03 October 2009

Translating Italian into American

Headline: Big protest in Rome to protest blah-blah-blah, or something. . .

Translation: four day weekend for Rome's unionized "workers" and traffic headaches for everyone else.

Explanation: protests in Rome are about as common as uneven cobblestones on the Via Nazionale and just as annoying.

But not nearly as annoying as the helicopters that buzz the Birthday Cake from 10am to 4pm during the protests.

I attended a "peoples' party" protest one time last year. The ubiquity of cell phones, designers fashions, and jewelry evident among the protesters tells you all you need to know about the just how allied these frauds are with The People.

Childlike Wisdom

26th Week OT (S): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Holy Rosary Priory, Houston

What's so difficult about believing and teaching that Christ is our only means of salvation? Why do some Catholics flinch when the Church authoritatively asserts: “. . .it must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is 'the way, the truth, and the life' the full revelation of divine truth is given. . .Only the revelation of Jesus Christ, therefore, 'introduces into our history a universal and ultimate truth which stirs the human mind to ceaseless effort'. . .It must therefore be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith that the universal salvific will of the One and Triune God is offered and accomplished once for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God”? This passage is from Dominus Iesus (2000), a document of the CDF written by Cardinal Ratzinger, a document that we were assured in seminary would be found “on the trash heap of history in ten years.” Why would any Catholic think that the reassertion of the Church's 2,000 year old teaching on Christ's unique and final sacrifice for our salvation would be trash in just ten years? Jesus says, “. . .although you have hidden these [truths] from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” For us, the difference between being “wise and learned” and being “childlike” is the willingness to be taught wisdom.

Do we need to belabor the obvious point that being “childlike” is not the same as being “childish”? No? Good. Do we need to hash out the idea that avoiding the traps of being “wise and learned” does not mean we must be “foolish and stupid”? No? Good. We do need to spend a little time noting why Jesus distinguishes the wise and learned from the childlike? And why this difference matters to the contemporary Catholic when confronted by those who would have us reject the truths reasserted by Dominus Iesus. Essentially, Jesus is distinguishing for us the difference between “knowing that” and “trusting that,” the difference between knowledge and faith. In the contemporary sense of the word, “knowledge” is understood to be truth derived from publicly available evidence—facts, information, self-evident principles. Trust, on the other hand, is all about the strength of one's confidence in another to fulfill expectations; the reliance on another person's ability and willingness to deliver on his promises. We know mathematical and scientific truths as facts; we trust family and friends as reliable keepers of our hopes. The wise and learned of Jesus' day trusted in their knowledge, making them fools in matters in faith. Christians are vowed to believe in and act on the movement of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds, the fierce wind of Divine Love who plays our foolishness like a toy. Trusting perfectly in God, we know Him as the only way, the only truth, the only life for us and for everyone else as well.

As Dominus Iesus makes clear, it is the “everyone else as well” that causes the wise and learned in the Church to reject the unique and final role Christ in our salvation. The claim that Jesus is the way to salvation is arrogant, imperialistic, exclusive, and ultimately dangerous in a multicultural world. How dare we say that Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc. will be excluded from heaven! Fortunately, Dominus Iesus says no such thing. What Jesus teaches and this document reasserts is that if Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc. find themselves in heaven, it is the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ that brings them there. Not the Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Krishna. But Christ and him alone. Christ's sacrifice has universal effect. His offer of salvation is fully and truly catholic. No one is excluded. For any reason. But to be invited to the feast is not the same as accepting the invitation. What the wise and learned who would reject today's gospel teaching would have us teach instead is that everyone, anyone can be brought to the feast whether they want to be brought or not. That is not the freedom Christ paid for on the cross.

The only reliable teacher of Christian wisdom is faith—the unfailing, unbending trust that a child invests in his parents. We trust, we hope that all to whom Christ has revealed the Father will come into His Kingdom. Jesus says to his childlike disciples: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” What they see is the Word Made Flesh for the salvation of the whole world.

02 October 2009

@#$% posteitaliane! (UPDATE)

I just discovered that two large boxes of books I shipped to Rome back in June have been sitting in the local posteitaliane office, waiting for me to come pay the customs duty. If they have not already been shipped back to the U.S., they will be very soon.

Last summer, they delivered five boxes of books to the front door of the university with no customs charge.

Go figure. Maybe our postman developed a hernia over the summer?

UPDATE: Due to the charitable hard work of Fr. Albert Glade, OP in Rome, my boxes were retrieved before being shipped back to the U.S. He also gave me a money-saving tip: write "used personal books" on the customs declaration rather than "books." The things you learn.

No Olympics for Chicago. . .

If you care about the Olympics--I don't--you will have likely heard that despite B.O.'s promotional tour, Chicago was eliminated in the first round picks.

Drudge links to the Trib with: "Obama + Michelle x Oprah = ZERO"

Too bad, really. Getting the jobs and revenue that the Olympics bring would be great. I guess that given the corruption and cronyism that rots Chicago, maybe the selection cmte decided to use their funds for the actual event rather than to line the pockets of Chi-town politicians.

Stay tune for B.O.'s apology. . .

UPDATE: reading around the news sites, it looks like the meme to explain this disappointment will be: Chicago has had too much negative press lately--beating death of that 16 y.o. kid, political scandal, etc. No one has accused the I.O.C. of racism yet. . .

Do women make better judges? (UPDATED)

Research recently summarized in an article on Slate.com finds that though female judges tend to be less qualified than their male counterparts, they are just as competent in their decision-making.

Having worked side-by-side with women all my professional life--in English, theology and philosophy departments; in psychiatric-care facilities, and various kinds of ministries,-- I have never found all that much difference between how men and women work professionally.

