30 December 2009

Stories aren't enough!

As noted in a post below, there are some contemporary theologians and philosophers of religion who are challenging the dominance of what they call "onto-theological thinking," that is, following Nietzsche and Heidegger, these folks argue that it was a big mistake for the Church's earliest theologians to translate the Biblical witness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into the Greek language of substance metaphysics:  "Yahweh" becomes "Being Itself."

The identification of Abraham's God with Plato's One seems natural enough when you consider Exodus 3.14, "I AM that I AM" (or any of the dozens of renditions).  With a name like "I AM," you are inviting metaphysical speculation on the nature of existence and your place in the scheme of things.  If God is not a being like all the others in the world, and yet He somehow manages to exist . . .how exactly are we supposed to understand what it means to exist but not as an existing thing?  Aquinas' answer:  God is not a being; He is Being.  He doesn't exists; He is existence.

Now, we could interpret the last two sentences above in purely metaphysical terms.  "God" and "Being" are two names we give to the persistence of existing.  No bible necessary here.  We could also interpret those same two sentences in a purely Biblical sense, using Exo 3.14 as our text and show that "I AM" is a religious and not a philosophical concept.  But as Gilson argues in the post below, this sort of splitting your worldview up into separate parts in order to keep them compartmentalized is dishonest.  So, an honest believer's religious, philosophical, theological, etc. worldviews need to be consistent with one another.

Aquinas, wanting to be consistent, uses the first part of his Summa to address the question of who and what God is.  To keep this post within a reasonable word count, I will simply quote Brian Davies on Aquinas' notion of God:  "God. . .is the beginning and end of all thing, the Creator of the world which depends on him for its existence. . .Aquinas also holds that God is alive, perfect, good, eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. . ."(129).*  Taking up the characteristics usually assigned to The One of Platonic metaphysics, Aquinas attributes them to God and then argues that though we can have some limited knowledge of God, we cannot know God perfectly this side of heaven.**

Skipping over a couple of centuries of development in philosophical theology, we arrive at what is usually called "the Problem of Evil."  In the past this argument has been more or less used by religious skeptics and atheists to poke holes in theism.  For some, it's THE argument against theism and moves them to quit religion entirely.  The classical form of the argument goes something like this:

1. God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.
2. Evil exists.
3. Therefore, one or more of the "omni" attributions in #1 must be false.

#3 here is usually taken to mean that God cannot be all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere present if evil exists.  He could be a combination of any of the two but not all three.

There are hundreds of different reasonable responses to the Problem of Evil.  I'm keen on the Free Will Defense myself:  evil is allowed by God so that human freedom may be maximized; or since God wills that human freedom be maximized, He allows evil, which inevitably results from the abuse of human freedom.  This is basically Aquinas' response, so we know it's the correct one.  :-)

This is an example of philosophy helping theology untangle a problem.  However, couldn't we say that philosophy caused this problem in the first place?  There would be no Problem of Evil if we had resisted the temptation to translate Yahweh into Being Itself.  Yahweh is not presented in scripture as possessing the three-omni's of Plato's One.  When Yahweh is addressed as "All-powerful Lord," He is being praised in emotive language and not assigned the philosophical label "omnipotent."  Etc. for the other two-omni's. 

Our Nietzschean and Heideggerian theologians/philosophers would have us abandon the God of Plato's metaphysics and simply stick with the Biblical God of Abraham, etc.  This notion of "forgetting metaphysics" has a number of different names in the academy, but the most common is "narrative theology."  Generally associated with the Yale Divinity School, narrative theologians are impatient with complex metaphysical problems and all the messy philosophical waste that seems to be secreted from the history of onto-theological discourse.  Their goal is to rescue biblical revelation from the clutches of onto-theological-philosophical obfuscation and return it to the center of the Church's communal life.  This strikes me as a important consideration for the development of a Catholic theology of preaching. 

However, in theology more generally, how we go about separating out philosophy from narrative in the biblical witness is beyond me.  We could, I suppose, focus only on metaphysical language (being, cause, essence, etc) and remove it from our theologizing about revelation.  But then that leaves us unable to ask epistemological questions (i.e., how do we know?).  We could just say that philosophy is really about wisdom and telling stories is the best way to disseminate and promote wisdom.  I wouldn't disagree entirely with this, but we are still left with deciding what counts as wisdom and what doesn't.  We also have the problem of interpreting and applying a story's wisdom to concrete situations.  That's called hermeneutics.  And it comes with a whole mule-load of philosophical considerations. . .and so on.

So, our theological enterprise is not doable without philosophy.  We might disagree about which philosophical approach to take, but philosophy as a way of thinking and talking about problems in human discourse is a non-negotiable.  It's here to stay.  To paraphrase an old prof of mine:  "Philosophy always seems to be its own undertaker!"

*"Aquinas on What God is Not," in Aquinas's Summa Theologiae:  Critical Essays, ed. Brian Davies, Rowan and Littlefield, 2006, 129-144.

**It is this "divine hiddenness" that causes some sceptical philosophers and theologians to question the possibility of knowing anything at all about God.  Some go so far as to argue that the obscurity of God--intended or not--is sufficient reason to withhold belief in His existence.  The argument goes, if God loves me and wants me to be saved; and if believing in God is all-important to my eternal salvation; then revealing Himself to me would be an act of salvific love, while remaining hidden is an act of cruelty.  I'm skipping over several crucial steps in the argument, of course, but you get the idea:  divine hiddenness is an epistemological nightmare.

29 December 2009

Without philosophy, all we have is story. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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


If I end up in Vienna next semester studying German. . .I'm still going to need English-language philosophy books in order to finish the dissertation!

Even though WVO Quine convincingly argues that all languages are ultimately translated into one another in an indeterminate fashion, German/French is still required for the PhL/PhD. 

Hoops, hoops. @#$% hoops.

Coffee Bowl Browsing

This is why you got no presents from Santa. . .

Ten cases of Liberal Hypocrisy

Ten cases of Conservative Hypocrisy (really, just nine cases:  David Cameron is no conservative)

Polyphasic sleep. . .I've always wanted to try this. . .they say it's particularly helpful for insomniacs.

Urban Dictionary. . .so you know what your kids/students/grandkids are talking about

Recycled credit cards

How to write and speak Postmodern Gibberish. . .this is one language I am fluent in.  Maybe I should write a PoMo homily?

I wrote papers just like this in grad school. . .what unmitigated @#$%!

27 December 2009

God beyond Being?

In a post on the Incarnation below, I note that our ancestors in the faith struggled to express the Christian revelation in Greek philosophical terms.  Having no non-pagan theological language of their own, the Church Fathers borrowed and adapted the terms and methods of the Platonism of their day.  Our creeds are the best examples we have of how the marriage of Platonism and Biblical revelation can be worked out.

