21 February 2009

Question for book benefactors

A question to my book benefactors. . .

Someone (or someones) recently purchased about six books from my Wish List. . .mostly the books on Eastern Orthodox prayer and spirituality.

My question: were these shipped to Rome or Texas? I'm asking b/c if they were shipped to Texas, I will need to find other sources for my prayer book since I won't be back in Texas 'til July. This doesn't mean the books won't be used. . .I have a second book brewing in my Monkey Mind that will make good use of these gifts!

Leave comments, please. . .I won't publish them.

19 February 2009

Some navel-gazing. . .

BE WARNED: this is a fairly rambling piece of somewhat self-indulgent navel-gazing. . .

Normally, I am all-too aware of "where I am" spiritually--usually, somewhere around Not Quite Mortally Wounded Enough to Give Up Entirely but never Flying High Near the Throne. Like most struggling Catholics, I do as well as I can and throw my lot in with God's promise of mercy. This is as it should be. We struggle; we hope; and we get on with our day. Lately, something has changed, and I can't figure out what exactly is different.

Though I value the intellectual life, my basic instinct is intuitive; that is, most of my decisions/evaluations are deeply rooted in empathetic urgings, or fits and starts--maybe even leaps--of insight that push me onward and outward. I hate to admit it, but many of my choices in the past have been gambles rather than reasoned choices. For the most part, these bets against logic have worked out to my benefit. I vaguely remember someone once saying something about only children and fools rely on Providence. . .

Anyway, during my recent visit to the U.S., I was in touch with a strange sense of Something Isn't Right. There's nothing I can point to concretely as an example. Just a really bizarre, almost physical, twinging that I am in the wrong place spiritually. This isn't about being in Rome or about studying philosophy. . .it's more about my relationship to God and His Church, something more fundamental than what I am doing intellectually or vocationally and more about who I am as a priest.

During my three years as a campus minister at U.D. I was in a position to work as a priest on a daily basis. I celebrated Mass as many as five times a week. I was spiritual director to several students, a few staff members, some folks from the community. I heard confessions daily. There were even a few weddings and some baptisms. There's not much of that here in Rome. Two Masses a month. One spiritual directee. No confessions, baptisms, or weddings. Who is a priest without his people? Hmmmmm. . .

Though I taught literature and theology at U.D. the entire time I was there, these were academic exercises rather than strictly priestly ones. Teaching thrills me almost as much as preaching. . .I've learn more in front of a classroom than I ever have sitting in a desk. It's the give and take of a good discussion rooted in a text that stretches me intellectually not the solitary life of a scholar sitting in his room reading. The teaching I did stretched my spiritual muscles as well as my brain. But nothing strains against my naturally spiritual laziness like having to prepare five homilies a week. Of having to read, study, pray over, and preach about the scriptural readings for the ecclesial occasion. Add to that a poet's pride in needing to be original (i.e., not simply reaching into the file and pulling out a homily from three years ago) and you have a recipe for growth. I recently reviewed some of my earlier homilies and compared them to the few I've preached since October 2008. Though my more recent homilies are better focused and more clearly communicated, there's not as much energy there, not as much verve in the text or the delivery. Is that a bad thing? Maybe this is an indication that I am maturing, or maybe I'm feeling spiritually constipated. Stunted. Or held back. Who knows?

In many ways--despite my years in the academy--I was not prepared to be a student again. Sitting in a desk, taking notes, being examined. There's a different kind of discipline in being a teacher. Come to think of it. . .I've rarely been a student without also being a teacher. The typical model of university teaching is Master/Apprentice. Accomplished scholar imparts his/her mastery to those who want to attain competence in a field on the way to achieving expertise. From the beginning of my professional training as a reader/teacher of literature, I have been steeped in a different model: Coach/Athlete. Though I rebelled early on against the Marxism used to fuel this model (the so-called "pedagogy of the oppressed"), it best fits my personality. It is more dynamic, more intuitive, less authoritarian than authoritative, and it gives the teacher lots of room to grow. There's content to impart, of course, but the power of this model is the demonstration of a skill and the constant need to hone that skill.

Maybe my current spiritual discomfort has something to do with my academic discomfort? For Dominicans, study is a form of prayer. But I don't study well alone, or rather, I study best when studying is a communal activity, something done with others who need to sharpen their intellectual skills. What's a coach without his/her athletes?

So, I'm a priest without his people and a coach without his athletes. That goes a long way toward explaining my current malaise. Don't get me wrong here! I'm not unhappy or depressed or anything like that. Just. . .blah. Just tepid in all things spiritual and academic. The intellectual work I have ahead of me is daunting, even overwhelming. But that's not new. What's new, I guess, is that I feel little or no urgency to engage it or complete it. Why? I dunno. I'm reading. I'm thinking. I'm praying. Doing what I can to progress. But my heart isn't in it right now. I wish I could say that I'm being unduly distracted by more urgent problems. Nope. Or that I am being oppressed or burdened with third party problems. Nope. Yet, the sense of being stalled, of wading through molasses remains. Even my creative project--the prayer book--isn't moving my spirit to bigger and better things.

