06 September 2014

Ridding ourselves of meaning

A longish post from Dr. Jeff Mirus at Catholic Culture: On Not Settling for Less: The Cognitive Guide to Happiness.

An excerpt from the first section:

1. The Denial of Transcendence

Modern man believes he has rid himself of mythology so that he can see reality clearly. The truth is that he wears blinders. Our culture is deeply afflicted by a simple decision to ignore the deepest aspects of reality, that is, everything that transcends the material surface of life. I am of course referring to “meaning”, which is inescapably spiritual. Modern man regards spirit as a myth, and so necessarily denies that there is ultimate meaning to anything. It is an astonishing rejection.

[. . .]

Dr. Mirus starts at exactly the right place -- our culture's denial of transcendence. If this sounds too abstract, too "other-worldly," then his point is made. We think of transcendence as mystical, mythological, ephemeral. Yet, our gifted ability to refer to what transcends the merely worldly is what makes it possible for us to seek out the good, true, and beautiful. 

Philosophers of the "enlightenment" worked overtime to "free" themselves from the cognitive categories handed down to them by their medieval predecessors. Believing that these categories were unnecessarily constraining, even to the point of being irrational, modern thinkers simply choose to discard the grand synthesis achieved by the scholastics. 

What happens when we dismiss transcendental reference as an impossibility? The meanings of words, concepts, ideas, etc. are no longer stable across cultures, ages, or even persons -- language is vacated and only power matters.

And now, we are paying the price for their hubris.

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04 September 2014

Preaching to Young Adults

[NB. For some reason a portion of this post was appearing imposed over the blog title. I deleted the earlier post.]

How can a pastor attract and keep Young Adults to and in the parish? 
Jennifer Fitz has a couple of suggestions.
My fav: 

3. Your homilies provide a substantial education in the business of serving God.   A good number of your Catholic young adults are down the street at Faith and Grace Evangelical, where the sermon runs 40 minutes of serious Bible study and exhortation to Christian service.  People who are showing up for Jesus don’t want to hear about how special they are. They want to understand the Bible, learn how to pray, and learn how to live.  They want instruction.  They want reminders.  They want to know what it takes to be a saint — like the canonized kind, not the slipped-in-via-purgatory kind — and they want to be pushed towards sainthood every day of the week.

Yes, this means you have to choose.  You can keep preaching the “You’re so wonderful!” message to the core group of pewsitters who’ve been coming for that message for the last forty years, or you can start preaching Jesus.  You’ll lose some of the I’m So Special crowd, because they’re just there for the affirmation and the doughnut hour.  Jesus comes to console, to cherish, to welcome, but all that welcoming doesn’t end with cocktails on the patio.  It ends with the Cross.  Until you are teaching your congregation how to get up on their cross daily, you aren’t teaching your congregation.

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Baiting the hook

22nd Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

I taught literature in the late 80's and early 90's. And because my students tended to rely heavily on their classmates for vital information about my classes, I put on all of my syllabi a line from the New Order song, “Bizzare Love Triangle.” The line goes: “The wisdom of a fool won't set you free.” I'm delighted to report this morning that St. Paul agrees with one of the 80's premiere English bands: “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. . .” If you consider yourself wise in this age, how do you become a fool for God?

Consider this: a carpenter teaches a fisherman to fish. “Put out into deep water,” the carpenter commands, “and lower your nets for a catch.” The fisherman, suspecting foolishness but at the same time confessing his own earlier failure to catch a single fish, replies obediently, “Master. . .at your command I will lower the nets.” When the great haul of fish breaks the surface of the lake, the size of the catch tears at the nets, and the weight of their gift threatens to sink the fisherman's boats. Awe-struck, nearly dumbfounded by the abundance given in a single cast of his nets, the fisherman does the only thing a wise man would – he falls to his knees and confesses his unworthiness to the man whom he suspected of being a fool: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Sin makes us stupid. Sin also makes us foolish. But St. Thomas wants to know whether or not folly itself is a sin. He writes that folly is “a dullness of judgment” and this dullness can be contracted when a man “by plunging his sense into earthly things, [such that] his sense is rendered incapable of perceiving Divine things. . .even as sweet things have no [flavor] for a man whose taste is infected. . .such like folly is a sin” (ST II-II.46.2). IOW, If we stunt our taste for the Divine by over indulging in the crude flavors of the world, our ability to judge what is Good and what is Evil becomes dull and twisted. Folly is our judgment led astray by the baited wisdom of this world. 

