23 January 2010

Coffee Bowl Browsing

Lord, when will the embarrassing revelations end?  More IPCC goofs.

Creepy Scientologists in Haiti touching people. . .I'd have to shout, "Boundaries!"

Two words that make me very, very nervous:  "regime change."

Video on the origins and purpose of campaign finance reform. . .I think it's more complicated than this, but the Supreme Court's decision to strike down McCain-Feingold seems right to me.

Mutually Assured Destruction for both the Dems and the GOP:  eliminating the filibuster.  The GOP tried it in 2005, now the Dems think it's a good idea.  Think again.

Leftist media rage over the U.S. Supreme Court decision against McCain-Feingold is basically a confession:  The People are too stupid to make their own decisions.  When I was a dependable academic lefty, the idea that the Great Unwashed Masses were too stupid to govern themselves was dogma. 

I'll confess: snakes turn me into a squealing little girl. . .even movies/vids featuring snakes make me tremble.  Spiders?  Not so much.  Watch this guy try to corral Big Mama Spider-san.  Hilarious.

Ship in a bottle?  Impressive.  Ship in a bottle sculpted out of snow?  Awesome!

On the many uses of empty beer bottles:  not just for bar fights anymore!

The latest eco-friendly craze:  re-purposing.

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Coming soon. . .

There will be a homily for the 3rd Sunday in OT!

And the question have piled up, so I'll get to those as well.

Don't forget to check out the Book Depository Wish List Experiment. . .one reader has used it successfully!  (NB.  B.D.'s wish list tech isn't as posh as Amazon's. . .you have to type in the shipping address. . .found at the bottom in the right side bar -------->)


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Coffee Bowl Browsing

A painful view of B.O. from Canada:  "He is increasingly perceived as having credibility problems and of being cold, cocksure, narcissistic and intoxicated by what he modestly called 'the gift' of his own articulation. And as president, he has been quite, and quite surprisingly, incompetent."

Gobsmacked:  Sec. of Defense Gates says Taliban has legitimate role to play in Afghanistan's political future.  Then why are American soldiers fighting and dying over there?

Scott Brown and the Cistercian nuns who pray for him. . .maybe they can pray him into a truly pro-life way of thinking (anti-abortion, anti-torture).

Pro-abort feminists try to spin the annual March for Life as an anti-abortion dinosaur:  few young women at the march this year.  Keep this lie in mind next year, ladies!

For legal fan boys and girls:  five posts on how to reform the Supreme Court to make it more efficient, responsive, and less prone to propping up judicial-celebrity egos.  I'm no expert, but these reforms strike me as exactly right.

John Allen explains the ecumenical import of the Holy Father's recent visit to Rome's premier synagogue.  This isn't Fr. Oprah's ecumenism, boys and girls.

On the weirdness that is the English language.  Can you guess what part of speech non-English speakers have the most difficulty learning?  It's the part of speech that native English speakers cannot adequately explain!  [In my experience teaching ESL and living in a couple of international communities, non-native English speakers never quite figure out how to use prepositions.  It's really not much easier in Italian, though Spanish seems more logical.]

I've been curious about the French Foreign Legion

Ooooooooooooooo. . .I want one!  This thing would make my cramped flight over the Pond much nicer.

Why revolving doors?  Caution:  it's a Trump Conspiracy!

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22 January 2010

Another blow to Global-Warming's "credibility"

Hmmmmmm. . .the "settled science" of the Nobel Prize winning IPCC isn't so settled after all:

The Indian head of the UN climate change panel defended his position yesterday even as further errors were identified in the panel's assessment of Himalayan glaciers.

[. . .]

The IPCC’s 2007 report, which won it the Nobel Peace Prize, said that the probability of Himalayan glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high”.

But it emerged last week that the forecast was based not on a consensus among climate change experts, but on a media interview with a single Indian glaciologist in 1999.

The IPCC admitted on Thursday that the prediction was “poorly substantiated” in the latest of a series of blows to the panel’s credibility.

Read the whole embarrassing article here.

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Wish List Experiment

The Book Depository, the British answer to Amazon.com, has made it possible to share personal Wish Lists on-line.

So, an experiment:  I've moved seven books from my Amazon list to the B.D. list.

There are several advantages to this change. . .if it works.

First, the B.D. ships free worldwide.  International shipping from the U.S. usually runs about $13.