My dissertation director and most of my committee were women. Most of my seminary professors were women. In fact, all of my pastoral supervisors in seminary were women. The only trouble I ran into was during my CPE summer at SLU Hospital--three feminist sisters who refused to work with me b/c I wore my habit everyday. The Protestant male ministers were just as hostile.

Thinking back over all my jobs since college, I have had only one male supervisor--a tech manager I worked for at my university's microbiology lab a hundred years ago during my freshman year.

I'd be interested to hear other people's experience working with someone of the opposite sex.

UPDATE: A friar wrote to remind me of a conversation we had a few years back about one of the many "sticking points" between generations within male religious: working collaboratively with women in ministry. For younger friars this has been a given in our lives (religious and otherwise) from day one. For friars in their late 60's and older, working with women collaboratively was something entirely new when it started in earnest after the Council, something that had to be thought out, carefully planned, and done with diligence and care. When I entered the novitiate in 1999, the older friars (in the three provinces I was introduced to at the time) seemed oddly taken with this new-fangled notion of "collaboration with women and the laity." For me and the other younger friars, it seemed as though they were buzzing around and fussing about the importance of wearing shoes and brushing one's teeth. When we asked about this buzzing and fussing, our questions were taken to be indications of opposition to the notion--a prophetic sign that All Their Hard Work to Implement the Council would be wasted on and undone by a new generation of clerical misogynists. That all of us younger guys consistently received superior evaluations on from our ministry supervisors--mostly women--did little to assuage their fears. We were--and still are to some extend--pounded with collaboration propaganda. The irony, of course, is that they have succeed wonderfully in showing us the good Christian sense in working with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now, we just have to find a way to convince them that we aren't out to create a new class of Phallocentric Priests!

Three Questions

Questions. . .

1). My 13 year old daughter has started wearing black clothes and other things that she says are "goth." Should I be worried?

Without knowing your family, I really can't say for certain that this is something to be worried about. My experience with adolescents is that more often than not The Black Phase is just that: a phase. Something that they will pass through like they did with Pokemon and a fascination with posters of their teen-idols. Almost by definition, teenagers are extraordinarily insecure. They will ally themselves with every goofy trend and fad that comes along. For the most part this tendency is just part of growing up, part of trying to shape an identity. The Black Phase may be just a way of saying, "Hey! Look at me!" It may be a way to tweak Mom and Dad. It could be a prelude to something more sinister. . .but not necessarily. Despite their surliness and rebellion, teens like limits. You can ignore the change. You could confront it directly. Or, you could do something really perverse: compliment your daughter on how wonderful she looks in black and suggest a darker shade of red lipstick. My guess: she'll drop the whole thing in favor of something less attention-seeking. What's the point of rebellion if the Powers That Be think it's cute?

2). I noticed a comment of yours on another blog about kneeling to receive Communion. It looks like you don't favor the practice. Why is that?

I am indifferent to the practice of kneeling to receive Communion. My point in that comment was simply to note that when you choose to kneel, you need to have it clear in your heart and mind why you are doing so. If you are kneeling in order to shame the rest of us into kneeling, then you need to stop it. Immediately. If you are kneeling to show true reverence, then go for it. Stand or kneel. Makes no difference to me. Just know that there is nothing magical about kneeling. It is entirely possible to receive irreverently while kneeling. Just as it is possible to receive reverently while standing. The bishops have asked us to receive standing, so that's the norm in the U.S. If you are going to behave "abnormally," then know why and make sure you are doing it for very good reasons.

3). Halloween is coming up. Should we allow our children to celebrate this pagan holiday?

Catholics have to be very careful about picking and choosing which holidays they will or won't celebrate based on which ones "used to be pagan." It was a common missionary practice in the early days of the Church mission in Europe for bishops and priests to adopt pagan holidays and Christianize them for evangelical purposes. Local pagan shrines were turned into shrines for saints and pagan holy days became Christian holidays. Halloween in pre-Christian Britain was the pagan New Year's Eve--All Hallow's Eve. November 1st was New Year's Day. The Church adopted these special days to honor all the saints and souls who have gone before us. You can celebrate Halloween anyway you like. Take time to talk to your children about deceased members of the family. If they are old enough, talk to them about death--and the resurrection to New Life! Trick or treating is harmless so long as you take proper precautions with the goodies later. If you are worried about the pagan elements of the holiday, just ignore them and focus on the Church's celebration of All Saints and All Souls. Some Christians get all bent out of shape about Halloween being a Satantic holiday. You can celebrate any day of the year as a Satantic holiday. There's nothing special, nothing magical about Oct 31st. Just have some fun.

The courage to be (the least)

[N.B. I made the coffee a little strong this morning. . .]

26th Week OT (F): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Holy Rosary Priory, Houston

Is there any threat more frightening to the postmodern American soul than the prospect of losing one's sense of Self? Most of us were born and bred in a cultural stew of individualism, identity politics, self-esteem narcissism, and the unapologetic righteousness of our duty to dissent. There is little anyone can ask a modern American to do that will earn his scorn faster than to ask him to step to the back of the line. We will wait our turn if the service is efficient and quick. But don't dare tell us that our choices are limited or (God forbid!) wrong. And you had better duck and cover if you even think about suggesting that Who We Are or Who We Want To Be is somehow misguided, misunderstood, or just plain immoral. We expect—and usually get—the reassuring affirmations that our Oprahfied, therapeutic culture dictates as the only proper response to every assertion of personal need or self-identification. No claim is too outrageous or demanding that it is not met with rushed approval and demands for accommodation. Sex change surgery for a 12 year old boy? Done. Billions of dollars in pharmaceutical research for a drug to thicken eyelashes? Done. Applause and pardon for an unrepentant “artist” who drugged and raped a 13 year old girl? Done and done. As the center of the universe, the Self defines all it surveys in terms of its own needs. But which Self will be the Real Center? Well, mine, of course. . .for me. And yours for you. With so many competing yet mutually tolerated self-centers, the universe can't help but spin chaotically out of control. Thus, Jesus teaches his disciples, “If you will be the greatest, be the least.”

