28 May 2009

Friday's Coffee Bowl Browsing!

Why do we continue to pathologize the Human Condition?

I'm sad that he is leaving, but at least he's not hanging around whining about celibacy

Roman Catholic "priestess"/reporter dragged kicking and screaming from Barry's sacred view

Supreme Court nominee's life story is not all that compelling. . .he's conservative, after all

Catholic colleges and universities that honored pro-aborts

Ah, the smell of regret in the morning! Kool-aid drinker wakes up. . .too late.

I'm gonna get in trouble for this one: maybe, just maybe this isn't such a bad idea? (ducks)

Cleaning the ecclesial house in Africa: Vatican removes morally lax archbishop

I need one of these for those folks who don't leave their cell phones in the car at Mass!

Fascinating list of people who were killed by their inventions

Rx drugs in our drinking water. . .hey, that stuff doesn't show up in good bourbons

At this point in the flight I would need to be restrained

Elvis leaps babies in a single bound! (Don't try this at home)

Lots more quotes about religion. . .quotes about feminism (most of which are true)

What is space? Are we free? Does God exist? Are numbers real? Ask a philosopher!

Movies reviews from a Catholic perspective

In case of veliocraptor attack. . .vital info here

Your presence reminds one of a blind jackal, eternally dependent upon misguided archbishops to provide instruction in bowling.

Recession/Obama timeline. . .scary.

Theologians doing what Judges do?

In a post below I suggest that judges often do what theologians do when they arrive at legal judgments by applying principle to specific issues within a given set of precedents.

Ed Whelan at NRO offers this run down of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's judical philosophy, quoting her with his own emendations:

Sotomayor argues, “It is our responsibility”—the responsibility of lawyers and judges—“to explain to the public how an often unpredictable system of justice is one that serves a productive, civilized, but always evolving, society.” She identifies—and treats as equally legitimate—four “reasons for the law’s unpredictability”: (a) “laws are written generally and then applied to different factual situations”; (b) “many laws as written give rise to more than one interpretation”; (c) “a given judge (or judges) may develop a novel approach to a specific set of facts or legal framework that pushes the law in a new direction”; and (d) the purpose of a trial is not simply to search for the truth but to do so in a way that protects constitutional rights.

Let's make some changes and see how this might apply to theology:

The theologian argues, “It is our responsibility”—the responsibility of theologians—“to explain to the faithful how an often unpredictable system of thinking about revelation is one that serves a productive, civilized, but always evolving, Church.” The theologian identifies—and treats as equally legitimate—four “reasons for theology's unpredictability”: (a) “revelation is written generally and then applied by theologians to different factual situations”; (b) “many revelations as written give rise to more than one interpretation”; (c) “a given theologian may develop a novel approach to a specific set of facts or interpretative framework that pushes revelation in a new direction”; and (d) the purpose of theological thinking is not simply to search for the truth but to do so in a way that protects fundamental revelation.

This is not entirely wrong, I think. Judges use the Constitution as their "revelation." Theologians use scripture, creation, and the unique revelation of Christ as theirs. Judges produce "ways of thinking about the Constitution" that become binding on lower courts. Theologians have the magisterium. Judges have to apply not only the law but the higher court's reasoning to specific cases. Theologians do the same thing when they apply magisterial interpretation to both settled and novel facts in order to reach the right conclusions.

My only worry here--for both the law and for theology--is the notion of the "novel approach." We've seen the disastrous results of this play out in both the courts and the Church. However, Thomas' use of Aristotle was quite novel and very controversial when he started teaching at the University of Paris. His approach directly challenged and upset the long-settled neo-Platonism of the academy. In fact, his approach was roundly condemned by Church authorities and his academic colleagues. Of course, Thomas' approach never led him to deny any of the truths of revelation nor did he challenge the authority of the Church to teach the faith conclusively.

Perhaps the lesson here is that novel approaches to researching, developing, and teaching the truth of the Constitution/revelation are fine so long as they do not pretend to be the Constitution/revelation itself. There's a big difference between what is revealed and how it is understood. For theologians, revelation is closed. Our understanding of what has been revealed continues to develop because we are limited creatures grasping at divine truth. I'm not sure the same applies to the judges and the Constitution.

27 May 2009

The Man Library

Pertinent to my post below on bringing virtue back in order to save our young men from the feministization of postmodern culture. . .I give you The Man Library!

This is a list of literary works that extol "manliness" in all its glory. . .

I would quibble with a few of the selections, but it's an interesting list nonetheless.

