09 January 2010


Questions. ..

1).  I recently saw "2012" and "The Road."  Why do you think people, especially Christians, love these apocalyptic stories?

I'm not sure that Christians love these sorts of stories in any special way; however, we have inherited the Jewish apocalyptic tradition and our history is stuffed full of the faithful believing and acting upon end of the world scenarios.  Here's my armchair theorizing. . .movies/stories like "2012" satisfy a couple of human impulses.  First, we love the idea of starting over.  Everything is so screwed up; everything is beyond repair--let's just wipe it clean and try again.  Second, our fav villains are cast as the cause the disasters, so we get to wallow in a little Told Ya So.  In Jewish-Christian stories, it's the sinner who brings down God's judgment on the planet.  In the eco-theistic stories, it's evil capitalists, polluters, and Christians who cause the apocalypse.  One of the many, many things I love about The Road is that McCarthy avoids completely writing about the cause/blame of the world's destruction.  This single decision saved the book from being just another disaster story.  Third, and this is likely to be controversial, I think we want to be punished. . .not as individuals but as a whole.  Strong consciences are very much aware of guilt but survival instincts tend to keep us bobbing and weaving responsibility.  Wholesale destruction relieves guilt through punishment but also makes sure everyone else gets punished too.  Fourth, and perhaps scariest, these stories have a real wish-fulfillment element to them. Reviews of "Avatar" have pointed out that it is an adolescent suicide note to negligent parents (i.e., corporations, etc.), a sort "you'll be sorry when I'm gone" film that wants us to wallow around in the narrative's pretentious eco-preaching and then do penance by living lives of consumerist self-loathing.  For Christians, none of these should matter much.  God is in control; we aren't.  All things will be well.  The secret for us is to make darn sure that our priorities are properly ordered and that we know who we are in Christ.  Come the end, that's all that will matter anyway.

2).  You said in class at UD once that you aren't really interested in learning the Tridentine Mass.  Has living in Rome changed your mind?

Not really.  I understand and sympathize with Catholics who love the Extraordinary Form and want to see it used more widely and frequently.  If I were a pastor, I'd certainly make every effort to learn the form and celebrate it regularly.  As a religious priest serving in an academic setting, there aren't many opportunities for me to preside at Mass in any form.  But quite apart from these practical considerations, I cannot find any substantial flaws in the Ordinary Form of the Mass.  The current translation is a disaster, and there's ample evidence that the newest translation will have its problems too. . .but at the very least we will have language that doesn't read and sound like people gathering at WalMart to pray that the Eucharist "have an effect in their lives."  And for the record, I do not buy for one second the traditionalist pose that the E.F. is the only valid, only real, only True/Good/Holy Mass of the Ages.  Like all liturgical texts and practices, the E.F. has a history of origination, development, change, decline, revival, etc.  Jesus and the apostles did not write the E.F. at the Last Supper.  And neither did they compose the O.F.  The O.F. can be celebrated with reverence, great solemnity, and bring God's people closer to Him.  I'll end this by saying that I am 100% in favor of celebrating the O.F. ad orientum.

3).  Fr. Z. had a poll going about whether or not the Vatican ought to start using that big sedan chair for the Pope during processions into St. Peter's.  What do you think?

My immediate reaction upon hearing the suggestion was NO!  The last thing any pope, especially this pope, needs is to appear to be even further removed from the people.  Then, Fr. Z. posted an article by a security specialist who made a good case not only for security and visibility but also for relieving the Holy Father from that long walk up the aisle, a walk that usually precedes 2 to 3 hour liturgies.  I think a good compromise would be for someone to design and build a less throne-like sedan chair. . .something tasteful, elegant, but not quite so garish as we have seen in the past.  But even then, as I imagine being at the Vatican and seeing BXVI being carried in, even then I get sort of queasy and wonder if there isn't a better way.  If you can't tell, I don't have much taste for the Imperial Papacy and its trappings.