If the slightly (!) exaggerated cultural portrait painted above is even remotely accurate, Christians living in such a world have a moral duty to our neighbors that requires a great deal of courage. Being among the least in a social marathon that rewards only those with the most is not an easy thing to swallow. A little courage helps all that pride, narcissism, and entitlement slide right on down to be digested in the juices of Christian humility. Paul Tillich, that giant of mid-20th century Protestant existentialist theology, summarizes St. Ambrose's notion of Christian courage: “Courage listens to reason and carries out the intention of the mind. It is the strength of the soul to win victory in ultimate danger. . .Courage gives consolation, patience, and experience and becomes indistinguishable from faith and hope”(8). Tillich rejects this notion of courage because it is not clear how Christian courage is different from faith and hope—both of which depend on the strength of another in a loving relationship. He writes, “Courage is self-affirmation 'in-spite-of,' that is in spite of that which tends to prevent the self from affirming itself” (32). As a response to the anxiety we feel at the prospect of annihilation (non-being), courage is all about affirming our being, our existence and presence. Nothing wrong with affirming one's being. But how easy is it for me to move from “affirming my being” to “I am the center of the universe”? Removing Christian courage from the company of faith and hope leaves us in the strange paradox of being Nihilistic Narcissists!

Given Christ's teaching on humility, what's so humble about Christian courage? Whether we use the word “least” as an adjective or adverb, it is always superlative, meaning that it always indicates the fullest degree in a relationship—little, less, least. “Least” only makes sense in a relationship with other measurable things. If we are to be the most humble, we must be the least prideful, the least self-centered. And to achieve that degree of minimal pride, we need the courage that only faith and hope can provide. Knowing that God is doing the Work and trusting in His providence and fully expecting that His promises will be met—Self steps to the back of the line; resists the temptation to assert prerogative, or to demand an entitlement. Mighty-Self-All-Alone becomes mini-self with everyone else, and, in time and with lots of practice, servant to all.

Christian courage allows us to defy and defeat the danger of believing that to be the greatest we must be the least humble.

Tillich, Paul. The Courage to Be. Yale University Press, 1980.

01 October 2009

Are we contagious?

26th Week OT (Th): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Holy Rosary Priory, Houston

As a tip sheet on how to survive as a disciple-lamb among the wolves, today's gospel does an excellent job of laying out the basics. Travel light. Announce Christ's peace wherever you go. Stay in one place in each town. Eat and drink what you are given by your hosts. Cure the sick. Proclaim the Kingdom. Let God handle those who reject His good news. We could even trim this down a little more: God is doing the work; we're just the tools. Any carpenter will tell you that good tools need to be efficiently designed; made of strong materials; easy to use; and ready to work. Good tools also need to be close at hand and wholly devoted to doing the job they were designed and made to do. So, as God's tools, what is the work that we were created and re-created to do? Jesus says, “Go on your way. . .and say to them, 'The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.'” But is it enough that we function efficiently as preaching tools? We are also lambs among wolves. How do we survive given our design and function? The Psalmist sings, “The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart!” Ahhh, efficient, strong, readily available, and devoted to our purpose, we must also be joyful. That's the difficult but oh-so-essential part of bringing the gospel blueprint to abundant life.

Even for those of us who know and accept that the Kingdom of God is at hand; even for those of us who have vowed ourselves to the work of preaching and teaching the Gospel, building a rejoicing heart as a lamb among wolves is no simple project. When you live as food-prey among predators you have to learn the skills of a survivor. Camouflage. Speed. Thick skin. As human lambs among human wolves, we can certainly learn to blend-in; run and hide when we need to; and develop a thick skin by enduring patient trial. Certainly, all of these will help us evolve as we play the spiritual edition of the Survival of the Fittest. And this would be just dandy if the idea were merely to survive. Thanks be to God that we are designed and made to do more than survive as prey among predators. We are to flourish, thrive, multiply, and prosper extravagantly in His grace! Our best witness is infectious joy, contagious delight in the love of Christ.

Joy is not easy. Never has been. Now, right now, we are crucified in Sudan; beheaded in Saudi Arabia and Iran; butchered and immolated in India; arrested and jailed in Canada and China; pushed out of the public square in the U.S. and the U.K.; dismissed or just plain ignored as irrelevant in the E.U. Where's the joy? Not in numbers of converts, or donations to charity, or public displays of piety. We won't find joy in legislative or judicial victories. Putting savvy lambs among the political wolves is part of the job, but joy isn't found in winning elections. Are we joyful that it turns out that abortion does indeed destroy women's lives—as we knew it would? Or that sexual promiscuity breeds incurable disease—as we knew it would? Or that divorce and single-parenthood undermines the family? There's no joy to be found here either, especially when we know that even among the lambs, abortion, sexual promiscuity, and divorce are all-too-common means of achieving the ends of convenient living.