Many contemporary philosophical theologians, following Nietzsche and Heidegger, reject this Greek philosophizing and challenge us to begin a long journey back to the Patristic period to start over with nothing but the Biblical story: the older and newer testaments of our faith.   They argue that our journey back must begin by "forgetting metaphysics" and accepting that God is "beyond being."  But we might wonder why Greek philosophy (esp., metaphysics) poses such a problem for the Biblical witness of faith. 

Etienne Gilson, in his highly accessible book, God and Philosophy, lays out the problem of thinking philosophically about God:

The first character of the Jewish God was his unicity:  "Here, O Israel:  the Lord our God is one Lord."  Impossible to achieve a more far-reaching revolution in fewer words or in a simpler way.  When Moses made this statement, he was not formulating any metaphysical principle to be later supported by rational justification.  Moses was simply speaking as an inspired prophet and defining for the benefit of the Jews what was henceforth to be the sole object of their worship.  Yet, essentially religious as it was, this statement contained the seed of a momentous philosophical revolution, in this sense at least, that should any philosopher, speculating at any time about the first principle and cause of the world, hold the Jewish God to be the true God, he would be necessarily driven to identify his supreme philosophical cause with God.  In other words, whereas the difficulty was, for a Greek philosopher, to fit a plurality of god in a reality which he conceived to be one, any follower of the Jewish God would know at once that, whatever the nature of reality itself may be said to be, its religious principle must of necessity coincide with the its philosophical principle. . .When the existence of this one true God was proclaimed by Moses to the Jews, they never thought for a moment that their Lord could be some thing.  Obviously, their Lord was somebody. . .Hence the universally known name of the Jewish God--Yahweh, for Yahweh means "He who is" (38-40, emphasis added).

Essentially, what Gilson is saying here is that those trained in Greek philosophy who later became Christians in the early Church would find it very difficult to separate their philosophical ideas from their religious commitments.  They had not yet learned the art of Cafeteria Catholicism! At some point, these folks, being consistent philosophers and faithful Christians, would have to find a way to reconcile the God of Biblical revelation with the metaphysics they had found to be true. 

Gilson continues on this very point:  Now, as has been pointed by the unknown author of the Hortatory Address to the Greeks as early as the third century A.D. what Plato had said [about the ultimate nature of reality] was almost exactly what the Christians themselves were saying, "saving only the difference of the article.  For Moses said:  He who is, and Plato: That which is."  And it is quite true that "either of the expressions seems to apply to the existence of God."  If God is "He who is," he also is "that which is," because to be somebody is also to be something.  Yet the converse is not true, for to be somebody is much more than to be something (42).

According to the contemporary theologians who would teach us to forget metaphysics and find God beyond being, the problem with traditional theological thinking is that traditional theologians forgot (sometime after Aquinas) that God is Somebody before He is "something."  Their complaint is that traditional theology (called "onto-theology" by Heidegger) is really just a dressed-up Greek metaphysics with the occasional Biblical touch thrown in for decoration.  So, rather than Christians adopting Greek philosophy for their own theological ends, Greek philosophers adopted Christianity for their philosophical ends. 

You might be wondering at this point:  so what?  What does it matter that we have identified the God of Biblical revelation with the Greek concept of Being?

That is the question for tomorrow's post!  (Hint:  it's evil).

Meditation on the Holy Families

Something to think about on this Holy Family Sunday. . .

Trinitarian Family:  Father, Son, Holy Spirit

Holy Family:  Jesus, Mary, Joseph

Eschatological Family:  Christ & Church

Ecclesial Family:  Bishop, priest, deacon, laity

Domestic Family:  Mom, Dad, kids, etc.

Individual Family:  body, soul, spirit

Now, starting at the top with the Trinitarian Family, move down the list of families and mediate on how each familial relationship is a more perfect relationship than the one below it.

Then, starting at the bottom with the Individual Family, move up the list of families and mediate on how each familial relationship is an imperfect reflection of the one above it.

How does the more perfect familial relationships help perfect/complete the imperfect/incomplete familial relationships?

Report your findings.

26 December 2009

The terrorist is a Muslim. . .why is the AP hiding the fact?

Anyone who spends even ten minutes a day reading the news understands why an overwhelming majority of Americans no longer trust the MSM.

AP, NYT, CNN, LAT, WaPo, etc. are so infected with leftist P.C. rot that they are no longer capable of providing the American public with simple facts.

For example, the recent terrorist attack on a Delta/NWA flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. . .the AP is scrubbing and re-scrubbing its reporting in order to hide the fact that the alleged terrorist, a Nigerian national, is an extremist Muslim with direct links to the that country's wing of the Taliban.

Why is the AP so obsessed with making sure that we don't find out that guy is a Muslim?  Basically, they don't trust the reading public to make the distinction between Muslims and Muslim-terrorists.  Because the MSM believes that we believe whatever they tell us to believe, they think that they are responsible "sending a message," that is, making sure that narratives about world-events are crafted in such a way that we don't draw the "wrong" conclusions:  all Muslims are terrorists.  Anyone who can think their way through making a baloney sandwich can figure that out.

Here's an idea, AP, et al:  you tell us the facts and we'll make up our own minds about the narrative.  It's bad enough that the federal gov't is hell bound and determined to infantilize the country's citizens in the pursuit of making us all wards of the state.  We don't need Nanny Media telling us how to think about the news.

Just do your @#$% job!

25 December 2009

Coffee Bowl Browsing

Catholic, Protestant, Other:  by the numbers.

Even the Lefties are upset with ObamaCare"For the first time in American history, Democrats are about to pass a bill that uses the coercive power of the federal government to force every American -- simply by virtue of being an American -- to purchase the products of a private company."  Duh.  This is what the GOP, the Tea Parties, and just normal Americans have been saying since July 2008!

Video of Queen Elizabeth II's Christmas address to the Commonwealth.  As an American republican (little "r"), I say:  "God save the Queen!"

From the Holy Father's Christmas homily"The medieval theologian William of Saint Thierry once said that God – from the time of Adam – saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom. Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child. He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now – this God who has become a child says to us – you can no longer fear me, you can only love me."

Jeeves!  Saddle the dog

Santa Claus/St. Nicholas customs from around the world. . .I've visited his tomb in Bari, Italy.  The shrine and parish church is served by Dominicans. 

Tedious anti-Catholic site. . .the usual Catholic strawman beliefs debunked and refuted with the precision of a sledge-hammer swatting at gnats.  

I've run into this phenomena quite often while teaching in public universities. 

100 Ways to Freak Out Your Roommate.  Number 23 is my fav.  These would all work with spouses too. 

Probably the only thing I love more than Jesus and the Parentals:  coffee

Poll: tell me what my next book ought to be about. . .

Topic for the next book?