Who knows? It could be this Roman winter--cold, dark, damp. Could be that I am focusing on my health right now. Losing weight. Getting my HBP meds atraightened out. Or that I am too much concerned about where I will be this summer. It's easier to live in the future, isn't it?

What I need is a Coach standing over me yelling, "One more page, you wimp! Come on, you lazy bum! One more book! One more homily!" Ha! Yea, that's the ticket.

18 February 2009

post-Pelosi announcement from the Vatican (Updated)

The Vatican Press Office published the following notice after Pelosi's visit with the Holy Father:

Following the General Audience the Holy Father briefly greeted Mrs Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, together with her entourage.

His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.

Will this have much influence on our nation's third-ranking abortion fan? I'm not holding my breath; however, hope springs eternal. . .even in politics.

A report from Breitbart:

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday told U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, that Catholic politicians have a duty to protect life "at all stages of its development," the Vatican said.

Pelosi is the first top Democrat to meet with Benedict since the election of Barack Obama, who won a majority of the Catholic vote despite differences with the Vatican on abortion.

The Vatican released remarks by the pope to Pelosi, saying Benedict spoke of the church's teaching "on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death." That is an expression often used by the pope when expressing opposition to abortion.

Benedict said all Catholics—especially legislators, jurists and political leaders—should work to create "a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development."

Pelosi could not immediately be reached after the 15-minute meeting, which was closed to reporters and photographers [HA! So much for the photo-op. There'll be no campaign posters touting the Holy Father's visit with Pelosi flying around SanFran in 2010. Good for them]. The two met in a small room of a Vatican auditorium after the pope's weekly public audience.

A number of the bishops in the United States have questioned Pelosi's stance on abortion, particularly her theological defense of her support for abortion rights.

Benedict has cautiously welcomed the new Democratic administration, although several American cardinals have sharply criticized its support of abortion rights in a break from former President George W. Bush.

Pelosi had meetings with Italian leaders the past few days, including Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

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17 February 2009

Recent arrivals

Grazie mille! Mille grazie!

Recent book arrivals from the WISH LIST:

Metaphysics and the Idea of God

Aquinas: God & Action

Finite and Eternal Being

Science and the Spiritual Quest

"Work on Oneself": Wittgenstein's Philosophical Psychology

God? A Philosophical Preface to Faith

Vatican II: Renewal within the Tradition

Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages

Thank You notes go out tomorrow to all for whom I have a return address!

16 February 2009

Resisting the world's leaven

6th Week OT (Tues) Gn 6.5-8; 7.1-5, 10; Mk 8.14-21
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Is Jesus surprised or disappointed? Is he exasperated or angry? Maybe all of these and more? Once again his best students and closest friends fail to “get it.” Having lived with him, traveled with him, listened to him, badgered him with questions, witnessed his miracles, the disciples seem to be as deaf, dumb, and blind as they were the day he netted them and pulled them into his ministry, gaping like fish for a breath. Exhibiting the same obstinance that the Pharisees seemed to favor when dealing with Jesus, his own students apparently need some sign, some miraculous konk on the head in order to see who Jesus is and to hear his saving Word. Fortunately, for the disciples, Jesus was with them, right there with them to continue teaching them, to continue showing them his unfailing Way. Two thousand and nine years later, what do we have to open our eyes and unstop our ears? When we clamor for signs and wonders, who steps up and reminds us that faith is first and always about trust, about throwing ourselves on the powerful mercy of God?

In the time it takes to cross to the opposite shore of the sea, the disciples had forgotten the lesson of the fishes and loaves. The Pharisees come forward after this miracle and demand signs from heaven to prove Jesus’ divine mandate, signs he refuses to give. Once on the opposite shore, Jesus warns his friends against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, warning them against the poisonous influence of legalism and worldly politics. They think that Jesus is rebuking them for failing to bring bread. Frustrated, disappointed, he says, “Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember?”

They do not understand. Their hearts may be hardened. They are blind to his signs and deaf to his Word. And surely they have failed to remember. They have Jesus among them to remind them of their failures and to enlighten their ignorance. What do we have now when we find ourselves in the same predicament? Thanks be to God, we have Christ among us as well! What else is the Eucharist but our present-day miracle of the loaves? What else is scripture but our spoken Word, divine words that open eyes and unstop ears? What else we are doing here this morning as the Body of Christ than being reminded of who Christ is for us? We do not merely remember a story or recall a lesson, we witness again in this breaking of the bread the cross and Christ’s sacrifice. What other signs could we possibly want or need?