So, where do you find joy? We don't. Joy finds us. If we are well-designed, well-made tools for doing the Lord's work of announcing the arrival of his Kingdom, then joy is given to us, graced to us as the animating spirit that our raw material lives need to survive and thrive. We live daily lives among the wolves not above them. Jesus is painfully clear: we go to the wolves to live with them. Not away from or above them to live apart or float overhead. Joy is not about being content, nor is it about being giddy in self-righteousness. Joy “enlightens the eye” so that we might see in awe and wonder that the Lord has given us lives to be lived according to His will for us, a will that is “more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold; Sweeter also than syrup, or honey from the comb.” When we live among the wolves as lambs designed, made, and re-made to be the tools of His Kingdom, then we know joy and give joy. We survive and we thrive, rejoicing in our hearts that we being and doing exactly what are graced to be and do. Gentle and joyful as lambs, we must become efficiently, extravagantly contagious.

30 September 2009

Dominican Vestition

Here's video of the recent Vestition of the Novices that took place at St Albert the Great Priory in Irving, TX. The official start of the novitiate year begins with the postulants receiving the Dominican habit.

One goal, one direction, no distractions

26th Week OT (W): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Holy Rosary Priory, Houston

Those who study leadership will tell you that a great leader is made great by a combination of charisma and political skill marshaled to meet to the challenges of a crisis. Pope Pius V was made great by Luther's rebellion and the reforms of the Council of Trent. Churchill was made great by the Nazi bombs that dropped on London. Great leaders remind us of who we are. What we are about. And how the naked truth of each united for a single purpose gives us hope for surviving impending disaster. The cultural and economic hangover bequeathed to us after this nation's twenty-year flower-power binge set the stage for Reagan's greatness. John Paul the Great stood against the revolutionaries celled within the Church after Vatican Two and pushed Lenin's legacy in eastern Europe into a much-deserved grave. All of these men gathered talented followers and powerful enemies. And despite their world-class leadership, each had his deeply seeded flaws—some tragic and some comical. What drove them forward? What got them up every morning and put them to bed at night? What was it that concentrated their gifted hearts and minds and saved them from distraction? They put their hands to the plow and never looked back.

It's rare that we hear Jesus described as a great leader. He was charismatic and gifted. He drew crowds and inspired devotion. He was called a prophet and a teacher. He drew followers from among the elite and the poor. Like most great leaders, he was welcomed with cheering fans as often as he was confronted by jeering critics. He found it nearly impossible to escape those who adored him and those who loathed him. He was feared for he said and might say; loved for what he did and promised to do. But his enduring legacy as an earthly leader is found in his unfailing drive toward fulfilling one goal: announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God. He put his hand to the plow of preaching and teaching and laboriously tilled the ground where he found it so that the Word might be fruitfully planted. One goal, one direction, no distractions.

Jesus says to one man along the way, “Follow me.” Excited but probably a bit flustered, the man replies, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Another man along the way says, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” But first. But first. How often along the way of today and tomorrow will we say to Christ, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you. . .but first. . .”? What is it that comes before Christ that keeps you from following him first and then doing what needs to be done in his name? Is he asking us to abandon our families, our jobs, our moral obligations? Yes and no. No, not literally; but yes, if they come first—if they come before him. Meaning what exactly? Love your family in his name. Do your job in his name. Meet your moral obligations in his name. Set your heart and mind on one goal, one direction and entertain no distractions. Put your hand to the plow and do not look at what is left behind.

For most, this is a spiritual admonition, a exhortation to seat Christ in the center of your being and make him King of your life. For some, this needs to be a literal command, an order to actually set oneself aside away from the world while remaining in the world. If circumstance makes great leaders, it also makes great followers. If the challenges of a crisis bring great men and women to their fullness of their gifts in the service of others, then the daily work of living in the name of Christ can bring the rest of us to humility and thanksgiving. Do you need an exhortation or an order? Jesus says, “Let the dead bury the dead.” Set your face like flint—one goal, one direction—and plow toward the Kingdom. Follow Christ. Everything else is a distraction unworthy of his sacrifice.

198 and counting. . .

198 Followers of HancAquam!

Just 3 more and we'll break 200. . .

Come on, you can do it!

29 September 2009

How do you know me?

Feast of the Archangels: Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Holy Rosary Priory, Houston

Back in the Bad Old Days before I came into the Church, I had friends who dabbled in angel worship, or more specially, angelic magic. Using books they had purchased from Borders, these friends constructed elaborate angelic altars and performed rituals designed to summon and command God's heavenly messengers. As a nascent neo-pagan myself, I found their obsession with angels to be both intriguing and weird. Despite being intrigued and weirded out, I found the whole enterprise exhausting. Worshiping angels is hard work. You needed the right colors for specific angels; the right kind of incense, and candles made with the right ingredients. You had to worship certain angels only on certain days and only at certain times of the day. You had to translate your prayers and spells from plain old pedestrian English to the curly abstracted glyphs of the Angel Alphabet. And on and on. It was all so detailed and tedious. It didn't take me long to figure out that my friends—all living chaotic lives on the edges of unemployment and various substance addictions—weren't really interested in offering praise and thanksgiving to angels. They were grasping for control of their lives by attempting to control something much bigger and more powerful than themselves. The idea seemed to be: since I have no self-control, maybe if I figure out all these tedious rules and ritual requirements, maybe, just maybe, I can actually find some stability and peace in my life. What eluded them—and me!—at the time was that it was our failed attempts at control that had lead to our chaotic lives in the first place. For a soul made foolish in disobedience, there's not much to like about surrendering to God's grace.

We can easily imagine Nathanael's surprise when Jesus announces: “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Why would Jesus say this to a man he had never met? Remember: Philip finds Nathanael in Bethesda and tells him about Christ. Nathanael is skeptical. Philip, being ever practical, encourages him, “Come and see.” When Jesus calls him “a true child of Israel,” Nathanael, probably a bit unnerved, asks, “How do you know me?” How indeed? We know the answer, of course, but Nathanael's confusion is perfectly understandable. Jesus answers him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael came and he saw. And because he came to see, he believed: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God...”