Nunc Dimittis: Night Prayers

Meditations for Ordinary Time

Reflections on the Nicene Creed

Meditations on the Book of Lamentations

Other (leave suggestions)


Note to trolls. . .

Attention HancAquam Trolls. . .

All comments on this blog are moderated.  I check all included links for vids and other websites. Nothing appears in the combox until I have read it and approved it. 

So. . .you can stop trying to sneak anti-Catholic, anti-Pope Benedict, and pro-B.O./socialist propaganda into the comboxes.

Not.  Gonna.  Happen.

Now, get back under your bridge!

News Miscellany

Buon Natale!  Merry Christmas!  Feliz Navidad!

Spent the last three days slowly descending into a flu-like malaise.  Yesterday, it peaked.  Better today.

The second volume of the prayer book is being edited.  I'm working on the introduction and Fr. Thomas McDermott, OP has graciously agreed to write the foreword.

The new book contains a Beatitude Rosary, which Liguori will publish as a pamphlet as well.  I'm thinking of proposing a booklet of night prayers.

Still waiting to hear from U.D. about summer teaching.  I'll be in Fort Worth most of July.  Plans to spend Sept. at Blackfriars, Oxford are still brewing.

Added a few books of poetry to the WISH LIST. . .a friar can't thrive on philosophy and theology alone!

Also, if anyone is so-inclined:  the English Chaplain needs new lectionary [Some generous soul purchased this one already!] The friars made fun of me a few weeks ago for getting the details of the gospel wrong in my homily.  When we checked, we discovered that the lectionary we have (pre-NAB translation) is different from the one I use to write my homilies (USCCB website's version of the approved text).  We would greatly appreciate it!

Anyone want to get us a Year I lectionary?

Pope attacked!

Crazy woman attacks the Holy Father at Midnight Mass. . .reports are that this is the same woman who tried to attack the Pope last year.  Apparently, she was upset over what she perceived to be an attack by the Pope on transvestites and transsexuals in his Christmas homily last year.

Update:  Father Prior told me this morning before Mass that the Italian press is reporting that the woman only wanted to kiss the Pope.  

It's time for the Vatican to bring back the office of the verger.  May I suggest that the Pope's security forces employ several large seminarians from the N.A.C. to run interference for the Holy Father.  Get a couple of corn-fed American boys equipped with virges between BXVI and the crowd and I guarantee you that wacko's like this won't do this sort of thing again.  

Who will stand against the culture of panic?

We live in a culture of panic.  One alarm after another is triggered to warn us of impending doom.  So divided is our attention, so fragmented our instinct for survival that we flail around in constant fear, stampeding toward any exit that promises safety.  This panic is a prank, a very dangerous prank.

When it comes to living within human history, the postmodernist mindset is crippled by a dual-diagnosis:  Chronic Amnesia and Addiction to Novelty.  Why is this crippling?  The double whammy of forgetfulness and jonesing for novelty produces a person who never learns from history and doesn't care about the future.  What matters to the PoMo mind is the illusion that the human person is an invention of the moment, a temporary construct built to be destroyed when the next wave of weird washes over the ever-eroding beach head of culture.

Without a past for support and no possibility of a future, the postmodern person is a randomized, free-floating miscellany--no frame, no program, no design, no function--little more than a walking/talking focus for experimenting with ad-hoc identities.  Having abandoned tradition, history, God, nature, etc. he is left to navigate his passions with the compass of animal instinct.  Think of how injured animals lash out at those who would help them.  Think about how animals react to threats.  How easily animals are domesticated with a little training from a determined master.  Now, think of a herd of human animals reacting on instinct to real or imagined threats.

The practical purpose of enlightened self-government is to prevent a determined master from domesticating the herd for his ends.  Mao understood that China would never embrace his imperialist ambitions so long as his people remembered their history.  Hitler understood that Germany would never embrace his genocidal agenda so long as his people clung to reason.  Stalin understood that the road to his political deification would be built on the raw exercise of terror in the vacuum left by an artificially created economic collapse.  Narcissists of this caliber understand that a herd cannot be panicked unless its attention is focused on a threat and all the rational means of addressing the threat are eliminated. 

The absence of God, tradition, history, nature, etc. leaves the human herd at the mercy of the strongest ego.  This is highly dangerous.  What's even more dangerous is that the strongest ego has likely created the conditions for our panic and then heroically stepped in to lead the herd to safety.   It's only after we are falling off the cliff that we realize that "safety" is really slavery.

Who or what can stand against the determined master and prevent the herd from being spooked?

All you need to do to answer that question is look around and find the institution or institutions that are regularly demonized by the dominant culture.  Look for the people who are consistently reviled for obstructing "progress," the ideas that are dismissed as unable to "move us forward."  Who is it that recalls the past, points to our historical mistakes, and draws a contemporary lesson for our future?  Who or what refuses to hate tradition for no other reason than that it is "outdated"?  These people, ideas, institutions are the enemy of the narcissist because they fearlessly report that the master determined to panic us is not our master.  And never will be.

True freedom comes with a past, a present, and most especially, a future.  Today, our only Master is born.  And though he came with a sword, he brings peace. 

24 December 2009

Coffee Bowl Browsing

Amateur:  ObamaCare is our Only Hope. . .it must be passed NOWNOWNOW!!!  Um, nevermind, says B.O., it can wait 'til Feb.  It's time to put the adults back in charge of our gov't.

Best Movies of the '00's:  Snob Alert!  No Redneck Movies appear on this list.  How do I know it's a snobby list?  The first movie is about African genital mutilation. (And b/c our Resident Troll has willfully decided to interpret this link as a vote for genital mutilation:  I hate Snob Movies.  That's the point of calling this list snobby.)

Very cool Christmas story.

Catholic vs. Protestant = Analogical imagination vs. dialectical imagination

Excellent question.  The answer is:  "You can't."

I want a pair of these!

Zombie Pumpkin Snowman. . .it's getting real, folks.

23 December 2009

Newt Lobs the Reddest of Red Meat

Newt Gingrich is not one of my fav politicians.  But this series of vids by The Newt is excellent.  He makes several outrageous suggestions for restoring the republic ("Abolish the Ninth Circuit!") and throws some serious slabs of red meat to his base.

My guess:  we'll see "Vote the NEWT!" in 2012.

What is the Incarnation?

The Nativity of Christ, or Christmas ("Christ Mass"), celebrates one of the most important events of the Church:  the incarnation of the Son of God.  Like the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, etc., the Incarnation is one of those rock-bottom Christian beliefs that most Christians assent to but probably don't really understand.  Though Catholics all over the world affirm their belief in the incarnation every Sunday by reciting the Creed, how many could explain this tenet of the faith in the simplest terms?

Let's start with a story. . .