08 January 2010

Fr. Bob's Philosophy Problem

So, you go to Fr. Bob with marital (!) problems and he reads the Wedding at Cana story to you.  And even though you ask him good questions about how this story to relevant to your difficulties, all Fr. Bob will do is re-read the story. . .again and again.

Is Fr. Bob stupid?  Is he being coy?  Zen-like?  What!?

None of the above.  Fr. Bob is an extreme practitioner of a PoMo theological innovation called "narrative theology" (NT).   Since modern science has eliminated metaphysical problems, we can leave aside all that medieval mumbo-jumbo about cause, being, essence, nature, etc.  But leaving aside metaphysical questions in philosophy means leaving aside all of the theology that this sort of philosophy supported, that is, centuries of traditional Roman Catholic theology.

No problem.  Modernism has us covered.  Well, except that postmodernist philosophies have weakened the modernist's strangle on claims to rational truth by pointing out that all truth claims are made within an interpretative field; therefore, truth can never be evaluated from a non-interpretative framework, including the rationalism.  IOW, logic/science/reason are not privileged means of examining the truth claims of other human ways of knowing; they themselves are subject to evaluation.

If Catholic theologians "forget being" and "go beyond metaphysics" AND abandon the modernist grand narrative of Logic and Science, where does this leave them?

Telling stories.  The basic (very, very basic) premise of NT is that all the metaphysical speculation of scholastic theology and all the high-minded rationalism of modernism obscure the gospel story by loading it down with the yoke of post-testament philosophical problems, problems not found in the stories themselves, problems not even implied by the stories.  The way out of this mess is to simply return to the narratives of the gospels and connect them up with the everyday lives of real Christians. 

So, rather than spending a great deal of time worrying about the metaphysical problems of the resurrection or proving within scientific probabilities that the resurrection occurred, narrative theologians simply say, "Here's the resurrection story. . .what did it mean then, now, and for the future?"  Their concern is that we choose the gospel narratives as true descriptions of how our ancestors in the faith understood their relationship to God and how the gospel story shaped their lives.  Having chosen these narratives, we make them our own.  NT does not claim that the gospel stories are merely stories meant to inspire good moral behavior--that's just early 20th-century Protestant liberalism, the social gospel.  By making the gospel narrative "our own," we adopt the worldview of the narratives as our primary interpretative lens for seeing and understanding the world.

This approach poses no great difficulties for Catholic theologians until we start to ask philosophical questions about the narratives.  Now, narrative theologians will cry foul and assert that getting away from philosophical questions is exactly what they are trying to do.  But here's my point about Fr. Bob's pastoral counseling method:  you can't just tell a story and wait for enlightenment to strike.  Stories provoke questions within a context.  The storyteller needs to be able to understand the questions and apply the story accordingly.  This doesn't mean that the storyteller has to adopt complex neo-Platonic metaphysical categories to do his job, but he cannot avoid philosophizing if he is to do his job.  If we take philosophy to be the love of wisdom, then the pastor confronted with a difficult pastoral situation will need to love wisdom in order to be of assistance!  Wisdom is exactly what's call for here.

In order to make a point, I've done a poor job of describing NT.  Narrative theologians do not reject all philosophy as pointless.  However, you will find some in the Catholic world who use a bastardized form of NT to undermine our philosophical tradition in order to arrive at theological conclusions more in line with their reforming ideologies.  I've seen the pattern over and over again:

Complex theological system taught at elite theological school --> system filters down through journals, popular accounts in books, etc. --> enterprising individual simplifies the system and gives it a "sexy spin" (e.g., links to eco-concerns, etc,) and offers workshops --> religious, priests, DRE's, etc. attend workshops --> return to convent/priory/parish --> offer classes to those interested, etc.

What happens at each stage of this process is that complications and nuances are dropped off for the sake of simplicity.  Arguments are replaces by slogans.  And the original intent of the system is reduced to a trendy way of exercising one's will over some problem in theology.  I've seen this sort of thing happen with the Myers-Briggs, the Ennegram, eco-theology, process theology, men's theology, ritual studies, and on and on.

What shortcuts this sort of devolution is a healthy does of philosophical inquiry!