For us, Nathanael exemplifies one form of surrender that control-freaks cannot quite manage: he believes the improbable on the evidence of his experience alone. He doesn't try to manage his encounter with Christ. He doesn't ask for a miracle or empirical evidence. He doesn't test Jesus' knowledge of prophecy or question him about his lineage. He came. He saw. He believed. Contrast this with Jesus' many confrontations with the Pharisees and scribes. Always clamoring for signs and wonders, these control-freaks needed proof, evidence to overwhelm their fear and doubt. They too came. They saw. But they did not believe. Saddled with the ancient weight of tedious laws and rituals, they could not surrender to the presence of Christ among them. They refused to allow the seed of the Word to be planted. And so, for them, nothing bloomed, nothing came to fruit. No fruit, no harvest. Their spiritual ground lay fallow.

My friends grasped at occult control of their lives because they could not come to Christ and see him as he is. That requires surrender. Surrender of sin to grace. For their politics, their relationships, their daily lives, the implications of surrendering to God were overwhelming. For them, it was easier to try and control angels than it was to give control to God. Perhaps we should let Christ ask us, “How do you know me?”

Coffee Cup Browsing (Political Edition)

Health Care: "Ordinary Americans are rightly suspicious of this exercise in collective ego gratification, which has gripped Obama and many of his congressional allies."

While our Political Betters are ramming socialized medicine down our throats, in Canada private health-care options are growing.

A Youtube vid of one Canadian woman's trip through the horrors of socialized medicine.

In the war against the taxpayer funded corruption that is ACORN, Breitbart is a 21st century Hannibal the Great (a video explaining the strategy behind the ACORN sting via an analogy to Hannibal's victory over the Romans at Cannae)

What G.W.B. got right and wrong in Iraq serves as a lesson for B.O. in Afghanistan.

Germany shedding its socialist tendencies? My conservative German friends say, "Not so fast." European conservatives would be Happy Campers in the left-wing of the Democrat Party. It's all about the relative nature of the political spectrum.

Lewis Carroll Day at the State Dept. Spokesman calls Gitmo detainees "refugees."

The Brights of Hollywood line up to defend a child rapist. . .of course, had Polanski been a Catholic priest. . .

Spain's experiment with "green jobs" has been a disaster for their economy. The executive summary starts on page seven.

Wow! Even Newsweek lefties are getting sick of B.O.'s televised ubiquity: "The president's problem isn't that he is too visible; it's the lack of content in what he says when he keeps showing up on the tube. Obama can seem a mite too impressed with his own aura, as if his presence on the stage is the Answer."

Liz Cheney is rattling Dem cages and revving up the GOP base. I've seen her in debates and she is unrelenting. However, her support for waterboarding is disturbing.

Doodle software?

It's 4.30am and the coffee hasn't kicked in yet. . .

Here's my question: can someone tell me where to find online (and for free!) a software program that will allow me to doodle pics like these?

My class notes are covered with doodles. . .helps me to concentrate on the lecture.

I can't figure out what program this guy is using.

28 September 2009

Are Wiccans Satanists?

One of my Dominican lay sisters asked me recently: "Are Wiccans Satanists?"

Here's my answer:

Wiccans will say that the charge of being Satanists laid against them by Christians is false. Satan is a character found in Christian mythology. He's the Evil One, the Adversary of the Christian god. Without the Christian god, Satan is meaningless as a concept. Since Wiccans are not Christians, they cannot be Satanists. In other words, to believe that Satan exists, one must first be a Christian.

Wiccans will also point out that they do not accept the monotheistic belief in absolute good and evil. There is force, power, energy in the universe, but labeling these "Good" and/or "Evil" is a monotheistic obsession. The energy of the universe can be used for productive or destructive ends. The power itself is morally neutral; it's the intent of the power's user that makes it good or evil.

Wiccans will usually acknowledge that there is a distinction to be made between White Magic and Black Magic. White magic is used for healing, attracting luck, finding love, etc. Black Magic is used for revenge, obtaining power, causing sickness, etc. Most Wiccans are quick to denounce Black Magic and ally themselves with the White side of the Old Religion, noting that the Wiccan Reede, "Harm no others and do what you will," is morally binding. Violating the Reede invokes the Threefold Law: "Whatever you do returns to you three times." Some Wiccans claims that this is why witches are usually portrayed as ugly hags--too many Black Magic spells have resulted in the ugliness wrought by the Threefold Law.

In one sense we can see how Wiccans might not be Satanists. It is true that Wiccans do not invoke Satan in their rites nor do they pray to him by name as a god. They are not Christians, so they do not believe in the Judeo-Christian mythos surrounding the origins of Good and Evil. We might say that on a purely historical-sociological level, Wiccans are not to be classified along with Satanists as a cultural-religious phenomenon. Wicca pre-dates Christianity* and most Wiccans do not believe that they worship a Christian devil named "Satan."

For Christians, however, the question remains: is praying to or invoking the name of any other god than the God of scripture the same as praying to His enemy? The answer to this is Yes. We cannot and should not avoid the hard truth that the world is influenced by demonic forces. Precisely what this means is not altogether clear to me. Over the centuries we have found that many maladies and "supernatural" phenomena are actually quite natural to creation; that is, what we once thought to be demonic activity has since been found to be just part of nature. Not only are these phenomena explicable in terms of the natural order, we can defend against them or cure their effects in perfectly natural ways.