The archangel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces to her that God has chosen her to be the mother of the Christ Child, His Son.  Mary says, "Your will be done" and the Holy Spirit descends on Mary, giving her the child.  Nine months later the Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Simple enough story, right?  If we left the incarnation there, we would still have the basic truth of Christ's arrival into the world.  Things get a little more complicated when we start to think about what it means for the Son of God (who is God) to take on human flesh and live among us.  How does the God of the Old and New Testament become incarnated yet remain sovereign God?  We are immediately confronted by what theologians call "the Christological question":  how is the man Jesus also God?

Before this question was settled by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., a number of answers were offered and rejected:

Jesus is really a man who possesses God-like qualities.
Jesus is really God in the appearance of a man.
Jesus is half-God and half-man.
Jesus' soul is divine but his body is human.
Jesus' body is human but his mind is divine.

Complicating matters even more was the lack of an adequate theological vocabulary with which to think about and write about the incarnation.  Early Christian theologians turned to the available philosophical vocabularies for help.  The most prominent philosophical system in the first few centuries of the Church was a developed form of Platonism.  Borrowing heavily from the Platonists, the Church Fathers crafted a creedal statement that said:  The Father and the Son are the same in substance ("consubstantial"), meaning that they are the same God.:  "God from God, light from light, true God from true God." The Son was not created in time like man but rather begotten from all eternity.  He "became incarnate" through the Virgin Mary--fully human in all but sin. 

This creedal statement defined the orthodox position of the Catholic Church.  However, interpretations of the creed abounded and additional councils had to sort through them all in order to discover the orthodox expression of the true faith.  In the end, the Nicene Creed was taken to mean that Jesus was fully human and fully divine:  one person (one body/soul) with two natures (human and divine).  "Person," "essence," "being," "nature" are all terms borrowed from Greek philosophy.  So, as the West discovered new ways of thinking philosophically, these terms took on different meanings and our interpretations of theological expressions of the truth developed as well.  The basic truth of the incarnation does not change; however, how we understand that truth does change.

For example,  the Greek word we translate as "person" is prosopon, or mask.  This term was used in the Greek theater to denote the different characters played by one actor.  A single actor would hold a mask in each hand and shift the masks in front of his face to say his lines, indicating that the lines were being said by different characters.  Applying this term to God, the Blessed Trinity, we arrive at a single actor (God) using three masks (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).  Same actor, different characters.  Ultimately, this metaphor is woefully inadequate for expressing the deepest truth of the Trinity.  Yet, we still say that the Trinity is three divine persons, one God.  "Person" as a philosophical term used to describe a theological truth had to be developed.

Eventually, we came to understand several vital distinctions:  The Church uses the term "substance" (rendered also at times by "essence" or "nature") to designate the divine being in its unity, the term "person" or "hypostasis" to designate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the real distinction among them, and the term "relation" to designate the fact that their distinction lies in the relationship of each to the others (CCC 252).

 So, God is one substance; three divine persons; distinguished  from one another not by their natures or persons but by their relations one to another.  The incarnation then is the second divine Person of the one God becoming a human person with two substances or natures.

You are one person with one nature:  "I am human."
God is three divine persons with one nature: "I am divine."
Christ is one person with two natures:  "I am human and divine."

Aquinas, quoting Irenaeus, writes, "God became man so that man might become God."  The incarnation of the Son makes it possible for us to become God (theosis).  This is how Catholics understand salvation.

Merry Christmas!!!

Coffee Cup Browsing (All the Bowls were Dirty Edition)

Yup: "Obama's rhetorical audacity breeds cynicism, because utopianism always comes up short. Obama has many victories ahead of him, but his cause is already lost."
B.O.'s differential approval rating is -21%.   As predicted, he's as unpopular as GWB in the last months of his second term. . .all by Christmas.
GOP has eight point Congressional polling lead over Dems. . .but they don't deserve it. 
For Legal Fan Boys and Girls:  Reid's ObamaCare super-majority trick to prevent repeal is unconstitutional.  Why?  Congress rules by simply majority, therefore, one Congress cannot legally prevent a future Congress from following constitutional requirements.
Michael O'Brien on America's Twilight culture:  "Even though modern man denies the authority of moral conscience, he cannot escape it. He is created in the image and likeness of God, and deep within the natural law of his being the truth continues to speak to him, even as he adamantly denies the existence of God (in the case of atheists) or minimizes divine authority (in the case of nominally religious people, the practical atheists). In order to live with the inner fragmentation, which is the inevitable effect of violated conscience, he is driven to relieve his pain through three diverse ways. . ." Read them here.

How historical ignorance perpetuates the "Hitler's Pope" myth about Pope Pius XII.  Publishers caught altering innocuous pic to make an ideological point.

More discussion of the doctored photos here.

Is the Blessed Mother appearing in Cairo?  Whether she is or isn't doesn't change the Church's teaching on her proper place in God's plan of salvation.  IOW, no one's salvation is endangered by believing or disbelieving the truth of this phenomena.

Dem congressional districts get lion's share of stimulus money.  Please don't suggest that B.O. used tax-payers' money to buy votes for his party!  That would be wrong. . .

Redneck Movie of the Year!  Includes Rambo-esque Priest, Apocalyptic Vampires, Vague Avenging Priestess, and a Wasteland.  All it needs now to be the Redneck Movie of the Decade is a troupe of Zombies, an Emo Werewolf, a Mad Nazi Scientists, and at least three Elf-like Warriors.  Oh, and a dragon of some sort. . .

Women in S. Korea are given extra-wide parking spaces.  No comment from me on this development.  However, I will provide a link to a video that argues for the justice of the provision.  

Real answers to exam questions from. . .ummmmm. . .not the brightest of the Lord's little angels.

Now all they need is some cole slaw, hush puppies, and beer!

21 December 2009

Coffee Bowl Browsing

Obamacare turns health-care into a public utility. . .um, that's probably unconstitutional.

Dispensing with democracy in the name of "global justice"

Anticipating a rebellion against Democrats in 2010, Reid changes Senate rules to require a supermajority to repeal Obamacare

My kinda flowchart:  where to eat?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. . .so, so wrong.

One for SuperMom:  these are not the hooligans you are looking for.
Dear Abby letters:  the good, the bad, and the painfully true.

A very strange video that explains synesthesia.

Pantheism: intellectually lazy & pelvic-obsessed

Ross Douthat mediates on the American love-affair with pantheism:

[. . .]

Today there are other forces that expand pantheism’s American appeal. We pine for what we’ve left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse.

At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps “bring God closer to human experience,” while “depriving him of recognizable personal traits.” For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.

[. . .]

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution [to the problem of evil]: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.

Pantheism (All-is-God) is a cheap dorm room spirituality deeply pondered by sophomore philosophers after one too many hits on the bong.  Quoting scientism's prima donna, Richard Dawkins, "pantheism is a sexed-up atheism."  As Douthat notes, for R.D., this is a compliment. 