Second, since the books are delivered from within the E.U. marketplace, there will be no duty charge on my end.  Duties run from about $10-$50 depending on the declared value of the books.

Third, books from the B.D. arrive within 10 days from the U.K.  It can take 6 weeks to get them from the U.S. . .if they arrive at all.

The only disadvantage:  B.D. doesn't sell used books, so their prices are a bit higher than Amazon's.

Anyway, let's see how it goes!

NB.  In the top right hand corner there's a drop down menu that allows you to select a currency.  The Euro is the default currency for my server.  It might be the dollar for an American server.  Be sure and change it to the dollar. . .no need to add conversion charges!

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Poetry and our life in God

Philosophy vs. Poetry.  This is one of the great intellectual rivalries in the western world.  We're supposed to believe that philosophy offers clarity and precision, while poetry offers obfuscation and imprecision.  Or, philosophy offers sterile analysis, while poetry offers enriching beauty.  I always teach my literature students that poetry, in the pursuit of truth, works to exhaust the imprecision of language, thus approaching precision by negation.  The paradigms of American poetry--Whitman and Dickinson--shows us two radically different poetical means to the same truth-seeking end.  Whitman says it All in order to get to closer to Everything.  Dickinson says as Little as possible to lead us to More than we can comprehend.

Fortunately, for both theologians and poets, there is very little enmity between theology and poetry.  God's most beautiful Self-revelation is given to us in the poetry of scripture.  The Church's poet-theologians--Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, et al--demonstrate that the imprecision of poetic language is sometimes the best means for bringing us to a divine end.

Franz Wright, son of the famous American poet, James Wright, is one of this country's best Catholic poets.  He demonstrates that it is possible (and desirable) to compose poems of faith that eschew sentimentality and conventional imagery.  Wright's life-long battles with drug and alcohol addiction, depression, apostasy, suicide, and nihilism aren't sugar-coated in his poems.  They stage the scene for God's light to brighten.

“My Peace I Leave”

The next life will be darker than this so
we must prepare
a light.

Help me change.
Here on my knees
in the hell of my
on its cold star,

Because if we say we are your followers
while in reality walking in darkness
we lie and do not live
according to the truth and so
I won't lie, and I will live
according to the truth, acknowledge
I mostly live cut off
and walk in darkness.

Help me,
I still need to know

there is a place,
the temple still stands,
the unknowable

this infinite

Help me find
the horizontal
portal, the misplaces
book, which is


The world didn't give me this
word, but

the world cannot take it away--

Franz Wright, Wheeling Motel, 2010

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Coffee Bowl Browsing

Some things you just don't do:  remind guests in your home that they are guests in your home and tell ladies to act like ladies

Good Week:  GOP takes "Kennedy's Seat" in MA.  Air America fills for bankruptcy.  Copenhagen Climate Change Accords already a failure

Uh oh.  Barbara "Don't Call Me Ma'am" Boxer may be in trouble.  So sad.

B.O.'s Manhattan terror trials may be in trouble.  

Coalition for Clarity:  Because Torture is Intrinsically Evil.  Utilitarianism is antithetical to a Catholic understanding of the dignity of the human person.  A fetus is not a means to an end.  Neither is a captured terrorist.

Prayer lands a plane.  This doesn't bode well for my summer travel plans.  I fervently pray the rosary on take-off and landing!

U.S. Supreme Court guts campaign finance law as a violation of the First Amendment.  What's next?  Protecting gun ownership rights and free expression of religion? 

Fr. Robert Barron on our fascination with apocalyptic thinking.  If you are looking for an excellent, readable introduction to the thought of Thomas Aquinas, you really can't do much better than Barron's Thomas Aquinas:  Spiritual Master.  This book is really a summary of the Summa theologiae, but don't let that deter you.  I recommend this book more often than any other.

On the definition and practical uses of "Crunchy Catholicism."

On the church and the Soft Fascism of leftist bureaucracies in Canada. 

A video analogy for Congressional Democrats post-Brown win in MA.

My roommate died from malaria.  Can I eat the body?

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21 January 2010

The difference btw the Male and Female Mind

Risking life and limb, I give you the difference between the male and female mind:

Dispute it, if you dare!

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Coffee Bowl Browsing (No Politics Edition)

So far beyond disturbing that it's unsayable:  bodies in the streets of Haiti

How is the media covering religion in the midst of Haitian suffering?