In fact, many scientists, like the atheist astronomer, Carl Sagan, believe that science will eventually bring the light of reason to every dark corner of human knowledge. Maybe. I tend to think that the universe is too large and too mysterious for us bring human reason to bear on every event, every object out there. This doesn't mean that the currently inexplicable is attributable to demonic activity. It simply means that there may indeed be some events, some things in the universe that will not be fully explained by human reason.

Anyway, Christians know that when we open ourselves to spiritual influences other than God, we open ourselves to forces and powers that do not create, do not love, do not show mercy. Wiccan magic opens all sorts of extraordinarily dangerous doors. Magic is the attempt to manipulate natural forces by use of the will. Ritual focuses the will to make manifest whatever the magic-user wishes. God cannot be manipulated in this way. Prayer is not magic. The Christian who prays must understand that what she is doing is receiving God's blessings with thanksgiving. Petitions addressed to God are the most effective means we have for growing in humility and faith. Asking for what you need creates and nurtures your sense of dependency on God. We don't bargain with God. We don't make pacts or bribe Him with sacrifice. A contrite heart is sacrifice enough!

Here's my warning to anyone who would dabble in magic: DON'T DO IT! If you were home alone in a dangerous neighbor, would you casually open your front door to just anyone who knocked? Would you leave your child alone in the city park overnight? Post your credit card number on Craigslist? No, of course not. Then why would put something as precious and valuable as your immortal soul in danger of corruption and loss? Tarot cards, Ouija boards, psychics, mediums, astrology, ritual magic, neo-pagan religions--using any of these will open your heart and mind to any number of dangerous spirits that long to possess you. Maybe we don't know exactly what these spirits are. Maybe there is a perfectly good scientific explanation for what they are. But remember: we have a perfectly good scientific explanation for why a high-velocity bullet shot through your head kills you. Do you play Russian roulette anyway?

*In response to Bob (cf comments) I want to clarify this statement. "Wicca" is a 20th century reclamation project. Modern Wiccans readily admit that their traditions have been lost to history. They blame Christians for this in one of their many myths, "The Burning Times." What I am saying in the sentence above is that the practice of worship nature and the belief that natural forces can be manipulated by ritual is a pre-Christian notion. Most, if not all, of the books on Wicca in your local Borders contain rituals, prayers, etc. that are wholly invented by modern Wiccans or in some way adapted from fairly recently published texts. In this modern sense, Wicca does not pre-date Christianity, of course.

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Fatty hearts tempt the Butcher

26th Sunday OT: Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Holy Rosary Priory, Houston, TX

You can go to the webpage, This is Why You are Fat, and find a few paradoxically enticing/disgusting examples of why Americans are bulging around the waists. Deep-fried bacon wrapped Krispy-kreme doughnuts. Chocolate-chunk pizza. Pancakes stacked with peanut butter and bacon. In a culinary rebellion against our nutritional masters, Americans are storming this country's palaces of low-fat, low-calorie monarchs with corn-dog cannons and vats of boiling fatback. Our rabbit-food nibbling betters simply sneer and proclaim from the heights of their emaciated battlements: “Let them eat rice cakes!” This is our fight against an invading horde of Food Nazis, this generation's righteous Battle of the Bulge. Lost in the push and pull of dining strategies and buffet binges is a much more important battle, a fight fought at not around the waist but at the center of our spiritual lives: the heart, the seat of God's wisdom in us. After cataloging the sins of the oppressive rich against the oppressed poor, James diagnoses a malady of the soul: “You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.” What fattens your heart? What is it that clogs your soul, readying you for the day of slaughter?

Let's not pretend that James is limiting his condemnation to luxurious abuse of spiritual riches. We would cheat ourselves of a significant insight if we remove this passage from the real socio-economic world and confine ourselves to reading it as allegory for sin and redemption. Yes, he's talking about the death of the soul from a spiritual heart attack, but he is also warning us that worldly riches and the temptations they bring are very real, very dangerous. In fact, storing up treasure gathered on the backs of the poor is the fastest way to fatten a human heart, the surest route to a death-dealing coronary. How so? The injustice of ill-gotten, hoarded wealth is unjust for two reasons: 1) the poor are used as tools in violation of their dignity as children of God, and 2) hoarding riches for the last days is a sure sign that those who hoard do not trust in the Lord's providence. Is there a faster way to kill charity in a human heart than to plunder the image of God in His human creatures and then use that plunder to deny the truth of His promised care?

Recently, the mainstream media applauded the documentarian, Michael Moore, for his expose of the excesses of capitalism, calling his work “Christian.” An avowed socialist and Catholic, Moore produced the film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” as a critique not only of capitalism itself but the consumerist culture it creates and needs to flourish. Moore is often criticized for building boogey-men out of straw and then knocking them down with exaggerated ridicule and outright fabrication of the facts. Regardless, what's intriguing here is the speed with which the mainstream media embraced his cinematic critique of capitalism as immediately identifiably Christian. Listening to James in this morning's readings, we might conclude that opposition to capitalism is indeed an identifiably Christian position to take. But, like most things in this world, it's not that simple; in fact, it's more complex than we can imagine in the time we have on this earth. James' point is not that riches in themselves are evil. Being wealthy per se is not a fast-track ticket to hell. What can bring the wealthy to the edge of the Pit is the means by which they acquired their wealth and how they use it. In other words, there are perfectly just ways of acquiring wealth and perfectly just ways of spending it. The complexity of Christian wealth—and its accompanying dangers—is born and grows in the heart: given your relationship to God, does wealth free you to greater charity or enslave you to self-dependence? As always, Jesus gives us the best answer.