Why is pantheism "cheap"?  The idea that the universe is God is cheaply purchased because it requires the believer to believe nothing more than exactly what he wants to believe; that is, the idea of pantheism is intellectually, spiritually, and religiously priced so that the believer has to spend as little as possible to be its proud owner.  Intellectually, pantheism dismisses the problem of evil by simply dissolving the difference and distinction between Good and Evil.  Spiritually, it eliminates our search for the transcendent divine by declaring all spiritual connections to be immanent in nature.  Religiously, and this is its real attraction to most, pantheism's only ethical/moral restrictions are "Reduce, reuse, recycle."  

Once evil is conquered by semantic fiat; and the transcendent is naturalized; and human morality is forever linked to the demands of environmentalism, all those pesky problems of traditional theism can be safely ignored.  We no longer have to worry about questions of truth, right/wrong, human rights endowed by a Creator, the search for perfection in God, etc.  In fact, probably the most appealing aspect of pantheism is the notion that we are perfect just as we are. . .well, except that we are constantly harangued by the Gaia priesthood to observe the Law of Carbon Reduction.

Politically, pantheism is attractive because it allows our ruling class to ignore annoying concepts like the sacredness of human life, the sacramental nature of our vows to one another, the unique place of the family in human culture, and the Really Bothersome Notion of Individual Freedom in the Pursuit of Happiness.  Once these theistic concepts are dissolved into the morass of pantheistic naturalism, we can safely abort our children, abandon our commitments in marriage, engineer fake family structures with divorce and SSM, and impose socialist communitarianism.  All of which, of course, transfer political power to the State and enrich our Betters.

Pantheism has everything the intellectually lazy, pelvic-obsessed American loves:  bumper sticker spirituality, no-guilt morality, and cafeteria religion.  That these are paid for with the loss of individual initiative and personal freedom is not at all a worry. . .Big Government has our best interest at heart.

19 December 2009

Ummmmm. . .anyone see my phone booth?

This pretty much sums up my week. . .

What am I discerning? (UPDATED 2.0)

Several faithful HancAquam readers have written to ask if I am discerning whether or not to continue blogging. . .

No, that's not what I am discerning.  HancAquam will continue on. . .

I'm discerning questions around the future of my ministry here in Rome.  I will not be teaching in the spring as I had hoped.  In fact, there will be no teaching for me here until (and if) I finish the Ph.D.  That could be two years or more. 

I came to Rome with the distinct impression that I would be able to teach as a junior member of the faculty with the license only.  Once here I discovered that the Vatican had signed the Bologna Accords (yet another power-grab by the E.U. statists to create a federalized Europe) and now pontifical universities can only allow as teaching faculty those with Ph.D.'s in their respective fields.  So, now I have to get the Ph.D.

Recently, I learned that I wouldn't even be able to teach as a "graduate assistant" w/o the doctorate.  None of the license exams can be taken until the French translation exam is passed.  And there's almost no chance that I will pass that in Jan.  So, all my rushing to complete the license this semester has been in vain.  Well, not entirely. . .at least the thesis is more or less done.

My discernment question is:  are my gifts being used here?  At U.D. I was able to teach in the two fields in which I have competence--English and theology.  I celebrated Mass four or five times a week, preaching at all of them.  I heard confessions and did a lot of spiritual direction.  In other words, I was a priest who also happened to teach at a Catholic university.  My gifts were being used. . .sometimes to the stretching point!  But here?  Not so much.  It's not clear to me why anyone needs to be a priest to do what I am doing here now.

Don't get me wrong. . .I love the time I have to read and write, and learning is one of my passions.  Truly, it is a luxury.  But I joined the Dominicans to be a preacher not a professor. . .or maybe a preacher who is also a professor.  Had I wanted to spend my life as an academic I could have done so w/o becoming a priest or a Dominican.

The other issue is the need the Order has for Dominican professors in our international centers of study, especially in philosophy.  We are drowning in theologians and canon lawyers!  But Dominican philosophers are as hard to find as my skills in foreign languages and math.

On top of all this navel-gazing, I rec'd three other bits of unsettling news yesterday . None of which I can share.  All of which are hitting me with an odd combination of vocation-questioning power.

Anyway, please pray for me.  None of this is meant to be final. . .just thinking and praying and ruminating out loud.  I'll do what is needed of me. . .but I'm searching for a way to understand it all.

UPDATE:  A commenter below notes--quite rightly--that two years isn't all that long to wait to teach.  I say "quite rightly" for a normal grad student.  Though bad choices, bad luck, circumstance, accident, and sheer force of will, I've spend most of my adult life as a student:

1982-86 (BA)
1986-88 (MA)
1988-94 (ABD on PhD)
1994-99 (psych hospital staff)
1999-00 (OP novice)
2000 (PhD finished)
2000-05 (seminary: MDiv)
2005-08 (at U.D.)
2008-pres (working on PhL)

Let's do the math:  Started college at 18 y.o. I'm 45 y.o. now.  I've spent 19 yrs of those 27 years between 1982 and now as a student.  Can I get an AMEN on "I've been a student too long!"  :-)  And, yes, I know. . .good Dominicans are life-long students.  But there's a big difference btw being an enrolled student and Being a Student.  I could take my father's advice:  "Shut up and enjoy it.  They could make you go to work!"  HA!

UPDATE 2.0:  Something else just occurred to me. . .if you are a professional (doctor, lawyer, teacher, banker, etc.) imagine spending ALL of your time with other doctors, lawyers, teacher,s bankers, etc.  I mean, ALL of your time.  You live with them.  Eat with them.  Go to church with them.  All of your mundane, daily tasks are done in the midst of them.  Perhaps I am just longing to be around everyday Catholics. . .

Hmmmm. . .I suddenly feel very normal. . .

 "Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, 
and begin to slit throats"

- H.L.Mencken, US editor (1880-1956)

18 December 2009

17 December 2009

Thesis Report

The meeting with my thesis director went well last night.  He suggested a few minor changes. . .mostly just to clarify terms and make sharper distinctions.  No major revisions will be necessary!

I am writing the concluding chapter (10-15 pgs.), cleaning up the hundreds of typos, expanding the footnotes, and starting on the dreaded bibliography.

Most of the friars will be headed out for the Christmas break in the morning, so the place will be very quiet. . .nearly abandoned, in fact, for about a month.

Plenty of time to go deeper into Seclusion Mode and start studying for comps, writing exam questions, and learning French.  Ugh. 

16 December 2009

Clergy should never be political

Nawwwww. . .priests should never be political, never call politicians on their human rights abuses, never say a word against genocide, torture, abortion, totalitarianism, racial and religious persecution.

This guy, for instance, should have just kept his big mouth shut.  Just better for everyone. . .no, really.

Transubstantiation and the Real Presence?

Question. . .

1).  Can you explain transubstantiation and the Real Presence?