Dick Dawkins and the New Atheists help out in Haiti in order to prove that Christians aren't the only one who can do good deeds.  Of course, Christians have been saying that for 2,000 years (i.e. "virtuous pagans," anyone?)

A review of the movie, Book of Eli (Spoiler Alert!).   I've seen it.  As a movie, it's a Redneck Moviegoer's dream.  As a message about faith and perseverance, it's straight out of the Old Testament.   As a film (as opposed to a movie), it ain't art.  I also saw Avatar.  No comment.

Deal Hudson remembers an evening with pro-aborts Mortimer Adler and Justice Blackmun. 

On the dangers of those canned intercessions at Mass (When I said Mass at a hospital chapel in Dallas, I always read through the canned intercessions for the day and corrected them.  There was almost always something dodgy in them.)

Is the Mississippi Delta the next Haiti:  prospects for an American earthquake.  I hope not!  My whole family lives in the delta.

Not only are they bringing about the Apocalypse, they're getting married!

Site chocked full of documentaries. . .looks like most of the ones on religion are anti-Christian.

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The Discovery of God

I'm coming into a great appreciation for the work of Henri de Lubac.  De Lubac is one of the many theologians of Vatican Two who came to publicly oppose the "Spirit of Vatican Two" hijacking of the Council's renewal agenda.  A prominent member of the ressourcement movement ("back to the sources"), de Lubac shows Catholic theologians how to be at once responsive to modern developments in theological research and faithful to the Tradition of the Church.  He is at once a great theologian, an excellent philosopher, and a mystic.

If you are looking for a substantial introduction to the Church's philosophical grounding for her theological worldview, you really can't do much better than de Lubac's The Discovery of God.  By no means an easy read, Discovery will set you up with years of intellectual challenges and pull you through centuries of hard ecclesial thinking about all things human and divine.  This book is steeped in the Patristic and Thomistic tradition, but also makes good use of more modern and contemporary philosophical insights, including phenomenology (philosophy of experience).

Two excerpts:

The universe through which God reveals himself is not only his work:  it is his creature.  It is not merely a thing which God in his omnipresence made out of nothing; and for that very reason it is a being which exists and lives only on the life and being which it is continuously borrowing from its Author.  Or rather--since the classical metaphors of "loan" and "source" are either too feeble or too strong--the universe live and exists only in God.  In Eo vivimus et sumus.  God is "his own being," but he is also "the being of all" (Pseudo-Dionysus). He is incomprehensible, inaccessible, and at the same time familiar and close to us.  "The root and principle of every creature," he is the Being present par excellence (Aquinas).  (87)


Infinite intelligibility--such is God.  The incomprehensible is the opposite of the unintelligible.  The deeper we enter into the infinite, the better we understand that we can never hold it in our hands. . .(Whatever is understood by science is limited by the understanding of the knower.)  The infinite is not a sum of finite elements, and what we understand of it is not a fragment torn from what remains to be understood.  The intelligence does not do away with the mystery nor does it even begin to understand it; it in no way diminishes it, it does not "bite" on it:  it enters deeper and deeper into it and discovers it more and more as a mystery.  (117)

Great stuff!

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Homily for Day of Penance for Abortion (repost)

Day of Penance for Violations Against Human Dignity Caused by Abortion (GIRM 373)
Philippians 4.6-9 and Matthew 5.1-12
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Is there anyone here this morning who wants to be among the damned? Anyone? Anyone here who wants to wallow in cynicism, grievance, betrayal, or viciousness? Anyone? OK. Anyone here this morning who wants to celebrate falsehood, injustice, ugliness, or disease? Anyone? No? OK. Anyone here this morning who wants to be among the blessed? Anyone here who wants to revel in hopefulness, forgiveness, friendship, and virtuousness? Anyone where this morning who wants to celebrate truth-telling, justice-making, beauty, and health? Anyone? Good! Because today we observe a Day of Penance for those violations of human dignity caused by abortion. And we must start by repenting from any inclination to understand the human person as a means; any inclination to treat one another as merely objects for use any inclination to live together in cynicism, malice, or irrational prejudice. To be blessed, we must be a blessing and do what is honorable, just, pure, and gracious…and always in the name of God for His greater glory. Turn from the disobeying our Father’s command that we love one another as He loves us, as He loved us first, and make your life about the excellence of self-emptying service!

