about God and the Church, I simply ask him if he understands that Catholics will see his stunt as an act of desecration. He says yes, that's why he is doing it.  I ask him what he hopes to gain with the stunt.  He wants to draw attention to the Church's medieval oppression blahblahblah.  By flushing the host he claims he will symbolically flush the Church along with it.

I listen patiently and ask, "Do you believe that the host is the Body of Christ?"  He says, "Of course not.  That's not rational thinking."  I explain the Church's understanding of the Eucharist and why it is important to us that the host be revered and not desecrated.  He just giggles and shakes his head.

He leaves my office and proceeds to carry out his promise to flush the host and post the video on Youtube.

Now, what is the best public response that Catholics can make to this act?

Keep in mind:

He is seeking attention for his anti-Catholic whinings.
He doesn't believe that God exists.
He doesn't care that Catholics believe that the host is the Body of Christ.
He doesn't care that Catholics will be insulted/offended; in fact, he hopes we are.
This is not an argument about whether or not the host is still the Sacrament given his intentions.

My contention in the post below is that the sacramental status of the host is irrelevant to how we will respond publicly b/c Jesus can take care of himself.  God doesn't need us to defend Him.* My suggestion that the bishops' conference issue a statement about the host no longer being the Sacrament b/c of the guy's evil intent clouded the issue.  I should have known that the comments would focus on the issue of "when is the host Jesus and when isn't it."  That was my dumb mistake.

The desecrator doesn't believe the host is Jesus, and he is going to flush it precisely because we believe it is. He is counting on us to rise up in indignation to defend the Sacrament by loudly denouncing him. We can't stop the desecration b/c it has already occurred.  All we can do is choose how we will react publicly.

Here's my point:  if we do what he expects us to do (emails, petitions, demands for the video to be removed, etc.), he wins.  He gets what he wants.  More views on his Youtube account.  Angry, sputtering Catholics sending links over the internet.  Primo PR for his kiddie tantrum.  And how many (rightly) indignant and well-meaning Catholics are going to confirm the worst prejudices of anti-Catholic freaks by saying or writing something theologically dubious about the Eucharist?  I've been told by more than one non-believing friend that Catholics have assured him that a host put under chemical analysis will yield human DNA!  In fact, I was told once by a student that the Precious Blood can be blood-typed, but we dare not do it b/c it would test God.

Best approach:  shrug it off; ignore the whole thing; pray fervently for the descerator;  ask your pastor to celebrate a Mass of reparation, and let God defend Himself against atheist-wackos. 

*Defending our statements about how we as human beings understand God is a different thing entirely.

Desecrating the Eucharist: how Catholics should respond (UPDATED)

Question:  How should Catholics react/respond to Youtube vids of atheists and other anti-religious types desecrating the Blessed Sacrament?  

Two reactions seem to me to be perfectly reasonable. . .

First, a private reaction:  horror and then prayer for the individual who does such a thing.

Second, a public reaction:  ignore it.  Even better, a declaration from the bishops' conference stating that the Sacrament is no longer the Sacrament the instant someone intents to desecrate the species. [see note below]*

To understand the force of the second reaction you have to understand the adolescent attention-seeking mindset of the person who would abuse the sacred species to make anti-Catholic propaganda.

Traditionally, the point of desecration is to offer offense to the god(s) of the enemy.  It's a terror tactic used to demoralize a conquered people.  Essentially, destroying a temple or pulling down an idol is a way for the victor to say, "See!  Your god(s) have abandoned you.  We won because your god(s) is weak!"  Conquerors may not have worshiped the enemy's god(s), but they probably believed that this god(s) really existed.  Defeating the nation dedicated to the  offended god(s) proved the deity too weak to defend his/her people.  Such a god(s) deserves no worship.  

But the crybabies who desecrate the Eucharist do not believe in the Christian god.  They do not believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ.  In their own minds, they are not offering offense to Christ b/c they do not believe that Christ is who he says he is.  The point of desecrating the Eucharist is offend Catholics.  More importantly, the act of desecration is specifically designed to provoke Catholics into angry, indignant reactions that prove we are religious fanatics willing to defend bizarre Dark Age superstitions.