25 May 2009

St Philip Neri

For your reading pleasure. . .

A cornucopia of St Philip Neri info:

St Philip Romolo Neri

EWTN: Philip Neri

Patron Saint Index with lots of links

Saint of the Day: Philip Neri, saint and joker

The Toronto Oratory

The London Oratory, Brompton

At Catholic Fire: Philip Neri, humorous saint

. . .and the Chiesa Nuova, Philip Neri's church in Rome. Only in Rome can you call a 17th century church a "new church"! Philip is buried in a side chapel there. I've visited frequently, asking for a better sense of humor for dealing with the enemies of the Church.

And today is my 45th birthday. My mother denies it, refusing to believe that she has a 45 year old son!

I am often asked why a Dominican would choose "Philip Neri" as his religious name. I wish there were some mystical, mysterious story to tell. There isn't. When I was going through RCIA, my pastor urged us all to take confirmation names. He suggested that we look at the saints honored on our birthdays for inspiration. He reasoned that picking a name from a saint celebrated on our birthday would help us to remember to imitate that saint. I picked "Philip Neri" for no other reason than that May 26th is his feast day. When I joined the Order, we were told we could use a religious name. One of the brothers asked me my confirmation name and suggested that I make it my religious name. With just a little research into Philip Neri's life, I found quite a lot I wanted to imitate!

Philip knew many of the great Dominicans of his day. He was a renowned preacher and confessor. He worked tirelessly among the spiritually defeated youths of Rome. He was a practical joker and an outrageous spiritual director. When he died, an autopsy revealed that his heart had grown too big for this body. An apt description of this saint of Christ's joy! Philip was canonized along with Theresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola.

We have only just begun

Memorial for St. Philip Neri: Acts 20.17-27; John 17.1-11
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

We are almost done here. Almost there. Just a little longer and all this will be over. Never to be done again. Waiting for us when we are done here is everything we have left to do somewhere else. There can no question that our work—our study, our teaching, our preaching, our ministry, all we do in Christ’s name—there can be no question that this side of the Kingdom our work continues so long as we breath, so long as rise and answer the spirit by doing what Christ did, by being his working Body in this world. We are almost done here. But we have yet to start his work somewhere else. Tomorrow’s gospel has yet to be preached. Tomorrow’s truth has yet to be taught. What Christ accomplished in one day from the cross, we must accomplish daily in the work we have promised to do. What he completed in one breath, we must bring to completion while we yet breathe. To the Father, Jesus prayed, “I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.” And Paul confesses to the priests of the Church in Ephesus, “I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me […] Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course […] to bear witness to the Gospel of God's grace.” Do you, as the hands and voice of the crucified Christ, risen to the Father, do you, his worker and child, bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace?

Standing in the spirit of his Father with eyes raised to heaven, our Lord prays for his people, commending them body and soul to the care of the loving God Who made them. He prays, “I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” With the living Word living among them, our ancestors in the faith kept His Word, doing what they promised to do. Through trial, persecution, murderous plots, torture, and the ever-present threat of death, they held to the living Word and lived His Word in the face of persistent evil and obstinate opposition. They ran their course. And we must run ours. They are done. We are just getting started.

Do you bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace? With all the gifts that you have been given, in the time and place that composes your part in human history, with all the faults, failures, and false starts that sin brings to your work, do you witness to God’s grace? Paul says that he “bears witness.” We read these words to mean “carrying testimony,” or “standing up by speaking out.” But we can hear “to bear witness” as “baring witness,” making our testimony to grace bare, naked, stripped, and exposed. And if you are your witness, that is, if everything that you are and everything that you do bears witness, then you are indeed exposed, stripped naked before the world. To watch you is to watch God’s grace at work in the world. Without pretense or illusion or deceit, you show us Christ.

We are almost done and yet we have hardly begun. We are almost there and yet the end is as far from us as it has ever been. Our task is not to build buildings or win arguments or solve difficult social problems. Our task is to bear witness, to expose the truth, to strip naked the Word. Our task has only just begun.

