19 December 2009

Ummmmm. . .anyone see my phone booth?

This pretty much sums up my week. . .

What am I discerning? (UPDATED 2.0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 December 2009

17 December 2009

Thesis Report

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

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

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

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

16 December 2009

Clergy should never be political

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

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

Transubstantiation and the Real Presence?

Question. . .

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

I'll try. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 December 2009

Catholic environmentalism is pro-life

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

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

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

[. . .]

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

New Catholic Heritage blog

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

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

14 December 2009

Non serviam!

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

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

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

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

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

On becoming a hermeneut. . .not a hermit!

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

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

Have I abandoned philosophy of science for theology?  No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you wait for a revelation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 December 2009

Religion of Peace

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

H/T:  GetReligion

Homily is percolating. . .

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

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

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

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