I would argue that the instant anyone steals the sacred species for the purpose of desecration the sacrament is no longer the Body and Blood of Christ.  If some idiot wants to nail a piece of bread to the wall or flush it down the toilet and post a video of the event on the internet, then more power to him.  I'm not offended b/c I don't believe that the host is the Body of Christ.

If the Holy Spirit can effect the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ through the agency of human intention and prayer, then there is no reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is powerless to revoke the effects of the transformation and leave the species perfectly ordinary in the face of human disbelief and the intention to desecrate.

Christ freely and willingly died for us on the cross 2,000 years ago.  He endured torture, humiliation, abandonment, and death so that we might be reconciled with the Father through his sufferings.  He has already suffered far worse than being peed on by some undergrad atheist looking for his 15-minutes of internet fame.  By telling the attention-seeking crybaby that we are not offended by his desecration, we deflate his self-importance; undercut the anti-Catholic propaganda power of his silly gesture; attract attention to the faith; and come out of the whole thing looking like adults patiently indulging a child in the midst of a public temper-tantrum.

Email campaigns, signing petitions, calling for new laws, filing lawsuits--all of these give the offender exactly what he wants and only encourages others to imitate him. 

So, the next time one of these bozos make the news with a desecration stunt, simply respond, "Um, dude, that host stopped being the Body of Christ the second you stole it with the intent to desecrate.  Why should anyone be offended that you are playing with a piece of bread on Youtube?"

[NB.  My purpose in this post is not to put forward a theology of the Eucharist but rather to address how faithful Catholics should respond to acts of public desecration.  Given that Christ doesn't need our protection--he can take care of himself--and that the purpose of the desecration is publicity for the Bozo Desecrator, the best Catholic response is to deny said Bozo the satisfaction of seeing us insulted.  One way to deny him the attention he craves is to tell him that the Sacrament is no longer the Sacrament b/c he stole it with evil intent.  Now, is this true?  Does it matter?  If Christ doesn't need our protection (and he doesn't); and Bozo doesn't believe in God (and he doesn't); and the point is to insult Catholics (and it is), then I don't think it matters whether or not the Sacrament is still the Sacrament.  However, if the Holy Spirit wills it, Bozo's desecration could be used as a means of grace for Bozo's conversion.  Say, it nails the Host to a wall and it starts bleeding!  Now there's a great conversion story.  PLEASE HEAR ME:  I am not saying it's OK to desecrate the Sacrament.  All I am asking here is:  what do we say to Bozo to take the wind out of his attention-seeking PR stunt?  Is desecration insulting to Catholics?  Of course!  But do we want to react in a way that encourages or discourages any future desecrations?  Let's be careful not to attribute our insult to God.  We are perfectly right to feel insulted.  But we do not speak for God.]

*This sentence (and the whole idea of the host reverting to bread b/c of evil intent) has turned out to be a distraction from the issue at hand.  It was meant more as a thought experiment, not serious sacramental theology.  Please see the post directly above this one, "Desecrating the host:  another try" for clarification.  

02 December 2009

Feminism: men's secret plan to escape responsibility

Matt Patterson of PJTV will have to be drummed out of the "No Girls Club" for posting this piece, "Men, the Gender Wars are Over--We won."

In this expose of the male mastermind plan to free husbands, boyfriends, and men in general from the burdens of familial responsibility, Patterson lays out the basics of the conspiracy that the Club code-named, "Feminism":

Men, “Operation Feminist Movement” has worked, and more swiftly and completely than many of you thought possible. Mere decades ago, we spent endless hours and countless dollars before marriage courting and wooing; after marriage, we shouldered the entire financial burden for our families.

Now, after marriage, women can be expected to pay for half of everything, which is to the good, because video games are expensive. But, as more and more of you are discovering, why bother with marriage at all anymore? You can stay up all night, hang with your buds all the time, secure in the knowledge that on any given night you can be sure to find a willing woman, a woman who has likely been taught, conditioned even (by other women!) to expect nothing from you in return — and that this is a good thing.