Jesus is confronted by his worried disciples. They are upset because there are those not of their group who are casting out demons in Jesus' name. He tells his disciples not to prevent these people from performing exorcisms. No one who does such holy deeds in his name can be against him. To emphasize his point, he adds: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.” Did you catch that? “. . .because you belong to Christ. . .” Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ. . .will not lose his reward. NOT: anyone who gives you a cup of water. Period. But anyone who give you water because—for the reason that—you belong to Christ. Jesus is putting us on a spiritual diet. No heart can grow fat when it exercises charity in his name.

If using someone elses labor as a means to a wealthy end is unjust, then how much fatter do our hearts grow when we kill another life for a merely convenient end? Recently, I watched a re-run of the sci-fi TV show, Stargate SG1. I won't bore you with the geeky details, let it suffice to say that the episode presented the moral issue of abortion in a strangely straightforward way. The main characters come across a culture that killed others like them in order to live. To carry out these murders with a clear conscience, the needy killers had to convince themselves that the ones they kill are deadly enemies. A prominent member of the killer-culture refuses to stop killing even when offered a bloodless alternative. During a battle, she is wounded and her sister asks her not to kill another so that she might live. Urging the proffered alternative on her, the wounded woman's sister pleads, “Choose life.” Choose not only your life but the lives of all those you would kill so that you might live. The wounded woman's heart had grown fat on the sin of murder and she could not accept that those she killed for her own good were not her enemies. Eventually, she relented and took the alternative. The details of the plot are more complex than this, but the message is starkly clear: there is no room for charity in a heart grown obese with sin. This killer was ready for the day of slaughter.

Are you ready for that day? Are we ready? As individual Christians and as a collective body, a nation and a Church, have our hearts grown fat? Let's not dwell on whether or not Jesus was a capitalist or a socialist. As modern concepts, neither existed in his time. The Church has never preferred one over the other, choosing instead to consistently teach the absolute value of the human person and condemning in both systems any practice or theory that diminishes the sacred dignity we share as creatures created in the image and likeness of God. The Church has condemned profit-exploitation in capitalism and the anti-family practices of socialism. Both often fall short of the Christian virtue of charity and the requirements of human freedom. For us, here in 2009, the question and problem is as fresh as this morning and as old as creation: is the other guy here for me to use and abuse, or is he here for me to love and serve? The fatty deposits of sin begin to collect in our hearts when we deface the image of God in another by treating him as a thing, a means, a way to profit or control. Jesus tells us that it is better to lop off a hand or pluck out an eye than it is to sin in this way. It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck than to cause a believing child to sin. Drowning and self-mutilation. Both are preferable on the day of slaughter than approaching the judgment seat with a heart grown obese on sin.

Even if you must wiggle to the throne—blind, handless, footless—wiggle to His feet with a fit heart, a polished seat where He can set His wisdom in you. On the day of slaughter, it is better to be crippled and wise than able and foolish.

Receiving like children

26th Week OT (M): Readings
Fr Philip Neri Powell, OP
Holy Rosary Priory, Houston

What do you see, who do you see when you think of God? At prayer, in times of crisis, with the ones you love, what picture of God develops in your mind? Reading scripture, enjoying the bright day, at work on your computer, who comes to mind when thoughts of God rise up? Pagans and atheists have it easy. Either their gods manifest as animals, trees, or monsters; or they think of God only to refute His existence. When your god can be anything at all or nothing at all, your imagination is challenged hardly at all to see beyond what stands around you, or past the nothingness of obstinate denial. Where pagans worship creation's evidence for God, atheists deny creation itself. No creator, no creation—just accidentally mixed-up stuff that moves. Do you think of everything when you think of God? Or nothing at all? Do you think of everyone or no one?

The God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob says to Zechariah, “I am intensely jealous for Zion, stirred to jealous wrath for her. . .I will bring [my people] back to dwell within Jerusalem. They shall be my people, and I will be their God, with faithfulness and justice.” The Lord says “I am” and “I will.” Notice: “I” cannot be everyone, nor can “I” be no one. “I” is personal, first person, singular. One and first. As a person, with faithfulness and justice, He will be our God and we will be His people. Animals, trees, mountains do not grow jealous. Forces of nature—storms, fires, rain—do not love. Even when laying waste to coast lands and hills, hurricanes and floods do not destroy out of wrath. What does not exist cannot be faithful or just. How can nothingness trust? How can no-thing set relationships right? Do you think of everything when you think of God? Or nothing at all? Do you think of everyone or no one?

On Mt. Sinai, God instructed Moses not to carve any image of Him. There can be no statute or painting or icon that depicts I AM. How can we chisel a verb? How do you draw and color Being? And even as I AM forbids images of His countenance, He reveals Himself to be our Father, our Maker, the One Who gathered dust from creation and breathed His spirit into us. Even as He instructs Moses to stand against the pagan love of idols, He reveals Himself as Flood, Fire, and Cloud. He speaks. He walks among us. He teaches and preaches and heals. And yet, no painting of His face exists. No statue captures His body. For us, He is, at once, Everything and Nothing. He is All yet No-thing.

Caught as we are between the reality of I AM and our natural human need to use language and image, we fight our own devices to find or invent a way of speaking, a way of imagining Him that is both true but not limited, full yet still-to-be filled. In times of desperate crisis, we cry out “Lord!” When we are joyful and content, we cry “Lord!” as well. First, personal, and singular—we address a person, one God, another like us but well beyond us. Jesus reminds the disciples of their limits and ours when we places a child on his lap and says, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” The lesson? We have a true and faithful God. We do not need static images, limited words, or even beautiful concepts. Receive a child in Christ's name and receive the One Who came to us in the flesh; the One Who comes to us still, body and blood.