I'll try. . .

Transubstantiation is a philosophical concept the Church uses to explain the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Trans means change and substance means what a thing is fundamentally.  So, we hold that by the prayer and action of the priest, bread and wine are changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ.  As an explanation of the Real Presence transubstantiation is not dogmatic.*  The Real Presence that results from the process we call transubstantiation is dogmatic.

The term "transubstantiation" comes out of an Aristotelian metaphysics introduced to Catholic theology by Thomas Aquinas.  The term predates Thomas in theological use, but he made it popular by teasing out all its philosophical and theological implications.  For example, he is able to explain how the substance of bread and wine are changed (what they are) but remain true in their accidents (how they are perceived by the senses).

Probably the most common confusion among Catholics is the use of the word "substance."  Even a very quick review of the history of this term will demonstrate that it has had a long and extraordinarily complex history.  In modern English, we use the term to mean "stuff" or "materiality."  Think of "substance abuse" or "an unidentified substance was found at the crime scene." This is not its meaning in metaphysics.  In transubstantiation, "substance" refers to the basic nature of the bread and wine/Body and Blood, i.e. what a thing is most fundamentally.  What bread and wine are most fundamentally is changed into what Christ's Body and Blood are most fundamentally.

When we teach the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we mean that Christ is substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine.  Typically, we use the phrase "sacramentally present."  In an effort to defend the Real Presence, some have said that "Real Presence" means "physically present," i.e. present in such a way that the consecrated elements can be chemically analyzed to produce DNA or blood type.  Rather than being a defense of the Real Presence, this is actually a capitulation to material science.  How?  By defining the "really Real" as material.  There are things in Catholic theology that are real yet not materially verifiable:  God, angels, souls, etc.  We do not have to surrender the Real to material science in order to understand reality.**It is far greater and more complex than the sum total of the physical objects and processes in nature.

The CCC 1374 teaches:  In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."  [The two quotes are from Thomas and Pope Paul VI, respectively.]

Christ is present in the Eucharist "in the fullest sense."  To restrict his presence to the merely physical is to deny the fullest of his true presence.  No doubt my sharp commenters will point out that Pope Paul VI goes on to write with regard to the sacred species:  ". . .beneath which Christ is present whole and entire in His physical 'reality,' corporeally present. . ."  Very true.  What is often left out of the quotation is the final phrase that defines what he means by "corporeally present."  The rest of the sentence is ". . .although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place" (MF 46). Here the Holy Father is paraphrasing Thomas' teaching found in the Summa (III.76.5).

So, what does it mean for Christ to be corporeally present but not in the way that bodies occupy a place?  Thomas writes in the Summa (III.76.1, ad 3):  As has been already stated after the consecration of the bread into the body of Christ, or of the wine into His blood, the accidents of both remain. From which it is evident that the dimensions of the bread or wine are not changed into the dimensions of the body of Christ, but substance into substance. And so the substance of Christ's body or blood is under this sacrament by the power of the sacrament, but not the dimensions of Christ's body and blood.  IOW, Christ physical presence is located within the spatial dimensions of the sacred species.  Imagine your pastor praying the consecration prayer over the paten and chalice at Mass. . .BOOM!. . .now he has a full grown Jesus standing on his altar!  This is not what "corporeally present" means.   REMEMBER:  "Real" is not limited to "material stuff."

We have to avoid two extremes in thinking about the Real Presence.  First, we must reject the materialist/physicalist notion that the sacred species can be chemically analyzed to discover human genetic material.  This is a failed defense against science that actually adopts the premises of the attackers.  Belief based on evidence is not faith.  Second, we must reject the "mere symbol" school of thought that reduces Christ's presence to being merely symbolic.  As always, the Church takes the middle way:  Christ is sacramentally present as a sign (not just a symbol) of God's real presence among us.  Signs both point to and make present that which they signify.

* The Council of Trent teaches that the process of achieving the Real Presence of Christ is "suitably and properly called Transubstantiation" (XIII.4).  IOW, if you don't like transubstantiation as an explanation for how the Real Presence is achieved, you have to come up with something else that entirely preserves the dogmatic elements of the Real Presence.  There are other ways to explain the Real Presence, but they tend to fall short of the ideal.  Also, it is important to note: the Church has never dogmatically taught a philosophical doctrine.
** "The presence of Christ's true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority" (Summa III.75.1).

15 December 2009

Catholic environmentalism is pro-life

"Saving the planet" is NOT about rescuing Mother Gaia from the evils of capitalist industrialization.  We serve the greater dignity of the human person by being good stewards of creation.   Those of us who refuse to be bullied by the Panic Industry of Climate Alarmism are not anti-environment.  It is entirely possible to be fervently against pollution, waste, etc. without following the Alarmist Lemmings off the cap and tax cliff. 

Excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI's World Peace Day message:

Hence I readily encourage efforts to promote a greater sense of ecological responsibility which, as I indicated in my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, would safeguard an authentic “human ecology” and thus forcefully reaffirm the inviolability of human life at every stage and in every condition, the dignity of the person and the unique mission of the family, where one is trained in love of neighbour and respect for nature.  There is a need to safeguard the human patrimony of society. This patrimony of values originates in and is part of the natural moral law, which is the foundation of respect for the human person and creation.

[. . .]

If the Church’s magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things. In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the “dignity” of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings. They also open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man’s salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms. The Church, for her part, is concerned that the question be approached in a balanced way, with respect for the “grammar” which the Creator has inscribed in his handiwork by giving man the role of a steward and administrator with responsibility over creation, a role which man must certainly not abuse, but also one which he may not abdicate. In the same way, the opposite position, which would absolutize technology and human power, results in a grave assault not only on nature, but also on human dignity itself.

New Catholic Heritage blog

New blog to check out:  St Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association.

And Fr. Gerald Mendoza, OP (a novitate classmate of mine) has rebooted his blog:  In Spiritu et Veritate.

14 December 2009

Non serviam!

3rd Week Advent (T): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

In the great Christian epic poem, Paradise Lost, John Milton portrays the fall of God's angel, Satan, using four simple words: “I will not serve!” Confronted by the Archangel Michael, the rebellious Satan is ordered to submit to the will of the Father and conform to his angelic nature—to be a servant of the Almighty. Satan is poisoned by pride and a lust for power, famously declaring, “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n.” He justifies his rebellion against heaven's King by appealing to the injustice of God's rule, describing his Creator as “our grand foe [. . .] Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav'n.” Adding rank hypocrisy to his list of sins, Satan establishes himself as the sole tyrant of Pandemonium (Hell), thus demonstrating that he is willing to serve after all, so long as it is his own will that he serves and no other. “Non serviam—I will not serve!” is the rallying cry for generations of those who know better, do better, feel better, and think better than He Who created them. The difference between the rebellious angel and rebellious man is that the man or woman who refuses God's service can repent and embrace the goodness of their Creator's beatific plan. Advent is a time for us to examine our willingness to serve, to be working servants of God for one another.