Patterson, no doubt you will hearing from the Club Membership Committee.  Prepare to forfeit your de-coder ring and beer stein!

Read the whole thing.

Misc Questions

Quick Quick/Quick Answers. . .

1).  What?  No comment yet on the Anglican Constitution?

Ummmmm. . .no.  I've read it and the many commentaries available on-line.  I don't really have anything to add to the discussion except:  "WELCOME HOME!!!"

2).  The sexual abuse report from Ireland was released a few days ago?  Thoughts?

My thoughts/feelings/ideas on Christian clergy who sexually abuse children are not publishable.  Let's just say all three involve public whipping posts and small islands with lots of rocks that need to be moved. . .repeatedly. . .for years.

3).  Thesis update?  How's it coming along?

Thesis?!  What thesis?!  Nobody told me I had to write a thesis!  Seriously, the first rough draft is due Dec. 8th.  It will be done on time. . .unless I get sick or something (sneeze-cough-wheeze).

4).  Did you watch the President's speech on Afghanistan?

No, I've watched one B.O. speech.  Therefore, I have seen them all.  But I've read that he's sending 30,000 more troops and giving them 18 mos. to build a lot of exits out of the country.

5).  Did you see the bit about the San Francisco archdiocese having to fork over $14 million in taxes for transferring their own property to themselves?

Yea.  Expect more of this sort of thing.  The tax assessor is punishing the archdiocese for opposing same-sex "marriage."  I'm no tax lawyer (the Lord is good!), but my guess is that the decision will be overturned on judicial appeal.

6).  Spirit Daily has a thing up about pets in the afterlife?  What says the Dominican friar?

This Dominican friar says, "No."

7).  Do you know what the ITC [International Theological Commission] is studying this time around?

I don't.  My guess:  Dominican friar, Fr. Charles Morerod, is the secretary-general of the commission and his theological expertise is in theology of religions and ecumenicism.  So, maybe they are considering a question like, "How many Dominicans does it take to put a carton of milk back in the 'fridge?"  Answer:  we don't know b/c it's never been tried.

Now, off to bed. . .errrmmm. . .I mean, back to work!

01 December 2009

Theological Interlude: meriting grace

Question: Over the holidays I got in to an argument with a Protestant friend about how the Catholic Church teaches that we can earn our salvation. I didn't know how to explain the teaching. How would you do it? 

Not the easiest teaching to explain, but I'll give it a try. This is a highly non-technical explanation, btw. . .

First thing to understand:  NEVER has the Church taught that salvation is earned.  Anyone who claims that the Church teaches that Catholics can buy their salvation with money or works has no idea what they are talking about.  Period.  End of discussion.  

Second:  Christ died and rose again in order that everyone might be saved.  Everyone.  All of us.  Buddhists, Muslims, raving materialist atheists.  ALL.  Now, to effect (to put into action) God's salvific will, we must accept His saving grace through Christ.   God will not force us to  accept His will. Catholics enter the Body of Christ through Baptism.  Nourish body and soul in the Eucharist.  And maintain a thriving state of God's grace by Confession.  However, even after Baptism, we can reject God's grace and live apart from Him forever if we so choose.* 

Third:   We do not merit grace in the sense that we earn credit for good works.  Our salvation is freely given.  Grace = gift.  A "gift" cannot be a gift if it is earned.  We call that wages.  What the Church means by "merited grace" is the additional blessing we receive when we do good works in response to God's freely given grace.

An analogy:  My mom and dad give me a $100.  No reason.  No occasion.  They love me and know I need it, so they just hand it over.  No strings.  No expectations.  When next I visit them, I decide the mow our rather large and unruly yard.  In my mind, I do this principally b/c I love my parents and want to make them happy.  But I also have in mind their generosity in giving me the much-needed cash.  By mowing the yard, I merit the $100.

Note well:  the $100 comes first.  I receive the $100 as a gift.  Later, I do some good work to merit the money.  Nothing has been bought.  Everyone is happy.  