When we allow the leaven of the Pharisees—the poisonous influence of religious legalism—or the leaven of the Herodians—the poisonous influence of accommodating the Church to the world’s philosophy—we risk forgetting who we are; we risk confusion, loss, hard-heartedness, spiritual blindness, and eternal death. We risk not only our own lives here and here-after, but we risk the lives of those we are sent to save through our witness to God’s mercy. We cannot risk ignorance of God’s Word, so we read, hear, and enact His Self-revelation in scripture. We cannot risk misunderstanding, so we listen to and follow His Church’s apostolic faith. We cannot risk hard-heartedness, so we care for the least among His people. We cannot risk forgetting, so we come together as one heart and one mind and we remember. And in remembering what he did for us in this Eucharist, we go out, out there, and we tell others what we have remembered and to whom we give thanks and praise for our salvation.

If you have seen God’s abundance at work, if you have heard His saving Word, you cannot fail to share what your eyes have seen and your ears have heard. To fail in this is poisonous. To you and to everyone you meet. Thanks to be God, you never need to forget; you never need to grow cold. You have us and we all have Christ with us, always with us.

Of many things. . .

Of many things. . .

1). Comments on SSPX controversy?

The canonical questions in this mess are beyond me., so I will leave those aside. I'm always delighted that those who have excommunicated themselves in disobedience find their way back to the Church in obedience. Bishop Williamson's holocaust denial is just dumb. However, we don't excommunicate Catholics (or refuse to rescind an excommunication) because they hold dumb ideas about historical events. I find it bizarre (and telling) that the very people who whine and carp about the Church excommunicating heretics, etc. are the same people demanding that the Holy Father exclude Williamson for his non-theological ideas. Make no mistake, this controversy is a media-made event designed to embarrass the Holy Father. Bishop Williamson needs to obey his SSPX superiors and recant his nutty notions of the holocaust.

2). Comments on the Legionaries of Christ controversy?

The Bible is pack full of sinners being used by God to put His Good News into the world. Think: if we only allowed living Saints to found orders, build churches, write theology, etc. how much could we get done toward preaching the gospel? Not much. That being said. . .I see two paths for the L.C. right now: 1). keep what is good, true, and beautiful about the L.C. spirituality and 2). rapidly distance the movement from the founder. The first is just good spiritual practice. The second is just good P.R. In philosophy there's a informal logical fallacy called "poisoning the well." In this fallacy an opponent will attempt to discredit an argument by pointing out that the defender of the argument holds indefensible positions or is somehow dodgy morally or intellectually. The idea is to cast doubt on the position under debate by poisoning the source of the offending argument. We see this a lot when debaters resort to comparing their opponents to Nazis, or pointing out that their opponents hold positions similar to some other undesirable ideology. That the founder of the L.C. was a sinner is plain. Who isn't? Does this discredit his spirituality? No. L.C. spirituality stands on its own quite apart from its author. In other words, L.C. spirituality is either true, good, and beautiful or it isn't. That it was composed and promulgated by a sinner is irrelevant. For P.R. purposes, the L.C. needs to distance itself from its founder, that is, quickly and irrevocably disconnect its spirituality from the man who founded it. This means apologizing, cleaning house for any co-conspirators, re-organizing, and basically starting from scratch in terms of promoting itself as a Catholic religious order. The Church needs the fervor and discipline that the L.C. offers. However, the L.C. does not need its founder in order to thrive.

3). Obama's stimulus package?

Pork. Pure and simple. Pork. Millions of taxpayer dollars to left-wing political groups and allies of the Democrats. I'm worried about something Mike Huckabee noted on FoxNews last week: the stimulus bill is fundamentally anti-religious in that it has a number of provisions that forbid the practice of the faith for those receiving money from the bill. Of course, the MSM has made no mention of this nor will it. I don't watch TV here in Rome, but I managed to get in a few hours of watching CNN while I was at home. Though I knew that the MSM is basically a televised Obama cheerleading camp, I had no idea the extent to which these "journalists" have abdicated their responsibility as our nation's fourth estate. On Lincoln's birthday, I watched a "report" on CNN that spent almost an hour comparing Obama to Lincoln. It was a fawning, saccharine, duplicitous Hallmark card of a show. Little more than a propaganda piece. An early Valentine's gift to The One. How can we have any sort of proper political debate when our media refuses to report the most basic facts about the political process? This is why I regularly visit Newsbusters. . .and you should too.

4). Increasing number of attacks on the Church?