Jesus sets before the chief priests and elders a question about two brothers. The first refuses to serve his father but changes his mind and does as he is ordered. The second readily agrees to serve but never does. The question Jesus asks is: which one of the two did his father's will? In the end, both agreed to serve, but only the first brother actually served. The priests and elders correctly answer that the first brother, despite his initial refusal, does his father's will. Rather than praising the priests and elders for their wisdom, Jesus condemns them for their disobedience to John the Baptist. He says, “Yet even when you saw [prostitutes and tax collectors believe and repent], you did not later change your minds and believe him.” Like the fallen angels before them, the priests and elders said, “Non serviam—I will not serve.” Their stubborn refusal to believe John's message—despite the faithful witness of the worst sinners—leaves them abandoned on the wreck of sin and last in line to enter the Kingdom, if they enter at all.

It is important that we are clear about exactly what it is that Jesus is condemning. More than their disbelief, Jesus is condemning the priests and elders for ignoring the evidence of God's mercy in the repentance of the worst sinners among them. It's not that the priests and elders disbelieve; it's that they disbelieve even after they have been shown direct evidence of God's power to transform disobedient lives. In his question about the two brothers, Jesus is careful to show that the first brother refuses to serve at first but later changes his mind and faithfully serves. The second brother easily agrees to serve but does not follow his brother's example and change his mind about actually serving. It is not enough that we say we will do the Father's will. That's easy. We must follow through and actually serve, really do the work given to us. Heart, mind, hands must all serve together to do His will. Any one of these—heart, mind, hands—can say, “I will not serve” and all three are sent to the back of the line that waits to enter the Kingdom.

While waiting for the coming of the Lord among us at Christmas, we are given the chance to change our minds about serving the Father's will. We cannot deceive ourselves as Satan did and believe that b/c we will not serve God we do not serve anyone at all. Refusing to serve God is nothing more than serving one's own will. That's not the freedom that brings us to Christ. Satan preaches that God's tyranny in heaven is slavery. But pride, especially the pride of “Non serviam,” is a self-imposed slavery—a slave wrapping himself in the chains of rebellion. Watch the prostitutes and tax collectors. They are free in the service of their Father's will.

On becoming a hermeneut. . .not a hermit!

Some very observant HancAquam readers have noticed and commented upon recent changes in the WISH LIST.

Once stocked with a healthy selection of philosophy of science books, the List is now populated by tomes on divine revelation, epistemology, and hermeneutics.

Have I abandoned philosophy of science for theology?  No.

Writing the thesis has revealed to me a number of deficiencies not only in self-discipline but also in my general understanding of science.  My thesis subject, the Rev'd Dr. John Polkinghorne, an Anglican priest and quantum physicist, frequently uses examples from his scientific specialty to illustrate philosophical and theological insights.

So long as he remains mostly on the side of theology, I can follow his argument.  However, when he lapses into the arcane  yet beautiful world of mathematics and quantum theory, I am lost. . .completely lost.  The only way I could be any more lost would be if he were writing in Tang Dynasty Chinese. . .with his left hand.

A license thesis is a fairly straightforward review of the literature and critical evaluation of the chosen topic.  Seventy-pages.  A dissertation, however, is a 250-300 page project that exhibits competency in the relevant literature and makes an original contribution to the field.  If I have trouble subtracting 39 from 46 w/o a calculator, I have no business trying to contribute anything original to the field of philosophy of science.

I would feel confident teaching the basic concepts and methods of the philosophy of science to undergrads, but conducting a graduate seminar would be a test of my intellectual limits and a test of my students' patience.

So, I am not abandoning philosophy of science; rather, I am shifting my focus to philosophical theology, more specifically, to those questions raised by the epistemology of divine revelation.  The most exciting questions (to me anyway) in this field involve explorations of divine hiddenness and how philosophers can help theologians navigate the rocky seas between faith and reason in the development of doctrine.  Imagine for a moment delving into the philosophical assumptions of the "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation" (Dei verbum) promulgated by Vatican Two!  I know, right?

This is where philosophical hermeneutics comes in. . .and my training in literary theory and poetry.  Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation.  The general field of hermeneutics is as old as poetry itself.  Think of Aristotle's Poetics.  The early Church Fathers spent a great deal of time thinking and writing about how to interpret scripture (Origen, Augustine).  After the Nicene Council in 325 A.D., theologians and philosophers argued about how to interpret the creed, etc.  Philosophical hermeneutics is a more recent development (mostly Germans:  Scheliermacher, Dilthy, Gadamer).  Rather than prescribing fixed interpretative models for finding and extracting meaning from texts, P.H. pulls interpreters back from the reading process and challenges them to think about themselves as readers in philosophical terms.  For lack of a better term, P.H. is about meta-interpretation:  what are your assumptions about texts, readers, meaning, language, communication, etc.?

A shaky analogy:  as philosophy of science is to scientists, philosophical hermeneutics is to philosophers/theologians.  I wonder if theologians and philosophers are any friendlier to P.H. than scientists are to philosophy of science. . .

Bottom-line:  without abandoning philosophy of science, I am expanding my interests to include philosophical hermeneutics and at the same time narrowing my focus to religious epistemology.

Now, time for more coffee!  This post burned up all my stored caffeine. . .

How do you wait for a revelation?

3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Three words come to mind on Gaudete Sunday: joy, expectation, revelation. Since Advent is a penitential season we could easily add penance to the list. But like Laudete Sunday during Lent, Gaudete Sunday breaks the fast of the season, giving us a peek at the coming revelation of the incarnation. These “times off” were likely much more welcomed in ages past. Fasting and abstinence were a bit more severe and a Sunday spent partying a week before Christmas and Easter served to relieve the burden of penance, giving faithful souls a boost for the final week of soaking in the mortality of the flesh. Nowadays, we jump from Thanksgiving straight to Christmas without much of anything in between. This is an old complaint among us Advent Nazis, one that falls on ears deafened by hypnotizing muzaked carols and the cha-ching of the cash register. Try as we might, those of us who push Advent as its own season usually fail in our mission, managing only to foist upon Christmas-happy Catholics modest concessions in displaying seasonal symbols and the occasional scheduling of a communal penance service. I'm told again and again, “Stop being Father Grinch, Father!” With great pastoral sensitivity and an ear to the popular mood, I usually just release an exasperated sigh and do my best to preach that without a sense of expectation, waiting is useless to our growth in holiness; without a sense of the hidden, revelation has nothing to reveal; and without a little holy fear, joy is just a mood-stabilizer for the bubble-headed. Gaudete Sunday, properly understood, is more than a peek at the holiday to come; it is a expectant-peek into the unveiling of our joy in Christ.