You might ask: Father, why are you yelling at us about repenting from abortion? We’re solid pro-lifer’s! I don’t doubt this. So, let me answer your question with a question: why are we, the pro-life Church, observing a Day of Penance in reparation for the devastation of abortion? The answer: if we don’t, who will? Who will stand up to repair this gaping wound in our social body? Who, if not the Church, will offer sacrifice for the healing of this horrific disease?

You raised your hands when I asked who here wants to celebrate beauty, justice, and health. How do you celebrate God’s beauty in creation? His justice in our social order? His health in your spiritual life? Irrelevant questions to the repentance at hand? NO! If you, a faithful Catholic, one who deeply desires the peace of Christ, cannot honor the fullness of human dignity— the sacredness of all life, the intrinsic value of human labor, our right to be free from violence and intimidation (personal and political)—if we cannot honor the fullness of human dignity, then we cannot celebrate God’s beauty, His justice, nor can we expect His health. And what’s more, we cannot hold others to a standard we’re unwilling to meet.

Abortion sits at the center of our cynical culture as a devastating failure to love, an idol to convenience, expediency, and self-indulgence. To the degree that we as Catholics have contributed to this failure to love, especially in our failure to love the women who have chosen abortions, we must repent. There is nothing gracious, lovely, pure, or true about cynically judging women who have chosen abortions. And there is nothing blessed about dismissing the killing of a child with an appeal to privacy rights or religious tolerance. Love requires us to speak the truth. And when we fail to speak the truth, we must repent. The truth is: abortion is the direct killing of innocent life. We may never call this violation of human dignity good. The truth is: the Way to forgiveness and peace is always open, always free, and we, as self-identified Christs-for-Others, we must serve as eager ushers on the Way. We cannot at once hope to be blessed and refuse to be a blessing.

You are to be hungry for justice. Clean of heart. At peace. Kind. And you must be ready, always ready to speak a word comfort in truth. You have been shown mercy, therefore, show mercy in thanksgiving. And be blessed.

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Sylvan tutoring?

My brother and his wife are considering sending one of my nieces to a Sylvan Learning Center for tutoring.  She's smart and capable but completely unengaged and uninspired at her public middle-school.

Anyone have any experience with Sylvan? 

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20 January 2010

Coffee Bowl Browsing

Historic! Unprecedented! So, let us be clear:  Happy Anniversary, B.O.  Can you hear us now?

Brown's win is Bush's fault.  Of course it is!

Retire or be retired:  Moe Lane lays out the options for vulnerable Dem's.  Not pretty.

Apparently, according to Hoyer (D), voters in MA were so upset with GOP obstructionism in Congress that they pitched a collective fit and elected another Republican.  Wow.  Now that's spin, folks.

Coakley campaign charges voter fraud. . .a day before the election.  Guess it's always good to be prepared, just in case.

A little cold water on Brown's win:  he's pro-choice & pro- SSM.

A report on the State of the Sermon in the U.K.  Very interesting.

Rabbi reports that the second volume of BXVI's Jesus books is finished.

Remote control Zombies won't remain controlled for long. . .

Exit Mundi:  end of the world scenarios.  Yes, the Coming Zombie Apocalypse is included.

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19 January 2010

POLL: if not Christian, what then?

Let's say that you have become convinced that Christianity is false. Which, if any, alternative religion might you choose to practice?

Buddhism (Zen)

Buddhism (Tibetan)






Other (leave comment)


pollcode.com free polls

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18 January 2010

We do not serve the law

2nd Week OT (T): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

By necessity—for the sake of good order and the flourishing of justice—our lives are shaped and guided by laws both natural and man-made. There are limits set by the natural order that define us as human. We cannot violate these limits and remain rational animals. No amount of government intervention, no number of rules or regulations, no army or police force can require us to set ourselves against the laws of nature. Even the attempt is unnatural. The laws we make as social creatures often have less to do with our natural means and ends than they do with our need to express what we perceive to be right and wrong behavior in the community. Sometimes, perhaps more than we are willing to admit, man-made law fails to conform to the natural law, and we are confronted with the possibility of protesting with acts of civil disobedience. A recent example of this emerged in the U.S. With the publication of the Manhattan Declaration. A group of leading Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, and Orthodox church leaders signed this statement , callinig on Christians in the U.S. to stand against the culture of death and prepare themselves for civil disobedience against attempts to further violate the dignity of the human person by the government expansion of abortion rights, euthanasia, genetic manipulation, and the invention of same-sex marriage. These leaders ask Christians to be ready and willing to fight a war against the legal notion that the Pharisees assume when they accuse Jesus' disciples of violating the Sabbath: man serves the law. Jesus' retort sets the bar higher: no, the law serves man.