Set aside not above

7th Sunday of Easter: Acts 1.17-17, 20-26; 1 John 4.11-16; John 7.11-19
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Walking the streets of Rome can teach you a lot about negotiation. Walk up the Via del Corso on a Saturday afternoon. Sidewalks jammed with idly strolling citizens. The street choked with wandering tourists lost in their maps. Fashionistas linger in front of the shop windows, damming up traffic, sending thousands into the street to play catch with the taxis. For someone with a destination in mind, a purpose and a goal, taking the del Corso is an adventure in paying attention, dodging threats of bodily harm, and negotiating the perils of polite society. Will that bus stop at the crosswalk? Will the group of trendy ladies in front of me stop suddenly to squeal over a pair of Ferragamo pumps? Do I need to say “excusa” every time I bump into someone? What degree of impatience do I express when zipping past the amorous couple clogging up the sidewalk with their public display of sloppy affection? You have a goal, a purpose; you have a destination and a mission. You don’t have the time or the patience or even the inclination to suffer these social obstacles lightly, to indulge these worldly distractions with anything less than haughty contempt! How often do you sigh in angry exasperation and imagine yourself screaming: “For the love of all that is holy: move!” When you are a Christian and the world you live in is the Via del Corso on a Saturday afternoon, how do you negotiate the traps, the potholes, the slippery curbs? How do you weave through the foot traffic without landing in the street dodging the buses? Do you surrender to the flow, slow your pace, assume your place in the crowd, and hope your destination comes to you? What happens to the urgency of your mission? Your schedule? One vital point to keep in mind when thinking about these questions: as Christians, we are set apart; we are not set above.

Knowing that his time draws near, Jesus commends his people to the Father. Lifting his eyes to heaven, he prays to God: “I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely. I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” What could Jesus mean? Of course, we belong to the world! We need food, drink, clothing. We are as much affected by gravity, the weather, and the passage of time as anyone else. We have jobs, kids, taxes, and all sorts of worldly ties. We are bound to all the physical necessities of living well in our skins. How exactly do we not belong to this world? What sets us apart? In other words, how are we consecrated in truth? And how does this complete our joy in Christ?

Many of the great heresies in Church history are deeply rooted in a distorted view of the relationship between heaven and earth, body and soul, world and Church. Like most heresies, these distortions exaggerate a distinction, mutate a vital difference, and privilege one extreme over another. In the early Church, most heresies exaggerated the spiritual over the material, leaving us with a disembodied Christ and a purely mystical, intellectual faith that proclaimed the evils of the flesh and demanded radical asceticism. Today, we tend to the other extreme, privileging the material and historical, leaving us with a Christ who is just some guy who said some interesting stuff about the need for social change. Among those who saw the world as a place of greed, lust, and gluttony, the only way to combat murderous distraction was to withdraw into the desert to seek out a spiritual purity in extreme practices of bodily mortification. Among those today who see the spiritual, especially the moral, as a kind of straight-jacket, a fuddy-duddy fussing about mythical codes of behavior, the world is a place of license, freedom, unlimited choice. Even among some Christians, the world is to be revered, imitated, and lauded, if not worshiped. What both the desert-dwellers and the world-worshipers fail to see is that the “world” Jesus implicitly condemns is not the material world, the cosmos of stuff and physical law, but that time and place where the powers of rebellion and strife hold sway, the material and spiritual battlefield where obedience to God and the temptation to disobey God compete for our allegiance. This is the world we are in and yet the world we do not belong to.

To be consecrated in the truth in this world is to be set aside by grace to achieve a divine purpose wherever you find yourself. You will not fulfill your divinely gifted purpose by hating the material world and living only for the spiritual. You will not fulfill your divinely gifted purpose by hating the transcendent world and living only in the flesh. We are body and soul. Neither one nor the other wholly without the other. If you are only your soul, then what you do materially is irrelevant to your spiritual growth. Be spiritual! And be as you please. If you are only your body, then what you believe about the spiritual is irrelevant to your material growth. Just do it! And do anything you please. Christians are saddled with a much more difficult task: as embodied souls consecrated in the truth, we are bound materially to a world ruled by sin and obligated to achieve spiritual purity in the midst of physical temptation. What we do materially affects us spiritually. What we believe about spiritual truths affects us materially.

If this is true, and it is, what good does it do us to be consecrated in the truth? We are set aside not above. “To consecrate” means “to aside for a specific purpose.” We consecrate things, people, places. We don’t use the altar as a card table. We don’t use a chalice to chug beer. Priests and religious do not participate in government as elected or appointed officials. As baptized priests, prophets, and kings of the Father’s Kingdom, we are set aside to work toward and achieve a specific goal, an end that perfects us in all His gifts. Notice that Jesus does not say that he has removed us from the battleground of this world. He does not elevate us above it or subject us to it. He does not say that we do not belong in the world. He says that we do not belong TO this world. We are not slaves, citizens, or subjects of the dominion of the Enemy. Our purpose is not defined by the laws of nature or the rules of engagement followed by the Enemy. We are free. We are free from this world in order to be free for this world. Not above the world. Not of this world. But in it and beside it, not belonging to it, but free to show a better way, a divinely gifted Way.