If I had mowed the yard and then received the $100, it could have been seen as payment.  It could have been a bribe or a way of guilting me into doing the work.  But the money came first.  My work came second.   

God freely gave us His Son as a gift.  We receive His Son as a gift at baptism.  The work we do after this merits the grace. . .the grace is NOT purchased.  It is impossible to purchase a gift that has been given and received as a gift.  Gifts (graces), by definition, are freely given and freely received, i.e., not earned, purchased, extorted, or borrowed/loaned.

Hope this helps!  

*Keep in mind here that the sacraments are given to us for our use.  God is not limited by the sacraments.  He can work His grace anyway He chooses.  For Catholics, the ordinary means of grace is through the sacraments.

Kitty Surprise

I'm no fan of Cuteness. However, even my cold heart is (slightly) warmed by this vid.

Pray the Hours for Advent

HancAquam reader, Michelle, points us to the webpage of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. . .

Where we find an exhortation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours as a way of starting off the new Church year.

Excellent idea!  Check it out.

Coffee Bowl Browsing (Eco-scandal Edition)

The White House that was supposed to bring us policies based on the Eternal Wisdom of Science still believes that the "science" of global warming is settled.  Color me not surprised.

The Marxists behind the Copenhagen Conference. 

Green for thee but not for me:  celebrity eco-hypocrites

A Who's Who of the Climate Gate scandal (video)

Global Warming is like Lincoln and the slaves or Churchill and the Nazis. . .or something.

Hysteria and desperation from the Prophets of Carbon Doom!

"Peer-reviewed research" is not so much reviewed by peers as it is suppressed by ideologues.

30 November 2009

A more perfect knowledge of God

1st Week of Advent (T): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives thanks and praise to his Father for hiding the divine truth from the wise and learned, yet revealing this same truth to the childlike. He says to the disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” So, along with the wise and learned, prophets and kings are left in darkness, left to grope at the truth in their ignorance. As Dominicans and students studying at a Dominican university maybe we should be worried about this imposed darkness, just a little anxious about the glee with which Jesus consigns the learned to their adult cloud of not-knowing. Wasn't it our brother, Aquinas, who taught us how to treat theology as a science? Didn't he bring the pagan philosopher, Aristotle, into the mind of the Church and shape our faith with his metaphysical wisdom? Take a quick look at the courses we offer here at the Angelicum and decide if we—professors and students alike—belong to the wise and learned. Dialogical Theologies of Religion. Contemporary Philosophies of Theology. Nietzsche and Christianity. Gadamer's Hermeneutics. Heidegger's Essays. Whew! That's a lot of learning! But where are the courses on being childlike? Where do we learn the wisdom of a child's love for her mom and dad? Jesus prays, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” Our childlike wisdom starts with God's revelation.

In case you are worried that your preacher this morning is preaching Christian anti-intellectualism, let me quote Aquinas, “We have a more perfect knowledge of God by grace than by natural reason” (ST I.12.13). Limited as we are in understanding our finite world, imagine the limits of what we can know about the infinite divine! Relying on reason alone—the learning and wisdom of this world—we can glimpse some small portion of the divine in creation. But it is only through a divinely-graced intellect that we can achieve a more perfect knowledge of who God is. Through Christ our Father reaches down to lift us up so that we might see what the childlike already see: true wisdom, the knowledge that passes all understanding, begins and ends in His love for us. This is not anti-intellectualism; this is an intellect super-charged with the grace of revelation.

Jesus tells the disciples that they are blessed b/c they see and hear what prophets and kings long to see and hear but do not. What accident or disease has left these pitiable prophets and kings deaf and blind to God's truth? Is it that they are simply stupid, intellectually ungifted? Maybe they are stubborn or just lazy? No, none of these. Jesus says that he reveals the Father to those whom he chooses. And no one else sees or hears except those chosen. Among the disciples are tax-collectors, fishermen, even a physician but no prophets, priests, kings, or professors. Jesus reveals the Father to the Average Joe's of Judea, knowing that it will be they who make the best witnesses, knowing that the faith gifted to them would flourish in the hard world of work, persecution, and scarcity.