Few of us get out of bed in the morning thinking of ways to commit criminal acts. It's safe to say that most of us never give it much thought at all. We are law-abiding citizens here in Italy and in our own countries. We do not seek out opportunities to cause trouble nor do we do out of our way to look for unjust laws. So long as we are left alone to study, pray, enjoy our basic freedoms, and flourish as children of God, we are happy to go along with whatever parliament or Congress orders. As governments grow bolder and bolder in their attempts to infringe on basic human rights through legislation that violates the natural law, our peace with the legal status quo grows more and more uneasy. It may not be inevitable that we find ourselves in jail for civil disobedience but it seems that the chances grow with every time parliament meets. How do we respond?

Yesterday, in the U.S., Americans remembered Martin Luther King. In 1963, from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, he reminded the Church of her successful witness and current failure: “There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. . .Small in number, they were big in commitment. . .By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. . .Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.” Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”

Being just is easy in the absence of challenge. Doing justice in the face of government sanctioned oppression—especially the oppression of our religious freedoms—is difficult at best, impossible if we surrender. Our fight will not be against local politicians but with a universal lie: man serves the law. When the time comes, remember Jesus standing in the field, teaching the Pharisees: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” And if he is lord even of the Sabbath, how much more is he our Lord as well?

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Coffee Bowl Browsing

One year in. . .B.O.'s Numbers:  changes we shouldn't believe in!

14 American soliders at Ft. Hood killed by the rot of political correctness among the brass

One of the first homilies/poems I ever wrote (at 15) was based on MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech.  His legacy as a true prophet for God's justice is stunning. . .

Catholic vs. Evangelical pro-life members in Congress. . ."Gov't in the Jesuit Tradition"

BXVI begins to rescue the Church in Belgium after decades of decline and decay

Chief Voodoo Priest in Haiti worried about Zombies (I'm not joking)

Critics of bishop's firing of transgendered employee fail to distinguish btw being a member of the Church and using the Church to promote an anti-Catholic agenda. . .IOW, the Church welcomes everyone to become a member but not everyone can be an employee.

HancAquam reader and friend, JimmyG, wants to know if I really drink my coffee from a bowl.  Oh yes, Jimmy, there really is a Coffee Bowl motivating CBB!  The cups in the breakfast room are for expresso.  If you want hot milk with your expresso, you have to use a bowl.  A big white ceramic bowl.  I'm told that some of the Italian friars snicker b/c it's customary for peasants to drink their coffee out of bowls.  Heh.

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Coffee Bowl Browsing

When excommunication is medicinal:  Bishop Vasa on the uses of Church's Rx cabinet

Uncle Di has America magazine figured out:  award to Rowan Williams is a sneaky Jebbie trick!

Fr. Robert Barron reviews Avatar

Excellent theological reflection on natural disasters and God's enduring love

What does religion have to do with American exceptionalism?

On eco-heretics and the rise of the Green Inquisition

B.O.'s trip to MA for Coakley:  this Messiah can't draw a crowd (Link fixed)

Holy Father defends Pius XII's record on helping Jews during WWII.  Fr. Z. links to NYT editorials praising Pius XII's activism against the Nazis.

Decent NYT obit for Dominican theologian, Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx

Pro-Zombie foundation seeks donations to initiate the Coming Apocalypse. . .

Montana street gangs. . .these are not LA's gangsters!

Unfortunate failure in product placement. . .Halloween was messy that year.