We re-joice. We en-joy. We can be joy-ful. We can take delight in; be gladden by; we can relish, appreciate, and even savor. We can be satiated and satisfied. Where do we find joy, discover what gladdens us? And why? Why do find joy in this but not that? Why aren't we gladden by all that God has made? Why isn't everyone joyful? St. Thomas gives us an important (if somewhat dry) insight: “[. . .] joy is caused by love, either through the presence of the thing loved, or because the proper good of the thing loved existed and endures in it [. . .] Hence joy is not a virtue distinct from charity, but an act, or effect, of charity”(ST II-II 28.1, 4). Joy is an effect of love. Love causes joy. Where there is no love, there can be no joy. This may sound simple enough, but how often have you heard joy explicitly linked to the virtue of charity, the good habit of loving for the sake of love alone? Don't we usually think of rejoicing, of being joyful, as a temporary emotional spike in an otherwise hum-drum existence? We move along the day in a comfortable flat-line until something happens to us that lifts our spirit, bumps the happy meter up a peg or two. Then the line goes flat again, waiting for the next spike, for the next jump to excite the bored soul.

If love is the food and drink of the Body, then Christian joy can not be a temporary condition, an momentary infection easily defeated by the chores of survival. As beings made in the image and likeness of Love Himself, our very existence—forget our acts; forget our thoughts and attitudes—just-being-here is evidence of love's sustaining power. It is the holy will of a loving God that we Are, just that we live, move, and have our being in Him. From this gift alone we can nourish and harvest a formidable holiness! If God is love and love causes joy; and if we are made in the image and likeness of God who is love; then we are love embodied. We were made to cause joy. But because we too often seek the raw counsel of mere survival—forgetting love and strangling joy;—because we run after things that cannot love us; because we work ourselves bloody toward the low horizon of worldly achievements; because of disobedience and sin, we require a push toward, a tug from Love Himself. One name for this tug, this divine seduction is The Incarnation.

Just as we wait for the Easter resurrection during Lent, we wait for the incarnation during Advent. On Easter morning, the tomb is emptied of our crucified Lord and he ascends to the Father. On Christmas morning, the Son is emptied of his divinity, and he descends to become a servant, a man like us. Before the tomb is emptied, before the Son is emptied, we wait a season with penitential hearts. We do not set aside our joy to mourn; rather, because we are joyful, our failure to always be the cause of joy in others is made all too apparent. The contrast and conflict between who we were made to be and who we have become is sharpened by penitential mourning, by regret and repentance, giving us the chance to see and hear that the perfection of our joy is coming among us—the Incarnation. He emptied himself to become our sin so that our joy might be complete.

What are we waiting for during Advent? A revelation, an unveiling. We expect his arrival in the flesh because we know that he loves us. Our penitential waiting seasons our rejoicing, salts our anticipation, adding to the food and drink of the Body the fullness of both our confessed failures and the assurance of His forgiveness. But if we do not wait; if we fail to seek out what is hidden; if we will not love one for another; then, we cannot expect a joyful revelation. We can expect Santa Claus and Christmas hams and brightly wrapped presents. But we cannot expect to see and hear the birth of our Lord among us. If, after the long season of Lent, we expect the tomb to be empty on Easter morning, then we must expect the Son to be emptied on Christmas day. Without the coming of Christ, Christ never arrives.

Advent is set aside for us to mourn our failures to love. Gaudete Sunday is set aside so that we are reminded of creation's coming Joy. We have one more week to wait. What is it that you are waiting for? More importantly, who are you waiting for and how are you waiting?

13 December 2009

Religion of Peace

Apparently, they don't teach logic in Islamic universities. . .

H/T:  GetReligion

Homily is percolating. . .

There's a Gaudete Sunday homily in the works. . .

I was up at 3.30am with a bad case of acid reflux.  Worked for a while.  Went to Mauds (Lauds + Mass).  Crashed again.

Got up.  Read what I had written in the wee hours and deleted it.  Now, I'm starting over.

Also, the Blackwell Anthology of Modern Philosophy arrived.  No shipping invoice, no return address.  So, thanks to the generous soul who sent it to the Angelicum library!

11 December 2009

Cardboard cut-out of an empty suit?

Another OUCH for B.O. . .

The Norwegians are a little miffed that The One skipped out on most of the Nobel Peace Prize parties, including the charity fundraiser for Save the Children.

Not to be left without His Presence, the organizers propped up a cardboard cut-out of their prize winner instead.

Wow. . .didn't take them long to get the measure of the man, did it?

2+2 is NOT 4. . .unless The Party says it is. (UPDATED)

Mathematician discovers that the laws of physics, the truths of math, and the non-existence of God are all determined by a majority vote of tenured faculty of the relevant academic departments.

And here we thought "2 + 2 = 4" was settled math. 

My 5th grade math teacher, Ms Baker owes me an apology!  And a better grade!!

This sort of nonsense is what happens when otherwise intelligent people drink the postmodernist Kool-aid of anti-realism.  In my days working in a psych hospital, we called this "delusional hallucinations of grandeur brought on by narcissistic psychosis."

UPDATE:  You can read about the violence done to the pursuit of scientific truth by PoMo theory in Fashionable Nonsense:  Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science.

The book recounts the following:  "In 1996, an article entitled 'Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity' was published in the cultural studies journal Social Text. Packed with recherch√© quotations from 'postmodern' literary theorists and sociologists of science, and bristling with imposing theorems of mathematical physics, the article addressed the cultural and political implications of the theory of quantum gravity. Later, to the embarrassment of the editors, the author revealed that the essay was a hoax, interweaving absurd pronouncements from eminent intellectuals about mathematics and physics with laudatory--but fatuous--prose."

10 December 2009

Coffee Bowl Browsing

Q: Why has B.O. dropped 20 points in the polls?  A:  He's not the Messiah we are looking for.

In fact, 44% of Americans say that they would rather have GWB back in the White House.  Ouch!

B.O. supports Catholic Just War Theory in Nobel speech:  “We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: we will not eradicate violent conflicts in our lifetimes [. . .] There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”

B.O. is right to argue for eschatological hope: "But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place."  But he is wrong to think that government and politicians offer us this perfection.  Remember:  Adam and Eve's sin was their acceptance of the serpent's idea that they could become gods without God.
Why are most journals Democrats?  Thoughts from a engineering prof.

Did you know that the BVM supports a woman's right to choose an abortion?  No?  Well, Sr. Donna Quinn, OP says she does!

Fr. Z. offer rubrical advice on what to do a gunman starts shooting during Mass.

Perfect example of my weird sense of humor:  Big Foot Caught on Tape!

Read examples of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. . .

Video proof that Math is of the Devil. . .I knew it all along.

A list of Catholic novels from Fr. Coulter.

Document from the Pontifical Council on Culture, "Where is your God?"