Our joy is completed not by worldly victory or political conquest. We are not given a completed joy by winning elections or getting federal funding. There is no joy in making ourselves slaves to a world we do not belong to. There is no joy in raising ourselves above it all, or fleeing into the desert to watch it all burn. Our consecrated work, our baptismal duty is right in the middle of the mess, squarely centered in the heart of the world, right where the Enemy is strongest. We are chosen to be vessels and conduits of God’s love for the world and to the world not because we are morally superior or spiritually invincible. We are neither. We are chosen because we chose to answer His call to be everything He made us to be in love. A choice anyone can make.

To this world, we are dramatic, pathetic failures. Lost and hopeless zombies driven by superstition and irrational religious mythology. In this world, we can be tragic examples of hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and religious zealotry. For this world, we are a comedic scandal that brings salvation and peace. But for this to work, we must be set aside in truth. Engaged but detached. Involved but distant. Who and what we are most fundamentally is found in our end not in the means we use to get there. But our means must always prophesy the truth of the gospel. How else do we witness to our divinely gifted end if not through our divinely gifted means?

We are consecrated in the truth so that our joy may be complete. We are set aside in Christ by Christ so that we may come to him in the end wholly joyful, perfected in love. John writes: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” Our nearly impossible task is to love God and one another in a world ruled by the Enemy. Tempted though we are by passions unruled by reason, we are set aside for a purpose. That purpose and its pursuit is how we succeed—in our witness, in our ministries, in our duties to Love Himself.

In and beside this world, shining out the love and mercy we have received, we bring our joy to its highest human perfection. Beyond this world, having done as we promised to do, we become Joy, seeing Truth Himself face-to-face.

24 May 2009

For the sake of our young men, it's time to reconsider virtue

As a college teacher for the years between 1989 and 2008, I find this article on the state of men in universities very, very intriguing.

What's so intriguing? The report shows that college men are pressured to be stereotypically "masculine" without doing the hard work of getting a good college education. In other words, they are expected to be Rambo and Steven Hawkings by nature not effort. In fact, any effort they might put into becoming Well-educated Men is seen as decidedly "gay" or feminine by themselves and their struggling peers.

How did this happen? The report is fuzzy on this question. My guess is that there is a combination of factors.

First, the feministization of college campuses places men in a position of repressing their masculinity publicly and overemphasizing it privately (dorms, frats, etc.). Men are oppressed into being "feminist" in class by ideologue profs and campus administrators. Then, the more extreme forms of outrageous masculine behavior (binge drinking, fighting, sexual aggressiveness) are indulged when the nannies aren't around.

Second, part of the feministization of our campuses involves the repression of classically positive male virtues (virtue means manliness, not that virtue is exclusively masculine, of course!). Courage, temperance, fortitude, etc. are cast as overly intellectual and anti-emotional. This leaves courage to be practiced as bravado. Fortitude becomes aggression. Temperance becomes weakness.

Third, for the most part adolescent males have no one to teach them how to be virtuous men. Who do they have in the popular culture to look up to? Rappers, professional wrestlers, ambiguous superheroes, gangsters, rapist/drug addicted/narcissitic athletes?

As an academically successful teenager with little or no interest in athletics, I can witness to the pressures guys like me came under when it's time to play ball. I still bristle at suggestions that men who don't play sports are somehow less masculine, less than Real Men. Competition is part and parcel of the game to go up and "be a man." In religious life, men are constantly admonished to suppress competitive impulses in favor of vaguely defined and practiced concepts like "cooperation" and "collaboration." Of course, there's healthy and unhealthy competition. A friendly yet fierce game of cards or football or pool is a good thing. But without the virtue of sportsmanship, the game becomes an occasion for domination and ridicule.

Sometimes the solution is make everyone a winner just for playing. Sometimes the solution is to play without keeping score. No winners means no losers. More often than is strictly healthy and helpful the solution is to direct competitive energies away from actual competition and toward exercises that attempt to produce something like a community project or a corporate ministry. In my experience, these are futile efforts precisely because they are attempts to suppress individuality into an amorphorous whole. There's nothing inherently wrong with a community project, but these projects rarely call on men to be men and often require that the men involved suppress natual tendencies to stand out as individual talents.