30 freaky commericials from all over the world

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How to speak a word of truth

2nd Sunday OT: Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

There are as many ways to speak as there are mouths to do the speaking. But there is only way to be silent. Teeth touching, lips closed. Daring to be silent when words beg to be spoken can be a sign of prophetic courage and also an admission of cowardice. Faced with injustice, oppression, persecution, the silence of a tight-lipped mouth is a sure sign that the heart has grown cold, sitting like a rock in the center of our spiritual lives. Gifted with the truth of the faith, the fire of a preaching spirit, and the charge to do the work of the Lord in the world, the tight-lipped mouth is a sign that the heart lacks generosity, charity, and obedience. But when the tongue shapes words of justice, freedom in the Lord, mercy for sins, and proclaims to the heavens and across the lands the love of God, the courage of a prophet burns fiercely bright, sweeping away fear, clearing the rubbish of excuses, and bolstering the righteousness of one's public witness. For such a God-moved tongue there is no question of whether or not the Word will be spoken. Such a tongue cannot be silent. The only question is how the Word will be spoken. How will the enduring truths of God be pronounced for all to hear? How do you give breath and voice to God's Word?

At the request of his mother, and after some initial reluctance, Jesus turns six jars of water into wine. Breaking a thirty-year silence about his identity as the promised Messiah, our Lord decides that his time has indeed come, and he announces his own arrival by injecting new wine into a wedding feast. But before performing this act of divine revelation, Jesus expresses what most of us must feel on occasion when confronted by an opportunity to say too much, too soon in public about our faith. Mary reports to her son that the wine has run out. Jesus replies, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” In effect, our Lord says here, “So what? Why is this my problem? It's not time for me to reveal who I really am.” Is Jesus a coward? Is he refusing to be the witness that the Father has sent him among us to be? What is the reason for his apparent reluctance? We can only speculate, of course. Perhaps he had planned a more dramatic revelation. Or, perhaps he had chosen a more auspicious day. Weddings are common enough events. And even if changing water to wine is rather dramatic, it is not as dramatic as curing a leper or raising the dead to new life. Whatever his reason for holding back, he nonetheless hesitates. Surely, we have too. What were the consequences?

Can you count the number of times you have been offered the chance to speak a word of truth and hesitated? Can you recall all the times you have found yourself in a position to offer a word of mercy or consolation or love and failed to speak? We may not know exactly why Jesus pauses before he complies with his mother's implicit request. But we do know why we pause when presented with the opportunity to speak the truth. I will be thought stupid. My friends will think I am a zealot. Family members will start to argue. I am embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of the faith, scripture, world events. What if I get it wrong and mislead the ignorant? I don't want to appear to be pushy like those preachers on TV, or those guys who come to the door on Saturdays. What if I am ostracized by the ones on whose good will I depend? There are as many reasons for silence as there are mouths to keep closed. Though silence speaks volumes, the Word is always spoken.

Look to the prophet Isiah: “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.” Isiah will not be silent. Not for his own sake, not for the sake of the prophet's ego, not for the sake of his lofty reputation, but for the sake of the kingdom. He will not remain quiet because more is at stake in his proclaiming the Word than his concern for personal good will. He will speak and speak and speak for the sake of another; he will shout and proclaim and preach until the Lord's victory is heard by all nations, all peoples. Truly, with a prophet's spirit, he can nothing else. But he is one among millions. One voice in the vast wilderness of silence picked out by the Lord to say what cannot be left unsaid. And we know all too well what happens to the lonely voice of the prophet who says what we do not want to hear. Who among us wants to join our fate to his? Surely it is better to remain quiet, go along to get along, blending in and causing no waves. This is not what we were baptized to be or to do. The Church is a nation of prophets, priests, and kings. And we have been divinely gifted to not only speak the Word but to accomplish it as well.

Paul writes to the Corinthians: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord;. . .To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” As a Body, the Church works in the world as the sum total of the Spirit's gifts to her members. Though each member is differently gifted, all these gifts are given by the Spirit for a single purpose: the proclamation and the living out of the Gospel. Some are gifted with teaching the faith. Some with prophecy and others with wisdom. Some with healing and others with doing mighty deeds. We know that we act with these gifts when the fruits they bear build up the Church, tighten her unity, strengthen her familial bonds, and unceasingly witness to God's unfailing love for sinners. We know as well that we have failed to use the gifts of the Spirit when we fracture our hearts and minds into bickering camps; when we weaken God's family by refusing to preach the truth of the faith; and when we pretend to live in the world as an exclusive club for the morally perfect. We are gifted by the Spirit so that we might enter the world and proclaim the gospel in every word we speak, in every action we take. To do anything else is to invite the reluctant pride into our hearts and die the death of spiritual cowardice.