So, if you are wise in this age, how do you become a fool for God? Following Peter the Fisherman's example, you obey (you listen) to those you sent to teach you and you reap the harvest of obedience, confessing your own sinful folly. You confess – with all humility and genuine gratitude – the depths of your ignorance and a deep desire for knowing the wisdom of God. When the Apparent Fool says to you, “Put out into the deep,” you put out into the deep, trusting that the deep obscures a divine abundance, and that it is only your feckless fear and lack of persistence that binds you in giftless folly. And after you obey the Apparent Fool and haul in your gifts, you fall to your knees awe-struck and nearly dumbfounded with gratitude and pray, “. . . everything belongs to you. . .[O Lord]. . .all belong to you!”

Peter may have suspected our Lord of being a fool. Even for just half a second. But he overcomes his doubt and fear with one word – “Master.” He calls Jesus “Master,” teacher. And places himself at Christ's feet to learn. Peter's docility – his eager willingness to be taught – reaps for him and his friends two gifts: boats nearly sinking from the weight of their catch and a proclamation from the Lord – “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” As heirs to these fishers of men, we best catch souls for God when he put out into the deep at His command and fish with humility, docility, penitence, and – always, always – praise and thanksgiving.

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03 September 2014

Nominalism: anathema sit!

Msgr. Charles Pope gives the Vile Error of Nominalism a relatively simple exposition:

How have we gotten into this mess wherein we have set aside reality in favor of what we think reality is? No longer do we go out to meet reality and accept the obligation of conforming to reality; now we sit back and claim the right to posit our own reality, to project reality and define it on our own terms. How did we get here?

Look to the nominalists, my friends.

A rather informative, though challenging, book on this matter is Journey to Modernity by Louis Dupré. In it he traces the medieval synthesis and rise of nominalism in the late 15th century, which in turn gave way to the Cartesian Revolution in the 17th century [and laid the groundwork for the Protestant schism].

I preached against Nominalism in my homiletics class this morning! In essence, nominalism is the de-sacralization of western language, the stripping from our most cherished concepts of any transcendental referent.

It's Evil. And it's the best reason we have for our future priests to learn Thomism.

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31 August 2014

Desire can be painful

NB. Didn't get to preach this one tonight at OLR. I'd forgotten that we had a mission-preacher scheduled. 

22nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Desiring God is not always a pleasant experience. Jeremiah wails b/c God has duped him into being His prophet. So forceful is Jeremiah's need to preach, it actually hurts him to do so: “Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” The Psalmist is likewise stricken with desire, a desire for God: “. . .for you [O Lord] my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” And Paul, urging the church in Rome not to bend itself to the will of the age, demands a needful sacrifice, one bound to haunt Christians for centuries: “. . . offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. . .” Offer your bodies in sacrifice. Not animals or money. Offer your whole self to God. Then, Jesus rebukes Peter for his selfish love and teaches the disciples what it takes to walk with him: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Our desire for perfection in Divine Love can be painful. It can leave us thirsty. It can drive us to sacrifice. To self-denial. Whatever else our desire for God accomplishes, it empties us so that He might find a place with us.

Jeremiah's desire for God – the desire he regrets ever having noticed – causes him pain. Not just spiritual pain but actual physical pain. His love for God drives him out into the world to preach the Word and preaching His Word is costly. Jeremiah tells God, “All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” He considers never preaching again, never again mentioning God's name. That doesn't work. Jeremiah cries out, “But then [your name] becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” Imagine a desire trapped in your bones, a desire so powerful that you grow exhausted trying to keep it trapped. Now, imagine that desire set ablaze. Everything else you want, everything else you need, everything else, all of it, is burned and blown away, leaving you empty for nothing and no one else but God Himself. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself. . .” Denying yourself means desiring nothing and no one more than you desire God. Even if desiring Him is painful, even if desiring Him means giving yourself up to holiness.