This is old news. The Church has been under attack since the Holy Spirit visited the apostles in the Upper Room on pentecost. Nothing new in this. As an institution, the Church represents one of the few places left in the west that teaches personal responsibility and virtue. So long as we do this we can expect to be the targeted by the world's culture. Yes, we need to fight back. But not for the sake of the Church. The Church has been around for 2,000 years and will continue to be around until the Lord decides otherwise. Our fight is not against the culture but for those who cannot fight for themselves. Our job is to preach the Good News and teach the truth of the faith "in season and out." Those in the Church who would see us compromise or accommodate in order to get along are seriously deluded. I'm not suggesting that we become belligerent or aggressive. We don't need to be violent in order to speak the truth to the powers of this world. We just have to be persistent, unwavering in speaking the Word to those who will see and hear. Those that refuse to see and hear have condemned themselves. Remember: our treasure is not of this world. We can lose all of our stuff and still flourish as a Body. What the Church needs now more than anything are courageous leaders among the laity and clergy to stand up and assert what we know to be true: God has won this fight. From all eternity, God has won.

5). What's your book about?

If I manage to get a manuscript to Liguori Publications by May 8th, my book will be available in August 2009. Basically, all I am doing is adapting traditional litanies and novenas for contemporary use and writing several original litanies and novenas. The original prayers are taken from a variety of sources, including the works of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I'm also including some prayers based on the mystical works of Meister Eckhart, Aquinas, Dionysus, Gregory of Nyssa, and a few other Patristic sources. Right now, I am working on the original pieces, including a triology of novenas rooted in the creation theology of the Eastern and Western Catholic traditions. If this book does well, I am going to propose a second book that will be a set of short reflections based on Patristic texts. This will be more of a daily-use book for growing in holiness. We'll see how thing go!

6). Lots of books about Eastern Orthodoxy on your Wish List. Considering a move to the East?

No, I'm a happy Latin Catholic. The books about Orthodoxy on my Wish List are there for two reasons: 1). I'm using them for my own book of prayers and 2). I'm giving the lectures on Orthodoxy to the U.D. students during our March trip to Greece. Generally, the E.O. do a better job of unpacking a theology of the Holy Spirit than the West does. I appreciate the more literary approach of the East and find their style of writing (less rational, more poetical) more appealing. As a Dominican, I am commited to the use of right reason in theological discussions, but sometimes we miss the subtlies when we focus exclusively on the rational. More than anything, the East has a better understanding of how creation and deification work in our salvation.

7). How was the trip home?

All went really well! No airport delays. No problem getting the meds through customs. I was very happy about this. I was also delighted on my flight over b/c the plane was only 2/3 full. This meant I got an extra seat next to me to stretch out! The flight back was full, however, so I was cramped and couldn't sleep. Ah well, the price of paying cattle-car rates, right? I visited with Mom and Pop for about a week and then drove to Irving where I was greeted warmly by students and faculty. One of my former students and some of his friends threw me a party. I had a chance to visit with several guys considering priesthood. Spent some time in Wal-Mart stocking up on things I can't get in Rome. Ate too much fast food, so this week is dedicated to puring Burger King and Wendy's from my system. Yuck. Had an unexpected visit with my provincial while in Texas. . .always a pleasure. I watched too much TV while visiting in MS. My mom loves HGTV, so I am once again up on all the latest yard fashions and my armchair skills at renovating old houses and shopping for new ones are up to par. Took my two nieces to see "Hotel for Dogs" and was astounded at the political messge of the movie: animals are just like humans and animal shelters are evil. The personification of animals is nothing new in cartoons and children's movies, but the none-too-subtle message of this movie is that animals and humans are morally equivalent agents with freely acting souls. I also found it interesting that all of the evil animal control agents were white men while the sympathic public was a hodge-podge of racially mixed women. The main characters were racially mixed too, but without fail the evil in the movie had a white male face. Something else I noticed while in the U.S.: we are a really fat nation. I've struggled with my weight all my life, but returning to the U.S. after only seven months in Rome gave me a perspective I hadn't counted on. I can see why the world thinks of the U.S. has an all-consuming Mouth and Stomach. Granted, I contribute to this image just by walking around Rome! Sigh. Am I glad to be back in Rome? Yes. I was surprised to find myself looking forward to returning. This semester is going to be tough. . .all Italian classes, thesis-writing, finishing up the book, trip to Greece, etc. But I am pleased to be back.

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15 February 2009

Priests on American military bases in E.U.?

Request for info:

Anyone out there know anything about American military bases in Europe needing English-speaking priests?

I have a couple of months that I may be able to spend this summer serving as chaplain if the particulars (transport, housing, compensation, etc.) are right.

Let me know.

Back in Rome

I made it back to Rome!

Got back to the university at 9.30am local time.

Thanks for the prayers and the recent activity on the Wish List. . .

Now, back to bed!