07 January 2010

Coffee Bowl Browsing

[NB.  Websites display ads relative to the geographic location of the accessed server.  IOW, the ads I see here in Rome may not be the ads you see in the US or the UK, etc.  If a link is leading you to a site with inappropriate content, just let me know.]

Though not the Final Step of our nation's sink into debauchery, it's one of the last few:  male brothels.

And in related news:  do you know an adulterer?  Do these sorts of polls bug you?  I always get the feeling that they are used to normalize aberrant behavior:  "See!  It's OK.  Everyone's doing it."  

"America Rising": this anti-B.O./Pelosi/Reid vid is all over the internet.  I've watched it two or three times and for some reason it's just not pushing any of my buttons in the right way.  Though I agree with the basic message, something about it just doesn't square up. . .I dunno. . .it could be that the vid starts off by using "we" to describe BO supporters.  Since I've never thought of BO and the Dems as our Savior and His Cloud of Angels, the sense of betrayal that the vid tries to convey falls flat.  I just kept thinking:  "Who's 'we,' buddy?  You got a mouse in your pocket?" 

Andrew Breitbart launches BigJournalism!  I lie awake at night thinking of ways not to make this man mad at me. . .

Gulp!  Trendy, modernist French bishop gets booed at Mass!  And not a few French grannies go at him for his ridiculous rainbow vestments.  I'm not in favor of booing anyone at Mass. . .however, from what I'm reading about this bishop, he should have been prepared for far, far worse.

I sent this to my dad. . .he's a gun safety instructor for the state.

Lots of Geek Cupcakes!

We used to call this semiotic dissonance.  Now we call it global capitalism.

Tired of being plain ole "Mister" or "Misses"?  Get a royal title!

06 January 2010

Love harder and more faithfully

[Repost from one year ago today. . .I've been pecking away on an Epiphany homily since Friday, but it won't come.   The idea is either too big or too small for a homily. . .]

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.

05 January 2010

Infinitely Weird Fat Head!!

"Bob" left the following little puddle in one of the comboxes below. . . 

You infinitely weird Fat Head, [great opener, seriously]
People are appalled that you DO post the stuff you do. [well, a small vocal group seems to be appalled, but from what I can tell there are about four of you and three of the four are the same person hiding behind various fake ID's. . .remember:  I can see ISP addresses.] 

Got that???? [Yes, you disagree with me.  I got that.  And. . .???] 

It's simple. Even you should grasp it. [I do grasp it quite well.  I grasp that a tiny little group of my readers don't like my anti-B.O./anti-Left liberal posts so they scream bloody murder in an effort to intimidate me into being quiet. . .is that about right?] 

You are declaring your in control of a bunch of crap that's run amok and you're PROUD of it. [Define:  "run amok."] 

You are the biggest jackass EVER.  [You could be right there. . .] 

Please tell me how this is supposed to help. . .I mean, it's funny and all. . .but not of much practical use.  

I love "infinitely weird Fat Head," by the way!

Bob, just FYI:  I worked in an adolescent psych ward for almost five years.  I was the Team Leader, the disciplinarian, absolutely nothing you can say/write/think can even come close to the verbal abuse I endured for those four-plus years.  I've had every imaginable bodily excretion thrown, smeared, or spat at me.  You name it, I've either dodged it or wash it off.  And just like the hysterical, out of control teens that called me those names and flung their bodily excretions at me, you aren't going to get your way with me either.  Not by acting the attention-seeking adolescent anyway.  If you would like to chat privately about what's bothering you, leave your email in the combox, and I'll contact you. . .Just to be clear:  I'm not having this discussion in the comboxes with you or anyone else.  

03 January 2010

Coffee Bowl Browsing (Mini-Edition)

Apparently, being tattooed, shirtless, and generally unkempt is required for mafia membership

Zombie Rabbis gather on the beach at sundown. . .OY!

The priests of the Church of Global-Warming preach, "Don't believe your lying eyes!"

Eastern Potentate demands Papal submission

Maxims and sayings of St. Philip Neri (H/T: Patrick Madrid)