If this is true, surely then, students and professors have nothing to say to the world about Christ. No, we have our own work, our own forms of persecution and scarcity. But what we say about Christ and what we do in his name begins and ends with the love he reveals from the Father. Philosophy, theology, science can all show us some small portion of the truth if and only if our most basic assumptions and methods rest firmly on the knowledge that we are creatures, made in the image and likeness of our Creator. From this knowledge we can unravel the truths of our purpose and love both freely and

29 November 2009

Climate Gate does not hurt science

Some HancAquam readers are asking if the Climate Gate scandal undermines the authority of science in general. . .the implication being that science--often the arch-nemesis of religion in the public square, particularly Christianity--has been somehow fundamentally damaged and can now be safely ignored or ridiculed into silence.  Visions of booing the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens off the world-stage dance in our heads. . .

Generally, the question goes something like this:  "Doesn't this scandal prove that science is just another game played by elitists who want fortune and fame?" 

My unequivocal answer:  "Absolutely.  Not." 

The Climate Gate scandal reaffirms the truth of what every Christian ought to know from personal experience:  we live in a fallen world run by fallen men and women who do and says things that all too often prove to be sinful.   Scientists may be under a cloud of suspicion at the moment, but science as a means of investigating the natural world is as trustworthy has it ever been.  In the same way that the abuse scandals put the clergy under suspicion without touching the essential core of the faith, scientists themselves will have to endure heightened scrutiny while defending the basic integrity of their profession.  And defend it they must; first, by unambiguously condemning the CRU and those who deceived the public.  And second, by starting over with a new investigation into the basic assumptions of global warming.

Scientists, like theologians, freely admit that their knowledge is ultimately tacit, firmly held but subject to refinement upon further study.  Our knowledge of the world (or God) in no way alters the reality of that world (or God).  As John Polkinghorne argues, our sciences (whether it is natural or divine) are always a matter of verisimilitude, "truth-likeness."  For scientists, the truth-likeness of science empowers the discovery of new facts and the invention of new technology.  The bumper-sticker on the Good Scientist's car might be:  "Science.  It Works." 

What must be combated during this scandal is the rise of scientific equivalent of the Voice of the Faithful (VOTF).  This group was founded in 2002 as a lay-led reaction to the scandals.  Taking advantage of the chaos after the scandal broke, VOTF argued that the abuse of minors by priests and the subsequent cover-ups by bishops exposed the weaknesses of the Church's hierarchical structure and the need for radical reform.  VOTF pushed for changes in this structure that fit their dissident, Protestantizing agenda for the Church:  women's ordination, married clergy, more hierarchical power to the laity, etc.  Their push for these specific reforms ignores the fact that women, married people, and lay folks in other churches and even in non-religious professions sexually abuse children as well. 

Unfortunately, for the VOTF, they can not demonstrate how the hierarchical structure itself was responsible for the sexual abuse of minors.  No Church document approves child molestation.  Nothing in the tradition of the Church encourages it.  Canon law does not sanction it.  No Catholic conscience properly formed can tolerate it.  In fact, the exact opposite is true.  Everything the Church holds to be true and faithfully teaches explicitly condemns the sexual abuse of minors.  The abuse happened precisely because the men who populate the hierarchy failed to be diligent in their sacred responsibilities.  Had they followed Church teaching faithfully, the abuse would have never happened.  The teachers are at fault, not the teachings.

This goes for the Climate Gate scientists as well.  The Climate Research Unit scandal happened because the scientists involved did not faithfully carry out the basic procedures of the scientific method.  By destroying inconvenient data, lying to colleagues and gov't oversight bodies, by suppressing oppositional voices in the journals, and manipulating methods to reach pre-determined outcomes, these guys behaved more like religious zealots defending a ridiculous occult dogma than as scientists searching for the truth. 

Just as the sex scandals exposed a perversion of the Church's teachings and structures by fallen men, Climate Gate exposes a perversion of the scientific method by those bent on having their way in spite of the truth. 