Do you think of everything when you think of God? Or nothing at all? Do you think of everyone or no one? If you think of both Everything and Nothing, Everyone and No One, you are still thinking in darkness. “Even if this should seem impossible in the eyes of the remnant of this people,” the Lord delivers His promises. Ours is a God jealous of our love. Always faithful, always just, He is with us. We are His people. And He is our God.

27 September 2009

Academic freedom found in the authority of truth

I believe we have a theme for today!

From the Holy Father's address to the Academic Community in Prague:

The proper autonomy of a university, or indeed any educational institution, finds meaning in its accountability to the authority of truth. Nevertheless, that autonomy can be thwarted in a variety of ways. The great formative tradition, open to the transcendent, which stands at the base of universities across Europe, was in this land, and others, systematically subverted by the reductive ideology of materialism, the repression of religion and the suppression of the human spirit. In 1989, however, the world witnessed in dramatic ways the overthrow of a failed totalitarian ideology and the triumph of the human spirit. The yearning for freedom and truth is inalienably part of our common humanity. It can never be eliminated; and, as history has shown, it is denied at humanity’s own peril. It is to this yearning that religious faith, the various arts, philosophy, theology and other scientific disciplines, each with its own method, seek to respond, both on the level of disciplined reflection and on the level of a sound praxis.

The idea of an integrated education, based on the unity of knowledge grounded in truth, must be regained. It serves to counteract the tendency, so evident in contemporary society, towards a fragmentation of knowledge. With the massive growth in information and technology there comes the temptation to detach reason from the pursuit of truth. Sundered from the fundamental human orientation towards truth, however, reason begins to lose direction: it withers, either under the guise of modesty, resting content with the merely partial or provisional, or under the guise of certainty, insisting on capitulation to the demands of those who indiscriminately give equal value to practically everything. The relativism that ensues provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk. While the period of interference from political totalitarianism has passed, is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are – subtly and not so subtly – constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals? What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded? What will happen if in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots? Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble and good.

H/T: Whispers

"We have no other options." (UPDATED)

J├╝rgen Habermas, one of the world's leading contemporary proponents of philosophical hermeneutics and an atheist, writes about Christianity:

"Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."

PoMo chatter, indeed. . .unless, of course, Western civilization and its Christian foundation deems your favorite sin as. . .well. . .a sin.

UPDATE: The quote above is attributed to Habermas. It is a paraphrase. Here's the real deal from Times of Transition (2006):

". . .Christianity not only fulfilled the initial cognitive conditions for modern structures of consciousness; it also fostered a range of motivations that formed the major themes of the economic and ethical research of Max Weber. Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than a mere precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.” (150-1)

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On the definition and proper use of the Cheesy Grin

I've been asked by MightyMom to define "cheesy grin."

Def., "a facial expression used to garner sympathy for a request when said request is known to be improper," or "a facial expression made by one who is shamelessly asking for a favor he/she knows is undeserved"


1). Your teenaged daughter is grounded for violating her weekend curfew. Despite your best efforts to show resolve in the face her pleadings, she notes some wavering and decides to bide her time. The next weekend, detecting your weakness, she asks with a Chessy Grin, "Can I go to the mall with Susie?"

2). Your spouse is upset with you for __________. In an attempt to end the deadly silence around this issue, you break out a Cheesy Grin and say, "Wow! How silly were we for arguing over __________?"

3). You are a poor grad student with a criminally small book budget. Needing several specialized yet easily obtainable books, you ask for help on your humble blog. With a Chessy Grin, you write: "Don't forget to browse the Wish List and send a book my way!"

4). Your boss is notoriously grouchy and miserly. You want off work on a Friday. Approaching him with a Cheesy Grin, you say, "Not much going on this Friday, uh boss?"

The key to the effectiveness of the Cheesy Grin is shamelessness.

P.S. Don't forget to FOLLOW HANCAQUAM! (cheesy grin) ------------------------->

The luxury of great books and greater faith

William Chase diagnoses and laments the decline of the English department:

What are the causes for this decline? There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English across the country to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case to undergraduates that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself. What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology is important, and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations (identity studies, abstruse theory, sexuality, film and popular culture). In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books.

Replace "English department" with "the Church" or "Catholic theology" and you will have a fairly accurate picture of what is happening in our neck of the ecclesial and academic woods.

What's the cure for the study of literature?

It would be a pleasure to map a way out of this academic dead end. First, several of my colleagues around the country have called for a return to the aesthetic wellsprings of literature, the rock-solid fact, often neglected, that it can indeed amuse, delight, and educate. They urge the teaching of English, or French, or Russian literature, and the like, in terms of the intrinsic value of the works themselves, in all their range and multiplicity, as well-crafted and appealing artifacts of human wisdom. Second, we should redefine our own standards for granting tenure, placing more emphasis on the classroom and less on published research, and we should prepare to contest our decisions with administrators whose science-based model is not an appropriate means of evaluation. Released from the obligation to deliver research results in the form of little-read monographs and articles, humanists could then resolve to spend their time teaching what they love to students glad to learn. If they wanted to publish, they could do so—at almost no cost—on the Internet, and like-minded colleagues could rapidly share the results of such research and speculation. Most important, the luxury of reading could be welcomed back. I want to believe in what they say.

This is exactly what we do at the University of Dallas. Problem solved.

Drudge Report?

Anyone know what happened to The Drudge Report?

It's been down for two days.

I read that some hackers used that site and others to spread viral chaos. My anti-virus caught a couple of attempts at infection last Friday and early Saturday.

Heh. . .

Daily Homilies: 9/27-10/4

Starting today (9/27) and through next Sunday (10-4), I will be posting a daily homily.

Good, bad, incomplete, rambling. . .no matter: daily homily.

My preaching muscle has gotten flabby. . .time for a little exercise!