How do we avoid such a terrible death? The lazy answer is that we speak up, say what must be said regardless of the consequences. If speaking the truth paints a martyr's target on our backs, then so be it. But this kind of defiant opposition can backfire and reveal us to be little more than pretentious big mouths strutting for a fight. The Church Militant can prepare for war without picking a fight. First, we must know what our faith demands of us. Not only the content of doctrine and dogma, scripture and the natural law but the first commandment of love as well. Anyone can memorize doctrinal formulas. Anyone can recite scripture. Even the Devil himself. What the Devil cannot do is love, forgive, show mercy, sacrifice self for others. The Church's intellectual and spiritual deposit is worthless if we refuse to put it to work in love. Second, we must live in the world for the world even as we resist the temptation to get lost in the secular party. Scowling disapprovingly from the corner as the revelers revel guarantees our reputation for being self-appointed judges of everyone else's sin. If our spiritual joy cannot possess the world just yet, we are nonetheless compelled in love to remain steadfast in being God's joy incarnate for those who would choose to party with us. After all, Jesus gave the flagging wedding feast at Cana an infusion of new wine! What do you bring to the party when the revelers verge on the brink of giving themselves over to the spirit of the world? Third, and perhaps the most difficult, we must be willing and ready to confess our failures, repent, do penance, and better ourselves out of the failure. We do the Church no favors by blindly defending egregious violations of the limits God has set for our growth in holiness. When we are wrongly accused of sin, truth is our best defense and the only option. When rightly accused, we must humbly confess, even if our accuser is by far the worse sinner. Silence is complicity; pride damns us as cowards.

We can speak God's truth in boldness without being shrill. We can proclaim the gospel with certainty and do so without arrogance. We can pour our God's fiery spirit without burning the nations to the ground. The key is persistence, fortitude, patience. And the calm assurance that Love has already prevailed.

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17 January 2010

Syllogistic vs. Elliptical Thinking

A reader asks that for an explanation of the difference between syllogistic and elliptical thinking.

Syllogistic thinking can be described as a style of thought that uses a clear, linear progression from premises to a conclusion.  This style is highly structured and therefore easily outlined.

For example:  "The Catholic theological tradition teaches that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good; yet, evil exists.  We must conclude therefore that one or more of these traditionally attributed characteristics is false.  God does not know about evil.  God is not powerful enough to prevent evil.  Or, He does not care that we suffer from evil.  If one or more of these characteristics is impossible to maintain in the face of the objection from evil, then God as the Catholic tradition understands Him is false."

Extreme forms of syllogistic thinking take on an analytical flavor: Let G be God, which entails qualities Q 1-3.  Let E be evil where E negates by implication one or more Q 1-3.  Therefore, G cannot be God if one or more Q 1-3 is negated.  (This is my poor attempt at analytical language!)  This sort of writing is then further reduced to a symbolic form that looks like calculus.

The goal of syllogistic thinking is precision and clarity of terms and the rigorous logical connection between and among the premises and conclusion.  Scientists, engineers, mathematicians, etc. make full use of syllogistic thinking in their work.

Elliptical thinking can be described as a style of thought that uses non-linear, intentionally ambiguous language to point towards premises and conclusions without drawing hard, logical connections. 

For example:  We all suffer from evil.  And it might seem as though God is powerless in the face of our suffering.  But we must ask ourselves what we can reasonably expect of God in light of our disobedience.  Surely He has the power to prevent our suffering, but at what cost to our freedom?  Surely He knows that we suffer, but does His knowing ordain the very suffering we would hope to avoid? In asking the question, "Where is God in our suffering?" what are we expecting from Him?

While syllogistic thinking assumes the question of God and evil is a question of language and logic, elliptical thinking tackles the problem in a more literary fashion.  I don't mean to suggest here that these two examples are asking precisely the same question.  They aren't.  The comparison to be made here is in the style of writing.  One is highly structured with clearly defined steps that lead to a logical conclusion.  The other is more of a winding path full of starts, stops, falls, and challenges to meditate.   

A good historical example of syllogistic thinking is Thomas Aquinas.  A good example of elliptical thinking is Bernard of Clairvaux.  Keep in mind:  elliptical thinking is not illogical anymore than syllogistic thinking is unliterary.  We're talking about the overall flavor of a writer's style, the dominant note among many.  Thomas' hymns and commentaries on scripture are hardly syllogistic!

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