Science is worthy of our trust.  Those abusive climate-scientists are not.

Vigilance for Christ NOT vigilance against fear

1st Sunday of Advent: Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

If you search on Youtube for vids using the terms “wake up prank” you will find some hilarious pranks pulled on poor, sleeping souls. Pranksters use air horns, spiders, plastic lizards, flour, mousetraps, and Halloween masks to scare the living daylights out of their family members and friends. Asleep and soundly dreaming away the night, the victims are secure in their beds. Vulnerable, innocent, easy prey. When the assault comes, their reactions—screams of terror, wild jumping about, colorful (*ahem*) language—all come together perfectly in a flashing instant of surprise, a completely unexpected jolt back to the reality of the waking world. . .and the terrible laughing of their loved ones. After this dose of terror, how do they ever get back to sleep, waiting, as they surely are, for the next bucket of water, or the next fake machine gun blast? Do they know it's coming? Do they wait to be surprised again?

Speaking to the disciples about his return at the end of this age, Jesus says, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy. . .and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times. . .” Like the victim of a Youtube wake-up prank, are we to live our lives in vigilant fear of being surprised by the trumpet blast, the roaring waves, the moon and stars shaken from the sky? After all, doesn't Jesus also tell the disciples that “people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world”? Ours is a vigilance of hope not fear, of thankful anticipation not fret and worry about disaster and cosmic destruction. Yes, the Day is coming, but it is the Day our Lord fulfills His promise to us.

The world has been ending since it started. The Last Day of creation dawned with the First Day's sunrise. Can you count the number of world-ending scenarios you have lived through? For me: Soviet communism, DDT poisoning, acid rain, nuclear winter, HIV/AIDS, the new ice age, global suffocation from deforestation, flu pandemics, “dirty bomb terrorism,” worldwide economic collapse, and global warming—all secular apocalyptic scripts that narrate the reduction of our civilizations to utter ruin. Instinctively, it seems, we understand that as individuals and as a collective whole we will die. There will be an end. I will die. You will die. We might even die together. On a global scale, apocalyptic scenarios represent our individual anxieties about dying. Projected on the world-screen, these End of Days dramas are just one of the ways we humans play out our fear of dying. The trumpets of natural disaster, or nuclear annihilation, or environmental pollution blare from the four corners of the Earth, and we run around screaming, searching for some way—any way—to forestall our end. If the Church can be justly accused of using the bloody prophecies of Armageddon to frighten the vulnerable into submission to her power, then we can just as rightly accuse the secular powers of using scientific prophecy to scare us into a slavery to fear. Does it matter if the prophets of global destruction are dressed in vestments or lab coats? Whether they use cryptic scriptures or equally occult “science”? Neither of these schools of prophecy preach the hope that Christ came give to us. Neither encourages us to wait faithfully in the expectation of the day of promise. Neither points us to the need to live in love with thanksgiving.

Does this mean then that we can become complacent in our vigilance for the coming of the Lord? No, of course not. But if we are not to drown in worry and be surprised on the day of promise, we must understand that ours is a vigilance for the coming of Christ not a vigilance against our inevitable demise. As Christians, we have no fear of death. Death is dead. Yes, we will die. But we will not lie dead forever. Jesus is not warning the disciples against the coming end so much as he is telling them to live now as if he he had come again already. When secular apocalyptic scenarios splash across the media, we are told that there are solutions, outs, ways of avoiding the coming disasters. We are harangued and shamed into schemes to save the planet. Jesus says no such thing to the disciples. There are no solutions. He says simply, “I will return. And here is how you will know I am coming. . .” The advent of his coming is always upon us. He has come; his is coming; and he will come again. These are not reasons to fear an end, but reasons to hope for his inevitable rule.

Hope looks beyond anxiety, beyond disaster, beyond the always-already advent of an apocalypse. When we hope as we ought, we are not gambling against cosmic odds, but rather laying claim to the promise made by God to His prophet Jeremiah: “In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land.” That's not an angry threat but a divine guarantee.