One thing I have noticed about college-aged men is the need to prove themselves, to find a way of showing themselves and their peers that they are competent, even expert at something. Even among highly educated and accomplished men there's a tendency to wrestle in the pack to be the Alpha Dog. If this tendency is not civilized by the classical virtues and scored according to the rule of sportsmanship, the competition and aggressiveness gets ugly fast. Spend an hour on Youtube watching videos of stupid stunts performed by young men to prove their bravery and physical prowess. You will come away thinking the gene pool is being properly drained.

I was put in the unfamiliar role of Alpha Dog during my time as a Team Leader in an adolescent psych hospital. My guys were all violent sex offenders with criminal records. It took me about two days to realize that appeals to rules, regulations, and their desire to leave the hospital alone would not keep order. This non-competitive liberal quickly saw the light. I had to "bust heads" and demonstrate that I had the "right to lead" in virtue (!) of my superior strength and determination. Oddly, even with their increased aggression and lack of socialization, the boys on my unit were far better behaved than the girls. Why? The boys seemed to recognize and respect order because it gave them the necessary sense of security their wounded masculinity needed to function. The girls thrived on chaos. They were unfased by a show of strength. Immune to threats of consequence. They had no pecking order, no allegiance to the group. Every new arrival to the group threw the whole group into chaos for days. For the boys, there was a very short period of struggle until the new arrival found his place and thrived. So long as "Mr. Powell" or his equivalent on another shift was present to set the proper order, the boys chugged along in their treatment plan. The second shift team leader was a therapeutic liberal. He indulged the boys. He did not enforce the rules. And he was seen by the boys as weak and easily manipulated. His shift on the boys' unit was almost always in chaos. They acted out in order to force him to impose order. He never did. And the result was twice as many injuries and restraints on his shift.

What's my point? Boys/young men are natually competitive and aggressive. When I was a feminist I followed my radical feminist friends and called this tendency "testerone poisoning." But there's no good reason to consider these natural inclinations poisonous. They are most definitely dangerous to the individual and the group if not channeled by healthy competition and properly practiced virtue. The differences between my freshmen men in the public university and the private university are telling. Granted, the public university had no sectarian affiliation and the private university attracted more intellectually gifted men. The big difference between the two? Not a religious code that constrains or punishes misbehavior but rather a cultural expectation that virtue rules passion. American universities twist themselves into knots writing and implementing speech codes, behavior contracts, and rules against barbarism because they are ideologically disinclined to teach the classically western virtues. They limit themselves to forbidding what they consider anti-social behavior and promote what they consider politically correct behavior. It is no accident that P.C. attitudes and behaviors favor aggressive feminist ideals, ideals that are almost always entirely emotive in nature and arbitrarily defined and enforced. The movie "Fight Club" was a run-away hit among college men for a reason: it spoke directly to those impulses and inclinations that feminist P.C. culture wants to eliminate.

Most of this applies to the Church as well. Why are male religious orders that demand strict discipline, theologial conformity, and allegiance to the community thriving? Orders that promote laxity, theological creativity, and individuality are dying. Yes, the impulse to conformity can be dangerous if not properly tempered by a healthy sense of self, but a healthy sense of self quickly devolves into indulgent narcissism if it is not reined in by a clearly articulated and vigorously enforced duty to the whole. The idea is to grow as an individual within the identity of the group. The moment the individual is dissolved into the group or the group becomes a loosely associated collection of individuals, the dangers become more and more apparent and abuse is more and more likely.

What do we have as a regulative force? As a commonly shared and understood core? Virtue! I believe the rapid decline of religious life (and by analogy, university life) in the west is directly tied to the suppression of virtus-based formation and the rise of therapeutic formation. We replaced the classical virtues with ego-centered therapies. Needs trump duties. Wants trump obedience. Wishes trump realities. And in both religious life and university life we are left with the illusion of autonomy guided by little more than our unguided passions. Can anyone say "sex abuse scandal"? Can anyone say "binge drinking"? If there is any doubt that male aggression and competition are natural to the creature, ask yourself this: why have we failed to successfully end the worse examples of masculine abuse through speech codes, conduct contracts, and years of politically correct indoctrination in the culture and the public school system? Why haven't we seen an end to date rape, binge drinking, fighting, cheating, racism, etc.? My guess is that the energies that produce these destructive behaviors are not being respected for what they are: natural inclinations. Rather than provide young men with productive channels to expend these energies we grasp at rules, regulations, laws, and public ridicule in an effort to suppress them. Without a virtuous means to be competitive, aggressive, sexual, etc. they turn to vicious means. And we all suffer for it.

Time to reconsider the virtue of virtue? You bet. The sooner the better.