The Psalmist feels Jeremiah's pain. These two share a need, a lack that only God can satisfy: “O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” His flesh yearns, his soul thirsts – body and soul, he needs God like a drought-stricken land needs water. The God our Psalmist is yearning for is not Santa Claus – a cheery, once-a-year present-bringer. He's not the Cosmic Watchmaker – that distant, uncaring mechanic of the universe. Nor is his God the god of the therapist's couch – an affirming, well-meaning facilitator of human self-discovery. The Psalmist's God is the god of power and glory; the god of living and dying; a god worthy of praise and thanksgiving and shouts of joy! And the Psalmist's desire to give God praise and thanksgiving and shouts of joy is God's gift to the Psalmist. God gifts to us all the desire, the need to offer Him worship. Not b/c He needs our praise but b/c we need to praise Him so that we might grow in holiness and find ourselves – at the end – with Him forever. “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. . .and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.” When we pick up our cross, it's in praising God that our cross is made lighter; it's in the shadow of His wings that we follow Christ.

The first cross we pick up and carry as followers of Christ is the cross of bearing up under the pressures of this world to submit to the desires and needs that the world tells us are true and beautiful. Paul urges us, “Brothers and sisters. . .Do not conform yourselves to this age. . .” Do not bend to the Will of this age. Do not get caught in the Enemy's trap and come to believe that there is nothing more to creation than what we see and hear and touch. Instead, Paul writes, “. . .be transformed by the renewal of your mind. . .” Be changed, be transfigured, get turned around by renewing the way you see and hear and touch the things of creation. By renewing your mind with the mind of Christ, be forever pointed – body and soul – toward the only One Who can ever truly bring your needs to peace, your desires to completion. Why be renewed? If finding the ends of your desire is not enough, then be renewed so “that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Be renewed in Christ so that you may more clearly discern the will of your Father and come to know all that is good and pleasing to Him, all that is perfecting for your growth in holiness. The first cross we pick up and carry is the burden of being in this world but not of it; of living in this world but not for it. 

Paul understands this subtle distinction and urges us to resist the temptations of this age, to be transformed by renewing our minds in Christ, and to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. Here is the second time we pick up the cross and carry it: being in the world but not of it, living in the world but not for it means that we are dependent on the world for our bodily needs. Never are we charged with hating creation, or hating our bodies, or our physical appetites. But when the world tempts us, it tempts us through our appetites, our disordered desires. With our minds renewed/reordered in Christ, our appetites are transformed from mere animal cravings into a means of sacrifice, a way for us to be holy by giving back to God all that He has given us. His first gift to each one of us is life. So, we make our bodies a living sacrifice by giving our lives back to Him – in service to others, in service to goodness and truth, in service to Christ's Body, the Church. By serving God in serving His people, we “make holy” the same world that tempts us with disorder and disobedience. We sacrifice ourselves in Christ in order to make the world holy for Christ. “Whoever wishes to come after me must take up his cross. . .”  

We must take up our cross once, twice, three times. Our service to the world sanctifies the world; we become servants in the world, living a life of constant “making holy,” sacrifice. Such a life of sacrificial service is not natural to the human animal. So, Christ calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. His way is the way of supernatural graces, divine gifts that poke and prod and lift and cajole us into seeing and hearing our supernatural end – eternal life. When Jeremiah cries out to God, “You duped me, O Lord!”, he is accusing God of seducing him. How else could God move His stubborn prophet to prophesy? How else would any of us deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Christ except by divine seduction? We were made by God to be seduced into a life of participation, a life of freely entered entanglement with His re-creating love. That hunger you feel, that thirst that plagues you, that gnawing sense of frustrated-perfection – all of that is your built-in longing for God. We need God. We desire God. Often that need hurts. Sometimes it torments. But you can ease that pain by turning to Christ, denying yourself, taking up your cross and following him. Turn to Christ and turn into Christ, offering yourself as a living sacrifice in praise and thanksgiving to God.


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Lou Jordan: New Orleans artist

Check out Lou Jordan!

She's a New Orleans artist and a lay Dominican. . .

Her latest works are my favorite. She uses alcohol inks.

"Treasure Cave," 13 x 10


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